Two of science fiction’s most renowned writers join forces for a storytelling sensation. The historic collaboration between Frederik Pohl and his fellow founding father of the genre, Arthur C. Clarke, is both a momentous literary event and a fittingly grand farewell from the late, great visionary author of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Last Theorem is a story of one man’s mathematical obsession, and a celebration of the human spirit and the scientific method. It is also a gripping intellectual thriller in which humanity, facing extermination from all-but-omnipotent aliens, the Grand Galactics, must overcome differences of politics and religion and come together . . . or perish.
In 1637, the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat scrawled a note in the margin of a book about an enigmatic theorem: “I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.” He also neglected to record his proof elsewhere. Thus began a search for the Holy Grail of mathematics–a search that didn’t end until 1994, when Andrew Wiles published a 150-page proof. But the proof was burdensome, overlong, and utilized mathematical techniques undreamed of in Fermat’s time, and so it left many critics unsatisfied–including young Ranjit Subramanian, a Sri Lankan with a special gift for mathematics and a passion for the famous “Last Theorem.”
When Ranjit writes a three-page proof of the theorem that relies exclusively on knowledge available to Fermat, his achievement is hailed as a work of genius, bringing him fame and fortune. But it also brings him to the attention of the National Security Agency and a shadowy United Nations outfit called Pax per Fidem, or Peace Through Transparency, whose secretive workings belie its name. Suddenly Ranjit–together with his wife, Myra de Soyza, an expert in artificial intelligence, and their burgeoning family–finds himself swept up in world-shaking events, his genius for abstract mathematical thought put to uses that are both concrete and potentially deadly.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone on Earth, an alien fleet is approaching the planet at a significant percentage of the speed of light. Their mission: to exterminate the dangerous species of primates known as homo sapiens.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Arthur C. Clarke has long been considered the greatest science fiction writer of all time. He was an international treasure in many other ways, including the fact that a 1945 article by him led to the invention of satellite technology. Books by Clarke–both fiction and nonfiction–have sold more than one hundred million copies worldwide. He died in 2008.
Frederik Pohl is the author of many novels, including The Boy Who Would Live Forever; Gateway, part of his acclaimed Heechee saga; and Jem, for which he won the National Book Award. With Isaac Asimov, he was a founding member of the New York-based science fiction group known as the Futurians. In the sixties, Pohl edited Galaxy magazine and its sister magazine, if, which won the Hugo Award three years in a row. In 1993, he became a Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master. He lives in Palatine, Illinois.
From the Hardcover edition.
ON SWAMI ROCK
And so now, at last, we meet this Ranjit Subramanian, the one whose long and remarkable life this book is all about.
At this time Ranjit was sixteen years old, a freshman at Sri Lanka’s principal university, in the city of Colombo, and more full of himself than even your average sixteen- year- old. He wasn’t at the university now, though. At his father’s bidding he had made the long trip from Colombo slantwise across the island of Sri Lanka to the district of Trincomalee, where his father had the distinction of being chief priest at the Hindu temple called Tiru Koneswaram. Ranjit actually loved his father very much.
He was almost always glad to see him. This time, however, he was a bit less so, because this time Ranjit had a pretty good idea of what the revered Ganesh Subramanian wanted to talk to him about.
Ranjit was an intelligent boy, in fact one who was quite close to being as smart as he thought he was. He was a good- looking one, too. He wasn’t terribly tall, but most Sri Lankans aren’t. Ethnically he was a Tamil, and his skin color was the rich dark brown of a spoonful of cocoa powder, just before it went into the hot milk. The skin color wasn’t because he was a Tamil, though. Sri Lankans have a rich palette of complexions from near- Scandinavian white to a black so dark it seems almost purple. Ranjit’s best friend, Gamini Bandara, was pure Sinhalese for as many generations back as anyone had bothered to count, but the boys were the same in skin hue. The boys had been friends for a long time—since that scary night when Gamini’s school had burned to the ground, probably put to the torch by a couple of upperclassmen smoking forbidden cigarettes in a storage room.
Like every other nearby human being capable of picking up a splintered piece of plywood and throwing it on the back of a truck, Ranjit had been drafted for emergency relief work. So had all the rest of the student body of his own school. It had been a dirty job, a lot harder than a youngster’s developing muscles were used to, not to mention the splinters and the scrapes and the endless cuts from the broken glass that was everywhere. Those were the bad parts, and there were plenty of them. But there were good parts, too. Like the time when Ranjit and some other boy around his own age finally got down to the source of some plaintive sounds that were coming from a debris pile, and released the headmaster’s terrified, but intact, elderly Siamese cat.
When a teacher had carried the cat off to its owner, the two boys had stood grinning at each other. Ranjit had stuck his hand out, English fashion. “I’m Ranjit Subramanian,” he’d said.
“And I’m Gamini Bandara,” the other boy had said, pumping his hand gleefully, “and, hey, we did a pretty good job here, didn’t we?”
