What Else I Was Going to Say About Arthur C. Clarke

Basically, that he was not my favorite of the old time science fiction writers (that honor went to Heinlein, obviously, but also Ray Bradbury, which is something I don’t think a lot of people have guessed), but on the other hand I remember quite vividly faking a sprained ankle in 8th grade gym class in order to keep reading 2010, which had just came out and which I felt was more important to me than climbing up a rope or whatever. I still do, come to think of it.

What I liked about Clarke, however, was that he was a science fiction author who walked the walk as well as talking the talk: He was a scientist, and a pretty good one, and he was also an optimist about what science could do for us (“The Nine Billion Names of God” notwithstanding). One does wonder if another science fiction author will also be such a world historical figure; you didn’t have to read science fiction to know who Arthur C. Clarke was, or that he was a writer and thinker who commanded respect.

One other thing. I can’t remember which book it was — I think it was 2061 — he had one character (I think it was Heywood Floyd) talking to another character, who was gay and celebrating an anniversary, and Floyd mentioned something about the gay character being in a relationship longer than most married couples he could think of. I do believe it was the first time I had ever thought about the idea of same-sex couples living as married couples, and I think I recall thinking that seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Leave it to science fiction, and to Arthur C. Clarke, to drop a then-radical social idea into my head and make it seem perfectly normal. And of course now same-sex couples can get married, in several countries including in the US (albeit in the latter case in only one state; even so). Glad Clarke got to live to see it.

22 Comments on “What Else I Was Going to Say About Arthur C. Clarke”

  1. My girl friend and I were sitting in the planetarium of the Griffith park observatory yesterday evening and I actually mentioned A.C.C to her in reference to XM satellite radios and modern phone communications. His idea for the geo stationary relays don’t you know!!!!

    If you haven’t been there since the renovation…It’s really a class act and I highly recommend it if you are visiting LA.

    Picked up a copy of USA today on our way out of the hotel and My other half noted the headline about clarke.

    Like you, I got lost in 2001 and several books after that.

    He will be missed and remembered!!

  2. He was one of my Top Four Great Masters – the other three being, of course, Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury. What order they’re in depends on whose book I’m reading at the time you ask me. :)

    (The next echelon contains folks like Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Larry Niven and Poul Anderson, among others, but the top guy on that list, right behind the Top Four, is Frank Herbert.)

    The gay couple, yes, that was 2061, and I felt the same way when I read it. I think that in some circles of our civilization, that “it’s perfectly reasonable” thing has been happening for a long time. Show biz seems to be the most obvious one – even though outside the biz there’s all sorts of consternation over finding out someone’s gay (Rock Hudson, anyone?), the biz insiders know all about it, see it all the time, and really just don’t care. It’s perfectly reasonable, within the “inner circle.” I think it’s like that in a number of other circles as well.

    I will say that sometimes Clarke got a bit dry. Rama was a bit tough to digest at times.

    Childhood’s End, though, was sheer brilliance from end to end.

    We need more Clarkes in this world, period. However, I can’t say that his death overwhelms me with sadness, because he lived a long and extraordinary life during which his works touched millions (if not billions – or even every human being on the planet). If I could do 1/100th as well, I’d be grinning on my way out.

    I would have liked to have met him. The only one of the Four I’ve been fortunate enough to meet is Bradbury.

  3. I’m not enough of a 2001 fan to recognize the name Heywood Floyd. But I am enough of a Shawshank Redemption fan to recognize Heywood and Floyd as the names of two of the cons who hung around with Andy Dufresne and Red. Interesting.

  4. Of the three classic “greats” of SF (Heinlein and Asimov being the other two, of course), I always felt Clarke was solidly number three.

    Heinlein: Something happens, and it takes the hero, a spunky girl, and a new political movement, to resolve things. And things were pretty dicey for a while!

    Asimov: Someone’s dead, and it happened under impossible circumstances. The game’s afoot! And the robot will figure it out.

    Clarke: Something incredible happens, and the hero investigates. It’s cool, there’s no mistaking that. Ooh, that looks scary and dangerous. But it’s actually not. A mysterious someone offers to take the hero on an amazing adventure. He politely declines. The hero sees some more cool stuff, but aside from the stuff being cool, is strangely unaffected by it. Then he leaves, and the incredible happening resolves itself on its own. The End.

    Obviously I am way oversimplifying. But Clarke’s stories always struck me as “little ado about much”.

    Nevertheless, I read a LOT of his stories. Maybe even all of them. He gets my respect, even if I found most of his stories to be actually pretty dull.

  5. I remember that same bit in 2061 — I was about 14 or so, and kept re-reading that section, thinking I was confusing the names of the characters Floyd was talking to, until a switch flipped on iteration 8 or so, and I thought, “Oh. OH! I see. Hmm. Well, that’s fair. Never thought of it that way before.”

  6. I re-read the Odyssey series a couple of years ago, and one of Clarke’s predictions that I fervently wished were true, was that sometime after 2000, all the world’s governments realized the universal necessity of communication, and made all telephone services FREE. Of course, this was written before the internet, or practical cellular phones, or any of that. Still, it was a happy thought.

  7. It occurred to me last night just how much Sir Clarke’s speculations and designs shaped our present when I found myself contemplating various tributes offered to other persons of great note and influence, and happened to flash on Alexander Graham Bell …

    AGBell : telephone :: ACClarke : communications satellite

    Consider, if you would, all comsats observing one minute of silience — a suspension of communication — to honor A.C.C.

    Then try to estimate the magnitude of chaos and confusion which IMHO would likely ensue, even were the tribute to be scheduled and announced well in advance to everyone all terrestrial sentients. (Never mind future degree-seeking LGMs recording segments of YouBeenThereMan Idol™ for their respective theses projects on xenosemiotics.)

