Science Fiction Writer Arthur C. Clarke Dies at Age of 90

Science Fiction Writer Arthur C. Clarke Dies at Age of 90
Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. (Image credit: AP Photo.)

Science fictionwriter, inventor and futurist Arthur C. Clarke has died, leaving fans bereft at the loss of his brilliance and creativity.

Clarke diedearly Wednesday after suffering from breathing problems, the Associated Press reported. He was90 years old. He suffered from post-polio syndrome and was confined to awheelchair toward the end of his life.

Clarke wrote more than 100sci-fi books, including "2001:A Space Odyssey." He is credited with coming up with the idea for the communicationssatellite and predicting space travel before rockets were even test fired.

Early Life

Clarkewas born to a family of farmers in Minehead, a town in Somerset, England.

Hefed an early interest in science fiction with Amazing Stories(the world's first science-fiction magazine; it fell out of publication in 2005).

Inthe 1930s, he joined the British Interplanetary Society, which he chaired fortwo terms, and was active in SF fandom, where his self-promotional effortsearned him the nickname "Ego."

DuringWorld War 2, he trained users of the Ground Operated Approach Radar, themilitary ancestor to today?s air traffic control systems, then completed acollege degree (with honors) in physics and mathematics at King?s College,London.

The road of gold

Since1956, Clarke resided in Sri Lanka as the island nation's sole honorarycitizen, engaging in underwater exploration and participating in the managementof a diving tour company, Underwater Safaris. However, he was most familiar toglobal audiences as a futurist and advocate of technology and interplanetaryexploration.

WithWalter Cronkite, who would become a lifelong friend, he co-anchored CBStelevision coverage of the launches of Apollo 11, 12 and 15. Continuing hiscareer in television, Clarke hosted such investigative programs as"Arthur C. Clarke?s Mysterious World", "World of StrangePowers" and "Mysterious Universe".

Amonghis many honors, Clarke was one of only 17 writers ever named a Science FictionGrand Master. In addition, he received the UNESCO Kalinga Award foradvancing interest in science, as well as nominations for both an Academy Awardnomination, for 2001 (shared with Stanley Kubrick), and a Nobel PeacePrize, for laying the conceptual groundwork for the creation of orbitalcommunications satellites.

Heserved as a fellow at alma mater King?s College.

He received both the Order of the British Empire (promoted to Commander of theBritish Empire in 1998) and the Vidya Jyothi, the highest honor bestowed by theSri Lankan government.

Hewas most likely the only person to both appear on two Sri Lankan stamps --commemorating the 50th anniversary of telecommunications in that country -- andto have an asteroid named in his honor.

Ona more personal level, luminaries ranging from Carl Sagan, Alexei Leonov andWilly Ley to Wernher von Braun, Rupert Murdoch and Isaac Asimov calledClarke friend.

Service to science

Withsuch an impressive resume, it would be easy to forget that Clarke?s greatestsignificance was as one of the 20th century's great popularizers of scientificthought, especially through the medium of science fiction.

Combininga genuine optimism for humanity?s future with visionary insight and an almostequally uncanny ability to explain difficult points of science, Clarke's bodyof genre work was likely one of the most significant in the 20th century.

Asa futurist, he enjoyed such a level of success that he attributed thefailure of humanity to build lunar colonies or send piloted missions to Jupiterto shortcomings on our part, not his.

Happily,many of his other significant predictions came true, although the prophecymay have worked at least partially to fulfill itself. In Rendezvouswith Rama (1973), he created "Project Spaceguard," anorganization dedicated to tracking asteroids likely to intersect with theEarth. When the real world caught up with him in 1996, its founders named it"Spaceguard" in homage.

Meanwhile,his science advocacy continued through such organizations as The Arthur C.Clarke Foundation, which promotes the ideas and concerns of his life and work(especially space exploration, future studies and ocean conservation), theArthur C. Clarke Institute For Modern Technologies at University of Moratuwa inSri Lanka, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, given annually to outstandingBritish science fiction novels.

The Three Laws

Writerand critic George Zebrowski, a good friend of Clarke and a recognized expert onhis work, once stated that Clarke?s Three Laws are central to appreciating theman's work.

Notonly are these aphorisms fundamental elements of Clarke's literary legacy, butsome would argue that they comprise a valuable contribution to 20th-Centurypopular thought. They are:

1)When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible,he is almost certainly right. Corollary: When he states that something isimpossible, he is very probably wrong.

2)The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to venture beyond theminto the impossible.

3)Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

TheThird Law is widely quoted and appears in Bartlett?s Familiar Quotations.

The global village

Clarke so relentlessly promoted the exploration of space, while celebratingcultural and geographic differences here on Earth, that he was called"our solar system?s first regionalist."

Thanksto his deep love for his adopted Sri Lanka and its people, Clarke became atrue citizen of the global village he helped to create. The internationalpopularity of his work transcended political boundaries, allowing him to bridgethe chasm between the U.S. space program, the Russians and his native UnitedKingdom throughout the Cold War era. How many men of the 20th century could countboth Alexei Leonov and Walter Cronkite as friends?

Clarke's outspoken criticism of individual countries? tendency to nationalizethe exploration of space showed that he still felt that the leap to otherworlds was far too important -- if not too vast -- an undertaking to beconstrained by concepts so transient as "nation-states."

Heoften seemed disappointed with us, but his fiction showed that he never wavered inhis belief that the future would be a time of wonders, and that humanity, giventime and common sense, would inevitably transcend the limits of gravity.


In 2007, Clarke celebrated his 90thbirthday.

"Sometimes I am asked how Iwould like to be remembered," Clarke said at the celebration. "I have hada diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of allthese I would like to be remembered as a writer."

He listed three wishes on hisbirthday: for the world to embrace cleaner energy resources, for a lastingpeace in his adopted home, Sri Lanka, and for evidence of extraterrestrialbeings.

"I have always believed thatwe are not alone in this universe," Clarke said.

Humans are waiting untilextraterrestrial beings "call us or give us a sign," he said. "Wehave no way of guessing when this might happen. I hope sooner rather thanlater."

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