They agreed that they had. When at last they had been allowed to quit work for the day, they had lined up together for the sort of porridge that was their evening meal, and plopped their sleeping bags next to each other that night, and they had been best friends ever since. Helped out, to be sure, by the fact that Gamini’s school had been made uninhabitable by the fire and so its students had to double up at Ranjit’s. Gamini turned out to be pretty much everything a best friend could be, including the fact that the one great obsession in Ranjit’s life, the one for which there was no room for another person to share, didn’t interest Gamini at all.
And, of course, there was one other thing that Gamini was. That was the part of Ranjit’s impending talk with his father that Ranjit least wanted to have.
Ranjit grimaced to himself. As instructed, Ranjit went straight to one of the temple’s side doors, but it wasn’t his father who met him there. It was an elderly monk named Surash who told Ranjit—rather officiously, Ranjit thought—only that he would have to wait a bit. So Ranjit waited, for what he considered quite a long time, with nothing to do but listen to the bustle that came from within his father’s temple, about which Ranjit had mixed emotions.
The temple had given his father purpose, position, and a rewarding career, all of which was good. However, it had also encouraged the old man in the vain hope that his son would follow in his footsteps. That was not going to happen. Even as a boy, Ranjit had not been able to believe in the complex Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses, some with their various animal heads and unusual number of arms, whose sculptured figures encrusted the temple walls. Ranjit had been able to name every one of them, and to list its special powers and principal fast days as well, by the time he was six. It hadn’t been out of religious fervor. It had been simply because he had wanted to please the father he loved.
Ranjit remembered waking early in the morning when he was a small child, still living at home, and his father getting up at sunrise to bathe in the temple pool. He would see his father, naked to the waist as he faced the rising sun, and hear his long, reverberating Om. When he was a little older, Ranjit himself learned to say the mantra, and the location of the six parts of the body that he touched, and to offer water to the statues in the puja room. But then he went away to school. His religious observances were not required, and therefore ended. By the time he was ten, he knew he would never follow in his father’s faith.
Not that his father’s was not a fine profession. True, Ganesh Subramanian’s temple was neither as ancient nor as vast as the one it had attempted to replace. Although it had been bravely given the same name as the original—Tiru Koneswaram—even its chief priest rarely called it anything but “the new temple.” It hadn’t been completed until 1983, and in size it was not a patch on the original Tiru Koneswaram, the famous “temple with a thousand columns,” whose beginnings had been shrouded by two thousand years of history.
And then, when at last Ranjit was met, it was not by his father but by old Surash. He was apologetic. “It is these pilgrims,” he said. “So many of them! More than one hundred, and your father, the chief priest, is determined to greet each one. Go, Ranjit. Sit on Swami Rock and watch the sea. In an hour, perhaps, your father will join you there, but just now—” He sighed, and shook his head, and turned away to the task of helping his boss cope with the flood of pilgrims. Leaving Ranjit to his own resources. Which, as a matter of fact, was just fine, because for Ranjit an hour or so to himself on Swami Rock was a welcome gift.
An hour or so earlier Swami Rock would have been crowded with couples and whole families picnicking, sightseeing, or simply enjoying the cooling breeze that came off the Bay of Bengal. Now, with the sun lowering behind the hills to the west, it was almost deserted.
That was the way Ranjit preferred it. He loved Swami Rock. Had loved it all his life, in fact—or no, he amended the thought, at six or seven he hadn’t actually loved the rock itself nearly as much as he had the surrounding lagoons and beaches, where you could catch little star tortoises and make them race against one another.
But that was then. Now, at sixteen, he considered himself a fully adult man, and he had more important things to think about.
Ranjit found an unoccupied stone bench and leaned back, enjoying both the warmth of the setting sun at his back and the sea breeze on his face, as he prepared to think about the two subjects that were on his mind. The first, actually, took little thinking. Ranjit wasn’t really disappointed at his father’s absence. Ganesh had not told his sixteen- year- old son just what it was that he wanted to discuss. Ranjit, however, was depressingly confident that he knew what it was.
What it was was an embarrassment, and the worst part of it was that it was a wholly unnecessary one. It could have been avoided entirely if he had only remembered to lock his bedroom door so that the porter at his university lodgings would not have been able to blunder in on the two of them that afternoon. But Ranjit hadn’t locked his door. The porter had indeed walked in on them, and Ranjit knew that Ganesh Subramanian had long since interviewed the man. He had talked to the porter only for the purpose, Ganesh would have said, of making sure that Ranjit lacked nothing he needed. But it did carry the collateral benefit of ensuring that Ganesh was kept well informed of what was going on in his son’s life. Ranjit sighed. He would have wished to avoid the coming discussion. But he couldn’t, and so he turned his attention to the second subject on his mind—the important one—the one that was nearly always at the top of his thoughts.
From his perch atop Swami Rock, a hundred meters above the restless waters of the Bay of Bengal, he looked eastward. On the surface, at twilight, there was nothing to see but water—in fact nothing at all for more than a thousand kilometers, apart from a few scattered islands, until you reached the coast of Thailand. Tonight there had been a lull in the northea...
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