The Fountains of Paradise

The Fountains of Paradise
Arthur C. Clarke, 1979

Hugo Winner - 1980

Premise: Vannevar Morgan has a vision. He is already the most acclaimed architect of his generation, but now he wants to help man climb to the stars in the first space elevator. The only thing in his way is the monastery sitting on top of the ideal building location.

The Fountains of Paradise begins with a flashback to the ancient story of King Kalidasa (a fictionalized version of Kashyapa I who terrorized his enemies and built a massive tribute to his own power, in sight of the proposed site of the elevator. The book, on a certain level, is all about men’s efforts to make a mark on history, to build something that will outlast them.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit. Like Rendezvous With Rama, it does a nice job of balancing the intricacies of theory around the technology with the human stories of the people interacting with it. It’s not a book for those that need their stories to be purely character driven. We observe Vannevar and the other characters from close enough to sympathize and be engaged with their stories, but never connect to them on a very deep level.

Another theme that I enjoyed centered on the relationship between the continued existence of religion and gaining new knowledge, particularly knowledge of extraterrestrial life. It’s only sort of tied to the rest of the book, and it’s (sadly) not terribly believable these days, but it’s a pleasant subplot, posing a fairly utopian outcome.

I’ve found both Hugo-winners I’ve read by Clarke so far to be excellent palate-cleansers: intellectual puzzles and intriguing worlds make a nice break from books (or movies/tv) full of over-the-top romance, angst, and strife. Fountains has its life-or-death moments, but they aren’t emotionally exhausting to read.

I found this book very solidly satisfying, and I’ll have to make room for some more Clarke in my to-read pile.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

List of Hugo Winners


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