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Susan Wise Bauer


Blest Be the Void That Binds

"Any sufficiently advanced technology," wrote Arthur C. Clarke, decades ago, "is indistinguishable from magic." Thus was born the First Great Commandment of science fiction, a dictate so all-pervasive in the annals of SF that Clarke actually quotes himself in his latest novel, 3001: The Final Odyssey.

3001--the final installment in the series that began with 2001: A Space Odyssey--opens with the rescue of astronaut Frank Poole, last seen being shoved into space by the out-of-control computer Hal. Poole wakes up from a thousand-year sleep brought on by the coldness of space and discovers himself in the year 3001. The fourth millennium is, indeed, a world of wonders. Poole muses, eying the Braincap that all humans now wear: "Someone once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Will I meet magic in this new world--and be able to handle it?"

Poole's Braincap does look like magic--it fits onto his skull and downloads the history and customs of humanity into his brain--but Clarke explains that the Braincap is actually "the end product of more than a thousand years of electro-optical technology."

The Braincap rescues Poole from years of catch-up study, but it has a more important payoff: It has eliminated religion. When children are fitted for the Braincap, they are mentally "calibrated"--a process that serves as an early-warning system for psychosis. Any mental deviancies are treated immediately. As a result, no one in the fourth millennium starts wars, eats meat, or believes in God. (Marriages have also taken the eminently reasonable form of 15-year renewable contracts, but that's another issue.) Anyone with strong religious beliefs is classed as either certifiably insane or mentally impaired due to childhood conditioning. As a matter of fact, the name of God is the only obscenity left in the 3001 vocabulary.

All this is a setup for Clarke's explanation of the greatest magic of all: the development of intelligence from Earth's primordial ...

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