Monday, September 30, 2002

Afterwords and Acknowledgements

I was flipping through some books today and started re-reading some of the afterwords and acknowledgments that Arthur C. Clarke has put into his books. It's interesting to see how much these short essays have influenced me.

In Imperial Earth, he talks about a mathematical puzzle called polyominoes (sometimes seen in a commercial form called Pentominoes). I recently found a few sets of these. The book also sparked an interest in geology that I never followed up on (who knows what career that would have lead me to?). It also interested me in SETI/CETI and things like the Very Large Array and Project Cyclops. I also re-watched A Night to Remember as a result of this book, with new appreciation.

From The Fountains of Paradise, I grew to appreciate Sri Lanka and Buddhism. Much of the book deals with the possibility of a space elevator to provide low-cost/high efficiency access to space. It's been interesting to see how this idea has played out in science fiction (in books like The Web Between the Worlds by Charles Sheffield and in the Mars books by Kim Stanley Robinson as well as other books by Clarke). And now, it may be playing out in fact—a conference was recently held in New Mexico on this very subject. Various materials are coming into easier production that might make such a thing possible.

The Ghost from Grand Banks introduced me to fractals. I've bought a few books on the subject, as well as several programs to generate these fascinating things. I can't claim to be anywhere the math expert needed to understand it all, but it got me interested in geometry and math again.

The Hammer of God had references to just about every science fiction novel that I've encountered that includes in it's plot meteors striking the earth.

The Odyssey books (specifically, 2010: Odyssey Two2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey) have a lot packed into their afterwords. Especially of interest is the afterword to 3001 in which Clarke gives a chapter-by-chapter description of all his sources. Endless hours of time could be spent tracking this stuff down and reading it.

2001 did not have a afterword, but it did have Jerome Angel's excellent Making of book. I wish that book would come into print again, my copy is falling to shreds from the number of times I've read it or loaned it out.

Stephen Baxter continues this tradition. The "heir apparent" (in many ways) to the British variant of Hard SF, several of his books have notes on sources. And, as he has written one book with Clarke, and has a few more in various stages, I'm sure we'll see more from both. Phase Space, a collection of stories connected to or inspired by his Manifold trilogy has an interesting afterword on where the various stories came from (and if they are connected to other books). Two of Manifold books—Time and Space (but not Origin) each have a list of sources that are fascinating to explore. The alternate history novel Voyage has an excellent rundown on the actual plans NASA had to get us to Mars—in the 1980's! Titan and Moonseed have relatively brief afterwords compared to Voyage, but Moonseed lists some excellent books to explore.

Many thanks to Clarke and Baxter for suggesting many ways to further explore their fictional worlds!

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