From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

An Appreciation of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Sir Arthur C Clarke
Sir Arthur C Clarke 1917 – 2008

My brother and I grew up in the 70s on an unrestricted diet of science fiction that my father–3 years younger than Sir Arthur and a lifelong SF reader–actively encouraged by feeding us names as we devoured the library shelves and local secondhand book stores. We could rattle off a long list of authors we’d read or were currently reading, but the list would always be topped by the same three names–one of whom was Arthur C Clarke. His books were both portals to other worlds and a kind of litmus test of SF respectability and acceptance amongst our peers. They were old friends that we collected and reread until quotes and scientific facts gleaned from their pages slipped from our lips almost without thought. He was a visionary and a prophet and he, along with Asimov and Heinlein, taught us that our future was science.

I recall listening to a BBC adaptation of Rendezvous with Rama on a long car journey. I vividly recall the shiver that ran down my spine, in a steamed-up caravan in Cornwall on a rainy summer day, as I read the last line of “The Nine Billion Names of God“. Arthur C Clarke, at that time, seemed to have a kind of respectability in the UK that raised him above a mere writer of science fiction. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was accepted as almost a mainstream film and “Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World” was a prime time feature in the 80s on national TV. Growing up in Somerset, Sir Arthur’s home county, he was a significant figure to us as both SF fans and aspiring scientists. We could quote Clarke’s 3rd Law or discuss satellites in geosynchronous orbit and frequently did both.

My brother who shared Sir Arthur’s birthplace of Minehead (and never let me forget it), favoured his factually detailed brand of hard SF–he owns several copies of Earthlight, the first Clarke book he ever read. Fuelled by the visions that Clarke, amongst others, had created, he stuck with the hard science of physics and electronics and moved into the UK space industry and the intricacies of Low Earth Orbit micro-satellites.

I studied marine biology, a world beyond a different frontier. I always had a special place in my heart for Clarke’s “The Deep Range“, one of the few books to consider a future with underwater habitation and an aquaculture that is more than just random harvesting. I was both surprised and delighted when a lecturer who knew of my interest in science fiction showed me a copy of an article by Arthur C Clarke that included the first underwater pictures of a manta ray giving birth.

But his legacy is his fiction and, like me in that long-ago caravan, I like to think that a hundred years from now, someone, somewhere will still be reading his work and feeling their brain contort to accommodate the vision.

Goodbye, Sir Arthur and thank you.

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