Friday, 7 October 2016

The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

I like Frederik Pohl, or, at least, I like Gateway, the one book of his I've read, a whole lot. I have enjoyed most Arthur C. Clarke I have read. Reading a book by the two of them together sounded intriguing, at the very least. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly gripping, and frankly, is a bit of a mess. The characters stay resolutely far away from the plot, and large sections of it are badly paced and just boring.

When it started, I was at least interested. A Sri Lankan man working on solving Fermat's last theorem while he's still a student in university, and having a relationship with another male student in his year, which offends his father not because of the gender of his partner, but because of the ethnicity.

(I have already forgotten the main character's name, although I'm pretty sure it starts with R. Given that I read this book over about two weeks, that lack of stickiness in my brain is not a good sign.)

Ranjit, Goodreads tells me. Now, later on, Ranjit will insist that this affair meant nothing, and indeed it seems to not. And I am certainly not saying that a homosexual experience in college necessarily indicates a lifelong identity, but it's given such short shrift, is at the beginning so important, then suddenly never mentioned again, that's it's another sign of this book getting close to interesting topics then running the hell away from them.

The other thing this book stays far away from is the plot. Ranjit is kidnapped by pirates and while captured by a foreign power after being freed from pirates, solves Fermat's Last Theorem. He then follows this up with...getting married, and teaching at a university.

Somewhere off in the universe, aliens are deciding whether or not to destroy us. Ranjit, who is the main character, won't really interact with their story. Nor will he really interact with the story of a pact between the U.S., Russia, and China to take out electronics capability of belligerent nations. He's asked to be a part of it, and he and his wife decide that this is the sort of power that inevitably comes to be used unethically, so they decline.

But here's the kicker. That's it. They just decline, and go back to their lives. They don't have a deep commitment to stopping it happening, they engage in no activism, nothing. They just go back to their lives.

Then their daughter grows up and becomes an Olympian on Mars. When the alien ships get near, they kidnap her from a ship and use a simulacra of her to communicate and return her to safety. Again...the main characters don't do more than be a bit annoyed by this. Experts in their own scientific fields, Ranjit and his wife Myra don't engage a damn bit more than any other layperson on earth.

Then, when the aliens land on Earth and the U.S. president wants to use the might of the pact to bomb the hell out of them, again, Ranjit and Myra are not involved. They are not involved in any damn thing in this entire damn book. They wring their hands from the outside, but do nothing. Mostly, they just go on happily with their lives.

We have main characters who are entirely inconsequential to any of the things that could be considered the plot, who do nothing to change any part of the story, and the kicker is that we never see anything actually being done from a closer angle than watching Ranjit watch it on TV.

Dear lord, Clarke and Pohl? What were you thinking? Why did you let so much drop? Why did you tell a story about someone who just doesn't really do much of anything that has a consequence on anything like the story? Ugh. Badly paced, plot-averse, just...not a good book. Skip it.

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