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The Ghost from the Grand Banks and The Deep Range    by Arthur C. Clarke order for
Ghost from the Grand Banks and The Deep Range
by Arthur C. Clarke
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2001 (2001)
Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This edition includes two SF novels by a grandmaster of the genre, whose science fiction is based on a deep knowledge of science, and whose near future extrapolations are both detailed and credible. The Deep Range is one of Clarke's earliest works and, in its focus on life under the oceans, still unique. In The Ghost from the Grand Banks, written in 1990, Clarke takes on a 21st century race to raise the Titanic. The introduction to the latter was updated for the 2001 edition, and mentions both the Titanic movie, and the frequent dives to the wreck that have taken place since the story was written. Both works reflect the author's own longstanding fascination, and experience, with marine life and the alien, and still largely unexplored, environments under Earth's seas.

The Ghost from the Grand Banks, gave me a strong sense of déja vu, as I read Clarke's 1990 take on things like the Y2K bug, which he called the 'Century Syndrome', and his predictions about turn of the century celebrations. It was especially eerie reading about the '74 raising of a Russian submarine (with its entombed sailors) in the first chapter. The author sets the scene by introducing characters to his readers - Jason Bradley is a diving consultant, famed for his successful banishing of a giant octopus interfering with the operation of an oil rig; Donald Craig works on computer techniques to remove cigarette scenes from old movies; his wife Edith is a mathematical genius and a mental patient; Roy Emerson is a very rich inventor, who has specialized in working with glass (I like the window cleaning ideas!); and there are others.

After a long detour into a subplot built around 'the stunning beauty of the images' of an advanced mathematical construct, the Mandelbrot Set, all these characters coalesesce into two rival groups with different technical approaches to raising the two pieces of the wreck. Jason Bradley ends up in the position of a referee between the groups, who must deal with the usual gremlins that emerge in any new applications of unproven theories. There are some rather strange relationships between individuals, and, of course, a natural disaster that leads to a predictable, though ironic, ending - but it's the journey and the ideas littered around the landscape that are intriguing. I especially enjoyed the frequent references to Bluepeace, a tribute to Rudyard Kipling as 'the poet of the sea, andof engineering', and a quote from Einstein - 'The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.'

Though the first story is interesting, the one I really enjoyed (both when I read it in the 60's and on re-reading) was The Deep Range, my favorite of Clarke's books along with Childhood's End. He postulates a near future world, whose seas are fenced (using ultrasonics) into 'rich plankton meadows' grazed by herds of whales, now domestic animals raised to feed Earth's hungry masses. This novel reads like a series of short stories with a common setting and hero. He is Walter Franklin, rehabilitated into a new career after a severe trauma in space leaves him with astrophobia. Franklin is trained as a Warden of the deeps, 'a knight in armor' with 'a kinship with all shepherds who had guarded their flocks back to the dawn of time.' Wardens roam their territories in small subs equipped with a variety of devices including sonar screens used to see their surroundings.

Clarke leads his readers through a series of adventures as Franklin is trained in this new environment and rises through the ranks of the Bureau of Whales. There are wonderfully evocative images like the description of a whale with calves as 'fifty tons of mother love' , or a meeting with a huge yawning grouper when 'Franklin felt like Jonah at the big moment of his career.' There's a rescue of whales from the Great White Shark, an innovative approach to the capture of a giant squid, traces of the elusive Sea Serpent, an underwater earthquake and even the obligatory romance. And, in perhaps the most important moment in the book, there is the tie in to space in the Buddhist leader's comment on a future meeting with superior aliens, when 'the treatment man receives from his superiors may well depend on the way he has behaved towards the other creatures of his own world.'

If you're interested in the world's oceans and their exploration and exploitation, or just enjoy good science fiction with an emphasis on the science, then dive into these two novels. But read The Deep Range first - it's a thrilling story whose hero quickly engages our sympathy and interest, and it brings the oceans of the world and their inhabitants to life around you. The Ghost from the Grand Banks, while not an exciting read, gives as bonus a 1990 preview of the turn of the millennium, centered on the ever fascinating ghost ship Titanic.

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