Two of science fiction’s most renowned writers join forces for a storytelling sensation. The historic collaboration between Frederik Pohl and his fellow founding father of the genre, Arthur C. Clarke, is both a momentous literary event and a fittingly grand farewell from the late, great visionary author of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Last Theorem is a story of one man’s mathematical obsession, and a celebration of the human spirit and the scientific method. It is also a gripping intellectual thriller in which humanity, facing extermination from all-but-omnipotent aliens, the Grand Galactics, must overcome differences of politics and religion and come together . . . or perish.
In 1637, the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat scrawled a note in the margin of a book about an enigmatic theorem: “I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.” He also neglected to record his proof elsewhere. Thus began a search for the Holy Grail of mathematics–a search that didn’t end until 1994, when Andrew Wiles published a 150-page proof. But the proof was burdensome, overlong, and utilized mathematical techniques undreamed of in Fermat’s time, and so it left many critics unsatisfied–including young Ranjit Subramanian, a Sri Lankan with a special gift for mathematics and a passion for the famous “Last Theorem.”
When Ranjit writes a three-page proof of the theorem that relies exclusively on knowledge available to Fermat, his achievement is hailed as a work of genius, bringing him fame and fortune. But it also brings him to the attention of the National Security Agency and a shadowy United Nations outfit called Pax per Fidem, or Peace Through Transparency, whose secretive workings belie its name. Suddenly Ranjit–together with his wife, Myra de Soyza, an expert in artificial intelligence, and their burgeoning family–finds himself swept up in world-shaking events, his genius for abstract mathematical thought put to uses that are both concrete and potentially deadly.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone on Earth, an alien fleet is approaching the planet at a significant percentage of the speed of light. Their mission: to exterminate the dangerous species of primates known as homo sapiens.
From the Hardcover edition. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (56)
This is not Clarke... period. Do not waste your money. Because that's what they (the publishers and the sole author of the book) are after. Totally disappointing.
What is it with boring books recently?
What is it with boring books recently?
I have just had the most frustrating summer, trying desperately to find something invigorating to read.. and failing all the way. This book joins the pile of near-useless paper that has collected at the end of my holidays. I have not finished reading the book yet. No, don't stone me to death for writing a review and not having read the work in it's entirety. But excuse me for being totally bored on page 259 out 410, and after restraining myself and 'talking sense' to myself at least three times so far, finally sitting down to write this. I will post an updated review once the book is finished - a place in time that looks painfully far.
I mean - don't you judge a book by the sadness that fills you when you look at the remaining pages and see them getting less and less, the front - read - part of the book growing, while the living, interesting, mysterious, captivating unread part getting thinner and thinner? Well, not this time. I am profoundly bored. There is some talk of aliens, lots of maths, a few humans going about their day-to-day business - boring, boring, boring. Absolutely not one of the characters makes a connection with me. Absolutely not one of the characters makes a connection with another character, the love story, if I may call it that, is flat and uninteresting. The main character got kidnapped and that's about the most interesting event in the whole book so far.
It is hard, I promise you, to read this! I am plodding along simply because I do not give up on books. But I decided I'd write this review now anyway, because if a book has failed to entertain its reader by the time he is halfway through... well.. I think it has missed the spot. I mean - these are two HUMONGOUS writers! What has happened to them?
I catch myself only making the effort to write a review when I am disappointed. I should make an effort to share my thoughts when I come across good books as well, just so nobody is left with the impression that I am just a sourpuss. Which I am not. Anyway, let me finish the book and I will write another review.
Here's what I think happened. Art and Fred got together got drunk and had a fine time going over all the things they'd written that should have made it and those that did but probably shouldn't have made it. They decided that they could write a book anytime they wanted. So they each picked three words: mathematician, pirates and space-elevator/innocent suffering, galactic super-beings and a (one and a half dimensional# gay friend. Then they wrote this book during a weekend bender. Then they sent it off to their editors who were either afraid to say anything bad about it or thought that it must be one of those really great pieces of literature that very few people even recognize for what it is.
The six words above are obviously part of their collective psyche not least the innocent suffering and the gay character who is never really recognized or talked about. I'm only partly mad at them for that. They are both gay men who come from a very old and mostly dead generation #of course Art and Fred are as old as their generation#. On the other hand, who are they protecting? They could have used their fame to actually forward gay issues, work toward ending the innocent suffering and expand heroic and positive gay characters, but they did none of that.
I liked the math and Ranjit #my only reason for the 2 stars), but I have no idea what he had to do with anything in the story except for his own little world within the world. He did nothing really except be in a given place at a given time to move the plot along. In fact there were no heroic characters in the novel at all.
Novel? Did I say novel? First of all there was nothing novel in it. Second there was no novel. There might be several story ideas all mashed together, but there is no cohesive story.
