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Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008
 


Country : Minehead, Somerset, England
Profession : Novelist
Date of birth : 1917-12-16
Date of death : 2008-03-19
Cause of Death : Heart failure

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Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008) was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, most famous for the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, written in collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick, a collaboration which also produced the film of the same name; and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World.

Clarke served in the Royal Air Force as a radar instructor and technician from 1941-1946, proposed satellite communication systems in 1945 which won him the Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Gold Medal in 1963. He was the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1947-1950 and again in 1953. Later, he helped fight for the preservation of lowland gorillas. He won the UNESCO-Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science in 1961.

Clarke emigrated to Sri Lanka in 1956 largely to pursue his interest in scuba diving, and lived there until his death. He was knighted by the United Kingdom in 1998, and was awarded Sri Lanka's highest civil honour, Sri Lankabhimanya, in 2005.

Biography

Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, England. As a boy he enjoyed stargazing and reading old American science fiction pulp magazines. After secondary school and studying at Huish's Grammar School, Taunton, he was unable to afford a university education and got a job as an auditor in the pensions section of the Board of Education.

During the Second World War he served in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist and was involved in the early warning radar defence system, which contributed to the RAF's success during the Battle of Britain. Clarke spent most of his wartime service working on Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) radar as documented in the semi-autobiographical Glide Path, his only non-science-fiction novel. Although GCA did not see much practical use in the war, it proved vital to the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949 after several years of development. Clarke initially served in the ranks, and was a Corporal instructor on radar at No 9 Radio School, RAF Yatesbury. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (Technical Branch) on 27 May 1943. He was promoted Flying Officer on 27 November 1943. He was appointed chief training instructor at RAF Honiley and was demobilised with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. After the war he earned a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King's College London.

In the postwar years, Clarke became the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1947-1950 and again in 1953. Although he was not the originator of the concept of geostationary satellites, one of his most important contributions may be his idea that they would be ideal telecommunications relays. He advanced this idea in a paper privately circulated among the core technical members of the BIS in 1945. The concept was published in Wireless World in October of that year. Clarke also wrote a number of non-fiction books describing the technical details and societal implications of rocketry and space flight. The most notable of these may be The Exploration of Space (1951) and The Promise of Space (1968). In recognition of these contributions the geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometres (22,000 mi) above the equator is officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union as a Clarke Orbit.

On a trip to Florida in 1953 Clarke met and quickly married Marilyn Mayfield, a 22-year-old American divorcee with a young son. They separated permanently after six months, although the divorce was not finalised until 1964. "The marriage was incompatible from the beginning", says Clarke. Clarke never remarried but was close to Leslie Ekanayake, who died in 1977. Journalists who inquired of Clarke whether he was gay were told, "No, merely mildly cheerful." However, Michael Moorcock has written

Everyone knew he was gay. In the 1950s I'd go out drinking with his boyfriend. We met his proteges, western and eastern, and their families: people who had only the most generous praise for his kindness. Self-absorbed he might be, and a teetotaller, but an impeccable gent through and through.

Moorcook's assertion is not supported by other reports, although in an interview in the July, 1986 issue of Playboy magazine, Clarke stated "Of course. Who hasn't?" when asked if he has had bisexual experiences.

Clarke also maintained a vast collection of manuscripts and personal memoirs, maintained by his brother Fred Clarke in Taunton, Somerset, England, and referred to as the "Clarkives." Clarke has said that some of his private diaries will not be published until 30 years after his death. When asked why they were sealed up, he answered "'Well, there might be all sorts of embarrassing things in them".

Writing career

While Clarke had a few stories published in fanzines, between 1937 and 1945, his first professional sales appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946: "Loophole" was published in April, while "Rescue Party", his first sale, was published in May. Along with his writing Clarke briefly worked as Assistant Editor of Science Abstracts (1949) before devoting himself to writing full-time from 1951 onward. Clarke also contributed to the Dan Dare series published in Eagle, and his first three published novels were written for children.

