The Song of Distant Earth was written by Arthur C. Clarke as a sort of response to Star Trek. Based upon an earlier story with the same name (12,500 words published in 1958) , Clarke felt it necessary to 'answer' some of the problems he saw in the "space operas" and "space westerns".

In the introduction, Clarke admits his enjoyment of the various "science fiction" movies and television series that grew in the late 70's and early 80's. However, he feels that calling these "science fiction" to be incorrect and more likely fall in the area of "fantasy".

In his novel, Clarke presents a very realistic view of the future of space travel (with one possible exception, though still very grounded in real science). Consider Earth in the early 21st century discovers that the sun will go nova in about 1000 years. In the years following, probes and seed ships where sent out. The latter, containing the necessary stuff of life to start a colony on a far off planet. I am moderately amused that Clarke, a well known visionary, puts the decoding of the human genome at 2600.

Many of these seed ships failed. Some never made it to the destination. Others, succeeded, started a colony that eventually reverted to barbarism. Two seed ships where sent out by religious organizations - one by the Mormons, the other by an organization known as "the Daughters of the Prophet" (I assume indicates Islamic influence). However, most seed ships were decidedly non-religious. One such seed ship that left from Earth in 2751 was headed for a planet that eventually became known as Thalassa (Greek word meaning "the sea").

One of the tasks for the people planning the seed ships was to select what information should be sent along with to preserve some culture of Earth. Storage was limited and by no means could include the vast information (literature, music, visual) that we constantly produce. In an effort to prevent the religious conflicts that accompanied the last thousand years of Earth, the material was carefully selected to be secular and contain no mentioning of God.

The people of Thalassa were raised in a completely secular society on an almost utopian world that consisted of a giant ocean and two small islands in the tropical latitudes. There was food enough for all - life was rather idyllic. Some would say too idyllic such that procrastination was a major trait of Thalassans. Politically the largest amount of dissent was a radical vegan group on the north island that felt that anything that is or was alive should not be food. The only major disaster was the eruption of volcano "Kraken" 300 years after first landing. This eruption damaged the deep space antenna and contact was lost with Earth (about year 3200, only 400 years until nova).

For the next 500 years the Thalassans lived in a social stasis. Rarely was there enough minds in any one field to produce the necessary critical mass for any breakthroughs. Meanwhile, on Earth resources were squandered at an amazing rate - there was nothing to live for. Less than 100 years before the nova there was the discovery of the quantum drive that allowed a space vessel to tap into the quantum fluctuations and thus did not require any fuel for space travel. In 3617 the Magellan left Earth with a few thousand people in cold sleep. In 3620 the sun went nova, sterilizing the inner solar system. In 3827, the Magellan arrives at Thalassa to rebuild the ice shield.

There is no warp 6

Clarke touches upon many topics that he feels are 'wrong' with the science fiction future fantasy. Faster than light travel is impossible - all the travel is slow. Technology advanced species are few and far between, if any. However, that doesn't give humanity the right to colonize another planet if there is no one to contend with. Clarke also explores the creation of his own Utopia and the meeting of that culture with Humanity.

All in all, this is a superb book though it must be read constantly thinking of how Clarke is pointing at the flaws of popular "science fiction" series.

ISBN 0-345-32240-1

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