Fantasy Review, No. 90, April 1986, p. 21.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Clarke, Arthur C. The Songs of Distant Earth. Del Rey, New York, May 1986, 272p. $17 .95, hardcover. ISBN 0-345-33219-9.
Clark has “written a wicked book, [but feels] spotless as the lamb.” In the “Author’s Note” at the start of The Songs of Distant Earth, he confesses to liking Star Trek, Star Wars, etc., but dismisses them as fantasy, not science fiction. Works such as these “expired” (the opposite of “inspired”) Clarke to write a “wholly realistic [his emphasis] piece of fiction on the interstellar theme.”
Using the standard cliché elements of the last survivors from Earth, the long-lost interstellar colony, and a utopian society something akin to Polynesia before the condo developers moved in, Clarke has created a wholly original tale. Like most of his work, it is a gentle tale, with little blood and few raised voices. It is also a thoroughly engrossing tale, filled with real people from two radically different societies. Most wicked of all, it has the best elements of such film romances as Star Wars, yet it adheres to the author’s purpose of being wholly realistic.
Comparing The Songs of Distant Earth to previous work by Clarke would be misleading. It is a major, important novel in its own right, and will probably emerge as one of the highlights of 1986. It should be read because it is good, and wicked, and not because it has Clarke’s name on the spine.
–Lawrence I. Charters