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Imperial Earth, A Short Retrospective

Imperial Earth - Arthur C. Clarke The Bicentennial Man And Other Stories (hardcover) - Isaac Asimov

I read Arthur C. Clarke's Imperial Earth back in the late 70s when I was 15 or 16 years old. It was published in 1976 as a sort of tie-in with the American Bicentennial. Isaac Asimov published The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories around the same time. I was just old enough to view these tie-ins as a marketing ploy and did my best to avoid them. But Clarke was smart enough not to put the word "Bicentennial" or any reference to the USA in the title and thus I started reading Imperial Earth as just a book by one of my favorite authors. (Asimov's book of short stories turned out to be pretty good but I didn't discover that until much later.


I found my current copy of Imperial Earth at a used book store for $8.00 in hard cover. Back when I read it for the first time as a teenager much of it went over my head. Back then I saw it as both a "book of wonder" (as in wow, living in the future as a clone on Titan and traveling through space is really cool) and a mystery novel. But as a mystery it was slow and subtle. Somebody dies but there is no murderer. The characters in Imperial Earth act cagy but in the end there is no crime. 


In rereading Imperial Earth nearly 37 years later it's become the great novel that it always was. Clarke requires his readers to come to his books with enough knowledge of history, science, and mythology to truly follow his references and innuendo. The book opens with the hero, Duncan, as a youth discovering a magnificent sound. It could be a storm on the surface of his world (Titan, a moon of Saturn), or a rocket ship, or a monster. He shares the sounds with his best friend Karl. I now realize it's one of the best opening chapters in all of Science Fiction. 


Clarke paints a picture of the future where skin color and sexual preferences are of little importance. A world where the Earth is at peace and humanity is looking out to the stars, listening for alien civilizations or maybe alien monsters.


I don't want to give the book's secrets away but it all fits together like a pentomino puzzle (one of Duncan's favorite pastimes . (And by the way, Clarke predicts the smart phone and the Internet in this book.)