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The Last Theorem
Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl
Del Rey / HarperVoyager, 303 pages

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 SF, 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. He died in 2008.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Clarke's Universe
SF Site Review: The Other Side of the Sky
SF Site Review: Childhood's End
SF Site Review: The Collected Stories
SF Site Review: The Fountains of Paradise
SF Site Review: The Light Of Other Days
SF Site Review: The Light Of Other Days
SF Site Review: Profiles of the Future
SF Site Review: Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence

Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl was born in 1919 in New York City. His first novel was The Space Merchants (with C.M. Kornbluth) serialized in Galaxy magazine (1952) and his first solo novel was Drunkard's Walk, a Galaxy serial in 1960. He has won Hugo Awards as an editor (1966, 1967 and 1968), as a short story writer for "The Meeting" (with C.M. Kornbluth) in 1973 and in 1986 for "Fermi and Frost," and as a novelist for Gateway in 1978. He won Nebula Awards for Man Plus in 1976 and Gateway in 1977. As well, he has served as President of SFWA during 1974-76 and World SF for 1980-82.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Platinum Pohl
SF Site Review: The SFWA Grandmasters, Volume 1
SF Site Review: O Pioneer!
SF Site Review: The Siege of Eternity

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The Last Theorem
The Last Theorem
Over the years, Arthur C. Clarke has announced the publication of his final book several times. And each time, he has gone on to publish additional novels. The Last Theorem, unfortunately, is his last novel, published posthumously and in collaboration with Clarke's long-time friend and fellow grand master, Frederik Pohl.

The heart of the novel tells the story of Ranjit Subramanian, a Sri Lankan man who is fascinated by mathematical tricks and finds his muse in Fermat's Last Theorem, a riddle posited by Pierre de Fermat in 1637 and still unsolved. Aside from working on a solution to Fermat's riddle, Subramanian tends to drift through life, mostly supported by a few close friends. Even his resolution of Fermat's problem comes about because of events beyond his control. Once he does solve the problem, Subramanian has even less drive, although at that point, the story really becomes his daughter, Natasha's story.

However, even as Natasha becomes the focus point of the novel, she never becomes the protagonist. Her exploits and deeds, and drive, are all told mostly from Ranjit's point of view as a proud father. This gives the novel a distant feel, since often the primary activity, and the people who are the driving force behind that action, are off stage, or described from someone else's point of view.

Parallel to Ranjit's story is the story of the Grand Galactics, a group of aliens so foreign that Clarke and Pohl don't even really try to describe or define them. Instead, they remain amorphous, hidden behind a variety of client races which are only marginally better defined, both in appearance, culture, and purpose. All that is really known, or even necessary to know, is that because they intercepted an early radio message sent by airman Arthur C. Clarke, the Grand Galactics have sent their client races to destroy life on Earth.

Throughout the novel, Clarke and Pohl slowly build up the idea that the Grand Galactics' client races are going to exterminate the population of the Earth. When the races eventually do reach the Earth, at the height of the first extraterrestrial Olympics, their depiction, and their actions, are almost a letdown. It would be wrong to state that the authors incorporate a deus ex machina at that point for the simple reason that nothing as specific as a deus ex machina actually occurs.

On the whole, there is nothing wrong with The Last Theorem, and from many authors it would be a perfectly acceptable novel. Coming from the pens and minds of such giants as Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl, however, a reader expects to get more than the book delivers. It is filled with interesting ideas, but rarely are the fully fleshed out. One of the most interesting features of the novel is that inclusion of mathematical legerdemain taught by Ranjit to his students.

The Last Theorem is more a curiosity due to the collaboration between Clarke and Pohl. Although it is technically Clarke's last novel, his last solo novel was The Hammer of God, published in 1993. Pohl has published a solo venture as recently as 2004's The Boy Who Would Live Forever, and is still active writing. With luck, there are more solo Pohl novels to be seen in the future.

Copyright © 2008 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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