Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obituary: Sir Arthur C Clarke

Science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke has died at the age of 90 in Sri Lanka.

Once called "the first dweller in the electronic cottage", his vision of the future, and its technology - popularised in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey - captured the popular imagination.

Arthur C Clarke's vivid - and detailed - descriptions of space shuttles, super-computers and rapid communications systems were enjoyed by millions of readers around the world.

His writings gave science fiction - a genre often accused of veering towards the fantastical - a refreshingly human and practical face.

Clarke's ideas and gadgets engaged his readers because of, not despite, their plausibility. Quite often, his fictional musings formed the basis of what we now see as science fact.

Passion for science

Arthur C Clarke was born in Minehead, a town in Somerset in the south-west of England, on 16 December 1917.

A farmer's son, he was educated at Huish's Grammar School in Taunton before joining the civil service.

A youthful interest in dinosaurs and Morse code blossomed into a fascination with all things scientific.

During World War II, Clarke volunteered for the Royal Air Force, where he worked in the, then highly-secretive, development of radar.

Demobbed at the war's end, he went to King's College, London, where he took a First in maths and physics, before becoming a full-time writer in the late 1940s.

He wrote story-lines for the comic-book hero, Dan Dare, inspired Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek and posited Clarke's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Beyond this, during the war, he published a paper in which he predicted that, at 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface, communications satellites would sit in geo-stationary orbit, allowing electronic signals to be bounced off them around the globe.


His vision, soon proved, revolutionised the communications and broadcasting industry.

No wonder, then, that Sir Arthur counted both Rupert Murdoch and CNN founder Ted Turner among his friends and accolytes.

But it was his creation, with the legendary film director Stanley Kubrick, of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that brought Arthur C Clarke world-wide fame.

Based on Sir Arthur's book, Sentinel, and with its mysterious monoliths, the psychopathic Hal 2000 computer and a final sequence which baffled many cinema-goers, 2001 quickly established itself as a cult classic.

He lectured, was feted by everyone from the astronaut Buzz Aldrin to R Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, and appeared on television, most notably in Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World.

Sir Arthur's private life was as off-beat as his books. After a failed marriage, he moved to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, in 1956, where he lived, with a business partner and his family, scuba-dived and played table-tennis with local youths.

But his status as the grand old man of science fiction was threatened when, in 1998, allegations of child abuse, which he strenuously denied, caused the confirmation of a knighthood to be delayed.

Although cleared by an investigation, Sir Arthur's unconventional lifestyle continued to cause some raised eyebrows right up to his death.

A seer of the modern age, Sir Arthur C Clarke was an original thinker, a scientific expert whose tales combined technology and good old-fashioned storytelling and whose influence went far beyond the written page.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/03/18 22:14:40 GMT



One of the greatest authors of all time is gone. Clarke raise Science Fiction out of the pulp-fiction ghetto where had languished for the better part of a half-century. Only the Daddy of the genre , HG Wells had more impact. With Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov he raise the literary bar that few have matched. Unfortunately SciFi had degraded into SciFi and fantasy in the book stores. Most of what sits on bookstore shelves these days are poorly written serials that are cranked out with numbing repetition. These books do well enough as escapist literature for teen-aged males but fall far short of the master works of earlier generations. Even Clarke himself indulged in some swamp crawling in his later years co-authoring many substandard mediocrities that traded on his hero status. Re-read his earlier works, they are absolutely stunning. While you are at it Re-Read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. Of all the short stories in the English Speaking world; "Rocket Summer" has got to be at the very pinnacle of the form. Not a word is wasted, and the economy of the story is awe inspiring--Bradbury makes Hemingway's prose look like logorrhea.
It is a shame Sir Arthur did not get to see the movie "Rendezvous with Rama" based on his book of the same name. I hope director David Fincher and actor Morgan Freeman do the story justice.

From George Elliot

O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
Of miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge men's minds
To vaster issues.

So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world,
Breathing a beauteous order that controls
With growing sway the growing life of man.
So we inherit that sweet purity
For which we struggled, failed and agonized
With widening retrospect that bred despair.
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,
A vicious parent shaming still its child,
Poor, anxious penitence is quick dissolved;
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
Die in the large and charitable air;
And all our rarer, better, truer self,
That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
That watched to ease the burden of the world,
Laboriously tracing what must be,
And what may yet be better--saw rather
A worthier image for the sanctuary
And shaped it forth before the multitude,
Divinely human, raising worship so
To higher reverence more mixed with love--
That better self shall live till human Time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb
Unread forever."

There is more at the link above.
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