The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clark and Frederik Pohl is a clever little story about a young Sri Lankan mathematician named Ranjit Subramanian. Early in his life Ranjit becomes obsessed with Fermat’s Last Theorem (which I admit I don’t understand at all) – it is a mathematical proof which A 16th century mathematician named Fermat supposedly solved but never published or apparently wrote down anywhere. Mathematicians ever since have been trying to recreate the proof. Due to circumstances largely beyond his control, Ranjit winds up being jailed in a foreign country where he is tortured before being isolated for many months. During this time he returns to the Last Theorem as something to occupy his mind, and actually figures it out. He is of course eventually rescued and publishes his proof.
At the same time progressively more dangerous weapons are being tested all over the world, producing effects which are eventually noticed by aliens. These aliens take a dim view of species developing both war like tendencies and advanced technology, so they decide to exterminate humanity while their rapidly improving weapons are still primitive enough to be no threat. Humans, of course, have no idea the aliens even exist, much less that they have noticed Earth and decided to take such drastic (at least from the humans’ point of view) action.
All of this is set against a modern landscape of wars, political conflict, and general disregard for life. The book is quite current, having been published in 2008, which adds realism often lacking in classic science fiction. On the other hand, it was written by two of the biggest names in classic sci fi and has the sense of style and scope found in older sci fi literature. It was an easy and enjoyable read that also raised questions about our continuing development as a species, should one feel inclined to contemplate such weighty matters. (It also used lots of big words and intellectual-sounding phrases, which may have influenced the tone of my review ;).) I wish these two had done more together.