Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke dies at 90

Back when I used to read science fiction by the pound, I disdained the late Arthur C. Clarke. He was too scientific, too plodding, not literary enough, or so I thought. Sure he foretold geosynchronous satellites and space elevators, but these imaginative feats that did not impress me.

About 12 years ago, a viewing of Kubrick's 2001 prompted me to reread the book. I discovered that the movie achieved its greatness through reduction, through eliminating clues and making the alien presence that drives the story more mysterious. Clarke spells more out and gives the aliens plausible motives for what they do. I found myself much more excited by the story than I expected. Clarke's approach differed entirely from Kubrick's because the aliens were not removed and transcendent in the long run. They were beings with purposes and he wanted to connect with them.

From the first book in the quartet, I went to 2010, then to 2067, and then to 3001. I fished a copy of Rendezvous with Rama that a friend had urged on me and devoured that, finishing each with a growing sense that my 14-year-old literary judgement wasn't the last word.

His gallantry and good cheer in the face of a crippling case of post-polio syndrome always impressed me. So many features of our modern lives first appeared in his stories, a case of life imitating art not once, but many times. Clark was a great writer and I will always remember him with admiration and pleasure.

Monolith as displayed at the "Hackers at Large" conference in Enschede, The Netherlands, 10-11-12 August 2001, photo by Brinkie, Wikimedia Commons

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