…or the lesson editors and even writers everywhere should learn when it comes to smashing the very different styles of two or more authors (regardless of their individual talent) and squeezing them in the same story. You want different takes on the same facts? Ask for short stories revolving around the same idea and compile an anthology. Did no one ever learn anything from the disaster that is the Dune series post Frank Herbert?
In case you did not know, this novel was co-written by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (towards the end of his life) and Frederick Pohl, another science-fiction giant. Sadly, it was also quite a confusing jumble. The book had no linear plot, no climax and a really foggy conclusion, that came out of a different galaxy.
The book features a young mathematician who, after several trials of life (some of which are really shocking and painful even to read), comes to solve Fermat’s famous theorem (hence the title) and becomes famous, marries a beautiful woman and somehow ends up living the high life, in a rather stark contrast to his childhood and teenage years.
I’ve had several rather big issues with this book. The first is the idyllic life Ranjit ends up living. No PTSD resulting from what seems to be at least a year of torture? No remaining feelings for his teenage crush/love? And how does said crush end up being in such a high position at such a young age? I got that his daddy was a big shot, but nobody ends up working for the dark side of the UN at twenty…
We are continuously led to believe that Ranjit holds the key to some big future events and we are finally shown a LOT of funky aliens… Further on, we are regaled with the story of Ranjit’s life (most of which is not even connected to his mathematics anymore, but with daily family events and international politics)… and we wait for the aliens to finally get to Earth… and wait… and wait… and wait some more… and when they finally get here, they almost commit suicide because one Grand Galactic (the US, Russia and/or China of the Universe) counters their previous orders to destroy the human civilization, after having noticed the latest high-tech weapon and reaching the conclusion that humans finally got smart enough to use weapons that do not cause mass murder, but rather economic and technological destruction… which, in the actual world, would eventually lead to some kind of mass murder… As I said, this is a rather confusing novel, with several parallel plot lines which are never given an adequate conclusion.
In the end, Ranjit does not seem to actually have anything to do with the actual intergalactic events, other than the fact that the Americans wanted him for some kind of work… which is never detailed… but is supposedly relates to the Silent Thunder project… but why? What was supposed to be his actual contribution? What was so special about him (other than the fact that he has solved Fermat’s theorem and was handy with numbers…)?
In the end, his children seem to be more involved in the grand scheme of things. His daughter had more to add to the plot (by winning a round of funky Olympics and then, by chance, ending up the image employed by the MANY kinds of aliens for communicating with the human kind), as well as his son (a character for whom I had so many hopes), but their parts got cut short in the end. His wife could have also played a bigger part, but (while I am pleased with the social status analysis concerning Myra’s role as a woman, scientist and mother) she ends up doing little more than being continuously suspicious of the higher powers’ good intentions and limits herself to reading AI-related articles, instead of writing them herself.
The first part is far better than the rest of the book and I can actually see Sir Clarke writing it down. Although strange, it has depth and continuity. But the style soon cracks down and the novel turns into said jumble. Now, I understand the circumstances surrounding the writing process of this novel, but that is no excuse for the actual lack of editing. True, my translated edition definitely added to my poor opinion, but not as much as I would like to believe.