Not Up to "Golden Age" Standards
There's a metric that I've found very useful as I read any book. I continually ask myself, "Will I ever want to read this book again?" If the answer is "Yes," it goes into my library. If the answer is "No," it's relegated to the public library donation pile. As I applied this metric over many years, I built up a large collection of books that I enjoyed very much the first time through, and still enjoy re-reading from time to time. Most of the works of the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke are in this category, as evidenced by my pristine paperback first editions (we're talking 35- and 50-cent-cover-price books here!) of all of his classic science fiction books. Unfortunately, "The Last Theorem," a collaboration between Clarke and his colleague Frederick Pohl, is not a keeper.
I really wanted to like "The Last Theorem" much more than I did. I hoped it would offer the same sense of wonder that used to be such an enthralling part of reading science fiction, but is rarely found today. The central story, the life of Sri Lankan mathematician Ranjit Subramanian and his successful effort to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, seemed to offer a lot of promise. But, ultimately, I found that the book did not deliver.
Set mostly on Earth in an undated but not-distant future in which brushfire wars rage worldwide, it somewhat resembles Clarke's "Imperial Earth" in being more of a "gee whiz" travelogue than a story the reader can sink his or her teeth into. The fact that Subramanian proves Fermat's Last Theorem is largely incidental--it really has little bearing on the tale. And many things in the book are rehashed from other works. There's a space elevator, of course. As in "The Fountains of Paradise," its Earthside terminal is in Sri Lanka, despite the physical impossibility of it being there (the terminal must be on the Equator, which Sri Lanka is not). Unlike "Fountains," the space elevator in "The Last Theorem" is throwaway technology--you'll find none of the details about the "skyhook" that made "Fountains" such a great read. There's also pentominoes, solar sailing and human consciousnesses transferred into computers--other favorite Clarke subjects. There's really not much new, and, sad to say, its all a bit boring. Most unforgivably, in telling the story of Subramanian's entire life in a scant 300 pages, its often quite superficial. Applying the metric I mentioned earlier, "The Last Theorem" is worth reading once, but its not worth re-reading. Its not bad, but its not great, either, and thus I give it a middle-of-the-road rating.
I had a special reason for wanting to like "The Last Theorem." Years ago, when my wife and I were on vacation in Sri Lanka and had a few hours to spare in Colombo, I looked up "Clarke" in the telephone directory. There was only one. I noted the address and we set out on foot from our hotel with a crude city map. We had no trouble finding Mr. Clarke's villa--a former embassy building, as I recall--and I boldly approached a Sri Lankan man working under the bonnet of a Land Rover in the driveway. "Is Mr. Clarke in?" I asked. He was. The great Arthur C. Clarke, one of my childhood heroes, came out to meet us, invited us into his home and we spent a short but very enjoyable time (at least to me) talking about spaceflight, the "Golden Age" of science fiction, rocket testing at White Sands Missile Range and other wide-ranging subjects. Mr. Clarke was gracious, pleasant and accommodating to a headstrong American tourist who barged in uninvited and disturbed his privacy. I'll never forget that.
What a disappointment. Although Arther C. Clarke was never my favorite of grand old masters of SF (I'm more of a Heinlein and Asimov fan), I've read a good deal of his work and enjoyed most of it. This book however, written jointly with Frederik Pohl, was not enjoyable. It is poorly written, badly paced and just plain boring.
It is a slapdash biography of the Sri Lankan mathematician Ranjit Subramanian, rendered as a concatenation of anecdotes and episodes from his life with little to hold it together. Certainly it had little to do with the end of the book when the aliens arrive and decide not to sterilize the planet. Even after reading his life's story, I still could not bring myself to care much about him or his family. Unfortunately the characters were much like the writing: shallow and pointless.
Apart from the pointlessness of the biography, there was one other thing that bothered me immensely: There was no science fiction. Sure, there was solar sailing and a space elevator, there were space aliens and magic boron-catalyzed hydrolysis-powered cars (well, one of them anyway), but in no way did science (or even technology) play any important role in the plot. There were no new ideas, no exploration of new technology and its effects, no awe-inspiring concepts or themes.
In a way this book could have been written in the 1950s; the future as presented has a rickety and superficial feel to it, and does not ring true in the least. Essentially the world consists of (naively idealized versions of) the same institutions that exist today with a bit more tech sprinkled on top. Or perhaps even that is too charitable: there are idealized versions of institutions (such as the UN, the (scientific) press, universities, etc) as they existed a few decades ago. The book entirely ignores the profound changes that are already taking place.
At least some of the classic Golden Age SF could rely on space aliens to spice things up, but even here the authors do not deliver. There was plenty of material to work with, but in the end the aliens are presented in the same superficial manner and the same disinterested voice as the rest of the story. The aliens were just the pretext the authors needed to do some clumsy geopolitical moralizing. It is so clumsy, naive and preposterous however that the intended effect of the moralizing is entirely lost by the absurdity of their premises.
I feel a bit guilty for being so negative about a book written by two of the great names of SF, who have truly deserved their reputations. But unfortunately the book leaves me no choice, and one can only hope it will be mercifully forgotten in assessing the legacy of these two great masters.
... Read more