Fiction Reviews

The Ghost from the Grand Banks

(1990 / 2005) Arthur C. Clarke, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, 274 pp, ISBN 0-575-07624-0


This is a welcome 2005 reprint of Clarke's 1990 novel. It is the near future and soon to be the centenary of the Titanic's sinking. Two teams from two of the most powerful international companies are locked in a race to raise the Titanic. Not only do they have to overcome the sheer technical and engineering problems that such an endeavour intrinsically holds, but they also have to come to terms with the strange phenomena of the deep that are as deadly as anything in outer space.

Clarke is one of the half dozen living giants of written SF who is well known to anybody who has been reading SF for a couple of years. However if you came to the genre in less time than that, while you will no doubt still have heard of the man, you may not have got all his novels. This then is your opportunity and good on Gollancz for providing it.

Much of Clarke's best work is set in space, and was written at a time either before man had left a load of messy footprints on the Moon or before Man said goodbye to the lunar surface three decades ago now. This is not from that cannon. Instead it deals with Clarke's second love, which is exploring the submarine environment: Clarke is an avid scuba diver. It is also one of the (but not the) last stand-alone (not part of a series) and solo authored books he has written. Some say it is his last good solo book. (To date at any rate, let's hope he has another coming, and he does refer to this as one of his 'last novels'.) I would not like to be so prescriptive. Certainly the book presents a series of problems and their solutions with typical Clarke aplomb. He also makes some interesting points about technology including a media player that can 'even' take VHS cassettes: back then VHS video was all the rage and for many (probably outside of SF or science) it seemed unthinkable that that device, that had launched countless high street shops renting tapes and which equally seemed to threaten cinema, would ever be completely redundant. (Tweaked, modified, slimed but never completely changed as with DVD, whose own lifetime, incidentally, could well be shorter!) There's also a character whose job it is to cut long, drawn-out films, like The Terminator down in running time to fit in with the short attention-span and high information content 21st century culture demands. However for me it is the references to chaos theory (remember that) that caught my attention and to date I have not seen a more concise and lucid an explanation of how to create the Mandelbrot set as Clarke has penned here in one of the book's two informative appendices.

No self-respecting SF book reader, let alone collector, can fail to have this on their bookshelf and if you have not read Clarke and do enjoy this, then you're in for a treat with his really, really good stuff. I'm also glad that his work is being reprinted before the great man turns 90 just a short year from now.

Jonathan Cowie

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