Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008

One of my all-time favorite authors, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, passed away today at the age of 90.

Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were known as the 'Big Three' of science fiction writers - and sadly, they are all now gone.

Clarke was a true visionary, depicting in his writings and stories such things as the principles of satellite communication, and his three laws:

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.

While 2001: A Space Odyssey, is perhaps his most well-known work, it is only one of the 33 novels he wrote - and that doesn't include his numerous short stories and non-fiction pieces.

As a child, my reading consisted first of Nancy Drew and then science fiction. I read all the books from Clark, Heinlein and Asimov that I could ... and then resorted to searching for their short stories among various collections. I can still remember the wonder and fascination in reading of things that could have been possible and might still be. I lost myself in these stories, never realizing that I was learning much from them in the guise of entertainment.

In 1970, Clarke wrote:

"The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars... A whole generation is growing up which has been attracted to the hard disciplines of science and engineering by the romance of space."

This was certainly true for me. While I knew I'd never qualify for the astronaut program, the influence of Clarke's writings led me to choose engineering physics as my first major in college. And even as my decisions led me into elective office, I was still influenced by this great writer, who admonished:

"Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories."

Clarke has so many great works, it's hard to pick a favorite. In fact, I don't know that I could select one, or even a few, as favorites because I enjoyed them all. However, I do have a 'most memorable' list. And at the top of the list is Clarke's short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God." I was amazed - and a bit disturbed - by the mind that could conceive of the story's premise: the end of the world upon the discovery of all the names of God.

There is a line in that story that has stayed with me since my first reading - and I think it appropriate to recall it now as we celebrate the life and accomplishments of its author:

"There is always a last time for everything."

Rest in peace, Arthur C. Clarke.


Timothy W Higgins said...


This is a true loss to the literary world and the end of an era in SF. Few could come close to calling on both science and fiction when spinning a tale. Few wrote with such hope and such vision.

You did indeed call out the big (3).These are the giants that I grew up with (long before you of course) and a large part of the reason that spent too many hours buried in a book as a child. It was because of what men like this could do and say that I wanted to learn how to write.

For myself it was Rendezvous with Rama by Clarke, Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein, and Foundation by Asimov. Thinking of these men and all that they meant to me causes me to believe that these old friends will find their way back close to me soon.

Maggie said...


Foundation by Asimov is terrific, but I don't have one favorite. To me, his most memorable work is Nightfall ... perhaps I just like the whole 'end of the world' concept...LOL.

Now that we won't have any more works from any of the Big Three, I may just go back and re-read them all again...

Timothy W Higgins said...


I am already on my reading list, but your posting caused me to dig a little into my store of the recorded wisdom of the big 3, and add to what you gave us on Mr. Clarke. The insight shown in these alone would qualify most for greatness.

Arthur C Clarke
• It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.
• The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax returns. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.

• The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!), but “That’s funny …”
• Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.

• Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
• One might define adulthood as the age at which a person learns he must die and accepts his sentence undismayed.

Maggie said...


Asimov - If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.

Heinlein - Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.

and these:

Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.

I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

I never learned from a man who agreed with me.

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

Never insult anyone by accident.

No statement should be believed because it is made by an authority.

Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.

The universe never did make sense; I suspect it was built on government contract.

Perhaps I find I like so many of Heinlein's quotes because they relate to politics...imagine that...

Timothy W Higgins said...


See, now you got me going...
My favorite of Heinlein's political quotes cuts right to the chase:
"A motion to adjourn is always in order."

We here in Toledo however, need to focus on Douglas Adams, where SF meets Monty Python, when he said:
"There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."


Maggie said...

Of course, now you've mentioned DA...

"I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is." ~ Deep Thought

Roland Hansen said...

SciFi has always been my favorite fiction subject in print as well as in film and television.
My first SciFi author was Robert A. Heinlein back when I was but a youth.
For years, I belonged to the Science Fiction Book Club. The ol' eyes do not work as well any more so I mostly enjoy the various television series and the cinema.

Timothy W Higgins said...


I too am an old SF book club member from before Maggie was born. I started on Asimov, Sturgeon, and Herbert; and quite frankly was unprepared when Heinlein crossed my path. Clarke became my touchstone as I journeyed in to realms that included Ellison, Donaldson, and Dickinson.

It's funny when you think about it. The positive attitudes portrayed in those years is nothing but liberal, but the fierce independence that all of these writers embodied is entirely conservative (or in Heinlein's case Libertarian).

In the end, we of true conservative thought were all born of these authors, and today carry their hopes, aspirations, and warnings forward as we make our own way. This is our tribute to their talent and our homage to their way of thinking.

Google Analytics Alternative