In final book, Clarke's last vision of the future
Tue July 29, 2008 08:06 EDT .
JENNY SONG - Associated Press Writer - While the search was under way, Clarke would often tell his aides, ``I hope 'The Last Theorem' won't become the lost theorem!'' Nalaka Gunawardene, one of Clarke's aides in Sri Lanka, told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
Pohl said he volunteered for the job and set about making sense of 100 pages of notes Clarke left him. About 40 or 50 pages of scenes were fully written, but the rest contained only undeveloped ideas. On some pages, there were only one or two lines of text, he said.
Clarke, who lived in Sri Lanka until his death and had battled post-polio syndrome for decades, became bedridden after breaking bones in his lower back. Difficulties with memory meant he couldn't recall enough about what he'd written in his notes to help Pohl decipher them.
``I started out by asking him for information on things in the book,'' Pohl said during an interview at his home in Palatine. ``And he e-mailed me back and said, 'I don't know. I have no idea what I was thinking of when I wrote that.' It had just gone right out of his head.''
Pohl has his own troubles. He suffers from poor muscle response in his hands and feet. He wrote much of the novel on pen and pad, his wife, Betty, transcribing the scribbles onto a computer; but his handwriting is now illegible. Typing, too, is difficult because his right hand remains bent and does not unfold in the proper way.
But together, the two longtime friends worked through the novel.
Chris Schluep, senior editor at Random House Inc., who worked with Clarke on the book's concept from the beginning, said the final manuscript maintained a ``golden thread'' of Clarke throughout but was a clear collaboration between both authors.
``It's sort of a worthy exclamation point on two pretty incredible careers,'' Schluep said.
Clarke is known for predicting scientific inventions in his novels: In 1945, he predicted the invention of communications satellites, 12 years before the launch of the first artificial satellites. As a result, geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are nicknamed Clarke orbits.
``The Last Theorem'' includes a weapon called Silent Thunder that neutralizes all electronic activity in a given area to harmlessly disarm entire nations. Another is the space elevator, a cord suspended from an orbiting object in space that can pull objects from Earth, rather than rely on rocket power to launch them.
Pohl said his research and conversations with friends who are scientists convince him both will one day exist.
``If we can somehow figure out what possible futures there might be,'' he said, ``you can try to encourage the ones you like and avoid the ones you don't.''
Pohl said the type of work he and Clarke did was different from much of what is written today. He said that rather than delving into difficult subjects like astronomy, math and physics, young writers sometimes turn to an easier route by writing fantasy.
``Science fiction is sometimes a little hard,'' Pohl said. ``Fantasy is like eating an ice cream cone. You don't have to think a bit.''
By now, Pohl has outlived the other titans of his genre. All the men he has collaborated with over the decades including Jack Williamson, Isaac Asimov and now Clarke are dead.
Pohl and Clarke met in the 1950s in New York where Pohl was a literary agent. It was during a period known as the ``Golden Age'' of science fiction. Clarke, visiting the United States for the first time, sought out a group of science fiction writers called the Hydra Club, of which Pohl was a part. The men corresponded over the years and traveled together to Japan and Brazil.
At the beginning of the collaboration, in 2006, Clarke made edits and suggestions on Pohl's writing. Although they never saw each other face to face during that time, the two would exchange e-mails and speculate about different scenarios.
``And then he began getting sicker,'' Pohl said. ``When he was in the hospital he wasn't allowed to read, and when he was out of the hospital sometimes he physically couldn't read.''
On Clarke's 90th birthday in December 2007, Pohl sent him a letter reminiscing about a time they were young and spry, jousting on bicycles in Georgia.
But Clarke didn't respond, Pohl said. His health was getting worse.
Still, Clarke e-mailed Pohl in March to say he was pleased with the final manuscript.
``He was also enormously relieved that the novel could be completed,'' Gunawardene, his aide, said.
The next day, Clarke was rushed to the hospital with difficulty breathing and placed in intensive care. He died three days later, on March 19.
Bailey, the former Science Fiction Writers of America president, said Clarke's and Pohl's books were some of the first science fiction books he and other authors of his generation read, which lends even more significance to ``The Last Theorem.''
``(Clarke and Pohl) had an impact on almost everybody who's writing science fiction today in one way or another,'' Bailey said. ``We may not see another Pohl book either.
``We just don't have these kind of writers in the genre anymore. They were at the beginning, pretty much, of the genre, and have remained presences throughout.''
Published: Tue Jul 29 08:53:34 EDT 2008