Fables from the Fountain

I have to start this review with a complaint. I want to know why nobody told me about this excellent book before! I saw a reference to it on a fundraising site, and went and looked for it on Amazon. Minutes later, it was on my Kindle, and went straight to the top of my reading list.

To fully appreciate[1] this book, you really need to be familiar with Arthur C Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart, which seems to be out of print at present. However, you will find its contents in The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke, which should be in everyone’s library anyway. Here it is[2]:

Anyway, Tales from the White Hart consists of a series of stories told in one of those pubs that has a loose connection with mundane reality. You might find it once, then never work out where it is again. Unless you’re one of the regulars, of course, in which case you’ll be there to hear (or perhaps relate) strange stories which tend to have a more or less scientific theme. Highly recommended, and well worth a read, over half a century since it was first published.

And that brings me on to Fables from the Fountain, which is an affectionate tribute to Clarke’s original work. The pub is frequented by a number of regulars, many of whom are science fiction writers, with the occasional actual scientist dropping in. Tall tales are told, much beer is consumed, and a good time is had by all. The key to the success of the book is that the stories have been written by an incredible set of writers, including Stephen Baxter, Neil Gaiman, David Langford, Charlie Stross, Ian Watson and many more.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the fun for anyone, but I have to mention the final story in the book, The 9,000,000,001st Name of God by Adam Roberts. This, as anyone who’s done the required reading will guess, spins off nicely from The Nine Billion Names of God, in which a computer is used to speed things up for a group of monks who believe that the purpose of the universe will be fulfilled when they’ve listed all the possible names of God. It ends with the operation being complete and the stars going out…

The new story explains that the stars had actually been blocked from view by some black objects loitering in space, not at all in the manner of a 2001 monolith, oh no, talks about a prophet, who could be considered God’s clerk[3], how the world was saved by an ancient alien device which became known as Excalibur, and how all those Arthurian legends tie in with the whole thing, leading (sorry[4]) to the inevitable question:

Did the clerk see Arthur?

Which is as good a place to end as any.

This book is more fun than something that’s a lot of fun on its best day. Essential reading for science fiction fans. Oh, but do read the Arthur C Clarke stories too.

[1] Take that, you infinitive! Consider yourself split!
[2] Unless AdBlock is hiding it for you
[3] You can see where this is going, can’t you?
[4] Naah, not really

2 thoughts on “Fables from the Fountain

  1. Sam Judson

    [1] footnote error [2]
    [2] see [1]

    I’ll get to these two I think when I’ve finished by current set of books. I always appreciate your book tastes (much closer than our taste in music apparently).

    Oh, and it is ‘it’ not ‘ot’…

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