ARTHUR C. CLARKE
Sri Lanka's most famous resident was perhaps Arthur C. Clarke, author of more than 100 mostly science fiction books and the Oscar-nominated screenwriter who wrote "2001: A Space Odyssey" with director Stanley Kubric. Kubrick reportedly once remarked, "Arthur Clarke. Isn't he a nut who lives in a tree...some place.” Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 to his death of a heart attack at age 90 in March 2008.
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: Clarke was “a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age.” He “was an ardent promoter of the idea that humanity’s destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth. It was a vision served most vividly by “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the classic 1968 science-fiction film he created with the director Stanley Kubrick and the novel of the same title that he wrote as part of the project. His work was also prophetic: his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945 came more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
Clarke’s monograph for Wireless World in 1945, predicting satellite communications, was so spot on that when the first few commercial satellites were launched twenty years later they could not be patented. Among the science fiction classics originating from his mind and hands were “Childhood's End”, “The City and the Stars” and “Rendezvous with Rama”. The latter was distinguished in that it won all three major science fiction awards, the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. In 1968 he shared an Oscar nomination with Stanley Kubrick for the screenplay of “2001 A Space Odyssey”. He became widely known for his non-fiction work with the television series “Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World”. Clarke was awarded the CBE by the Queen of England in 1989 and was knighted by her in 1998 for "services to literature” at the age of 80 but was unable to travel to London to receive the honor.
Frederick Pohl, a lifelong friend of Clarke, wrote in Newsweek: Arthur was a celebrity, but he was also a regular cutup on the futurist circuit. We traveled the world together in the 1960s and 1970s, attending conferences and joking about the shape of things to come. Of course, Arthur's jokes had a way of coming true. He had so much confidence in his own ability — some people even called him "Ego Clarke" — that distant predictions didn't scare him. He talked in detail about moon landings and satellite communication before anyone else. In fact, he often joked that his visions were too distant to profit from — "the patent would be expired if I got it now." He was loquacious and intelligent, competitive and solitary, with very few close friends. But he loved to entertain a crowd. One min-ute he'd play the self-serious sage, the next he'd thrown on a hula skirt. During a break from a NASA conference in Georgia, when we were still young and spry, we bicycle-jousted with other colleagues. I pedaled, with Arthur on the handlebars. I don't recall if we won. With friends, he never kept score. [Source: Frederick Pohl, Newsweek, March 22, 2008]
Arthur C. Clarke's Early Life
Clarke was born in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset in England on December 16, 1917. He was brought up in a farm in Somersett and became a science fiction freak after reading copies of amazing-stories-style magazines at a local drug store. He told the New York Times he read as many American science fiction magazines as he could get his hands on. They would cross the Atlantic as ballast on ships, and he would buy them at the local Woolworth's for three pennies each. "I couldn't always afford that. They had a tremendous influence on me, of course." He also read everything he could get his hands on by H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon. He began writing for his school's magazine when he was a teen.
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: “His father was a farmer; his mother a post office telegrapher. The eldest of four children, he was educated as a scholarship student at a secondary school in the nearby town of Taunton. He remembered a number of incidents in early childhood that awakened his scientific imagination: exploratory rambles along the Somerset shoreline, with its “wonderland of rock pools”; a card from a pack of cigarettes that his father showed him, with a picture of a dinosaur; the gift of a Meccano set, a British construction toy similar to American Erector Sets. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
“He also spent time, he said, “mapping the moon” through a telescope he constructed himself out of “a cardboard tube and a couple of lenses.” But the formative event of his childhood was his discovery, at age 13 — the year his father died — of a copy of Astounding Stories of Super-Science, then the leading American science fiction magazine. He found its mix of boyish adventure and far-out (sometimes bogus) science intoxicating.
“While still in school, he joined the newly formed British Interplanetary Society, a small band of sci-fi enthusiasts who held the controversial view that space travel was not only possible but could be achieved in the not-so-distant future. In 1937, a year after he moved to London to take a civil service job, he began writing his first science fiction novel, a story of the far, far future that was later published as “Against the Fall of Night” (1953).”
