Goodbye Sir, Arthur C. Clarke
Dr Alex Tang
Arthur C. Clarke's passing marks the closing of an era of the grandmasters of science fiction which include Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Stanislaw Lem and Cordwainer Smith. Theirs was the frontier era of science fiction. Science fiction was then pulp fiction, not worthy of attention of more serious readers. However, theirs was a romantic era; of rocketships, Mars, aliens, ray guns and damsels-in-distress. There was not much science but plenty of fiction. Often it was cowboys and Indians among the stars, written by young men struck by a “sense of wonder.” This “sense of wonder" is the addiction of all science fiction fans.
Of the few science fiction authors I mentioned, Arthur C. Clarke was the only one that have a scientific grounding to all of his stories. He is well known for his prediction of satellites, space elevators, computers and telecommunications. However, it was his skill in mixing his science with fiction that captivated me from the start.
I have read all his novels which starts with The Sands of Mars (1952). I just bought his latest novel, written with Stephen Baxter, Firstborn (2007) five days ago, and was looking forward to read it over the Easter weekend. Little do I know that it is his swan song. Clarke was a humanist, believing that technology will benefit humanity, yet warning us that humanity is also capable of both great good and evil. He was also interested in exploring situations where we meet aliens of higher technological capabilities.
That is the basis of his 2001 series, his Rama series, The Songs of Distant Earth and Childhood’s End. Not all his novels were in space. He also explored the seas in The Deep Range and Dolphin Island, reflecting his love of the sea. I never forget the impact of Childhood’s End when I first read it. It deals with an alien race, racial memory and the next stage of human evolution. I remember dumbstruck by it. The other great Clarke book that I love is his short story collection, Tales from the White Hart.
I have read one or two of his non-fiction but what I enjoyed most was his The Snows of Olympus-A Garden on Mars (1994) which was a collection of Martian photos with his commentary. What impressed me from his non-fiction writings is his formulation of the three laws from his Profiles of the Future (1999)
1. 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.
2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur Clarke passing is like a loss of an old friend even if I have not met him in person. I do however have a few autographed copies of his novels...and is a lapsed member of the Interplanetary Society.
Some biography data here and here The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation