SAVE FILE AS from your browser’s toolbar above. In Chrome, select right click (with your mouse) on this page and select SAVE AS Record: 1 Title: The Sentinel Source: Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition; January 2004, p1-2 Article Author: Virginia, Mary E. Document Type: Work Analysis Biographical Information: Clarke, Arthur C. Pseudonym: Charles Willis; E. B. O’Brien Full Name: Arthur Charles Clarke Gender: Male National Identity: United Kingdom; England Language: English Publication Information: Salem Press Locale: Moon; Solar system; Space Abstract:
A summary and analysis of The Sentinel. Literary Genres/Subgenres: Science fiction; Short fiction Subject Terms: 1990’s Exploration or explorers Extraterrestrial life Future Geology or geologists Moon or moons Science or scientists Space flight or travel Space sciences Space ships, stations, or vehicles ISBN: 9781587651403 Accession Number: 103331MSS21339620000395 Persistent link to this record (Permalink): http://search. ebscohost. com. proxy. devry. edu/login. aspx? direct=true;db=lkh;AN=103331MSS21339620000395;site=lrc-plus Cut and Paste: ;A href=”http://search. bscohost. com. proxy. devry. edu/login. aspx? direct=true&db=lkh&AN=103331MSS21339620000395&site=lrc-plus”;The Sentinel;/A; Database: Literary Reference Center Plus The Sentinel Arthur C. Clarke Pseudonym: Charles Willis; E. B. O;rsquo;Brien Born: December 16, 1917; Minehead, Somerset, England Died: March 19, 2008; Colombo, Sri Lanka Quick Reference First published: 1951 Type of plot: Science fiction Time of work: 1996-2016 Locale: The moon Principal Characters: Wilson, a geologist and veteran lunar explorer Louis Garnett, his assistant The Story
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Wilson, a geologist, recalls his role twenty years earlier as leader of a lunar expedition to a massive plateau, the Mare Crisium, or Sea of Crisis. Although the name is portentous, initially the journey appears to be mundane. Wilson even laments that there is nothing hazardous or especially exciting about lunar exploration. It is, he claims, an uneventful routine. Wilson’s expedition is well equipped. Traveling from the main lunar base, some five hundred miles away, the crew is laden with heavy equipment, including overland tractors, rockets, and scientific sampling machinery.
It appears they have little to fear from the unknown. They are in constant radio contact with their base and can survive for a month in their pressurized tractor cabins if there were an emergency. The men live in relative comfort during their tour of duty on the moon. Short wave radio contact with earth provides ubiquitous music for the men as they dine on freshly cooked food. This particular expedition, however, soon deviates from the routine. While preparing his breakfast sausages, Wilson observes a glint of what appears to be a metal object on a far mountain bordering the plateau.
Against unanimous dissent from his crew, Wilson and his assistant, Garnett, journey to investigate the object. After scaling a ten-thousand-foot-high mountain at the edge of the plateau, Wilson discovers a small crystalline pyramid. He initially believes that it was created by an extinct, previously undiscovered, indigenous culture. The absence of any other artifacts, coupled with the presence of a sophisticated force-field surrounding the object, soon prove to him that the artifact’s provenance is both extralunar and extraterrestrial.
Wilson describes the twenty-year process by which scientists seek to dismantle the artifact and ascertain its nature and function. When all methods prove ineffectual, the scientists resort to atomic energy, reducing the inscrutable object with its mysterious energy source to rubble. Its purpose never determined, the artifact, which had withstood natural destructive forces for millennia, is rendered inoperable by humans. Wilson provides his interpretation of the significance of his discovery.
The object, he believes, is a sentinel, one of millions planted throughout the universe by an unimaginably advanced race in order to watch over the promise of life. Wilson believes its destruction would signal its creators that sentient life had evolved from terran primordial soup, and had proved its fitness to survive by having ventured forth from its earthen cradle. Because the object’s destruction will alert its creators to the probability of human intervention, humanity, according to Wilson, surely will not have long to wait for its first extraterrestrial contact.
Themes and Meanings Written only a few years after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II, Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Sentinel” contains several themes that would become common in Cold War science fiction. Reflecting a shared dread that humanity might entirely destroy itself through nuclear war, many authors viewed the advent of a nuclear era as being a universal rite of passage for any civilization. While harnessing nuclear reactions was considered necessary for scientific advancement, it also provided a means for planetary self-annihilation.