Arthur C. Clarke's Early Career and Working Life
As a young man Clarke worked as a clerk in Exchequer and Audit Department of the British government in London, where joined the British Interplanetary Society, which he later chairmaned, and wrote his first science fiction and scientific articles on space travel.
During World War II, Clark served as a radar specialist in the Royal Air Force and was in charge of the first radar talk-down equipment during its experimental trials. He taught himself advanced mathematics, and electronics and hatched his early theories about geostationary satellites. After the war he graduated from King's College in London, where he obtained a First Class Honors in Physics and Mathematics.
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: In 1943 he was assigned to work with a team of American scientist-engineers who had developed the first radar-controlled system for landing airplanes in bad weather. That experience led to Mr. Clarke’s only non-science fiction novel, “Glide Path” (1963).
Arthur C. Clarke's Ideas About Geostationary Satellite Communications
Clarke’s work with radar led to a technical paper, published in 1945 in the British journal Wireless World, establishing the feasibility of artificial satellites as relay stations for Earth-based communications. Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: “The meat of the paper was a series of diagrams and equations showing that “space stations” parked in a circular orbit roughly 22,240 miles above the equator would exactly match the Earth’s rotation period of 24 hours. In such an orbit, a satellite would remain above the same spot on the ground, providing a “stationary” target for transmitted signals, which could then be retransmitted to wide swaths of territory below. This so-called geostationary orbit has been officially designated the Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
“Decades later, Mr. Clarke called his Wireless World paper “the most important thing I ever wrote.” In a wry piece entitled, “A Short Pre-History of Comsats, Or: How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time,” he claimed that a lawyer had dissuaded him from applying for a patent. The lawyer, he said, thought the notion of relaying signals from space was too far-fetched to be taken seriously.
“But Mr. Clarke also acknowledged that nothing in his paper — from the notion of artificial satellites to the mathematics of the geostationary orbit — was new. His chief contribution was to clarify and publicize an idea whose time had almost come: it was a feat of consciousness-raising of the kind he would continue to excel at throughout his career.”
Arthur C. Clarke’s Early Career as a Writer
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: The year 1945 also saw the start of Mr. Clarke’s career as a fiction writer. He sold a short story called “Rescue Party” to the same magazine — now re-titled Astounding Science Fiction — that had captured his imagination 15 years earlier. For the next two years Mr. Clarke attended King’s College, London, on the British equivalent of a G.I. Bill scholarship, graduating in 1948. But he continued to write and sell stories, and after a stint as assistant editor at the scientific journal Physics Abstracts, he decided he could support himself as a free-lance writer. Success came quickly. His primer on space flight, “The Exploration of Space,” became an American Book-of-the-Month Club selection. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
Clarke’s career as a writer took off after he published his non-fiction “Exploration of Space” in 1951 and his now classic novel “Childhood's End” in 1953. Over the next two decades he wrote a series of nonfiction bestsellers as well as his novels like “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). According to the New York Times: For a scientifically trained writer whose optimism about technology seemed boundless, Mr. Clarke delighted in confronting his characters with obstacles they could not overcome without help from forces beyond their comprehension.”
Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka
Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1956 after a scuba diving trip off of Trincomalee. awakened him to the island's pleasures. "If I had lived in New York or London. I'd be eaten alive the 76-year-old author told the New York Times in 1994. "Here in Sri Lanka, I can control things better. I don't get so caught u in the made rush." In Sri Lanka, he served as the chancellor of the University of Moratuwa and Patron of the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies. When violence erupted in Sri Lanka, Clarke thought about leaving the country, but he decided to stay and use part of his fortune (estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars) to help victims and finance educational projects.
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: He first became interested in diving in the early 1950s, when he realized that he could find underwater, he said, something very close to the weightlessness of outer space. He settled permanently in Colombo, the capital of what was then Ceylon, in 1956. With a partner, he established a guided diving service for tourists and wrote vividly about his diving experiences in a number of books, beginning with “The Coast of Coral” (1956). [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
“Mr. Clarke reveled in his fame. One whole room in his house — which he referred to as the Ego Chamber — was filled with photos and other memorabilia of his career, including pictures of him with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.” There were also photos of him with Prince Charles and Pope John Paul II as well as autographed photos from Elizabeth Taylor and Tom Hanks. A message written by Neil; Armstrong read: “To Arthur, who visualized the nuances of lunar flying long before I experienced them.” Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied Armstrong on the first trip to the moon, stopped by to see him occasionally. Clarke told Reuters, “Name-dropping is vulgar as I told the queen last week.”