  8. Scalzi

    Basically, that he was not my favorite of the old time science fiction writers (that honor went to Heinlein, obviously, but also Ray Bradbury

    See, I’m the opposite. Arthur Clarke was the most seminal author in my life as a young reader. Books like The City and The Stars, Against the Fall of Night and especially Childhood’s End really caught my imagination. I loved his prose and I loved his imagination. 2001 came much later when I was a teenager, but I loved that book as well.

    Arthur Clarke was the guy I thought of when I thought of Science Fiction.

  9. I agree with Frank. Clarke was by FAR my all time favorite. Never read a book of his I didn’t like, and have read the Rama & 2001 series’ a gajillion times. In my mind, he is the standard I compare all other sci fi authors. I was quite saddened to hear of his passing.

  10. I have commented to many people that my uncles Gus & Elmer have been together for 63 years, which is definitely longer than just about any other couple I know. They have also been married for four years, after a Canadian wedding, and finally this year their marriage was officially recognized by New York state. See all the details in the New York Times article at .

  11. Clarke was awesome. No doubt about it.

    If you haven’t heard it, his introduction to the audio book version of 2001 is worth a listen.

  12. My favorites are Asimov and Clarke.

    Clarke wrote books that were obviously excellent, but at the end had you thinking ‘there was no plot there, or at the least no conflict of any importance. But it was excellent. Another round, please.”

    Asimov wrote books that would have two characters in a room talking, and what they were talking about was so absorbing that you didn’t realize that they didn’t do anything BUT talk. His format was: move from place to place and spend a couple of chapters just talking in each place.

  13. I’ll tell you my secret shame: I can’t really find much to enjoy in MANY of the commonly revered ‘Great’ SF authors. I have a big collection of Heinlein’s short works, and I wasn’t really able to get through it’s 30s style prose. It just felt…artificial and odd, to me.

    Clarke was a gifted writer and possessed great ideas, but I’ve just never been able to warm to his work. A lot of his material didn’t really seem to do much for me. Asimov struck me as very hit or miss: he was prolific, but that wasn’t necessarily always a good thing.

    Conversely, I’ve always enjoyed the Bradbury that I’ve read (SF or otherwise). Niven was my favorite as a teen…now I barely ever read SF at all. Other than Scalzi and a Halo book by Eric Nylund, I haven’t read anything that would classify as SF for years. I’m not sure why that is, either. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of a lot of fantasy and I enjoy SF TV and movies series a great deal, but SF fiction just doesn’t seem to work for me as much any more.

  14. Scott #5:
    That’s pretty much how I felt about most of his stories, too.

    On the other hand, “If I forget Thee O Earth” was an indelible part of my mental cold war/nuclear holocaust imagery while I was growing up in the late 1970s early 1980s. I wonder how stories like that seem to kids today. I guess they probably lack the punch to the gut.

  15. I can’t really say that I enjoyed many of his novels; they seemed like science monographs with a plot.

    However his short fiction was superb. I still remember the first time I read “the 9 billion names of god”; it was grade 9 English on a really nice spring day. I also thought the story with its twist at the end was quite neat, and then I remember many years later reading about Kabballah and realizing “aha” that’s where he got it from.

    I also remember my grade school principle reading “If I forget thee oh earth” to my seventh grade class. The story was just as good being read to me as when I later read it.

    Those latter two facts are significant. These were possibly the only science fiction stories that I read in school; the other one I might have read “the star” another Arthur C. Clarke story. The fact that English teacher’s were picking these stories tells me that they might have been decent stories.

    There are so many of his short stories that are amongst my favourite that I almost exclusively think of Clarke as a short story author. Only Harlan Ellison seems to have written better stories (or at least better stories that I liked).

    A sad, but not entirely unexpected death.

    Rest in Peace


  16. #17: Do you know something that the Sri Lankan police didn’t?

    …the award of a knighthood had been announced in the 1998 New Year Honours,[32] but investiture of the award had been delayed, at Clarke’s request, because of an accusation, by the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror, of pedophilia, which was, however, found to be baseless by Sri Lankan police and retracted by the paper soon after.

    Long story short: The Sunday Mirror claimed they had an interview on tape and witnesses…but when confronted about it, they couldn’t produce anything. Such behavior is shocking from a UK tabloid, I know. Given that Clarke was post-polio sufferer confined to a wheelchair by then, I think the burden of proof rests with the Mirror. It’s been widely speculated that Clarke was gay (though married twice, the first marriage resulted in separation after 6 months, but no divorce for nearly 11 years), but that doesn’t translate into pedophile, despite what some conservative viewpoints would have you believe.

  17. My personal order would be Heinlein, Piers Anthony, Bradbury, Clarke, then Asimov. Heinlein was my first discovery in about seventh grade and I think his ‘capable man’ has been a subconscious role model for me most of my life.

    I never really cared for Asimov’s character interactions. I think he was much better when he wrote about robots. There are a couple Anthony that really hit me at the time – Sos the Rope and Macroscope for example. Yeah they were more ‘adventurey’ but I liked them. Bradbury was cool but way out there.

    Clarke was hard science and just a little dry. I liked that a lot. I loved reading 2001 which he wrote after the movie came out to explain things. It put me in the small club that ‘got it.’ Kubrick’s movie was just too wacky and explained too little.

  18. The thing that I loved about Clarke was that he made you fully aware that the solar system just by itself was a big place. (e.g. 2010, 2061) All these FTL space operas nowadays make us forget that just the solar system itself is *big* and wondrous. He may have not been a poet with words, but he was poetic in the majestic way he described our neighboring planets.

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