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Arthur C. Clarke: Luminaries Pay Tribute

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

This story was updated at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Editor's note: SPACE.com received an overwhelming response to Arthur C. Clarke?s passing. Click here to read more reactions from scientists, writers and other luminaries.

Asnews of Arthur C. Clarke's death spread through communities of scientists,writers and science fiction fans, many people shared their memories of how thevisionary writer, inventor and futurist inspired and influenced them.

Clarkeis famous for his book, "2001:A Space Odyssey" (he also co-wrote the screenplay for the movie), forcoming up with the idea for the communications satellite and for predictingspace travel long before humans left Earth.

"Ithink the passingof Arthur C. Clarke is really epical," said Alan Stern, associateadministrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "There is no one ofhis caliber or vision on the scene today ? Clarke's contribution was tomotivate people to go after careers because they wanted to help shape a certainkind of future, to be at the beginning of something of millennialimportance."

Sternsaid Clarke's legacy at NASA and in the space exploration community wasparticularly significant.

"Formy generation, the children of Apollo, Clarke's writings were hugely and deeplyinspirational," Stern told SPACE.com. "He was not just atechnically competent writer of science fiction, science fact and futurism, buthe was incredibly optimistic. I have had many emails in the last 18 hours, fromfriends of mine, from childhood, graduate school, >adulthood.It's amazing to me how many say the same thing: 'I wouldn't be in this line ofwork if it weren't for Arthur Clarke.' People across the world, especially thebackbone of American aerospace exploration and space science, were inspired byClarke's writings at one stage or another in their youth."

Clarkehad a profound impact on technology and invention. His idea for thecommunications satellite has affected the whole planet.

"Arthurwas not only a major figure in the first baby steps in humans' exploration ofspace, but a major figure in the building up of our planet as an interconnectedorganism," said writer Ann Druyan, widow ofscience popularizer Carl Sagan."He was someone really significant."

Druyan said she met Clarke many times over the decades thathe and Sagan were friends, as well as after Sagan's death.

"Hewas not only a great technical mind, but of course he had a powerfulimagination, which influenced every one of us," Druyansaid. "If we use anything based on a communications satellite then wedefinitely owe Arthur a huge debt. In my mind, '2001' remains the greatestsci-fi movie ever made. In many ways today it seems more futuristic than moviesmade 30 years later."

Manypeople have wondered how Clarke was able to predict so many elements of thefuture before they unfolded in reality.

"Ithink it was partially because his mother was a radio telephone operator,"Druyan said. "So here he is as a young persongrowing up in the early part of the 20th century, at a moment where electroniccommunication was in its fledgling earliest stages, and he is a guy who has anexceptional imagination. So it was the perfect recipe for a child with Arthur'stalents to go in that direction. The modesty of his background is yet anotherreason why it's so important to educate everybody, because you never know wherethe next Arthur C. Clarke or Carl Sagan couldbe."

Druyan said her friend will be remembered long after hisdeath.

"Arthurhad a great life," she said. "I don?t really feel sadness because Ithink he had a full measure of life and he used it to the utmost. We are betterfor [his life]."

Endof an era

Clarkealso profoundly affected his fellow science fiction authors.

"ArthurC. Clarke was one of the giants of science fiction; impossible to ignore,looming over all of us who have come since," said Charles Stross, author of the novels "Saturn's Children"and "Halting State." "He introduced many of us to sciencefiction for the first time ? He managed, somehow, to combine visions groundedin an understanding of science and engineering with a numinous sense of awe atthe scale and beauty of the cosmos in a manner that is all too rare."

WithClarke's death, an important epoch in the world of science fiction is over, Stross said.

"Allof us come to an end eventually, and at 90 years of age Sir Arthur had decentinnings," he said. "But I'm still saddened: Along with Isaac Asimovand Robert Heinlein, he pretty much defined science fiction for those of us ofa certain age, and news of his death signals the end of an era, far more thanthe end of one man."

Manywriters remember the first Clarke book they read, and the profound effects hiswork had on them.

"My friends and I read Clarke and talked about his fictionwith the awe of rabbinical students falling in love with Torah andTalmud," said Orson Scott Card, author of many science fiction novels,including "Ender's Game." "Inarticulate with youth, we would saythings like, 'Wasn?t it cool when ...'  But we were responding to theexperience of religious awe, which Arthur C. Clarke?s fiction inspired inus."

AlthoughClarke is no longer with us, hiswork will live on, Card said.

"Hisbooks have not died," Card told SPACE.com. "They are stillalive. As long as we pass them on to the young, open-minded readers who are thenatural audience for science fiction, they will continue to inspire and movenew generations. The technologies that he explained or forecast will orhave become pass?; but the deep issues his fiction addresses will live on, andso will our hunger for books like his."

Awriter's writer

Notonly did Clarke impact the sweep of human history with his ideas, but he had avery direct effect on the lives of many.

"WhenI met my wife, just shy of fifty years ago, I gave her one book to read, to seewhether we could get along —  Arthur Clarke's collection of stories,'Expedition to Earth,'" said Joe Haldeman,author of "The Accidental Time Machine." "She did like it, andwe're still going together."

Plus,he was a great smoking companion.

"Ihad the great pleasure of watching a couple of Apollo launches withArthur," Halderman said. "For most ofthose launches, all of us science fiction writers got together at the house ofJoe Green, a writer who worked for NASA.  Arthur and I were smokers then,and so were banished to the back porch together.  He was a wonderfulconversationalist, >which I hope made up for the factthat I was tongue-tied, thrust into isolation with an idol of my youth. He wasa writer's writer, and a humane and brilliant man. He will be missed, and neverreplaced."

Creatingthe future

Clarkeinspired many young people to pursue science, and shaped the way manyscientists approach their work.

"Heaffected how I thought about what I was doing," said Ed Stone, director ofthe Space Radiation Laboratory at Caltech and project scientist for ninesatellite missions, including Voyager. "What he did was takewhat was happening in science and extrapolate it in a realistic way into way inthe future. Since that's what science and engineering and technology are tryingto do, to create a new future, it was very interesting to get his ideas of whatthat future might look like."

Hehelped to make science important and understandable to the public.

"Oneof his main legacies is his really firm belief that science and technology is adefining feature of human evolution," Stone said. "And I of coursebelieve that myself. So he was a very effective writer in capturing the idea ofhow important science and technology are to human evolution."

Click here to readadditional comments from scientists, writers and other luminaries aboutArthur C. Clarke's passing.

StaffWriter Dave Mosher contributed reporting to this story.

  • Video: Arthur C. Clarke ? To Plan For A Century
  • IMAGES: 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Essential Arthur C. Clarke Library

 

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