Arthur C. Clarke

Start Free Trial

In Clarke's "The Sentinel," Tenn's "The Libertation of Earth," and Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon," there are three variations on the theme of confrontation with the Other. How are these three conceptions parallel and different?

Clarke's "The Sentinel," Tenn's "The Liberation of Earth," and Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon" all imagine extraterrestrial encounters, and in every case, these stories express the limitations of human knowledge, both regarding the aliens themselves and also regarding interstellar distances. However, these stories can be situated along a continuum. Tenn's aliens are quite recognizable in their motivations and interactions, while Smith's Dragons are far more inscrutable and mysterious. Finally, Clarke's aliens are beyond human comprehension altogether.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Liberation of Earth," "The Sentinel," and "The Game of Rat and Dragon" all entail encounters with alien entities or, in the case of Clarke's story, the technology left behind by an advanced alien species. In all cases, one might be struck by the limitations of humanity's knowledge and insight into these alien entities, as well as by the inscrutability of interstellar distances.

Of the three stories, "The Liberation of Earth" presents the most straightforward depiction of an encounter with extraterrestrials, imagining aliens whose motivations are actually quite recognizable from humanity's own history. In it, the Dendi and the Troxxt are engaged in their own war against one another, while Earth and its resources are exploited by these "liberators" for their own uses. However, while their actions and motivations are quite recognizable from humanity's own history, their interactions with humanity, filled with propaganda and manipulation, makes any explanation from either party entirely untrustworthy as a source of information, a factor which leaves the true nature of their conflict (along with any accurate picture of interstellar politics) entirely unknown.

By contrast, the aliens in "The Game of Rat and Dragon" and "The Sentinel" are far more inscrutable and mysterious. In "The Game of Rat and Dragon," we observe humanity as it travels through the stars, where they face attack by mysterious beings referred to as Dragons, which live in interstellar space. We know nothing of their motivations or psychologies, or the specific reason why they attack these spaceships. They simply exist, representing a danger that must be grappled with in interstellar travel. Interestingly, one might note that "The Game of Rat and Dragon" can also be said to imagine a second encounter with the Other: on the one hand, there are the interstellar Dragons, but on the other hand, there are also the cats, who human beings must partner with to battle the Dragons. In their own way, the cats themselves have an alien mindset when compared with the human beings that they partner with in battle.

Finally, the most inscrutable and mysterious of all these alien encounters can be found in "The Sentinel." Here, we don't know anything at all about the aliens that had previously left this technology on the moon, aside from that they are extraordinarily advanced and extraordinarily ancient. Indeed, we don't even know if this extraordinarily advanced civilization still exists, or if it long ago went extinct. Even the narrator's assumptions about their motivations amount to just that: in truth, their motivations and goals might well have been just as inscrutable as the aliens themselves.

In this sense, when comparing these three stories, there does seem to be a continuum of sorts, from the relatively straightforward and recognizable motivations and interactions of the Dendee and the Troxxt, to the mysterious Dragons (who, while inscrutable, are still present and very much a direct presence in the lives and worlds of the story's characters), and finally, to the unknown aliens from "The Sentinel," who are beyond comprehension altogether.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team