Early Clarke novels are like comfort food to me. They check off a lot of boxes:
– big, galaxy-spanning ideas set over vast gulfs of time
– smart, confident characters driving the plot forward instead of being manipulated by it
I don’t mind long novels, but I mind when most novels are long, which is a lot more prevalent now than it was some decades ago when I first started reading by the light filtering into my family’s cave. Early Clarke novels are wonderfully compact and Against the Fall of Night is a fittingly slim volume. Its scenes move quickly, the dialogue is snappy and to the point, there is no interminable world-building that goes on for pages or chapters. Clark sketches out his world in handfuls of sentences, letting the reader fill in the details.
In this novel a young boy living in the last city on Earth millions of years in the future, starts to get a little too curious about what really happened to the planet and begins a quest that will change civilization forever. He also meets another boy who has a giant tame bug as a pet.
Along the way, there are mysteries to be unraveled, authorities to be thwarted, robots to be commanded and technology to be marveled over, but never understood, thanks to the knowledge being lost millennia ago.
As the novel was originally published in 1953, some of the science is a bit wacky, notably a super computer that can take decades to produce an answer–then after printing it out for you, it immediately erases the information as it doesn’t have enough memory to hold everything. While Clarke envisioned a lot, he did not foresee Google.
Today this book might be considered a Young Adult novel, given its youthful protagonist, and it is very much an accessible read. I ate it up like a bag of popcorn, enjoying the sweep of its ideas and the smaller human dramas that played out in the foreground. Recommended for anyone who enjoys early science fiction and is looking for a lighter exploration of big ideas concerning the possible future of humans.