Archive for March 18th, 2008

Dr. Arthur C. Clarke

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke died today (or actually tomorrow my time) in Sri Lanka. The last of the Big Three science fiction writers has left the building.

There is a video on YouTube of him making a birthday wish at the age of 90. I watched it last week. I won’t post here, simply because it does not seem appropriate to remember him this way. Men like him should be remembered for their great achievements, not the frail entities that they are later in life. Better to show this:

I read the books of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein from when I was between 8 or 9 until I’d completely read all of their work (save Asimov – just too much) when I was around 14. I still pick up their books and read them today, but they are badly dated. What was important in 1972 is a long way from where we are now, and where we think we are going. The importance of these authors is only to us who grew up in the era, and who read them at a particularly impressionable age.

That said, they were the most powerful influences on me growing up, much stronger than the teachers who stood physically in front of me trying to pass on their wisdom (or pass the time) in late Elementary and Junior High School. Isaac Asimov taught me science; everything I feel I know or believe comes directly from his non-fiction works directed at youngsters. What I learned in later textbooks and schoolwork only built on the frame that Asimov gave to me. In 1992, I was at my very first tradeshow in Chicago when Asimov’s death was announced. I cried—I really felt like I’d personally let him down by not becoming a scientist.

Arthur Clarke spoke from a higher ground than Asimov or Heinlein. Asimov taught me all of the nuts and bolts of science and history, but he never had Clarke’s touch for making them magical. Heinlein was simply never as serious as the other two. It seems so odd to me that as a middle age adult that I am much closer to Heinlein’s writings philosophically.

My favorite book by Clarke was Rendezvous with Rama. I read the whole book in the backseat of Dad’s car on a long, eight hour trip from New Castle, Indiana to New Glarus, Wisconsin in 1974. I vividly remember how much fun it was to read that book then. I understand they’re making a movie of it. I shudder at the thought, but hope that the movie preserves some of the essence of the book.

I just looked on Amazon—my feelings about the suitability of Clarke’s books in the 21st century seems to be matched in the marketplace. Most of his works are out of print.

The Nine Billion Names of God. Tales of the White Hart. Childhood’s End. The names of these books still send shivers through me.