Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, Last of Titans, Is Gone

Back in the 1950s, three science fiction writers accounted for the lion's share and more of my great reading - Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. Asimov and Heinlein have, sadly, been long gone. Arthur C. Clarke died today at age 90.

His Childhood's End, and its haunting, mystical story of aliens - the Overlords - coming to Earth, captured me when I was younger than ten. I still count it as among the best novels I've ever read.

Clarke was not as prolific as Asimov or Heinlein, but that didn't matter. His connection to the cosmos had a probity, a clarity, and even a sweetness, all its own. Clarke continued this kind of writing in movies as well as books and stories - he is of course best known as the writer of Kubrick's 2001.

2001 was the year, as fate would have it, that I was finishing my second term as President of the Science Fiction Writers of America. On more than one occasion, I called upon Arthur C. Clarke for his sage advice.

But Clarke contributed more than eternally haunting science fiction. He was also a futurist, and in 1945 he published a famous article which predicted the role of artificial satellites in telecommunication - 1945, way back then, that's what I call perceptive.

When I published my book about the impact of cell phones in 2004 - Cellphone: The Story of the World's Most Mobile Medium, and How It Has Transformed Everything - I knew that there was only one person I wanted to write a blurb for the book. Arthur C. Clarke, already in tenuous health, obliged me. His is the only blurb on the book.

I was privileged to read his writing, see his movies, and know him, at least a little, in the past ten years. We'll never see another like him.
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