Against the Fall of Night - Arthur C. Clarke 3 – 3.5 stars

Hundreds of thousands of years ago (millions of years after our own benighted age) the Earth suffered a tragic loss in battle with beings known only as "the Invaders" and the apparently last remnant of humanity sits behind the majestic walls of the final human city: Diaspar. Here they while away their immortal days, a society of lotus eaters tended by the greatest machines ever conceived by humankind, living in pleasure, but also fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the wasteland outside their walls, fear of the future. From time to time there has arisen among them a mind not founded on this culture of fear and indifference, but rather one prone to curiosity, courage and insight. Such a mind belongs to Alvin of Loronei, the last child to be born in the city of immortals, and a young man who thirsts for knowledge and adventure.

Clarke crafts an exciting, and lyrically written, dying earth story in which young Alvin must overcome the obstacles of his own people and face even greater challenges in the wider world. Ultimately the fate of humanity and its future (should it have one) will rest on his decisions. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the story, for much of the enjoyment comes from learning the truths, and falsehoods, of Alvin’s world through his own investigations. Suffice it to say that there is much humanity of the final eras has to learn about itself and its history and Alvin’s actions are likely to spell either a great new era in their development, or the final sputtering out of their dying life force.

I have never read anything by Arthur C. Clarke, but didn’t expect this. My impression was that he was a much more ‘hard sf’ kind of writer, more interested in true science and plausible extrapolations of it, but here we have a lyrically written fable of humanity’s far-future days of decline. True, elements of science (or super-science) are important to the story, but they don’t outweigh the emotional elements of the tale, which are really what carry it forward. There is also a significant smattering of pseudo-science elements that I found interesting. I enjoyed the story, but sometimes Alvin seemed a little too competent (perhaps a smattering of the John Cambellesque hero here?) and I’m not sure if I ever believed he wouldn’t overcome the obstacles placed before him, but the future history Clarke has painted for mankind is an interesting one and this is definitely a worthy entry into one of my favourite sub-genres of sci-fi.