Clarke corresponded with C. S. Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s and they once met in an Oxford pub, The Eastgate, to discuss science fiction and space travel. Clarke, after Lewis's death, voiced great praise for him, saying the Ransom Trilogy was one of the few works of science fiction that could be considered literature.

In 1948 he wrote "The Sentinel" for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected it changed the course of Clarke's career. Not only was it the basis for A Space Odyssey, but "The Sentinel" also introduced a more mystical and cosmic element to Clarke's work. Many of Clarke's later works feature a technologically advanced but prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. In the cases of The City and the Stars (and its original version, Against the Fall of Night), Childhood's End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution. In Clarke's authorized biography, Neil McAleer writes that: "many readers and critics still consider [Childhood's End] Arthur C. Clarke's best novel."

Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death in 2008, having emigrated there when it was still called Ceylon, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo. Clarke held citizenship of both the UK and Sri Lanka. He was an avid scuba diver and a member of the Underwater Explorers Club. Living in Sri Lanka afforded him the opportunity to visit the ocean year-round. It also inspired the locale for his novel The Fountains of Paradise in which he described a space elevator. This, he believed, ultimately will be his legacy, more so than geostationary satellites, once space elevators make space shuttles obsolete.

His many predictions culminated in 1958 when he began a series of essays in various magazines that eventually became Profiles of the Future published in book form in 1962. A timetable up to the year 2100 describes inventions and ideas including such things as a "global library" for 2005.

Early in his career Clarke had a fascination with the paranormal and stated that it was part of the inspiration for his novel Childhood's End. He also said that he was one of several who were fooled by a Uri Geller demonstration at Birkbeck College. Although he eventually dismissed and distanced himself from nearly all pseudoscience he continued to advocate research into psychokinesis and similar phenomena.

Later years

In the early 1970s Clarke signed a three-book publishing deal, a record for a science-fiction writer at the time. The first of the three was Rendezvous with Rama in 1973, which won him all the main genre awards and has spawned sequels that, along with the 2001 series, formed the backbone of his later career.

In 1975 Clarke's short story "The Star" was not included in a new high school English textbook in Sri Lanka because of concerns that it might offend Roman Catholics even though it had already been selected. The same textbook also caused controversy because it replaced Shakespeare's work with that of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Isaac Asimov.

In the 1980s Clarke became well known to many for his television programmes Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers and Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe. In 1986 he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America. In 1988 he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, having originally contracted polio in 1959, and needed to use a wheelchair most of the time thereafter. Sir Arthur C Clarke was for many years a Vice Patron of the British Polio Fellowship.

In the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours Clarke was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) "for services to British cultural interests in Sri Lanka". The same year he became the first Chancellor of the International Space University, serving from 1989 to 2004 and he also served as Chancellor of Moratuwa University in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 2002.

In 1994, Clarke appeared in a science fiction film; he portrayed himself in the telefilm Without Warning, an American production about an apocalyptic alien first contact scenario presented in the form of a faux newscast.

On 26 May 2000 he was made a Knight Bachelor "for services to literature" at a ceremony in Colombo. The award of a knighthood had been announced in the 1998 New Year Honours, but investiture with the award had been delayed, at Clarke's request, because of an accusation, by the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror, of paedophilia. The charge was subsequently found to be baseless by the Sri Lankan police. According to The Daily Telegraph (London), the Mirror subsequently published an apology, and Clarke chose not to sue for defamation. Clarke was then duly knighted.

In September 2007, he provided a video greeting for NASA's Cassini probe's flyby of Iapetus (which plays an important role in 2001: A Space Odyssey). In December 2007 on his 90th birthday, Clarke recorded a video message to his friends and fans bidding them good-bye.

Clarke died in Sri Lanka on 19 March 2008 after suffering from breathing problems, according to Rohan de Silva, one of his aides.[25][46][47][48]

Only a few days before he died, he had reviewed the manuscript of his final work, The Last Theorem, on which he had collaborated by e-mail with his contemporary Frederik Pohl. The book was published after Clarke's death.

Clarke was buried in Colombo in traditional Sri Lankan fashion on 22 March. His younger brother, Fred Clarke, and his Sri Lankan adoptive family were among the thousands in attendance.

