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Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
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A-The Last TheoremArthur C. Clarke, who died last March at the age of 90, is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. Frederick Pohl is also a legend of the genre, having been named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers Association in 1993.

The Story: Shortly after the detonation of the world’s first nuclear weapons, a group of nearly omnipotent energy beings decides that humanity is just too dangerous to survive and sets out to destroy it. But fortunately for Earth, the speed of light prevents the aliens’ weapons from arriving right away—and humanity is a quick study. In the near future as described by Clarke and Pohl, international peace has been achieved through the intervention of a secretive organization called Pax per Fidem (Peace through Transparency), Sri Lanka has become a global power, and one of its brightest sons is on the verge of figuring out Fermat’s Last Theorem, one of the great unsolved problems of mathematics. But will his brilliance be enough to save Earth?
Del Rey. 320 pages. $27. ISBN: 0345470214

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Despite its minor flaws, The Last Theorem proves to be a meticulously imagined work by two old hands still engaged in their appreciation of the natural world and their wonder at what might lie beyond it. It’s a fitting valedictory for Clarke, one of science fiction’s most acclaimed authors, and a reminder of Pohl’s great relevance to a genre he has championed for more than 70 years." Michael Berry

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"The first third of The Last Theorem is a blast, with multiple lines of inquiry spiraling around one another. But there’s no payoff, and the last 200 pages feature a hodgepodge of inconsequential, even random-seeming set pieces and an unsatisfying telescoping of the time frame." Ed Park

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"Compared with the author’s earlier works, The Last Theorem seems trivial, even a bit silly. … Anyone planning on catching up on the works of this master of the genre should save this one for last." Mark Graham

Cleveland Plain Dealer 1 of 5 Stars
"If you’d like to see why Clarke mattered, try Rendezvous With Rama or The Fountains of Paradise. Neither features crashing space-opera dramatics, but both are well-written, poetic blends of scientific expertise and soaring imagination. The Last Theorem, by contrast, is banal—a disappointing finis to a distinguished career." John R. Alden

Critical Summary

Despite the unparalleled reputation of its authors, no critic was very impressed by The Last Theorem. All of its major ideas and themes, one reviewer pointed out, have been more ably explored by Clarke and Pohl in other novels (see Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, and The Fountains of Paradise, for example). Add herky-jerky pacing, inexplicable changes in characters’ behaviors, and a cartoonish American villain, and The Last Theorem seems to deserve its nearly universal criticism. On the other hand, at least one reviewer found a way to appreciate the book: as an insight into Clarke’s famously private inner life. In its descriptions of Sri Lanka (the author’s home for more than 50 years) and his protagonist’s uncertain sexual orientation, The Last Theorem may help readers learn something new about Clarke, if not the strength of his talents.