Jonas wrote: “In 1962 he suffered a severe attack of polio”, which he picked up in Sri Lanka. “His apparently complete recovery was marked by a return to top form at his favorite sport, table tennis. But in 1984 he developed post-polio syndrome, a progressive condition characterized by muscle weakness and extreme fatigue. He spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair.” He said he didn't mind as — it left his mind free to roam the cosmos. Marking his “90th orbit of the sun” in December 2007, he made three birthday wishes: For E.T. to call, for man to kick it oil habit and for peace in Sri Lanka.
Arthur C. Clarke’s Private Life
Clarke was briefly married to an American woman. After they divorced Clarke lived with his partner in a scuba diving company and later member of his partner’s family. He usually wore a Hawaiian shirt, a sarong and sandals, and liked to name drop. In his study there is a photograph of him and Steven Spielberg, a fax from Steven Spielberg and a visitors book that the New York Times said in the 1990s "read like a Who's Who of space exploration." He has a collection of mementos from famous astronauts and received faxes from people like Rupert Murdoch. In 1998, there were had been some allegation that he had sex with boys. The British tabloid the Daily Mirror quote him as saying, “if the kids don’t mind, fair enough.”
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: “While sharing his passions for space and the sea with a worldwide readership, Mr. Clarke kept his emotional life private. He was briefly married in 1953 to an American diving enthusiast named Marilyn Mayfield; they separated after a few months and were divorced in 1964, having had no children. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
“One of his closest relationships was with Leslie Ekanayake, a fellow diver in Sri Lanka, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1977. Mr. Clarke shared his home in Colombo with his friend’s brother, Hector, his partner in the diving business; Hector’s wife, Valerie; and their three daughters.
Clark wrote “2001" with a typewriter but by the time that year rolled around he was largely bound to a wheelchair and spent much of his time in his high tech den in front of his half dozen computers, e-mailing friends and browsing web sites devoted to him on the Internet. He also doted over his beloved one-eyed Chihuahua, Pepsi. He played ping pong into his 80s. He didn’t travel but found time to appear vias satellite at the Comdex computer show in Las Vegas and a gala dinner at the Playboy mansion. Clarke often turned down interviews, saying "I am completely fed up with talking (even about myself). Everything that anyone needs to know will be found in my books."
Arthur C. Clarke’s Contributions and Predictions on Science
Clarke is well known for predictions he made that came true. He proposed a system of communications satellites before any satellites had been put in space and once said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In the 1945 Wireless World article mentioned above Clarke predicted that one day geostationary satellites would revolutionize global communication by relaying information. Clark once joked with Ted Turner that how he owed him 10 percent of the earnings from CNN. Clarke also predicted cellular phones, space stations, men on the moon and the Internet. He picked September 11th in “Rendevous with Rama” as the date when an asteroid hits the earth. In the 1940s forecast that man would reach the Moon by the year 2000 — an idea experts initially dismissed.
Clarke was a member of the Academy of Astronautics, the Royal Astronomical Society and many other scientific organizations. Among his legacies are Clarke’s Three Laws, observations on science, science fiction and society that were published in his “Profiles of the Future” (1962): 1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. 2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. 3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. He also said "This alone is real; the rest is but a dream from which I shall presently awake."
