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Arthur C Clarke : 1917 - 2008

Arthur C Clarke

Sir Arthur Charles ClarkeCBE (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008) a British science fiction authorinventor, and futurist, most famous for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, and for collaborating with director Stanley Kubrick on the film of the same name, has also died at his home in Sri Lanka.

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 InstituteStuart Ballantine Gold Medal in 1963 and a nomination in 1994 for a Nobel Prize, and became the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1947-1950 and again in 1953. Later, he helped fight for the preservation of lowland gorillas and won the UNESCO-Kalinga Prize in 1962.  

Clark was knighted in 1998. He emigrated to Sri Lanka in 1956, where he lived until his death. 

from Wikipedia:


Clarke was born in MineheadSomersetEngland.[3] As a boy he enjoyed stargazing and reading old American science fiction pulp magazines. After secondary school and studying atHuish'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.[14]

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 time working on Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) radar as documented in the semi-autobiographical Glide Path, his only non-SF novel. Although GCA did not see much practical use in the war, after several years of development it was vital to the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949. He initially served in the ranks, and was a Corporal when he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (Technical Branch) on 27 May 1943.[15] He was promoted Flying Officer on 27 November 1943[16] He was demobilised with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. After the war he earned a first-class degree inmathematics 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.[17][18] 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.[19][20][21] 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".[22]

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.[23] 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." [24]

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 StarsChildhood's End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution.

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.[24] Clarke held citizenship of both the UK and Sri Lanka.[25] 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.[26]

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[27] 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 wasRendezvous 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 replacedShakespeare's work with that of Bob DylanJohn Lennon and Isaac Asimov.

In the 1980s Clarke became well known to many for his television programmes Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World and Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers.

In 1986 he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America.[28]

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.[24]

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).[29]

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".[30] 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.

On 26 May 2000 he was made a Knight Bachelor "for services to literature" at a ceremony in Colombo.[31] The award of a knighthood had been announced in the 1998 New Year Honours,[32] but investiture of the award had been delayed, at Clarke's request, because of an accusation, by the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror, of paedophilia, which was, however, found to be baseless by Sri Lankan police.[33][34][35][36][37][38]

In December 2007 on his 90th birthday, Clarke recorded a video message to his friends and fans bidding them good-bye.[39]

Clarke died in Sri Lanka on 19 March 2008 after suffering from breathing problems, according to Rohan de Silva, one of his aides,[40][41][24]only a few days after he had reviewed the final manuscript of his latest work, The Last Theorem, co-written with Frederik Pohl.[42]

Religious beliefs

In 2000, Clarke told the Sri Lankan newspaper The Island that he was an atheist "I don't believe in God or an afterlife.".[43] He displayed little interest about religion early in his life, for example, after marrying his wife, learned, in 1953 that she believed in God and had Christianvalues (which she learned from Presbyterians). Later however he used religious characters and themes in his science fiction novels and short stories, for example in his novel The Hammer of God.

In a three-day interview known 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 2001 interview:

I have a longstanding bias against religion that may be reflected in my comments[44]

Whether or not Clarke meant that he had "a negative mindset against" or "a prejudice against" religion is not clear.

In his introduction of Mysterious World: Strange Skies, Clarke said,

I sometimes think that the universe is a machine designed for the perpetual astonishment of astronomers.

Near the very end of that episode, the last segment of which covered the Star of Bethlehem, he stated that his favorite theory as to what it was, was that it was a pulsar. And on what was a recently discovered match for this pulsar (PSR B1913+16) at the time of the making of that episode, he said,

How romantic, if even now, we can hear the dying voice of a star, which heralded the Christian era.

As a final statement on religion, he gave written instructions for a secular funeral that stated:

Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral.[45]

Themes, style, and influences

Clarke's work is marked by an optimistic view of science empowering mankind's exploration of the solar system. 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. 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. 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".[46]

Adapted screenplays

2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke's first venture into film was the Stanley Kubrick-directed 2001: A Space OdysseyKubrick and Clarke had met 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 this proved to be more tedious than he had estimated. Instead, Kubrick and Clarke decided it would be best to write a novel first and then adapt it for the film upon its completion. However, as Clarke was finishing the book, the screenplay was also being written simultaneously.

Clarke's influence on the directing of 2001: A Space Odyssey is also felt in one of the most memorable scenes in the movie when astronaut Bowman shuts down HAL by removing modules from service one by one. As this happens, we witness HAL's consciousness degrading. By the time HAL's logic is completely gone, he begins singing the song Daisy Bell. This song was chosen based on a visit by Clarke to his friend and colleague John Pierce at the Bell Labs Murray Hill facility. A speech synthesis demonstration by physicist John Larry Kelly, Jrwas taking place. Kelly was using an IBM 704 computer to synthesise speech. His voice recorder synthesiser vocoder reproduced the vocal for Daisy Bell, with musical accompaniment from Max Mathews. Arthur C. Clarke was so impressed that he later told Kubrick to use it in this climactic scene.[47]

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 his authorship. For these and other reasons, the details of the story differ slightly from the book to the movie. The film is a bold artistic piece with 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. Despite their differences, both film and novel were well received.[48][49][50]

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.


In 1982 Clarke continued the 2001 epic with a sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two. This novel was also made into a film, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, directed by Peter Hyams for release in 1984. Due to the political environment in America in the 1980s, the novel and film present aCold 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 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". DirectorDavid Fincher is assigned 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, and its 1984 sequel (2010: The Year We Make Contact). There were two more sequels that have not been adapted to the cinema: 2061: The Third Odyssey and 3001: The Final Odyssey. In 2061: The Third OdysseyHalley's Comet swings back to nearby Earth, and Sir Arthur 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 lifeforms which have been protected by the Monoliths.

