Wednesday, March 19, 2008



That was my initial response. Once I got a chance to contemplate a bit more I went on to add...


Arthur C Clarke just died.


I just looked through my library. It's kind of depressing how little of it has Clarke's name on it. I know I have more than I'm seeing. Much of what I am pulling up is probably Dad's stuff. The stuff I'm not seeing is probably at his house. Looking at his list of works I see that there's a LOT of books of his that I KNOW are here somewhere.

Arthur C Clarke wasn't just another science fiction writer. Forget his age and the fact that most modern science fiction writers grew up reading his stuff. Clarke was an inventor, a philosopher, and a damn good writer in any genre. He joined Walter Cronkite as commentator for the moon shots in the 60's. One of his books "Songs of Distant Earth" was the inspiration for an album of the same name. What we call "science fiction" is usually "space fantasy". He helped put the science in science fiction. As we move into space his name will be used for naming ships, colonies, and structures more than almost anyone. He already has an asteroid, two awards, a Martian probe, a dinosaur, and an orbit named for him. The third movie adaptation of one of his books is in pre-production and will probably spawn 3 sequels if it gets done.

For all intents and purposes he invented the communications satellite. He popularized the concept, did the math, and calculated the orbit necessary to put a satellite in stationary orbit around the Earth. It's called Geosynchronous Orbit or Clarke Orbit. All our TV signals, much of our cross country phone traffic, and no small part of our internet traffic runs through a halo of electronics 35,786 km (22,240 miles) over the equator.

He came up with the idea for a space elevator in his book "The Fountains of Paradise". He thought it, more than the communication satellite, would be his lasting legacy to the world. I believe it's what will finally make space travel commonplace. It's a cable of carbon nanotubules that will reach down from Clarke Orbit and allow an elevator to climb it into orbit. It would reduce the cost of taking stuff into space to just a couple pennies for each dollar now spent.
I think the first will come down in the Indian Ocean near Clarke's adopted home in Sri Lanka and will be called Clarke Tower or something similar.

Clarke suffered from the after effects of polio. In 1954, while scuba diving off the coast of Sri Lanka, he discovered that he could still move normally underwater. He moved there in 1956 and remained an avid scuba diver until late in life.

Personally, it took me a long time to discover Clarke's writings. I made the mistake of watching "2001: A Space Odyssey" first. It's a great movie and a great cure for insomnia. I blamed the slow, plodding nature of the movie on the author instead of the director. When I first read something of his, a short story I think, it was good enough for me to consider giving him another chance.
Arthur C Clarke was 90 years old. He died in a hospital in Sri Lanka following respiratory difficulties.
As prolific as he was he may well still be putting out books when I'm 90 years old.

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