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Clarke’s reputation as a prophet of the space age rests on more than a few accurate predictions. His visions helped bring about the future he longed to see. His contributions to the space program were lauded by Charles Kohlhase, who planned NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn and who said of Mr. Clarke, “When you dream what is possible, and add a knowledge of physics, you make it happen....Mr. Clarke’s own relationship with machines was somewhat ambivalent. Although he held a driver’s license as a young man, he never drove a car. Yet he stayed in touch with the rest of the world from his home in Sri Lanka through an ever-expanding collection of up-to-date computers and communications accessories. And until his health declined, he was an expert scuba diver in the waters around Sri Lanka. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
Saswato R. Das wrote in the New York Times: “More than anyone else in the 20th century, Arthur C. Clarke, had a track record of being proven right. “I don't know if the Wright brothers realized how quickly aircraft would pay for themselves," Clarke told me. We were talking about space exploration and his belief that commercial spacecraft would soon become a reality, now that private entrepreneurs are getting involved. Over the next 50 years, he predicted, thousands would travel into orbit — and then, to the Moon and beyond. Man may not have set foot on the Moon had it not been for Clarke. His 1952 book, "The Exploration of Space," was used by the rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun to convince President John F. Kennedy that it was possible to go to the Moon. [Source: Saswato R. Das New York Times, March 20, 2008]
Clarke was also one of the 20th century's pre-eminent visionaries. Without him, it's safe to say that there would be no direct TV, no satellite-routed ship-to-shore phone calls, and no global navigation systems. Our weather forecasts would be far less reliable. We benefit from Clarke's contributions whenever we dress based on the weather forecast or use a GPS device to navigate our way...“I'm often asked why I didn't try to patent the idea of communications satellite," he said. "My answer is always, 'A patent is really a license to be used.' " “It's definitely my most important contribution," he told me, adding, "And maybe in a generation or so the space elevator will be considered equally important." The space elevator — basically a huge cable connecting the Earth to space, along which payloads can be launched using electromagnetic vehicles — is another thing that Clarke has championed. He first wrote about it in 1978. Current plans call for a cable about 50,000 kilometers long. “The chief expense of space travel when you build the space elevator is entertainment and in-flight movies," he joked.
“Technology prediction is notoriously difficult. The IBM chairman T. J. Watson once predicted that the world would need at most five computers. The British astronomer Richard Woolley belittled the idea of sending humans to the Moon when Clarke and his friends at the British Interplanetary Society were discussing it. “But Clarke managed to get it right time and again.” In the early 1960s, Clarke “predicted back then that mobile person-to-person telephone facilities would mean that individuals could no longer escape society, even in mid-ocean or on a mountaintop. In the same piece, he talks about an electronic library, breakdown of censorship and high definition electronic screens. Looking back now, he got almost every prediction right. “Before he died, his chief interests were astronomy and the search for aliens. "I'm sure the extraterrestrials are all over the place," he said. "I am surprised and disappointed they haven't come here already — assuming they haven't. Maybe they are waiting for the right moment to come. And I hope they are not hungry!"
Influence of Arthur C. Clarke
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: “Other early advocates of a space program argued that it would pay for itself by jump-starting new technology. Mr. Clarke set his sights higher. Borrowing a phrase from William James, he suggested that exploring the solar system could serve as the “moral equivalent of war,” giving an outlet to energies that might otherwise lead to nuclear holocaust. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
“Mr. Clarke’s influence on public attitudes toward space was acknowledged by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, by scientists like the astronomer Carl Sagan and by movie and television producers. Gene Roddenberry credited Mr. Clarke’s writings with giving him courage to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of indifference, even ridicule, from television executives.
“Mr. Clarke played down his success in foretelling a globe-spanning network of communications satellites. “No one can predict the future,” he always maintained. But as a science fiction writer he couldn’t resist drawing up timelines for what he called “possible futures.” Far from displaying uncanny prescience, these conjectures mainly demonstrated his lifelong, and often disappointed, optimism about the peaceful uses of technology — from his calculation in 1945 that atomic-fueled rockets could be no more than 20 years away to his conviction in 1999 that “clean, safe power” from “cold fusion” would be commercially available in the first years of the new millennium.
“Mr. Clarke was well aware of the importance of his role as science spokesman to the general population: “Most technological achievements were preceded by people writing and imagining them,” he noted. “I’m sure we would not have had men on the Moon,” he added, if it had not been for H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. “I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.”
