The Ghost From The Grand Banks – Arthur C. Clarke

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Raise the Titanic! And why not, that monstrous old tub is just sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic, doing nobody no good, except possibly James Cameron. Two rival firms, supervised by an International Sea Authority, compete to bring the stern of the Titanic back into the air using sophisticated technology.

The Ghost From The Grand Banks set in 2010, but not as you or I remember it. Writing in 1990, Clarke imagined a somewhat spacier 2010 that includes glass that vibrates so it doesn’t get wet, primitive microbots assisting in surgery, and psychologists that prove it’s possible to be too sexually permissive. The greatest departure from the actual 2010 is the absence of the internet and its impact on popular culture, which is strange given that he predicted something like the internet in his story Dial F For Frankenstein. To his credit, Clarke does discuss the Y2k Bug, referring to it as the ‘Century Syndrome’. He also predicts that Russia wouldn’t be Soviet after 1990.

The plot was interesting but ultimately unsatisfactory. At times the novel felt like nothing more than an elaborate fictional framework in which Clarke could insert lectures about whatever subject interested him at the time. This works well when characters explain how they’d go about raising the Titanic, but veers into the excruciatingly self-indulgent when a preteen girl delivers a lecture on fractals to a polite house-guest. Even worse, some of her dialogue was directly lifted from a speech written by Clarke, printed at the very end of the book.

Characterisation was indistinct, with the three male protagonists blurring into each other and differentiated only by their names and roles within the story. There’s a mathematician whose wife goes insane after their genius daughter is squashed by a tree, a heroic diver who ends up working at the ISA, and a millionaire inventor who finds himself sharing a boardroom with English aristocrats. Probably the most memorable character was Dr. Zwicker, an acerbic oceanologist.

For all that, there’s something refreshing about Clarke’s optimism for the future. As I see it, most of the major sci-fi trends New Wave and Cyberpunk seem to have bypassed him entirely, leaving him writing 1940s Golden Age-style sci-fi in the early nineties. In Clarke’s world, problems are just challenges for inventors. None of his characters mope about how dire their planet has gotten, and there are no conspicuous dystopian elements present. I know that Clarke wrote at least one kid’s book – Dolphin Island – but I think this sort of intelligent and plausible optimistic would be extremely appropriate for children’s science fiction. You know, to say to the kids: The future’s looking grim with global warming and atomic bombs, but at least we can imagine a happier tomorrow.

The Ghost From The Grand Banks is another of those disappointing novels Clarke wrote late in his career, like Cradle and The Trigger. Although the books he wrote with Stephen Baxter, The Light of Other Days and the A Time Odyssey series, were great. I think the best novels he wrote by himself are Childhood’s End and the ones based on 2001: A Space Odyssey, besides that his main achievement are all the classic short stories he wrote.

This book is only for die-hard Clarke fans and Titanic devotees.

 

 

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