ARTHUR C. CLARKE, 1917-2008

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ARTHUR C. CLARKE, 1917-2008
Stanley Schmidt


Sir Arthur C. Clarke, exceptionally well known for his work in both science fiction and fact, died at the age of 90 on March 19 in Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was born December 16, 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England. The son of a farmer who died when Arthur was 13, he early discovered a strong interest in science and science fiction—in considerable part, he said, because of this magazine, then called Astounding Stories of Super-Science. He was active in the early days of fandom, and made his first professional sales to Astounding in the mid-1940s. He appeared in Astounding and later Analog several times over the ensuing decades, with both fiction and nonfiction (including guest editorials), and also with stories and articles in too many other places to name here. He published almost 100 books, including such novels as Against the Fall of Night, Childhood’s End, The Deep Range, Rendezvous with Rama (and its several sequels), and The Fountains of Paradise. He received many awards for his work, including several Hugos, Nebulas, and the Grandmaster award of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He was knighted in 1990.

He was probably best known to the general public for the movie and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, on which he worked closely with Stanley Kubrick, but in the long run perhaps his most important work (in his own opinion as well as that of many others) lay in the realm of fact. In 1945 he published an article in the British magazine Wireless World, which laid before the public the concept of the communications satellites which are now such an integral part of our daily lives. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, at least to some, he made this profoundly important contribution before earning a college degree. His family lacked the financial resources to send him to college at the usual time, so he worked in civil service and later as an officer in the Royal Air Force, where he helped develop new applications for radar. Military benefits enabled him finally to attend college, graduating with high honors in physics and mathematics from King’s College in London at the age of 30. He continued to write both fiction and nonfiction, promoting popular understanding of and support for science and technology. In recent years he was an avid proponent of space elevators.

A major impetus for his move to Sri Lanka was his fascination with oceans and scuba diving, which he saw as the closest thing available on Earth to the weightlessness found in spaceflight. It was also something he could continue doing even after the onset of post-polio syndrome, which limited his mobility on land during the last two decades of his life. He will be long remembered for an imagination which, through both fiction and nonfiction, pointed the way to a bright but achievable future.