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Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible
Arthur C. Clarke
Victor Gollancz, 211 pages

Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible
Arthur C. Clarke
Born in 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England, and living in Sri Lanka since 1956, Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) based on his short story "Sentinel of Eternity." His Against the Fall of Night (1948) and Childhood's End (1953) are also among his best titles. Clarke was voted Grand Master at the 1986 Nebula Awards. His short story "The Star" (1955) won him a Hugo award as did the movie adaptation of 2001. A writer of hard science fiction, though not without some elements of mysticism, Clarke has also written a large volume of science-popularizing non-fiction for which he has won UNESCO's Kalinga Prize (1962) and a non-fiction International Fantasy Award in 1972 (for The Exploration of Space). Clarke has also received many honours from the scientific community, in particular for his work in the development of today's geosynchronous communication satellites.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
Arthur C. Clarke Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

This Millennium Edition of a book originally published in 1962 is an examination of where Arthur C. Clarke believes that we are headed -- at least in a technological sense. To this end, he has provided an entertaining chart at the back of the book suggesting that we may well have weather control by 2010 and immortality by the turn of the next century.

I think most readers will find the book interesting primarily because Mr. Clarke has gone back through the essays presented and reworked them, adding sections to many of them and modifications to all. To Mr. Clarke's credit, he is not afraid to admit being occasionally naïve, sometimes by being overly optimistic, but sometimes by not guessing that technology would progress as rapidly as it has in some areas.

The essays themselves cover a wide range of topics, from increasing the speed with which we get around the planet, to conquering gravity, to conquering time itself.

Occasionally, the essays lead to conclusions that the average reader may find a bit horrifying, and the author understands this. In the chapter entitled "The Obsolescence of Man," he writes:

"If you think that an immobile brain would lead a very dull sort of life, you have not fully understood what has already been said about the senses. A brain connected by wire or radio links to suitable organs could participate in any conceivable experience, real or imaginary."
While this is undoubtedly true, the reader may wish that Mr. Clarke were not quite so nonchalant about it, nor about his complete calm over the matter of our bodies being either heavily supplemented by or replaced by machines, which he admits may not be a pleasant thought for his readers.

Mr. Clarke has a wry sort of humour that helps to keep things informal. In his essay "The Quest for Speed," he launches into a lengthy discussion of just how quickly passengers could practically be carried around the planet. At one point in the discussion, he points out that:

"At no time during the trip could anyone claim to be comfortable, and for the weightless portion of the flight even the famous paper bag would be unusable. It might not be unfair to say that in round-the-world satellite transportation, half the time the toilet is out of reach, and the other half of the time it is out of order."
I did enjoy this new edition of the book,  although I wish a clearer differentiation could have been drawn between the original text and the portions which Mr. Clarke recently added. There were times when this caused some minor confusion. I also would quibble with the author's assertion that meeting an alien race would cause a terrible identity crisis for the major religions of the world; I suspect, instead, that there would be a rush to send missionaries. But this is more a personal reservation and doesn't damage the book's worth.

Finally, I think would-be writers of science fiction would really benefit from this book. It dispenses a fair amount of general scientific information and provides inspiration for any number of story plots.

Copyright © 2000 Stephen M. Davis

Steve Davis teaches at the University of New Orleans as an Instructor of English. He enjoys chess, strong black coffee, and books by authors who care enough to work at their craft.

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