2001 A Space Odyssey
Sparked by a discussion in one of the online groups that I belong to, I started re-reading Arthur C. Clarke's novelization (illumination?) of the best Hard SF movie ever made.
Once again, I'm struck, on the one hand, at the economy with which Clarke writes. Even after he gained access to the technology that caused many authors to develop bloat, Clarke has remained sparse in his prose. On the other hand, ideas drip from his pen (or his keys) by the dozens. I was startled, for example, to notice the glimmerings of Vernor Vinge's Singularity in these pages.
Sparse prose or not, there are occasions when his writing reaches the level of poetry. Read the chapters Transit of Jupiter or The World of the Gods. As astounding as the pictures the Galileo mission beamed back of its mission to Jupiter, rare were the commentators at JPL or NASA that vaguely approach Clarke's writing.
Then there are the short, sharp sentences and paragraphs that remain with you long after you've read the book. Take, for example, this from the Foreword:
Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.
Or how about this single line from Into the Eye:
"The thing's hollow—it goes on forever——and—oh my God!—it's full of stars!"
Wonderful stuff. Accept no substitute. Many may aspire to the level of Clarke's ability, but few will get there.