Arthur C. Clarke's Books and Stories
Clarke wrote more than 100 books (including 50 novels), and 500 short stories, essays and fiction and non-fiction articles.. He s regarded as one of the big three science fiction writers along with Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. His fiction, in works like “The City and the Stars,” was famous for combining fantasy with hard science. In 1994 Clarke was working on a book on the "terraforming" of Mars (making the planet livable for humans) called the "Snows of Mount Olympus," a book about scuba diving, and the script for a film with Steven Spielberg based loosely on Clarke's 1992 novella "Hammer of God." “Against the Fall of Night” in Startling Stories (1948), and “The City and the Stars” (Harcourt, 1956) tell of the fear of space and technology in a distant future.
Books recommended by the New York Times: 1) “Reach for Tomorrow” (Ballantine, 1956) includes “The Rescue Party,” about advanced aliens who arrive to save humanity from the imminent explosion of the Sun only to discover that our race was more precocious than they had dreamed; 2) “The Other Side of the Sky” (New American Library, 1956), which includes “The Nine Billion Names of God,” which describes an odd end to the universe; 3) “Expedition to Earth” (Ballantine, 1953), one of many collections, containing “The Sentinel,” which inspired the book and movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”; 4) “Prelude to Space” (Gnome Press, 1954), which describes the buildup to the launching of Prometheus, the first spaceship designed to carry humans to the Moon; 5) “Childhood’s End “(Ballantine, 1953), which recounts the end of the human race as we know it at the hands of a band of demonic looking aliens known as Overlords. [Source: New York Times, March 25, 2008]
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: “Of his scores of books, some like “Childhood’s End,” have been in print continuously. His works have been translated into some 40 languages, and worldwide sales have been estimated at more than $25 million...“In “Childhood’s End,” a race of aliens who happen to look like devils imposes peace on an Earth torn by Cold War tensions. But the aliens’ real mission is to prepare humanity for the next stage of evolution. In an ending that is both heartbreakingly poignant and literally earth-shattering, Mr. Clarke suggests that mankind can escape its suicidal tendencies only by ceasing to be human. “There was nothing left of Earth,” he wrote. “It had nourished them, through the fierce moments of their inconceivable metamorphosis, as the food stored in a grain of wheat feeds the infant plant while it climbs towards the Sun.”
Dennis Overbye wrote in the New York Times: “In his short story “The Nine Billion Names of God,” published in 1953, Clarke wrote of a pair of computer programmers sent to a remote monastery in Tibet to help the monks there use a computer to compile a list of all the names of God. Once the list was complete, the monks believed, human and cosmic destiny would be fulfilled and the world would end. The programmers are fleeing the mountain, hoping to escape the monks’ wrath when the program finishes and the world is still there, when one of them looks up. “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.” [Source: Dennis Overbye, New York Times March 25, 2008]
Clarke and 2001: A Space Odyssey
The film and book “2001:A Space Odyssey” grew from an interest by director Stanley Kubrik is “The Sentinel”, a short story Clark wrote about an alien object found on the moon — "a kind of burglar alarm, waiting to be set off by mankind's arrival." Kubrik and Clarke collaborated on the screenplay while Clarke wrote the novel, which included a group of prehistoric apes and mysterious black monolith, a lunar colony and a mysterious black monolith, and an ill fated mission to Jupiter with a gentle-speaking computer named Hal 9000 who kills astronauts on a spaceship when it learns they planned to shut it down.
When Time asked Clarke what he was going to do on the first day of the year 2001, the 83-year-old Clarke said, try “to get some sleep.” When asked if could be granted a wish, he said, “Freedom for interviewers like you.” He said his greatest hope is a cheap renewable source of non-polluting energy. After 2001 came “2010: Odyssey Two”, “2061: Odyssey Three”. At 80 he wrote “3001: The Final Odyssey”.
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: The Cold War “forms the backdrop for “2001.” “The Sentinel” was first published in a science fiction magazine in 1951. “It tells of an alien artifact found on the Moon, a little crystalline pyramid that explorers from Earth destroy while trying to open. One explorer realizes that the artifact was a kind of fail-safe beacon; in silencing it, human beings have signaled their existence to its far-off creators. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
“In the spring of 1964, Stanley Kubrick, fresh from his triumph with “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” met Mr. Clarke in New York, and the two agreed to make the “proverbial really good science fiction movie” based on “The Sentinel.” This led to a four-year collaboration; Mr. Clarke wrote the novel and Mr. Kubrick produced and directed the film; they are jointly credited with the screenplay.
