RIP Arthur C. Clarke

March 18, 2008

Arthur C. ClarkeArthur C. Clarke, science fiction and science fact writer and generally acknowledged inventor of the communication satellite, died today at the age of 90. He had lived in Sri Lanka for over 50 years.

When I was young I read most of his stories and novels, along with those of Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov – the three writers most generally considered to be the deans of hard-science SF. Clarke stories didn’t have the huge ideas of Asimov or the humanity of Heinlein, it seemed to me, but they were great slices of life with a wry British twist.

He will be most remembered for co-writing “2001: A Space Odyssey” with Stanley Kubrick.  It was an incredible, groundbreaking, astonishing, inspiring and ultimately confusing film for most people. The “semi-sequel,” “2010,” helped explain some things, and had its own drama, if not the sense of wonder of the first film. In many ways he has been the most influential of science fiction writers, if only for his work on “2001.”

It’s not irony, it’s a tribute, that I Googled his name to get the information about his passing, and the web site I found first was that for Sky News…which would not have existed without Clarke’s explanation of, and promotion of, communication satellites. He first advanced the idea in 1945, almost 20 years before there was the capability to place them in geosynchronous orbit.

I remember reading one of his nonfiction books in grade school that first taught me a lot of the basics of rocketry and space flight. It must have been the 1951 “The Exploration of Space.” I read it almost 15 years later, and it still seemed cutting-edge to me.

He wrote almost 100 books, was a part of two television series, and still appeared periodically – via satellite! – for important meetings having to do with the promotion of space exploration. He even sent a video greeting to the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial last year on 7/7/07.

For a man afflicted with polio, he still was an active scuba diver off the coast of his beloved Sri Lanka for many years. He was made a knight of the British Realm in 2000.

Sleep well, Arthur, and may all your questions about the universe be answered…


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