Arthur C Clarke at 100: still the king of science fiction

2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World … one hundred years after his birth, the British writer is the undisputed master

Born on 16 December 1917, Arthur C Clarke lived long enough to see the year he and Stanley Kubrick made cinematically famous with 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it seemed for a while as though he might see in his centenary too: he was physically active (he had a passion for scuba diving), non-smoking, teetotal and always interested in and curious about the world. But having survived a bout of polio in 1962, he found the disease returned as post-polio syndrome in the 1980s; it eventually killed him in 2008.

For a while Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov constituted the “big three”, bestriding science fiction like colossi. Like many SF fans I grew up reading Clarke. He was, for a time, everywhere: his ...

The best science fiction and fantasy of 2017

Adam Roberts finds floods in Manhattan, magic in Paris and a shortage of electricity across the world

A year ago, Amitav Ghosh usefully stirred things up with his rebuke to “realist” modes of writing. Where, he asked, is all the fiction about climate change? Well, it turns out that the answer is science fiction. Genre writing has been exploring the possible futures of climate change for many years, and 2017’s three best novels engage in powerful and varied ways with precisely that subject. Kim Stanley Robinson is the unofficial laureate of future climatology, and his prodigious New York 2140 (Orbit), a multilayered novel set in a flooded Big Apple, is by any standard an enormous achievement. It is as much a reflection on how we might fit climate change into fiction as it is a detailed, scientifically literate representation of its possible consequences.

Just as rich, though much tighter in narrative ...

Artemis by Andy Weir review – follow-up to The Martian

His self-published debut sold 5m copies. The follow-up offers the same flat, sweary prose, fistfights and scientific mini-lectures - on the moon

Andy Weir’s first novel, The Martian, enjoyed a measure of success liable to make other writers slump slack-jawed and drooling, like Homer Simpson before a doughnut. Initially self-published, it became a word-of-mouth hit, got picked up by a regular publisher, sold 5m copies and was made into a blockbuster film by Ridley Scott. Straight out of the gates with a global hit.

Indeed, the book was such a blockbuster you probably know its story: an astronaut, stranded on Mars, has to use his scientific expertise to stay alive for two years until rescue can reach him. This simple narrative tug – will he survive or not? – gives Weir a line on which to hang a large number of interesting facts and little lectures. The reader learns ...

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. review – the dark art of time travel

Quantum physics meets practical magic in Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland’s farcical sci-fi fantasyAs the vector of time is deathward, time as such is tragic, at least for mortal beings like you and me. It follows from this that stories about overcoming time tend towards the comic, because at root they are fantasies of escape from mortality. The most obvious current example is Doctor Who, with a hero who evades death by the magic of “regeneration”. Of course, there are counterexamples. The original time travel tale, HG Wells’s The Time Machine, takes a gloriously gloomy turn as its hero travels to the far future, where the monstrous crab-like descendants of humanity occupy the terminal beach beneath a dying sun. Wells is wiser than Who in this regard: no matter what technological marvels we deploy, we cannot escape death. So I propose the following rule of thumb: stories that ...

American Gods on television couldn’t be more timely

Neil Gaiman’s book – out now on a small screen near you – came out 16 years ago and makes perfect sense of the age of Trump It’s a good bet that writers are scrambling to produce the first great novel of the Age of Trump: trying to make sense of this monstrous unexpectedness, this terrifying combination of clowntime and apocalypse. But maybe the great novel of Trump’s America has already been written. It came out 16 years ago and its name is American Gods, which makes the new TV adaptation, co-helmed by Bryan Fuller, extremely timely. It’s not, I should add, that Neil Gaiman makes any specific prophecy in his novel. American Gods is not actually about Trump. It has no interest in US electoral politics (although it is profoundly interested in power); it has nothing to say about TV reality stars, but it is insightful about TV itself. Continue reading...

American Gods on television couldn’t be more timely

Neil Gaiman’s book – out now on a small screen near you – came out 16 years ago and makes perfect sense of the age of Trump It’s a good bet that writers are scrambling to produce the first great novel of the Age of Trump: trying to make sense of this monstrous unexpectedness, this terrifying combination of clowntime and apocalypse. But maybe the great novel of Trump’s America has already been written. It came out 16 years ago and its name is American Gods, which makes the new TV adaptation, co-helmed by Bryan Fuller, extremely timely. It’s not, I should add, that Neil Gaiman makes any specific prophecy in his novel. American Gods is not actually about Trump. It has no interest in US electoral politics (although it is profoundly interested in power); it has nothing to say about TV reality stars, but it is insightful about TV itself. Continue reading...

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson review – an urgent vision of the future

Environmental catastrophe has hit New York while the world’s richest continue to get richer in this towering novelKim Stanley Robinson’s new novel is set a dozen decades hence, in a world where climate change has bitten deep. The waters have risen 50ft, submerging much of New York City. Every street has become a canal; every skyscraper an island, linked by sky bridges and boat taxis. This is a large-scale novel, not only in terms of its 624 pages, but also the number of characters and storylines Robinson deploys, the sheer range of themes and topics. There are eight main narrative strands, focusing on a group of characters who all live in the same building, the Met Life skyscraper on Madison Square. Each strand elaborates a different type of plot: kidnap; politics small and large; Wall Street; police investigation; polar exploration; even a treasure hunt for buried gold. The premise ...