I had a suspicion that this was the book Clarke wrote that inspired a fair amount of derision. In Fountains Clarke postulates the construction of a “space elevator“, a tower extending from Earth out beyond the gravitational field. It’s an idea that has been outlined at length in a large number of science fiction novels, including the recently-read Red Mars.

The (possibly apocryphal) tale I heard was that the idea of the space elevator was widely mocked by “real” scientists. An interviewer asked Clarke, “so when do you think this idea will be taken seriously?”, Clarke replied, “about 50 years after everyone stops laughing.” When I heard it the tale was enough to make me realise that not all ideas need to be met immediately. Sometimes ideas ripen, ready to be delivered.

Anyhow, the story centres on the engineer who attempts to build the space elevator. And that’s about it.

This isn’t Clarke’s most inspired story, and while there are some interesting subplots generating commentary on religion, alien visitation, and the nature of “God”, the whole novel itself is generally disjointed an pulpy. Reading this was mostly an exploration to see if more of Clarke’s writing was interesting.

Short answer? No.

No tension, no compelling characters, some great ideas, and little else.

Readable if you get stuck, or are a diehard fan of old writers with slightly homoerotic titles.