The Last Theorem Paperback – Aug 18 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Grand Masters Pohl (Gateway) and the late Clarke (1917–2008, best known for 2001) collaborated on a can't-put-down adventure that focuses on their mutual strengths: high adventure, fun characters and hard science. Sometime in the near future, teenage Sri Lankan math prodigy Ranjit Subramanian manages to reconstruct and then publish Fermat's claimed proof of his famous last theorem. As Ranjit celebrates fame and fortune, the all-powerful aliens called Grand Galactics see the flash from early nuclear explosions and decide that humanity will have to be wiped out. When Earth's superpowers deploy a new, nonlethal way of handling renegade nations and humanity begins working on global peace and large-scale engineering projects, Ranjit and his family try to broker a truce with the destructive alien force, modeling human optimism through rationality and science. Long passages of math tricks and intrusive narration mar an otherwise enjoyable tale of the struggle between reason and fear. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“A most respectable swan song for two authentic giants.”—Booklist
“Good characters . . . good tensions.”—San Diego Union-Tribune
“An intriguing cautionary tale.”—Entertainment Weekly
“A can’t-put-down adventure.”—Publishers Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Like most of the late period Clarke books, this one has a co-author, in this case a writer who has been around almost as long as Clarke, and his influence shows in this book, I think, in deeper, more fleshed-out characterization than most of Clarke's works have, which is a definite positive. There have been few depictions of real mathematicians in sf, and the portrait painted here of a man fascinated (some would say obsessed, a trait common to those bitten by this particular mathematical bug) by Fermat's Last Theorem is well done. Those in the immediate vicinity of this protagonist are also drawn with more than light pencil sketches, as we see his family, school friends, instructors, and eventually his wife both form part of what he is and sharply influence what he does with his life. As part of this depiction, there are descriptions of certain fairly simple mathematical puzzles and games from pentominoes to the combinatorial numbers relationship with the binary number base, things most people who are interested in math at all will have at least heard of, and these provide some concrete and understandable looks at the world of number theory.
However, the alien angle is very poorly done. Not only are these beings (multiple races) inadequately described in terms of their motivations, biology, and culture (I could never visualize them as real beings), the sections of the book that detail their actions is written in almost self-mocking language at sharp variance with the tone of the rest of the book. This is not too much of problem for the about the first three-quarters of the book, as this material is limited to a few paragraphs here and there, and doesn't interrupt the main story flow, but near the end when the alien's actions become a major portion of the plot, it seriously detracted from my enjoyment of the story. Worse, the alien actions provide a far too easy `out' from the problem of achieving world peace without devolving into a police state or a dictatorship that had been so nicely set up earlier.
There is an entire subplot dealing with the protagonist's son who shows up with a certain type of brain disability that looked like it should go somewhere significant, but there was nothing ever really made of it.
The ending of this book feels very rushed and compressed, with many events glossed over or only hinted at. I think if this section had been written at the same detail level as the rest of the book, it would have made for a far stronger work.
Overall, this book provides a nice return to the ideas and themes that made Clarke famous, with more real characters than is typical for him, but its faults eventually overcame its good qualities, leaving me quite disappointed.
Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
PLOT: Basically, I grinded through the entire book expecting the author to make his point soon and tie the entire story together. It was a case when I really wanted to put the book down, but felt that the author has a trick up his sleeves on the next page. This never happened. Ideas were raised and not followed up on, which make you wonder why it was mentioned in the first place. It seems like a mix-match of many different ideas without any direction. Some of the plots cooked up by the author also seem ridiculous and quite childish. It's one of those that makes you cringe as you read through it.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Superficial at best. Characters do not have a life and soul, and I never developed any emotional response to any one of them. Attempts at portraying real feelings make me feel like I'm reading the work of a 3rd grade student.
I'm never posted any reviews on amazon before, and I'm wondering why I felt the strong need to write something here. I think it's because I feel betrayed by Clarke.
Don't waste your time on this poorly written and conceived book.
I really wanted to like "The Last Theorem" much more than I did. I hoped it would offer the same sense of wonder that used to be such an enthralling part of reading science fiction, but is rarely found today. The central story, the life of Sri Lankan mathematician Ranjit Subramanian and his successful effort to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, seemed to offer a lot of promise. But, ultimately, I found that the book did not deliver.
Set mostly on Earth in an undated but not-distant future in which brushfire wars rage worldwide, it somewhat resembles Clarke's "Imperial Earth" in being more of a "gee whiz" travelogue than a story the reader can sink his or her teeth into. The fact that Subramanian proves Fermat's Last Theorem is largely incidental--it really has little bearing on the tale. And many things in the book are rehashed from other works. There's a space elevator, of course. As in "The Fountains of Paradise," its Earthside terminal is in Sri Lanka, despite the physical impossibility of it being there (the terminal must be on the Equator, which Sri Lanka is not). Unlike "Fountains," the space elevator in "The Last Theorem" is throwaway technology--you'll find none of the details about the "skyhook" that made "Fountains" such a great read. There's also pentominoes, solar sailing and human consciousnesses transferred into computers--other favorite Clarke subjects. There's really not much new, and, sad to say, its all a bit boring. Most unforgivably, in telling the story of Subramanian's entire life in a scant 300 pages, its often quite superficial. Applying the metric I mentioned earlier, "The Last Theorem" is worth reading once, but it's not worth re-reading. It's not bad, but it's not great, either, and thus I give it a middle-of-the-road rating.
I had a special reason for wanting to like "The Last Theorem." Years ago, when my wife and I were on vacation in Sri Lanka and had a few hours to spare in Colombo, I looked up "Clarke" in the telephone directory. There was only one. I noted the address and we set out on foot from our hotel with a crude city map. We had no trouble finding Mr. Clarke's villa--a former embassy building, as I recall--and I boldly approached a Sri Lankan man working under the bonnet of a Land Rover in the driveway. "Is Mr. Clarke in?" I asked. He was. The great Arthur C. Clarke, one of my childhood heroes, came out to meet us, invited us into his home and we spent a short but very enjoyable time (at least to me) talking about spaceflight, the "Golden Age" of science fiction, rocket testing at White Sands Missile Range and other wide-ranging subjects. Mr. Clarke was gracious, pleasant and accommodating to a headstrong American tourist who barged in uninvited and disturbed his privacy. I'll never forget that.
I am a physicist, so I appreciate science fiction which has emphasis on science, on fiction, that is scientifically possible (or at least appears to be possible for now). And I believe that this is a close as you can get to it.
I wanted to give it 4 stars, because it's too short! I swallowed the whole book in 1 day (not because it's really short, but because it's so amazing). But honestly, I'd like to read some form of continuation, which won't be possible because Pohl passed away in 2013. If this is his legacy, it deserves nothing else but 5 stars. It's a great book.