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Arthur Clarke, science fiction writer and futurist visionary, is dead

Arthur Clarke, science fiction writer and futurist visionary, is dead
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First Published: Wed, Mar 19 2008. 10 40 PM IST

Prolific writer: A file photo of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Prolific writer: A file photo of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Updated: Wed, Mar 19 2008. 10 40 PM IST
London: Arthur C. Clarke, the UK science fiction writer and futurist visionary best known for the novel adapted for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, has died. He was 90.
Clarke died in his adopted home country of Sri Lanka, the AP reported, citing an aide. He had suffered from post-polio syndrome for the last two decades of his life and was confined to a wheelchair.
Clarke had lived in Colombo since 1956 and held citizenship there.
Prolific writer: A file photo of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The author, scientist, space expert and underwater diver was one of the most prolific and renowned science fiction writers, publishing more than 30 novels, at least 13 short story collections and 28 works of non-fiction.
He was honoured with a British knighthood in 2000, and his work inspired the names of some spacecraft, an asteroid and even a species of dinosaur. 2001: A Space Odyssey was adapted in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film of the same name.
Clarke’s visions of the future took form in geostationary satellites, which some credit as a blueprint for modern-day communication methods. In 1945, he set out his ideas in an article, Extra-terrestrial Relays, published in the Wireless World magazine. Geostationary satellites orbit the Earth at the same speed that the Earth spins on its axis, making them ideal for telecommunications relays. Other visions included space elevators that would propel people beyond the Earth via a cable.
“He had influenced the world in the best way possible,” writer Ray Bradbury said in Neil McAleer’s 1992 book Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography. “Arthur’s ideas have sent silent engines into space to speak in tongues.
His fabulous communications satellite ricocheted about in his head long before it leaped over the mountains and flatlands of the Earth.”
Early years
Arthur Charles Clarke was born on 16 December 1917, in his grandmother’s house in the southwest English coastal town of Minehead. His father, Charles, was a postal service engineer before World War I and then turned to farming. Clarke’s mother, Nora, had worked as a post office telegraphist before marrying.
Clarke’s early exposure to developments in communications such as the telephone and telegraph helped trigger his later visions of the future, according to McAleer’s book.
At the age of 11, Clarke’s interest in science fiction was sparked by a friend in Minehead who had the November 1928 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, depicting one of Jupiter’s moons and a spaceship with earthlings aboard. Fossils and dinosaurs also captured the future writer’s young imagination after his father gave him some cards with pictures of prehistoric animals.
Father’s death
Clarke’s father died at age 43 from experimental mercury injections administered for a lung condition caused by the inhalation of poison gas in the trenches of World War I.
His death left Clarke, who was 13, and his three younger siblings to help run the farm with their mother, who knitted gloves and took in paying guests.
After an education at Huish’s Grammar School in Taunton, Clarke moved to London, where his interest in space and science led him to join the British Interplanetary Society (BIS). He also began to write science fiction.
When World War II began in 1939, Clarke enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist. During service, he was in charge of the first radar talk-down equipment, the Ground Controlled Approach Radar, which helped air traffic controllers on the ground to monitor approaching aircraft and communicate landing instructions to pilots by radio.
He documented the experience in his semi-autobiographical novel Glide Path.
After the war, he became BIS president, and continued writing. His expertise took him to the US, where he worked on the development of spacecraft and launch systems.
He also addressed the United Nations during their discussions on the peaceful use of outer space.
London education
In 1946, he attended King’s College London and gained first-class honours in physics and mathematics in 1948.
In the same year, Clarke wrote the most important story of his life, The Sentinel, which he submitted to a British Broadcasting Corp. competition. It was rejected. The story became the basis for his most famous work: 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film adaptation, which addressed themes of human evolution and extra-terrestrial life, became a sci-fi classic and won an Oscar for best visual effects in 1968.
The film’s iconic “The Dawn of Man” opening sequence shows a group of vegetarian man-apes in the prehistoric past preyed upon by animals and threatened by other clans of their own species. After finding a mysterious black monolith in their den one morning and overcoming their apprehension to touch it, their leader later discovers he can use a bone as a tool and a weapon. In a slow-motion scene, the man-ape uses the bone to smash a skeleton in an increasingly violent frenzy, accompanied by Strauss’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” The group becomes the dominant clan, and begins to kill animals for food. It is the start of the advancement of the species.
Move to Colombo
Clarke moved to Colombo in 1956, partly to pursue his interest in underwater diving along the coast of Sri Lanka, known at the time as Ceylon. In one dive, he helped uncover a sunken ship, a story he related in The Treasure of the Great Reef. In 2004, Clarke survived the tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people, mostly in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. His diving school, too, was destroyed.
In a video speech released to mark the author’s 90th birthday, Clarke said he was wheelchair-bound, though that “doesn’t stop my mind from roaming the universe.”
At the end of the address, he said his wish was to be remembered “most as a writer, one who entertained readers and hopefully stretched their imaginations as well.”
The Command Module of the Apollo 13 rocket was named after Clarke’s Odyssey epic, as was the 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter, a spacecraft searching for signs of water and volcanoes on Mars. The asteroid 4923 Clarke, discovered in 1981, and the Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei, a ceratopsian dinosaur discovered in Inverloch, Australia, both bear his name.
Clarke’s marriage to Marilyn Mayfield in 1953 lasted less than a year, though they didn’t formally divorce until 1964. He had no children.
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First Published: Wed, Mar 19 2008. 10 40 PM IST