This review was first published by Booklist on May 22, 2018.
Westfahl (Science Fiction Quotations, 2005) offers a well-considered reevaluation of Arthur C. Clarke’s legacy, tracing broad topics and contradicting some commonly held beliefs. For example, although many separate Clarke’s technical sf from his quasi-mystical imaginings, Westfahl shows it to all be of a piece: near-future technology is relatively comprehensible to modern readers, whereas far-future technology would be so far beyond our comprehension as to appear magical—a logical conclusion. His analysis is most valuable in its scope, ranging beyond Clarke’s major works and considering his myriad stories, his less successful novels, his nonfiction, and even his juvenilia. Where this book fails is in its attempts to grapple with Clarke as a person. Clarke was a deeply private man, and there’s little evidence to consider about his life beyond his published works. Westfahl tries too hard to read too much significance into what little evidence there is. It’s a bit abstruse for anyone unfamiliar with Clarke’s work, and it verges on hagiography at times. Still, a worthy analysis of an important sf writer.