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Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review: The Fountains of Paradise



You can almost see Patrick Stewart playing Vannevar Morgan, the driven engineer who pushes to construct the world's first "space elevator." For any reader unfamiliar with the concept, what Clarke talks about in this book is a train track that stretches from the equator to geostationary orbit, where our weather satellites generally reside. This immense tower, elevator, or "skyhook" could humanity tremendous amounts of money and energy, as we would no longer have to launch rockets into space, but could simply send payloads up this extended elevator. From there, we could use the spin of the earth at the elevator's uppermost point to launch payloads throughout the solar system without using as much fuel.



It's heady stuff, and I thoroughly enjoyed Clarke's play with this concept. And along the way, he manages to describe the "office of the future" (much of which has already occurred in the 22 years since the book was released), the flooding of the Sahara, the damming of the Bering Sea, the bridging of the Straits of Gibraltar, and other massive engineering projects. Oh yes, and Clarke also throws in a lesson or two about Buddhism, contact with an alien space probe, weather satellites, the aurora borealis, the history of a monument in his native Sri Lanka, and half a dozen other historical engineering developments. Clarke's work here is about PROGRESS, writ large.

This is still one of my favorite books. Perhaps that is because of Morgan, the only well-developed character in the whole story. He is one of those characters whom the real world does not have enough of: the truly visionary engineer. At any rate, Clarke manages to show a future in which man-made machines are awe-inspiring but not detrimental or overpowering to mankind.

I'd like to live in this world.

1 comment:

friendly_nelson said...

I've never read this book but I have been fascinated by the concept of a space elevator since the first time I've heard about it something like five years ago.

Some people have pointed out that my idea of a space elevator comes closer to the description in this book than the currently popular design consisting of a CNT tether.

If anyone is interested in my not so sexy proposal for deploying such a system google the word spaceshaft.