Arthur C. Clarke provided one of my first forays into science fiction, although I forget which book I read first. However, I do not forget the books themselves.
My favourite Clarke novel was, “The City and The Stars,” a story about Alvin, the first human ‘born’ in the last city on Earth — Diaspar — for thousands of years. Humanity has hunkered down in a city in which almost every molecule is held in place to prevent decay, but society itself has become as static and unchanging as the physical structure of the city itself. In many ways, Diaspar is comparable to Asimov’s Trantor (and to a lesser extent the galactic empire), both protect their citizens from the outside world, and both have stagnated. However unlike Trantor, Diaspar has successfully frozen the process of decay, but also frozen the process of innovation itself.
However, despite the lack of innovation, Diaspar still holds some appeal to its audience. The lack of hardships have opened up opportunities for art and play, and the city has become a gallery for the people. The art however seems to reflect the insular, closed and protected nature of the people who produce it, sweeping vistas swept away in preference of more tightly enclosed spaces. Even the virtual reality games that are played are dungeon crawls, rather than epic open battles or journeys across mountain vistas.
It is hard to know how to judge this future humanity. While there may be a fear of the outside, the characters do not seem unduly burdened by it. There appears to be a defeat of disease, and an achievement of immortality without the associated tediousness. With many of our drives to progress removed, who can blame them is they sit around and have fun. However, I recall the long summer I had between completing my A-levels and beginning my undergraduate degree. The many weeks of no work very quickly lead to feelings of dissatisfaction (albeit coupled with a reluctance to get off my arse and find a temporary job) which couldn’t fully be countered with attempts at creativity. However, a couple of summers later I was doing summer work at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, and during that time spent many evenings and weekends with friends relaxing and doing nothing very much. It is this summer that I remember more clearly, and definitely the one on which I had most fun.
Arthur C. Clarke died today at the age of 90.