I pestered my father to take me to see “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He thought I was too young and would not understand it. He was right. The film is a vision of a near future, in which humans make contact with technologically superior aliens. It is a recurring theme in Clarke’s work. Along with the Apollo Moon landings, this vision inspired and enthralled me.
Arthur Charles Clarke was born in Minehead, England, on Dec. 16, 1917. The son of a farmer, he was educated at the local state grammar school then joined the British civil service. Volunteering for the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II, he worked on radar development. After the war he gained a first class degree in math and physics at King’s College, London, before going on to became a full-time writer.
Clarke married in 1953, but the couple split after 6 months. They divorced in 1964 with no children. He immigrated to Sri Lanka in 1956 and become a dual Sri Lankan-British citizen. He was a keen scuba diver and for a while ran a diving school outside of the capital Colombo.
While still in the RAF, Clarke circulated a paper suggesting the use of satellites in geo-synchronous orbits 22,000 miles above the Earth’s equator to bounce electronic signals around the world. This idea was soon implemented, giving rise to the world of global communications we know today. In recognition of this, such geo-synchronous orbits are sometimes known as Clarke Orbits.
An All-Time Science Fiction Great
Clarke published several stories in fanzines between 1937 and 1945. He sold his first story professionally to Astounding Science Fiction in April 1946. Clarke wrote his first three novels for children. He briefly worked as assistant editor of Science Abstracts in 1949 and become a full-time writer in 1951, eventually writing over 100 books.
His most famous work started as an entry called “The Sentinel” to a BBC short story contest. He developed the story with director Stanley Kubrick into “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which was released in 1968. The Odyssey series along with the similarly themed Rama series provided the backbone of Clarke’s later work.
Clarke was a noted futurist, making many insightful and intriguing predictions. He famously formulated Clarke’s Law that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Receiving many awards throughout his life, including a British knighthood in 2000 and a Sri Lankabhimanya (The Pride of Sri Lanka) in 2005, Clarke has an asteroid and a dinosaur named after him.
In a farewell message to fans posted on YouTube on Dec. 2007, Clarke said he wanted to be remembered as a writer.
He made three wishes: that the existence of extra-terrestrial life be proven, that the world would wean itself off oil and that the civil war in Sri Lanka should find a peaceful resolution.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke died of heart failure and breathing problems on March 19, 2008, “having completed 90 orbits around the Sun.” He left written instruction that “Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral.”