This is the second Arthur C. Clarke novel I’ve read (the first being Rendezvous With Rama), and I’ve been blown away by both. For some reason I expected Clarke’s books to be a bit drier and more dated, but his is some of the most exciting and mind-expanding science fiction I’ve ever read. I should have expected no less from the mind behind 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps I had that prejudice because in some older sci-fi books, the science and ideas become outdated or the writing style does (or it was never any good to begin with). Especially with hard science fiction, which Clarke is often categorized as, the science is prioritized over the story, craft, and characters, so once the science itself becomes dated, the book does as well. But this is NOT the case with Arthur C. Clarke. Though there is some “hard science” in Childhood’s End, it was also quite weird, speculative, and philosophical (like 2001). Clarke’s ideas remain highly relevant and he is an exquisite composer of prose. This novel particularly features so many brilliant lines of philosophical insight, such as: “There were some things that only time could cure. Evil men could be destroyed, but nothing could be done with good men who were deluded.”
Thomas Ligotti has become one of my favorite contemporary horror writers. Like my favorite contemporary science fiction writer, Ted Chiang, Ligotti writes exclusively short stories. Both writers have never published anything longer than a novella. In this excerpt from an interview, Ligotti explains why he has not and never will write a novel:
I think it’s safe to say that I will never write a novel. The reason is this: I really don’t like fiction, and novels are what fiction is all about. The only fictional works that I’ve ever admired are those which have their formal basis in essays (Borges), poetry (Bruno Schulz), monologues (Thomas Bernhard), or all three (Poe and Lovecraft). I want to hear a writer speaking, not see a movie in my mind that takes days or weeks to get through rather than 100 minutes or the time it takes to watch a multi-part mini-series. Why would anyone want to read The Silence of the Lambs when they could see the movie?
I was looking forward to reading this double collection of horror short stories after hearing Ligotti be recommended by so many other writers I admire. And I can see why there was so much hype. I was immensely impressed, and Ligotti has become my favorite living horror writer and probably the best writer of weird fiction since Lovecraft. Ligotti is like the Ted Chiang of horror—not in terms of theme or content, but in the fact that they only write short stories and their stories are all fantastic and deep philosophically. Ligotti’s brand of horror is highly cerebral. He is a master of prose style, which is similar to Lovecraft’s in its verbosity and poetic beauty. Ligotti is also similar to Lovecraft in his content and themes—primarily extreme nihilism. His nonfiction book, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, which I read last year, lays out his antinatalist worldview—a worldview I do not share—though I enjoy reading about those dark themes in fiction. After all, what could be more horrific than the idea that human life doesn’t matter and it would be better if we did not exist?
According to my Goodreads stats (which I use to track every book I read), I read 95 books in 2020, which is down slightly from last year (114). Though that includes comic books, which are shorter and quicker to read, plus audiobooks, and I read less comics, so more full-books in all. My increased reading was not due to being stuck at home during quarantine as that didn’t affect my lifestyle much—it’s primarily because I severely cut down on reading Twitter and other online news. I previously wrote about the futility of following the daily news closely, but I still clung to Twitter—a little too much—sometimes a lot too much. I will expand upon how I broke my Twitter addiction in a future post, but suffice it to say, these days I check Twitter just once a day (at night after getting my work done) for only a couple minutes—if at all. This immediately reduced my stress levels and gave me much more time to read more valuable things that will stand the test of time, such as the following books.