“Many reviewers were puzzled by the film, especially the final scene in which an astronaut who has been transformed by aliens returns to orbit the Earth as a “Star-Child.” In the book he demonstrates his new-found powers by detonating from space the entire arsenal of Soviet and United States nuclear weapons. Like much of the plot, this denouement is not clear in the film, from which Mr. Kubrick cut most of the expository material.
Arthur C. Clarke, the Writer
Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times: “As a fiction writer, Mr. Clarke was often criticized for failing to create fully realized characters. HAL, the mutinous computer in “2001,” is probably his most “human” creation: a self-satisfied know-it-all with a touching but misguided faith in his own infallibility. If Mr. Clarke’s heroes are less than memorable, it’s also true that there are no out-and-out villains in his work; his characters are generally too busy struggling to make sense of an implacable universe to engage in petty schemes of dominance or revenge. [Source: Gerald Jonas, New York Times March 19, 2008]
“Along with Verne and Wells, Mr. Clarke said his greatest influences as a writer were Lord Dunsany, a British fantasist noted for his lyrical, if sometimes overblown, prose; Olaf Stapledon, a British philosopher who wrote vast speculative narratives that projected human evolution to the farthest reaches of space and time; and Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”
Geeks and nerds everywhere have loved him despite his flaws. Dennis Overbye wrote in the New York Times: “To space fans and perpetual adolescents everywhere he was simply the deceptively dry voice of cosmic wonder. Few writers have seemed to inhabit the cosmos, its grandeur, mystery and, yes, its ultimate coldness, with such aplomb, from the balletic spaceships and the mysterious fetus of “2001” to the Jesuit astronaut in the mischievous short story “The Star.” The astronaut finds his faith sorely challenged when the expedition he is on discovers the remains of a great civilization that was torched when its sun exploded in a supernova 2000 years ago. It was that catastrophe, of course, that blazed forth in Earth’s skies as the star of Bethlehem. [Source: Dennis Overbye, New York Times March 25, 2008]
“Destiny was Clarke’s leitmotif, his own literary monolith. His earliest novel, “Against the Fall of Night,” later reprised as “The City and the Stars,” was about a city so traumatized by space and history that it had walled off the sky. In “Childhood’s End,” aliens known as Overlords come to Earth to enforce peace and help prepare for the next stage of human evolution, and then are left behind, like disappointed bridesmaids, as the new race, drunk with new powers, blows up its old planet and swoops off into the cosmos to merge with the Overmind.
Appeal of Arthur C. Clarke
Dennis Overbye wrote in the New York Times: “Clarke was much more than a science fiction writer. A genuine rocket scientist,” he said in 2007 “on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, people stopped laughing at it a long time ago. I’ve lived in Clarke’s universe ever since I was in eighth grade and a classmate slipped me a paperback edition of Clarke’s “Reach for Tomorrow,” a collection of short stories. Until that point my biggest ambition was to play second base for the New York Yankees. Clarke yanked my sights quite a bit higher — a lot higher. In the triumphalism of postwar American middle-class life, it was a revelation to be reminded of the wonder of what I like to call cosmic ignorance. I went from reading science fiction to reading books by George Gamow and pop-science explications of the debate then raging between the Big Bang and Steady State theories of the universe. The next thing I knew I was at M.I.T. [Source: Dennis Overbye, New York Times March 25, 2008]
“Now it’s my own job to explicate those and even more abstruse debates. And it’s a little embarrassing to admit now, as an alleged grown-up, an M.I.T. graduate, a father and a journalist, just how much of my metaphysical foundation comes from Clarke. I might sum it up as: the universe is a strange place, we are children here at best, ignorant of our origins, our future or even the right questions to ask.
“I haven’t lost my taste for cosmic mystery, for the curiosity about what might lie around the curve of the cosmos that Clarke first instilled in me. Clarke’s gravestone says that he never grew up, and you could say that I haven’t either. Like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, or the Who, I hope I never do.
