Book review: Arthur C Clarke — Dolphin Island

Book 68

This YA novel was first published in 1963, and was set around fifty years in its then-future. Nearly fifty years on, it has aged remarkably well. Right on the first page, I was taken back to the sensawunda I had when I first read this book as a young teenager around thirty years ago — not least because in the first paragraph Clarke beautifully evokes the sense of wonder his teenage protagonist feels at the sight of an international cargo vessel and the daydreams it inspires about the places it has seen.

When sixteen-year-old Johnny Clinton finds that the giant hovercraft has made an emergency landing near his home, his curiosity leads him to sneak aboard for a look around, and leaves him trapped as an accidental stowaway when it lifts off again unexpectedly. The orphaned Johnny’s not too upset at the idea of being carried away from the home he’s reluctantly offered by his widowed aunt, so he doesn’t come out of hiding until the craft crash-lands in the Pacific Ocean. The crew have abandoned ship, and Johnny is left with nothing but a packing crate and his own clothing to keep him afloat and sheltered — until a pod of dolphins find him and and save his life by pushing his makeshift raft the hundred miles to the nearest land.

That land is Dolphin Island, an island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef which is home to a research station studying dolphins. The station tracks down where Johnny came from before he’s even released from the infirmary, but he’s offered the chance to stay, an offer he’s quick to accept. He rapidly builds a new life for himself, one that mixes ongoing formal education with involvement in the scientific work on communicating with the dolphins. There’s more than a little adventure as well.

This is an excellent short novel, with an engaging protagonist, an interesting story, and some superb world-building. Clarke drew on his own experience of skin-diving on the Great Barrier Reef to paint a wonderful word picture of the Reef and its marine life. Clarke’s extrapolation of technology hasn’t suffered too badly as reality caught up with it — it’s different to what really happened, but not so much so that it jars. And glory be, the story hasn’t been visited by the Sexism Fairy. There’s a distinct absence of female characters, but not in a way that says that women shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about difficult things like science. Definitely one for my keeper collection.

LibraryThing entry

Book review: Arthur C Clarke — Glide Path

This is often described as Clarke’s non-sf novel, but it has a very similar feel to some of his hard sf. There is the same world building and sense of wonder inspired by science — but the world he brings to life here was real and recent history. For this novel is a fictionalised account of the development of Ground Control Approach radar during the second world war, and Clarke draws upon his own experience of working on the project to safely talk down aircraft by radar.

It might sound dry, but it isn’t. Clarke does a fine job on showing both the the technology, and the people who created the technology, with the interplay between different personalities, and the little and large incidents that make up life in a developmental project. The main character’s not always that likeable a person, but in a way that makes him a believable viewpoint character rather than a stock hero. There’s plenty of dramatic tension, and lighter moments as well, with both clearly being drawn at least in part from Clarke’s own experiences. Glide Path is well worth a read for both sf readers and WW2 History buffs.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK

Book Review: Arthur C Clarke — 3001 The Final Odyssey

Clarke returns to the universe of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the fourth and last novel, this time focusing on Frank Poole, the astronaut murdered by Hal in 2001. A thousand years later, Poole’s frozen corpse is retrieved and revived by a society that regards him as a hero and a living national treasure. At first he’s fully occupied with learning to live in an alien society and providing information to historians. But as boredom sets in, he finds himself drawn back to space and the Jupiter system… and the possibility of a meeting with David Bowman.

As Clarke notes in an afterword, it’s not possible to be completely consistent in a series about the near future that was written over a period of thirty years, and this book is better viewed as a variation on a theme rather than a sequel. With that in mind, the within series continuity glitches aren’t an issue, although there are a couple of annoying glitches within the book’s own timeline. The real problem is that this book is mostly a travelogue of the year 3001, with the section about the monoliths feeling sketchy and tacked on. There’s also a problem with some blatant preaching in places, when characters who are supposed to be having a conversation sound more as if they’re reading a prepared speech to sway an audience. I found it annoying, and I agree with many of the views being espoused.

It’s a readable and often enjoyable book, but I expect better from Clarke. I’d have felt cheated if I’d spent the money to buy this in hardback

3001: The Final Odyssey at amazon.com
3001: The Final Odyssey at amazon.co.uk
3001: The Final Odyssey at Barnes&Noble
3001: The Final Odyssey from Powell’s