Thursday, March 20, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

Image credit: Clarke Foundation

The man whose writing introduced me to science fiction died on Tuesay. Arthur C. Clarke, who movie fans best know as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 2010: The Year We Make Contact, died of what the Wikipedia entry terms "breathing problems". CinemaBlend writes:

Arthur C. Clarke died on Wednesday at the age of 90. He had left instructions that no rites of any faith should be performed at his funeral, which will take place on Saturday in Sri Lanka. He will be buried at Colombo’s general cemetery.

Arthur C Clarke Dead At The Age Of 90

This isn't surprising. He's listed in the Celebrity Atheists list as of "ambiguous" beliefs, but in this interview in a Sri Lankan newspaper, he makes the case that he was an atheist:

Does Sir Arthur think much about death? ``When I was last in New York I met Woody Allen and I agree with him: `I'm not frightened of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens.' When I joined the RAF they put me down as C of E. I got hold of the man handling the paperwork and made them change it to `pantheist'. Now I say I'm a crypto-Buddhist, but I'm anti-mysticism and I have a long-standing bias against organised religion. I don't believe in God or an afterlife.''

Exclusive interview with Arthur C. Clarke: Life beyond 2001

Whatever his beliefs, clearly mysticism and nonsense weren't among them.

My first brush with Clarke's work was Tales From The White Hart, a collection of short stories supposedly told at a pub frequented by scientists. Clarke had a powerful imagination and an equally powerful grasp of science - his stories about alien encounters, including 2001, are still among the most imaginative and plausible. He also was among the first to imagine things like geosynchronous satellites and a "space guard" that would watch for asteroids on course for the earth.

The story of first contact that I found to be one of the most memorable was Clarke's "Encounter At Down", where an alien survey crew encounters primitive humans, but has to abandon them in order to return to their own world, which is in crisis. "If I Forget Thee, O Earth", featured in one of my high school English classes, involved a rite of passage for a young man on the Moon. His father takes him outside the habitat to show him the Earth, which has been ruined in apocalyptic war. While the characters weren't as deep as those of some modern science fiction writers, they were much more than cardboard cutouts. CinemaBlend observes:

The best sci fi stories are those that do not worry about a setting. Sci fi lives and breathes in its characters, and Clarke never lost sight of that. And while the tale was being told he also took the time to create a world that was based on a skewed version of our reality. In that way he inspired many young kids to dream of what could be, and there are more than a handful of adult scientists who are currently putting to work the dreams of a novelist. Not that Clarke was required for NASA to look at a possible moon base, but it didn’t hurt for one man to dream and imagine.

Arthur C Clarke Dead At The Age Of 90

Clarke wrote some of the most interesting stories I read as a young man, and now the world seems a little emptier knowing there won't be any more.

For those interested, researching this article has turned up some interesting sites related to Arthur Clarke. They include:

The Arthur C. Clarke fansite, which discusses many of his stories and novels.

CNet's Remembering Arthur C. Clarke, a collection of photos of Clarke and related subjects.

A BBC article on many of the things Clarke imagined in his novel.

And, of course, the Wikipedia entry.


Tinkoo said...

Thank you for naming my site.

Cujo359 said...

You're welcome. It was helpful for trying to remember the name of the story "Encounter At Down". I think I last read that one about twenty years ago.