Position on religion

Themes of religion and spirituality appear in much of Clarke's writing. Although his oeuvre was not explicitly religious — “Any path to knowledge is a path to God — or Reality, whichever word one prefers to use”, he said — he did give Man’s journey a mystical significance and a quasireligious intensity, and described himself as 'fascinated by the concept of God'. In 2000, Clarke told the Sri Lankan newspaper, The Island, "I don't believe in God or an afterlife, and he identifies himself as an atheist. He was honoured as a Humanist Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism. He has also described himself as a "crypto-Buddhist", insisting that Buddhism is not a religion. He displayed little interest about religion early in his life, for example, only discovering a few months after marrying his wife, that she had strong Presbyterian beliefs.

In a three-day interview described as "a dialogue on man and his world" with Alan Watts, Clarke said that he could not forgive religions for the atrocities and wars over time and admitted a bias against religion in a 1972 interview.

In a reflection of the dialogue where he more broadly stated "mankind", his introduction to the penultimate episode of Mysterious World, entitled, Strange Skies, Clarke said, "I sometimes think that the universe is a machine designed for the perpetual astonishment of astronomers."

 

Themes, style, and influences

Clarke's work is marked by an optimistic view of science empowering mankind's exploration of the Solar System, and the world's oceans. Clarke's images of the future often feature a Utopian setting with highly developed technology, ecology, and society, based on the author's ideals. His early published stories would usually feature the extrapolation of a technological innovation or scientific breakthrough into the underlying decadence of his own society.

"The Sentinel" (1948) introduced a religious theme to Clarke's work, a theme that he later explored more deeply in The City and the Stars (and its earlier version, Against the Fall of Night). His interest in the paranormal was influenced by Charles Fort and embraced the belief that humanity may be the property of an ancient alien civilisation[citation needed]. Surprisingly for a writer who is often held up as an example of hard science fiction's obsession with technology, three of Clarke's novels have this as a theme. Another theme of "The Sentinel" was the notion that the evolution of an intelligent species would eventually make them something close to gods, which was also explored in his 1953 novel Childhood's End. He also briefly touched upon this idea in his novel Imperial Earth. This idea of transcendence through evolution seems to have been influenced by Olaf Stapledon, who wrote a number of books dealing with this theme. Clarke has said of Stapledon's 1930 book Last and First Men that "No other book had a greater influence on my life ... [It] and its successor Star Maker (1937) are the twin summits of [Stapledon's] literary career".

Clarke also took a major interest in "Inner Space", which can be seen in his stories, Big Game Hunt, The Deep Range and The Shining Ones, as well as Dolphin Island.

Adapted screenplays

2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke's first venture into film was the Stanley Kubrick directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick and Clarke had met in New York City in 1964 to discuss the possibility of a collaborative film project. As the idea developed, it was decided that the story for the film was to be loosely based on Clarke's short story "The Sentinel", written in 1948 as an entry in a BBC short story competition. Originally, Clarke was going to write the screenplay for the film, but Kubrick suggested during one of their brainstorming meetings that before beginning on the actual script, they should let their imaginations soar free by writing a novel first, which the film would be based on upon its completion. "This is more or less the way it worked out, though toward the end, novel and screenplay were being written simultaneously, with feedback in both directions. Thus I rewrote some sections after seeing the movie rushes -- a rather expensive method of literary creation, which few other authors can have enjoyed." The novel ended up being published a few months after the release of the movie.

Due to the hectic schedule of the film's production, Kubrick and Clarke had difficulty collaborating on the book. Clarke completed a draft of the novel at the end of 1964 with the plan to publish in 1965 in advance of the film's release in 1966. After many delays the film was released in the spring of 1968, before the book was completed. The book was credited to Clarke alone. Clarke later complained that this had the effect of making the book into a novelisation, that Kubrick had manipulated circumstances to downplay Clarke's authorship. For these and other reasons, the details of the story differ slightly from the book to the movie. The film contains little explanation for the events taking place. Clarke, on the other hand, wrote thorough explanations of "cause and effect" for the events in the novel. James Randi later recounted that upon seeing 2001 for the first time, Clarke left the movie theatre during the first break crying because he was so upset about how the movie had turned out. Despite their differences, both film and novel were well received.