“Like one of the old horror masters, Clarke knew that imagination and suggestion always trumped explanation. In “The Sentinel,” one of the most haunting science fiction stories ever written, and the seed from which “2001” later sprang, a pair of astronauts mountain-climbing on the Moon come across a pyramidal structure. Trying to open it, they realize they have set off a cosmic alarm. Somebody, somewhere, now knows we are here. “I can never look now at the Milky Way without wondering from which of those banked clouds of stars the emissaries are coming,” Clarke’s narrator says at the end. “If you will pardon so commonplace a simile, we have set off the fire-alarm and have nothing to do but to wait. I do not think we will have to wait for long.”
Arthur C. Clarke and the Humanity
Andrew C. Revkin wrote in a New York Times blog: Clarke wrote more than a few stories examining whether humans could transcend some aspects of human nature — with uncertain outcomes. As Gerald Jonas wrote in The Times obituary (link above), there was a sense in “Childhood’s End” of the need for mankind to metamorphose in order to overcome deep-rooted self-destructive tendencies. Interestingly, one of the writer’s last wishes concerned climate and energy. [Source: Andrew C. Revkin, Dot Earth Blog, New York Times, March 19, 2008]
“Mr. Clarke appeared to mesh the technological optimism of those who see human beings innovating their way to a brighter future and the cautionary concern of those worried that we we’re letting current desires outweigh the realization that we also owe something to successors — whether it be a rich biosphere or an unadulterated atmosphere.
“Technological optimism caused him to see a grand human future in space and the knitting of human communities...But he warned that technology, alone, was insufficient to guarantee that we would become a united global family. “Communication technologies are necessary, but not sufficient, for us humans to get along with each other. This is why we still have many disputes and conflicts in the world. Technology tools help us to gather and disseminate information, but we also need qualities like tolerance and compassion to achieve greater understanding between peoples and nations.
“Mr. Clarke also stressed the value of a positive outlook: I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle, if only because it offers us the opportunity of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I hope we’ve learned something from the most barbaric century in history – the 20th. I would like to see us overcome our tribal divisions and begin to think and act as if we were one family. That would be real globalization…
Elaborating on the wishes he made on his 90th birthday, Clark said: Firstly, I would like to see some evidence of extra-terrestrial life. I have always believed that we are not alone in the universe. But we are still waiting for ETs to call us – or give us some kind of a sign. We have no way of guessing when this might happen – I hope sooner rather than later! Secondly, I would like to see us kick our current addiction to oil, and adopt clean energy sources. For over a decade, I’ve been monitoring various new energy experiments, but they have yet to produce commercial scale results. Climate change has now added a new sense of urgency. Our civilization depends on energy, but we can’t allow oil and coal to slowly bake our planet…The third wish is one closer to home. I’ve been living in Sri Lanka for 50 years -– and half that time, I’ve been a sad witness to the bitter conflict that divides my adopted country. I dearly wish to see lasting peace established in Sri Lanka as soon as possible. But I’m aware that peace cannot just be wished — it requires a great deal of hard work, courage and persistence.
Arthur C. Clarke and Religion
“Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral” were the instructions left by Arthur C. Clarke. Edward Rothstein wrote in the New York Times: This may not have surprised anyone who knew that this science-fiction writer, fabulist, fantasist and deep-sea diver had long seen religion as a symptom of humanity’s “infancy,” something to be outgrown and overcome. But his fervor is still jarring because when it comes to the scriptural texts of modern science fiction, and the astonishing generation of prophetic innovators who were his contemporaries — Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury — Mr. Clarke’s writings were the most biblical, the most prepared to amplify reason with mystical conviction, the most religious in the largest sense of religion: speculating about beginnings and endings, and how we get from one to the other. [Source: Edward Rothstein, New York Times. March 20, 2008]
“Stanley Kubrick’s film of Mr. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” for example — a project developed with the author — is haunting not for its sci-fi imaginings of artificial intelligence and space-station engineering but for its evocation of humanity’s origins and its vision of a transcendent future embodied in a human fetus poised in space. Even the titles of some of Mr. Clarke’s stories invoke scriptural language. “If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth ...” tells of a boy on a lunar colony who is taken out by his father to see their mother planet rendered uninhabitable by nuclear war, an experience that inspires a dream of future return to be passed from generation to generation. In “The Nine Billion Names of God” monks of a Tibetan-like retreat believe that the very purpose of humanity is to write down the nine billion permutations of letters that spell God’s secret name, a project assisted by representatives of an I.B.M.-style company who indulgently supply the equipment so the project can come to its long-awaited close. As the computer experts fly home, “overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”
“Religious symbolism is not always beneficent of course. In what may be Mr. Clarke’s most suggestive and disturbing novel, “Childhood’s End,” an alien race of Overlords, with apparent generosity, establish a utopia on Earth, eliminating human warfare and ushering in an era of plenty. But it is no accident that when the Overlords are finally described they have the appearance of Satanic creatures, complete with “the leathery wings, the little horns, the barbed tail.”
