Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Last Theorem

I never realized that Arthur C. Clarke lived most of his adult life in Sri Lanka. That explains the setting for The Last Theorem. The book centers around mathematician Ranjit Subramanian. We start with him in college, and later see him achieve great fame after proving Fermat's last theorem. He gets married has kids, becomes a professor, gets involved with the US government and eventually is given a "mechanical" immortality.

He also plays a role in some important events for the future of humanity.

Aliens picked up radio signals from earth. They also noticed the nuclear blasts. The "Grand Galatics" decided that the earth needed to be destroyed, so they sent out a crew of "1.5s" to do the destruction as well as "9 limbs" to communicate. However, a Grand Galactic passing near earth saw that the humans were not all bad, so he called off the invasion. Unfortunately, the other aliens did not have the resources to return home, so they occupied a vacant part of earth. The Americans initially tried to attack them. However, this failed miserably, and they eventually became friends, sharing technology and eventually leading earthlings to be the guardians of the galaxy.

Back on earth, a "peace coalition" uses "EMP" bombs (silent thunder) to disable all electronic activity in rouge states. They deploy this over North Korea and quickly dispose of the "benevolent leader". They also had a humanitarian crew standing by to provide supplies after the attack. Thus they are able to quickly install a peaceful leadership without bloodshed. They later use this on Colombia and Venezuela. (The drug trade had dried up in Colombia after it was legalized in America. However, the kingpins decided to join the trade in another lucrative addiction - oil. This led to a lot of fighting that was finally ended by "silent thunder".)

Earth has also developed greater space exploration technology, with a "space elevator" enabling Moon travel to be easier. Ranjit's daughter competes in the first "space olympics". She also competes in a "solar sail" race. However, in the process, her vehicle is commandeered by the 9 limbs who clone her body to use to interrogate leaders of the earth.

There is a lot of stuff going on. However, most of the narrative is spent talking about the life of Ranjit. While we get little bits of the alien activity throughout the book, actual human-alien contact doesn't happen until the end. Even here, it seems like it will be aborted before it is started. We finally get a quick landing and a paranoid US response. When that fails, they seem to make peace and live together nicely.

I liked the way that the novel started. We get a couple prologues about the life and interest of the authors, and these meld directly into the story of Ranjit. I was left wondering whether this was still a bit of "fact" related to the authors. Then the aliens pop in, and I finally realize it is fiction.

The ending seems to jump up a little suddenly. I was expecting some sort of bang with the aliens, but it is just a little whimper. The earth ends up in a highly optimistic peaceful existence. The US uses its technical warfare superiority to ensure peace. They almost go too far in their quest, but luckily, they are stopped by aliens and the earthlings are able to have a peaceful, educational co-existence.

After this seeming peace, another bit seems tacked on where Ranjit's wife dies in a Scuba accident. Her mind is saved in an "electronic" body, with her husband joining her. This seems to only allow the narrative to come back to them a few thousand years later after the Grand Galactics have returned and decided that earthlings should take over their role.

There is a lot of interesting content in this story, and a nice narrative style. The ending seems rushed, but manages to serve its purpose in spite of leaving out a lot that we were expecting.

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