In 1972, Clarke published The Lost Worlds of 2001, which included his account of the production and alternate versions of key scenes. The "special edition" of the novel A Space Odyssey (released in 1999) contains an introduction by Clarke, documenting his account of the events leading to the release of the novel and film.

2010

In 1982 Clarke continued the 2001 epic with a sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two. This novel was also made into a film, 2010, directed by Peter Hyams for release in 1984. Due to the political environment in America in the 1980s, the novel and film present a Cold War theme, with the looming tensions of nuclear warfare. The film was not considered to be as revolutionary or artistic as 2001, but the reviews were still positive.

Clarke's email correspondence with Hyams was published in 1984. Titled The Odyssey File: The Making of 2010, and co-authored with Hyams, it illustrates his fascination with the then-pioneering medium of email and its use for them to communicate on an almost daily basis at the time of planning and production of the film while living on different continents. The book also includes Clarke's list of the best science-fiction films ever made.

Rendezvous with Rama

Clarke's award-winning 1972 novel Rendezvous with Rama was optioned many years ago, but is currently in "development hell". Director David Fincher is attached to the project, together with actor Morgan Freeman.

Beyond 2001

2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke's most famous work, goes well beyond the 1968 movie. Its 1984 sequel, 2010 was based on Clarke's 1982 novel, 2010: Odyssey Two. There were two further sequels that have not been adapted to the cinema: 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey.

In 2061, Halley's Comet swings back to nearby Earth, and Clarke uses the event as an excuse to take an aged Dr. Heywood Floyd on a romp through the solar system, visiting the comet before crash-landing on Europa, where he discovers the fates of Dave Bowman, HAL 9000, and the Europan life-forms which have been protected by the Monoliths.

With 3001: The Final Odyssey, Clarke returns to examine the character of astronaut Frank Poole, who was killed outside Discovery by HAL in the original novel and film, but whose body was revived in the year 3001.

Essays and short stories

Most of Clarke's essays (from 1934 to 1998) can be found in the book Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! (2000). Most of his short stories can be found in the book The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (2001). Another collection of early essays was published in The View from Serendip (1977), which also included one short piece of fiction, "When the Twerms Came". He wrote short stories under the pseudonyms of E. G. O'Brien and Charles Willis.

Concept of the geostationary communications satellite

Clarke's most important scientific contribution may be his idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays. He described this concept in a paper titled Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?, published in Wireless World in October 1945. The geostationary orbit is now sometimes known as the Clarke Orbit or the Clarke Belt in his honour.

However, it is not clear that this article was actually the inspiration for the modern telecommunications satellite. John R. Pierce, of Bell Labs, arrived at the idea independently in 1954 and he was actually involved in the Echo satellite and Telstar projects. Moreover, Pierce stated that the idea was "in the air" at the time and certain to be developed regardless of Clarke's publication. In an interview given shortly before his death, Clarke was asked whether he thought communications satellites would become important; he replied

"I'm often asked why I didn't try to patent the idea of communications satellites. My answer is always, ‘A patent is really a license to be sued.' "

Though different from Clarke's idea of telecom relay, the idea of communicating with satellites in geostationary orbit itself had been described earlier. For example, the concept of geostationary satellites was described in Hermann Oberth's 1923 book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) and then the idea of radio communication with those satellites in Herman Potočnik's (written under the pseudonym Hermann Noordung) 1928 book Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums — der Raketen-Motor (The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor) sections: Providing for Long Distance Communications and Safety and (possibly referring to the idea of relaying messages via satellite, but not that 3 would be optimal) Observing and Researching the Earth's Surface published in Berlin. Clarke acknowledged the earlier concept in his book Profiles of the Future.