“Whatever attitude comes through — and it is almost always fraught with ambiguity — religion suffuses Mr. Clarke’s realm. He demands the canvas of Genesis and upon it he enacts experiments in thought. All science fiction does this to a certain extent, trying to imagine alternative universes in which one factor or another is slightly different. What if carbon were not the fundamental element in life forms? What if a society existed that never experienced nighttime?
“Mr. Clarke’s enterprise, though, is at the edges of the frame: trying to examine the moments when things come to be and when they come to an end. In the short story “Rescue Party” aliens come to save Earth from an imminent solar explosion. They find that humans, a primitive species that had known how to use radio signals for barely 200 years, had already saved themselves, launching a fleet of ships into the stars, knowing their journey would take hundreds of years.
“The rescuers are shocked by humanity’s daring and determination. “This is the youngest civilization in the Universe,” one notes. “Four hundred thousand years ago it did not even exist. What will it be a million years from now?” The story foretells the dominance of this species even though it is outnumbered by the creatures of the heavens — a dominance that, as Mr. Clarke makes sure we feel, will not always be welcome. This side of Mr. Clarke’s work may be the most eerie, particularly because his mystical speculations accompany an uncanny ability to envision worlds that are eminently plausible. But acts of reason and scientific speculation are just the beginning of his imaginings. Reason alone is insufficient. Something else is required.
Arthur C. Clarke’s Death and Burial in Sri Lanka
Clarke died in March 2008 of respiratory complications and heart failure after suffering from post-polio syndrome for more than decades. At the time of his death he was working on another novel, “The Last Theorem,” “The Last Theorem’ has taken a lot longer than I expected,” he told AFP. “That could well be my last novel, but then I’ve said that before.”
Rob Taylor of Reuters wrote: “Visionary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke was buried in his adopted home of Sri Lanka, where the nation paused for an international “titan” it had adopted as its own. “We feel so privileged that you left your mark on us. Your footprint will never fade. If anything, it will only magnify what we do,” Tamara Ekanayake, who grew up at Clarke’s Colombo home and whose family he adopted, told mourners. [Source: Rob Taylor, Reuters, March 23, 2008]
“Close family and friends wept and threw yellow roses onto his body in a final gesture of respect as it lay on a white bed beneath curved elephant tusks to music from the Space Odyssey movie before burial at Colombo’s main cemetery. His brother Fred and sister Mary watched on as hundreds of monks, mourners and sci-fi pilgrims clasped hands in prayer for a man who preferred the hard fact of science to organised religion. “I do not think we will see another like him for another million years,” said teacher A.S.M Munawwar, who travelled from Sri Lanka’s east clutching a signed copy of one of Clarke’s books.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who this week called Clarke a “prophet”, asked Sri Lankans to observe a minute’s silence for the island’s most distinguished foreigner as newspapers mourned the “final voyage of a titan”. Clarke left written instructions that his funeral be marked by “absolutely no religious rites of any kind”. For his tombstone he asked for the words: “Here lies Arthur Clarke. He never grew up, but didn’t stop growing”. “Asked in 2007 if there would be any monument to his passing, Sir Arthur said ‘walk into any good library and you will see my legacy there’,” his secretary Nalaka Gunawardena told Reuters. “He believed that the show must go on. He also wanted us to celebrate, not mourn his passage,” Gunawardena said.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022