A Good Book in Theory

Meeting notes from Beamer Jon:

As we come to the heat of summer, the Beamers reading schedule moved to equatorial lands in Sri Lanka with The Last Theorem, written by two greats of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke and Frederick Pohl.

Set in the near future, the tale recounts the life and times of Ranjit Subramanian, a young man from the Trincomalee district of Sri Lanka.  Through intelligence, friends and luck (we briefly debated how much was good and how much was bad) Ranjit is inspired to solve the nearly 400 year old puzzle of Fermat’s last theorem and take part in the human colonization of outer space.

Eugene opened the debate with an email missive, indicating that the book was very much a feel good ‘young adult’ book where those plucky humans with intelligence, compassion and space yacht race thrown in for good measure go out and make the galaxy their own.  However, many of the important points seemed to get glossed over (the space elevator just seems to appear).  This sentiment was echoed by several of the Beamers, with Donna noting that there was a lot of material hinted at but not fleshed out that she would have loved to read about.

[Alan: the authors raise and fail to develop numerous interesting sf themes:  differently abled child with telepathy? mind in computer? world saved by mathematics? unlimited cheap energy?]

Alan observed that the book seemed to largely be two disconnected stories in one volume – that of Ranjit Subramanian, and that of the human race building a space elevator, colonizing the moon and dealing with an invasion from space.  The first half of the book was generally agreed to be interesting, setting the stage and intriguing us as to how the two parts would become stitched together.  Sadly, this stitching never really occurred.  Ranjit is never really involved in the great events beyond knowing his friend Gamini Bandara is involved.

On some level, it was conceded that there were real world events that may have prevented the authors from completing a richer novel – with both authors being octogenarians and Sir Arthur dying shortly after the novel was completed, it seems impossible that some of the gaps weren’t the result of events that went well beyond a publisher’s desire to get the book in print.

Going beyond the aspects of what might have been, Carol observed that Ranjit, aside from hacking a professor’s account to get at mathematics journals, was a rather passive protagonist.  Great world events are happening around him, and he seems disinclined to become further involved in them.  In a similar vein, Jon was disappointed with the villains of the tale, particularly the nefarious Orion Bledsoe, who he felt didn’t quite have enough depth to be two dimensional.

Nevertheless, the Beamers consensus seemed to be that the ideas were intriguing and the writing was strong enough to get all of us to keep turning the pages, even if some didn’t quite turn the last page before the meeting.  We also felt that the description of the mathematics was solid but not boring.  Overall scores ranged from Jon’s low of 4 to Donna’s high of 7 with more sixes than fives.

For August, we travel a bit north to India with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.  In September, we will take the slow boat to reincarnation with Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld.

Jon, ready to ride an elevator to the stars…

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