With 3001: The Final Odyssey, Clarke returns to examine the character of astronaut Frank Poole, believed killed outside Discovery by HAL in the original novel and film.

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. He also wrote a story called "The Secret."

Concept of the geostationary communications satellite

Main article: Geostationary orbit

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. Nevertheless, Clarke described the idea so thoroughly that his article has been cited as prior art in judgements denying patents on the concept.[citation needed]

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[51](The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) and then the idea of radio communication with those satellites in Herman Potočnik's (written by pseudonym Hermann Noordung) 1928 book Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums — der Raketen-Motor (The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor) section: Providing for Long Distance Communications and Safety [52] published in Berlin. Clarke acknowledged the earlier concept in his book Profiles of the Future.[53]

Awards, honours and other recognition

  • 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 Britain in the previous year. In 2001 the prize was increased to £2001, and its value now matches the year (e.g., £2005 in 2005).
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • As featured on Sky One's "50 Terrible Predictions" programme, Clarke once predicted that apes would function as household servants by the 1960's; "...with our present knowledge of animal psychology, we can certainly solve the servant problem with the help of the monkey kingdom" he said, but quipped "..of course, eventually, our super chimpanzees would start forming trade unions and we'd be right back where we started."

Partial bibliography


Omnibus editions

Short story collections


  • Interplanetary Flight: an introduction to astronautics. London: Temple Press, 1950
  • The Exploration of Space. New York: Harper, 1951
  • The Coast of Coral. New York: Harper, 1957 — Volume 1 of the Blue planet trilogy
  • The Reefs of Taprobane; Underwater Adventures around Ceylon. New York: Harper, 1957 — Volume 2 of the Blue planet trilogy
  • The Making of a Moon: the Story of the Earth Satellite Program. New York: Harper, 1957
  • Boy beneath the sea, Photos by Mike Wilson. Text by Arthur C. Clarke. New York: Harper, 1958
  • The Challenge of the Space Ship: Previews of Tomorrow’s World. New York: Harper, 1959
  • The Challenge of the Sea. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960
  • Profiles of the Future; an Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible. New York: Harper & Row, 1962
  • The Treasure of the Great Reef. New York: Harper & Row, 1964 — Volume 3 of the Blue planet trilogy
  • Voices from the Sky: Previews of the Coming Space Age. New York: Harper & Row, 1965
  • The Promise of Space. New York: Harper, 1968
  • Into Space: a Young Person’s Guide to Space, by Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Silverberg. New York: Harper & Row, 1971
  • Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations. New York: Harper & Row, 1972
  • The Lost Worlds of 2001. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1972
  • Voice Across the Sea. HarperCollins, 1975
  • The View from Serendip. Random House, 1977
  • The Odyssey File. Email correspondence with Peter Hyams. London: Panther Books, 1984
  • 1984, Spring: a Choice of Futures. New York: Ballantine Books, 1984
  • Ascent to Orbit, a Scientific Autobiography: The Technical Writings of Arthur C. Clarke. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1984
  • Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Autobiography. London: Gollancz, 1989
  • How the World Was One: Beyond the Global Village. New York : Bantam Books, 1992 — A history and survey of the communications revolution
  • By Space Possessed. London: Gollancz, 1993
  • The Snows of Olympus - A Garden on Mars (1994, picture album with comments)
  • An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, 1995, St. Martin's Press ISBN 0-312-15119-5 (Online Version)
  • Fractals: The Colors of Infinity (1997, narrator)
  • Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence 1945-1956. ed. Keith Allen Daniels. Palo Alto, CA, USA: Anamnesis Press, 1998.
  • Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! : Collected Works 1934-1988. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999
  • Profiles of the Future; an Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible (updated edition). New York: Harper & Row, 1999, ISBN 057506790X,ISBN 9780575067905
  • From Narnia to a Space Odyssey: The War of Letters Between Arthur C. Clarke and C. S. Lewis (2003) with C. S. Lewis
  • The Coming of the Space Age; famous accounts of man's probing of the universe, selected and edited by Arthur C. Clarke.

In popular culture

  • Clarke attempted to write a six-word story as part of a Wired Magazine article but wrote ten words instead. ("God said, 'Cancel Program GENESIS.' The universe ceased to exist.") He refused to lower the word count.[55]
  • At the start of the movie 2010, Dr. Heywood Floyd is engaged in a conversation in front of the White House. Clarke is the man feeding the pigeons to the left of the shot. Later on in the movie, in the hospital scene where Mrs. Bowman dies, the cover of Time shows a photograph of Clarke as the American president, and one of Kubrick as the Russian Premier.
  • He survived the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which did however claim his "Arthur C. Clarke Diving School" atHikkaduwa,[56] which has since been rebuilt.
  • He was a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association.
  • Clarke's novel, Songs of Distant Earth, was the theme for an album of the same name released by ambient musician Mike Oldfield, the creator of the 1973 album Tubular Bells. Most of the sections in the album are named after elements of the novel, such as "The Space Elevator" and "The Sunken Forest". The inlay/sleevenotes include a short piece written by Clarke. Oldfield also used other titles from Clarke's work for songs, including "Sentinel" and "Sunjammer", on Tubular Bells II.
  • In the TV series Millennium the log-in voice phrases for Peter Watts and Lara Means are quotes from 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Divine Comedy recorded a song entitled "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" for their 2006 album, Victory For The Comic Muse, in tribute to Clarke's well-known TV programme.
  • 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).