Review of The Songs of Distant Earth (1986)

Text

Arthur C. Clarke (writer).

Read in 2021.

A new type of colony ship passes by Thalassa, a waterworld where the local culture has developed for centuries under a two-child law, seeded with a censored media archive where the old religions are absent.

Lovely utopian hard SF, adapted from Clarke’s 1958 short story.

The cultural worldbuilding is charmingly old school, that is pre-New Wave. Not only the physics (neutrino deficit, vacuum energy) are mid-20th-century, but the in-universe cultural touchstones are all from that period or earlier, like a video about the mutiny on the Bounty, implied to be a classic Hollywood movie. The expert operator of an efficacious lie detector is a big fan of Sherlock Holmes for some reason. The technological worldbuilding is more successful, with advanced teleconferencing, telepresence, vast media archives etc. It’s a far cry from Neuromancer (1984), but it is surprisingly up to date for such a late Clarke.

References here: Pushing Ice (2005).

fiction text