While his collaboration with authors such as Gentry Lee on other novels seems to have drawn Clarke a little further into character development in The Ghost of the Grand Banks, Clarke still shows his tendency to give quick summary strokes of background and personality, then to set his characters in motion in brief episodes. The medium-short novel, in fact, has four major sections entitled "Prelude," "Preparations," "Operations," and "Finale," and it is closed by a short chapter of acknowledgments and an appendix that explains in everyday language the basics of the Mandelbrot set of calculations and the geometric patterns they describe. Within the four major sections are enclosed forty-four individual chapters, some as short as two pages of text.
Certain chapters are headed by quotations, giving some a documentary style and others a technical report style. Chapter 15 opens with a selection explaining the Mandelbrot Set, an excerpt from an essay by Edith and Donald Craig. Chapter 22 opens with two articles from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed in Jamaica, December 10, 1982. Thus, as Clarke writes from the "past and present" of the twentieth century with various quotations from documentable sources, and builds the fictive "present" of the very early twenty-first century, the reader can easily lose track of the difference between "historical fact" and "constructed fact" which combine to serve the story line. Clarke blends speculation with established science and technology very smoothly—a trait that has long been a strength in his work.
Ideas for Group Discussions
The Ghost from the Grand Banks draws much from historical facts about the Titanic and its last voyage, about the undersea operations such as the Glomar Explorer's deployment to salvage a Soviet Russian nuclear submarine in 1974, and about the computer graphic representations generated by the Mandelbrot Set of calculations. Clarke, too, writes from experience as a diver and salvager-treasure hunter, making much of the description of scenes and undersea activities very easy to imagine. Published in 1990, the novel sets much of its action in the year 2007, but at the end, closes the tale with yet another probe of the wreck by an alien craft from far in the future.
1. Clarke is not known for deep development of characters in all of his novels, but in The Ghost from the Grand Banks, he gives the reader a fairly good exposure to the lives of Jason Bradley, and Donald and Edith Craig. Among the array of characters are Jason Bradley and the Craigs given enough developmental detail to be "well-rounded" for the reader, or do they seem somewhat shallow? How well-developed as characters are Kato Mitsumasa, Roy Emerson and Rupert Parkinson?
2. Since Jason Bradley and the Craigs are posed as highly successful in their work and independently wealthy, can an average person who may not be a wealthy celebrity relate well to their responses to the problems they face? Do the intelligence and expertise imputed to these fictional people make them "heroes" a reader would wish to emulate?
3. In the course of the story, Clarke has the Craig family explaining the Mandelbrot Set equations and their graphical products to Jason Bradley when he visits their estate. In an appendix, Clarke gives another, more extensive explanation of the equations. The title pages for each of the major sections of the novel carry pictures of a segment of a Mandelbrot graphic. In how many ways does Clarke use the Mandelbrot Set within the novel? How many major plot lines does he use? How many subplots?
4. Chapter 21, entitled "A House of Good Repute," presents Evelyn Merrick, a madam operating a house of prostitution and working on a doctorate in psychology by using the case histories of her seemingly upper-class clientele. What attitudes toward sexuality does Evelyn Merrick portray? What other characters in the novel give the reader some perspectives on sexual behavior or sexual orientation? How do these attitudes compare with the...
(The entire section is 2,170 words.)