Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

"The Lotus Eaters? Let’s see—what did Tennyson say about them—nobody reads him nowadays. 'There is sweet music here that softer falls...' No, it isn’t that bit. Ah, I have it!

"'Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?'

Well, young man, is there?"

"For some people—yes,” said Hassell. "And perhaps when space flight arrives they’ll all rush off to the planets and leave the Lotus Eaters to their dreams. That should satisfy everybody."

"And the meek shall inherit the Earth, eh?" said his companion, who seemed to have a very literary turn of mind.

"You could put it that way." Hassell smiled. He looked automatically at his watch, determined not to become involved in an argument which could have only one result.

"Dear me, I must be going. Thanks for the talk."

He rose to leave, thinking he’d preserved his incognito rather well. The stranger gave him a curious little smile and said quietly: "Good-by." He waited until Hassell had gone twenty feet, then called after him in a louder voice: "And good luck—Ulysses!"
(Prelude to Space)

From the Ocean, From the Stars

This afternoon I received some reports that Sir Arthur C. Clarke had died. This was confirmed a short time later by news reports.

It is hard for me to express how much of an influence he was on me. I first started reading his books (either Islands in the Sky or The Sands of Mars) shortly after I started reading science fiction (and that was very shortly after I started reading). I read through everything that was in print, whether aimed at adults or young adults. 2001: A Space Odyssey was read and re-read multiple times before my parents allowed me to see it on the big screen (heck, I didn't even get an allowance at that point, so it was a major treat). The book and the movie blew me away and both have remained favorites to this day. Fiction and non-fiction, if I saw Clarke's name on it (although I must confess that I wish he had held back on some of those "collaborations"), I bought it and read it. Short stories like Saturn Rising led me to amateur astronomy. Imperial Earth led me to an interest in recreational mathematics. In fact, many of Clarke's afterwords led me into other areas of study.

You can see his influence in many other places, upon many other things. Science fiction movies inevitably are compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The underwater or ecological tourism industry owes much to his pioneering efforts. How many science fiction authors still show his influence? Stephen Baxter. Charles Sheffield. Alastair Reynolds. Jack McDevitt. Gregory Benford (to name a very few of the many).

The Songs of Distant Earth

I continued to read Clarke throughout his career and my life. I would occasionally visit old friends and make new friends. Sometimes the pace would pick up, with the release of a new book. And, I credit Clarke's works, along with the works of Clifford D. Simak and Spider Robinson, for pulling me out of a very bad period in my life after September 11, 2001.

Its Origin and Purpose Remain a Mystery

Clarke never wrote very long novels. He won't go down as the guy with the most action plots, the most memorable characters, the deepest understanding of the human condition. But...in those relatively short works he shot off more ideas per page than most writers manage in the thick tomes that seem to fill the bookshelves these days. He was always optimistic, always filled with awe at the universe, able to excite you on subjects as diverse as the ocean, space exploration or mathematics. And for all of that he will remain one of science fiction's best authors.

The news reached Earth an hour later, at a time when there was nothing much else to occupy press or radio. Gibson would have been well satisfied by the resultant publicity: everywhere people began reading his last articles with a morbid interest. Ruth Goldstein knew nothing about it until an editor she was dealing with arrived waving the evening paper. She immediately sold the second reprint rights of Gibson's latest series for half as much again as her victim had intended to pay, then retired to her private room and wept copiously for a full minute. Both these events would have pleased Gibson enormously. (Sands of Mars)

(Clarke's final birthday message here.)

Amazon.com link to Clarke's final work (forthcoming). Plot summary of the book.

Postings I've made about Clarke: 1996: The Year in Books. The Missing Years (1997-2000). 2001: The Year in Books. 2002: The Year in Books. 2003: The Year in Books. 2004: The Year in Books. 2005: The Year in Books. 2006: The Year in Books. 2007: The Year in Books. Afterwords and Acknowledgements. The Death of Captain Future and Other Stories and Other Stories. Who is the artist? Polymaths and Snails. Book Meme. An Essential Book for the Shelf. Larger Than Worlds. The First Historian. Hugos. 50 Books. The Missing Are Deadly. Bernal Alpha. To Kipple. And Another (15 Picoseconds of Fame)...

Addendum (ongoing as I find new entries):

Comments by Writers: David Brin. Tribute by Tobias Buckell. Jeffrey Carver. Neil Gaiman. Making Light's tribute. Jerry Pournelle's thoughts. Alastair Reynolds' thoughts. Robert J. Sawyer's thoughts. John Scalzi. Charles Stross. Michael Swanwick's note. Mark Van Name's tribute. John C. Wright.

Comments by Fans: SF Signal's first entry. SF Signal's second entry. Bad Astronomy's tribute. The Spacewriter's Ramblings tribute. TeleRead's tribute. Laughing Wolf note. Selenian Boondocks note. Steven Hart's thoughts. The Joy of Tech. Dream Cafe. Vexxarr's tribute. User Friendly tribute.

Comments from Organizations: British Interplanetary Society. tribute. Centauri Dreams on the passing. The Clarke Foundation. The Arthur C. Clarke Mars Greenhouse. International Space Society. Engadet on the passing. A second article from Engadet. NASA statement. Riding With Rockets. SFWA tribute. The Space Elevator statement. SpaceRef/NASA Watch statement.

Comments by Publishers: Ken Burnside of Ad Astra Games talks about Clarke's influence. Jeff VanderMeer writing at Amazon.com. Peter Crowther as PS Publishing. Tor Books statement.

News Stories: MSNBC article. BBC story. New York Times obituary. CNN obituary. Wall Street Journal obituary. Times Online obituary. IEEE Spectrum and the final interview by Arthur C. Clarke. Podcast from IEEE Spectrum. Wired round-up of commentary. Jeff Greenwald (Wired). NPR story. BBC article on the funeral.
Michael Swanwick in The Philadelphia Inquirer
. Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times. The New York Times Books section obituary. John Clute in The Independent. Strange Horizons' Nicholas Seeley has produced a very nice write-up.

Background Items: Technovelgy rounds up Sir Arthur's inventions, real and literary. Wikipedia entry.

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