Awards, honours and other recognition

  • Following the release of 2001, Clarke became much in demand as a commentator on science and technology, especially at the time of the Apollo space program. The fame of 2001 was enough to get the Command Module of the Apollo 13 craft named "Odyssey".
  • Shared a 1969 Academy Award nomination with Stanley Kubrick in the category, Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • In 1986, Clarke provided a grant to fund the prize money (initially £1,000) for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom in the previous year. In 2001 the prize was increased to £2001, and its value now matches the year (e.g., £2005 in 2005).
  • Clarke received a CBE in 1989, and was knighted in 2000. Clarke's health did not allow him to travel to London to receive the honour personally from the Queen, so the United Kingdom's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka invested him as a Knight Bachelor at a ceremony in Colombo.
  • In 1994, Clarke was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by law professor Glenn Reynolds.
  • The 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter is named in honour of Sir Arthur's works.
  • In 2003, Sir Arthur was awarded the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology where he appeared on stage via a 3-D hologram with a group of old friends which included Jill Tarter, Neil Armstrong, Lewis Branscomb, Charles Townes, Freeman Dyson, Bruce Murray and Scott Brown.
  • In 2005 he lent his name to the inaugural Sir Arthur Clarke Awards — dubbed "the Space Oscars". His brother attended the awards ceremony, and presented an award specially chosen by Arthur (and not by the panel of judges who chose the other awards) to the British Interplanetary Society.
  • On 14 November 2005 Sri Lanka awarded Arthur C. Clarke its highest civilian award, the Sri Lankabhimanya (The Pride of Sri Lanka), for his contributions to science and technology and his commitment to his adopted country.
  • Sir Arthur was the Honorary Board Chair of the Institute for Cooperation in Space, founded by Carol Rosin, and served on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, a space advocacy organisation originally founded by Dr. Wernher von Braun.
  • An asteroid was named in Clarke's honour, 4923 Clarke (the number was assigned prior to, and independently of, the name - 2001, however appropriate, was unavailable, having previously been assigned to Albert Einstein).
  • A species of ceratopsian dinosaur, Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei, discovered in Inverloch in Australia.
  • The Learning Resource Centre at Richard Huish College, Taunton, which Clarke attended when it was Huish Grammar School, is named after him.
  • Clarke was a distinguished vice-president of the H. G. Wells Society, being strongly influenced by H. G. Wells as a science-fiction writer.

Novels

  • Prelude to Space (1951)
  • Childhood's End (1953)
  • The City and the Stars (1956)
  • The Deep Range (1957)
  • A Fall of Moondust (Hugo nominated) (1961)
  • Glide Path (1963)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • Rendezvous with Rama (Hugo and Nebula Award) (1972)
  • A Meeting with Medusa (Nebula Award for best novella) (1972)
  • Imperial Earth (1975)
  • The Fountains of Paradise (Hugo and Nebula Award) (1979)
  • The Songs of Distant Earth (1986)
  • The Hammer of God (1994)
  • The Trigger (1999) (with Michael P. Kube-McDowell)
  • The Light of Other Days (2000) (with Stephen Baxter)
  • Time's Eye, book one of A Time Odyssey (2004) (with Stephen Baxter)
  • Sunstorm, book two of A Time Odyssey (2005) (with Stephen Baxter)
  • Firstborn, the conclusion of A Time Odyssey (2007) (with Stephen Baxter)
  • The Last Theorem (2008) (with Frederik Pohl)

Short story collections

  • The Other Side of the Sky (1958)
  • The Nine Billion Names of God (1967)
  • The Wind from the Sun (1972)
  • The Best of Arthur C. Clarke (1973)
  • The Sentinel (1983)
  • The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (2001)

Non-fiction

  • The Exploration of Space. New York: Harper, 1951
  • Voices from the Sky: Previews of the Coming Space Age. New York: Harper & Row, 1965
  • Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Autobiography. London: Gollancz, 1989
  • Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! : Collected Works 1934-1988. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999
  • In an episode of The Goodies, Clarke's show is cancelled after it is claimed he does not exist (it is later claimed in the same episode that Clarke was just Graeme Garden in a wig).
  • The Venus Prime series is based on characters and locations from Clarke's short stories.

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