Sci-fi guru Arthur C. Clarke dies at 90
Known for ‘2001’ and tech predictions; asked for secular funeral
Sanka Vidanagama/AFP-Getty Images file
Science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, seen here in this photograph taken at his home in Sri Lanka in December 2007, has died at the age of 90 after suffering breathing problems, an aide says.
8:32 a.m. PT, Wed., March. 19, 2008
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Even in death, Arthur C. Clarke would not compromise his vision.
The famed science fiction writer, who once denigrated religion as “a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species,” left written instructions that his funeral be completely secular, according to his aides.
“Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral,” he wrote.
Clarke died early Wednesday at age 90 and was to be buried in a private funeral this weekend in his adopted home of Sri Lanka. Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome for years, suffered breathing problems in recent days, aide Rohan De Silva said.
The visionary author won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future. The 1968 story “2001: A Space Odyssey” — written simultaneously as a novel and screenplay with director Stanley Kubrick — was a frightening prophecy of artificial intelligence run amok.
One year after it made Clarke a household name in fiction, the scientist entered the homes of millions of Americans alongside Walter Cronkite anchoring television coverage of the Apollo mission to the moon.
Clarke also was credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. He became known as the "godfather" of the satellite revolution. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called Clarke orbits.
Fiction vs. nonfiction
His nonfiction volumes on space travel and his explorations of the Great Barrier Reef and Indian Ocean earned him respect in the world of science, and in 1976 he became an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. But it was his writing that shot him to his greatest fame and that gave him the greatest fulfillment.
“Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered,” Clarke said recently. “I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these, I would like to be remembered as a writer.”
From 1950, he began a prolific output of both fiction and nonfiction, sometimes publishing three books in a year.
A statement from Clarke’s office said he had recently reviewed the final manuscript of his latest novel. “The Last Theorem,” co-written with Frederik Pohl, will be published later this year, it said.
Some of his best-known books are “Childhood’s End,” 1953; “The City and The Stars,” 1956; “The Nine Billion Names of God,” 1967; “Rendezvous with Rama,” 1973; “Imperial Earth,” 1975; and “The Songs of Distant Earth,” 1986.
When Clarke and Kubrick got together to develop a movie about space, they looked for inspiration to several of Clarke’s shorter pieces. As work progressed on the screenplay, Clarke also wrote a novel of the story. He followed it up with “2010,” “2061,” and “3001: The Final Odyssey.”
"2010" was made into a film sequel, and Clarke's legacy in the movies may well continue after his death: A film adaptation of "Rendezvous With Rama" has been in development for years, with actor Morgan Freeman as producer and star.
How Clarke inspired space exploration
Clarke's fiction inspired real-life space exploration. After the first moon landing in 1969 — an event Clarke predicted decades earlier — NASA Administrator Tom Paine said in an inscription to the writer that he "provided the essential intellectual drive that led us to the moon."
Clarke's 1979 novel, "The Fountains of Paradise," helped spark the real-world efforts to build a space elevator from Earth to orbit. The idea is still being pursued, even though its realization may still be decades away.
In the wake of Clarke's death, NASA said countless young people were inspired by "his hopeful vision of how spaceflight would transform societies, economies and humankind itself."
"Although his personal odyssey here on Earth is now over, his vision lives on through his writing; he will be sorely missed," Alan Stern, the space agency's associate administrator for science, said in a written statement.
Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin struck a similar tone: "Sir Arthur's positive vision of the future excited generations about space exploration, and inspired millions to pursue scientific careers," he said.
Planetary scientist Torrence Johnson agreed that Clarke’s work was a major influence on many in the field. Johnson, who has been exploring the solar system through the Voyager, Galileo and Cassini missions in his 35 years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recalled a meeting of planetary scientists and rocket engineers where talk turned to the author.
“All of us around the table said we read Arthur C. Clarke,” Johnson said. “That was the thing that got us there.”
His legacy in space and on Earth
In an interview with The Associated Press, Clarke said he did not regret having never traveled to space himself, though he arranged to have DNA from his hair sent into orbit.
“One day, some super civilization may encounter this relic from the vanished species and I may exist in another time,” he said. “Move over, Stephen King.”
Along with his DNA sample, Clarke enclosed a handwritten note that read "Fare well, my clone."
Clarke, a British citizen, won a host of science fiction awards, and was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1989. Clarke was officially given a knighthood in 1998, but he delayed accepting it for two years after a London tabloid accused him of being a child molester. The allegation was never proved.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa lauded Clarke for his passion for his adopted home and his efforts to aid its progress.
“We were all proud to have this celebrated author, visionary and promoter of space exploration, prophet of satellite communications, great humanist and lover of animals in our midst,” he said in a statement.
Son of a farmer
Born in Minehead, western England, on Dec. 16, 1917, the son of a farmer, Arthur Charles Clark became addicted to science fiction after buying his first copies of the pulp magazine “Amazing Stories” at Woolworth’s. He read English writers H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon and began writing for his school magazine in his teens.
Clarke went to work as a clerk in Her Majesty’s Exchequer and Audit Department in London, where he joined the British Interplanetary Society and wrote his first short stories and scientific articles on space travel.
It was not until after World War II that Clarke received a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics from King’s College in London.
Serving in the wartime Royal Air Force, he wrote a 1945 memo about the possibility of using satellites to revolutionize communications. Clarke later sent it to a publication called Wireless World, which almost rejected it as too far-fetched.
He moved to Sri Lanka in 1956.
In recent years, Clarke was linked by his computer with friends and fans around the world, spending each morning answering e-mails and browsing the Internet.
On the occasion of his 90th birthday last December, Clarke delivered a speech to a small gathering during which he passed along three wishes: for ethnically divided Sri Lanka to find a lasting peace, for the world to embrace cleaner energy resources, and for extraterrestrial beings to "call us or give us a sign."
Clarke married in 1953, and was divorced in 1964. He had no children. He is survived by his brother, Fred, and sister, Mary. His body is to be brought to his home in Colombo so friends and fans can pay their respects before his burial.
This report was supplemented by msnbc.com.
© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Sci-fi guru Arthur C. Clarke dies at 90