Arthur C. Clarke passed away today in Colombo, Sri Lanka (1:30 am, March 19 local time) at age 90. He’s probably most famous for his novel 2001, A Space Odyssey upon which Stanley Kubrick based the movie of the same name. But he wrote about 100 other books and short stories including Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama.
Clarke is also credited with inventing the idea of the geosynchronous communication satellite in a paper he published in a British journal, Wireless World, in 1945. The obituary in the New York Times has this funny anecdote about Clarke’s failure to patent his invention.
"Decades later, Mr. Clarke called his Wireless World paper “the most important thing I ever wrote.” In a wry piece entitled, “A Short Pre-History of Comsats, Or: How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time,” he claimed that a lawyer had dissuaded him from applying for a patent. The lawyer, he said, thought the notion of relaying signals from space was too far-fetched to be taken seriously."
Clarke’s Three Laws are also worth remembering, for they reflect his optimism about science and human progress.
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein; they form the pantheon of science fiction writers. I have to say that I didn’t read as much of Clarke as I did of Asimov, Heinlein, and later Niven and Ellison. But they all, Clarke included, held me spellbound with their breathtaking imaginations. They were my companions, my guides, and my inspiration during my high school and university years.
Arthur Clarke’s passing is a reminder that all our childhoods must end.
UPDATE: New York Times science writer Dennis Overbye has written this remembrance of Clarke. I like how he describes his "metaphysical foundation", which Clarke heavily influenced:
"… the universe is a strange place, we are children here at best, ignorant of our origins, our future or even the right questions to ask."