All civilizations advancing to the level of nuclear weapons, therefore, must learn to transcend their base instincts. Only after successfully accomplishing this rite of passage, thus assuring the continuation of planetary life, can a race begin a new phase of space exploration and alien contact. A second theme, first encountered in “The Sentinel” and appearing throughout much of Clarke’s later fiction, is the presence of a vastly superior civilization, one whose existence predates human civilization by unknown millennia.
It is a patient race, observing the evolutionary development of more primitive species throughout the universe, presumably awaiting their maturation. Childlike humans, themselves only newly sentient, can only guess at the intention of the superior race, hoping it is benign rather than sinister. Even in their scientific investigations, humans are portrayed as childlike. When researchers cannot penetrate the protective force field, they resort to “the savage might of atomic power. ” In other words, like children, they break it. In “The Sentinel,” the intention of the superior race is unknown.
Are they benevolent, or, because they are a very old race, will they be jealous of youth, as Wilson fears? The story closes forebodingly with humanity awaiting its first contact with the unknown advanced civilization. “The Sentinel” contains the germ of an idea that would be further explored by Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and in Clarke’s novelization of the film that appeared in the same year. In 2001, not only does the superior race observe human evolution, but it also intervenes, benevolently guiding humanity to new evolutionary heights.
Appearing at crucial junctures in human history, the film’s black obelisk, although vastly different from the small crystal pyramid of “The Sentinel,” is reminiscent of that earlier alien artifact. The final visual image in 2001, the human adult who turns into a fetus of a new super race through alien, god-like intervention is the ultimate expression of that metaphysical theme first suggested by “The Sentinel. ” In Against the Fall of Night (1953) and Childhood’s End (1953), considered by many to be two of his finest novels, Clarke further explores the theme of humanity awaiting guidance from an ancient extraterrestrial civilization.
These novels continue a trend that began in “The Sentinel,” and would become a trademark of Clarke’s fiction. Style and Technique Clarke, a scientist with degrees in physics and mathematics from King’s College, England, usually incorporates in his fiction an optimistically advanced future based on steadily progressing scientific inventions. Nevertheless, the transcendence of human ingenuity in the form of science is merely the backdrop against which he presents his principal focus: the search for meaning and humanity’s place within the universe.
Using simple language and foregoing mystical imagery, Clarke convincingly questions the future of humanity. The uncomplicated narrative of the seemingly routine lunar mission, and the contrasting complex metaphysical theme incorporated in the story, provide a striking juxtaposition. The combination of uncomplicated style and metaphysical musings typifies much of Clarke’s fiction. In “The Sentinel,” characterization and dialogue are minimized. The reader is told virtually nothing about Wilson other than his name.
Even that small fact must be deduced from an offhand comment made by a member of his team regarding Wilson’s desire to climb the mountain on which the artifact stands: He calls it “Wilson’s folly. ” From a passing reference to his exploits as a young man, the reader learns that Wilson is a veteran explorer. No other information is given. Even less is known about Garnett, the story’s only other named character. Minimizing character development and dialogue emphasizes the central theme and the ominous mood of the story. Unlike character and dialogue, however, setting is crucial.
Clarke’s predictions for the scientific advancements leading to the establishment of the moon base and exploration of the moon may appear overly optimistic in the late 1990’s. Had the United States space program continued the rapid pace of its development in the 1950’s and 1960’s, however, Clarke’s prediction likely would have been close to the mark. However, the chronology of space exploration is rendered insignificant against the backdrop of Clarke’s setting, the moon itself. The details he provides firmly establish the nature of life on the moon.
Although the chronology of “The Sentinel” may be off by some years, questions regarding the nature of humanity’s place in the universe are timeless. The moon, symbolizing a step in humanity’s evolution, is not only the starting point for further scientific advancement but also, perhaps, for further spiritual evolution. Essay by: Mary E. Virginia Cross References Arthur C. Clarke (Magill’s Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition) Arthur C. Clarke (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition) Arthur C. Clarke (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition) Arthur C.
Clarke (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition) Theory of Short Fiction (Topical Overview???Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition) Copyright of this work is the property of Salem Press and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder’s express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user. Source: Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition Accession Number: 103331MSS21339620000395 Back