The Fountains of ParadiseArthur C. Clarke
Book Club Associates by arrangement with Victor Gollancz 1979
Vannevar Morgan, Clarke’s main character in this story, parallels the driven and visionary Prince Kalidasa of ancient Taprobane in that both relentlessly pursue a goal that appears to be beyond the reach of mortal men. Morgan wants to create a stairway to heaven, a space elevator that will stretch from the peak of the holy mountain, Sri Kanda, to geosynchronous Earth orbit, but to achieve his vision he needs to displace the monastery of monks who have occupied the mountain peak from before the time of Prince Kalidasa.
The main story is the story of the building of the space elevator. Various events conspire to complicate the building process but one feels that, like Clarke’s belief in the inevitable triumph of technology, these things will be overcome.
Interwoven through the story of the building of the space elevator is the story of man’s first contact with an extra-terrestrial probe ship, Starglider. Like Clarke’s earlier contact story, Rendezvous with Rama, Starglider is a sublight, automated vessel which mysteriously appears in the Sol system, passes through, and then leaves, leaving behind more questions than its existence answers. This is another of Clarke’s themes – there is intelligent life out there, it will contact us, it will probably be benign (or just plain disinterested), and it will not automatically give humanity a cornucopia of technology. Instead, the arrival of such a ship will be the catalyst for humanity to put its petty differences behind it and strive to uplift itself by exploiting its ingenuity and technology.
The Fountains of Paradise is still an interesting, and thought-provoking, read. There is a short article on Wikipedia and a better review on The SF Site The Fountains of Paradise is number 34 on the Orion Books SF Masterworks List