Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke

Born in Minehead, England, Clarke grew up on a farm with his mother and father and three siblings. He developed an interest in dinosaurs and fossils when he was seven, and by the time he was 11, the enterprising lad had become so intrigued with the stars that he assembled his own telescope from lenses and a cardboard tube. By the time he was a teenager, he built a "photophone" transmitter out of an everyday bicycle lamp, transmitting the sound of his voice with a light beam. His father died when Clarke was 13, forcing him to take on the responsibilities of running the household, during which time he worked part-time at the post office while his mother gave riding lessons and took in boarders. By this time, Clarke, who was an excellent student, had been introduced to the garish covers and pulpy stories of science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories. Financially unable to attend university, Clarke took a civil service exam and went to work as a government auditor; an easy enough job that allowed him to devote his free time to science fiction.As a member and eventual chairman of the British Interplanetary Society - an organization derided as a meeting ground of crackpots and eccentrics - Clarke was able to rub elbows with a number of renowned authors, scientists and engineers. Then, at the start of England's involvement in World War II in 1939, Clarke enlisted in the Royal Air Force, where he assisted in researching the then-new technology of radar. During this time, he published his first short story in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, followed by writing an article in the technical journal, Wireless World that proposed the idea of launching space stations into a geosynchronous - or geostationary - orbit around the Earth for use in telecommunications. It was a groundbreaking idea that was underappreciated and unprecedented for 1946. While communications satellites are taken for granted in modern times, Clarke's idea was so ahead of its time that he was talked out of applying for a patent - a decision he lamented upon in his humorous essay, "Short Pre-History of Comsats: Or How I Lost A Billion Dollars In My Spare Time." Instead, he received the standard payment of $40 from the magazine.After the war, Clarke enrolled at King's College in London, where he studied math and physics while continuing to write science fiction. He sold his first novel, Prelude to Space in 1951, quickly establishing a unique brand of realism and scientific accuracy. But Clarke also had a feel for the metaphysical; prior to his first novel, he had entered a short story contest with "The Sentinel," a tale about astronauts discovering a mysterious object buried on the moon which is being used as a signaling device by an alien civilization. The story failed to win the contest, but that was not the last anyone heard of it. Upon graduating college, Clarke worked as an assistant editor for a physics journal until his book sales were strong enough that he could write full time. Following an early foray into television with an episode of the short-lived sci-fi anthology series, "Tales of Tomorrow" (ABC, 1952-53), he published one of his most celebrated works, "Childhood's End" (1953), the story of a seemingly benevolent alien race which occupies Earth, ridding the world of disease and suffering, but also art and passion - all in an effort to prepare humanity for its next step in celestial evolution. The story generated interest from Hollywood for years to come, but ultimately never reached fruition.Clarke soon discovered another passion: scuba diving, which he likened to weightlessness in space. In 1954, Clarke and long-time friend Mike Wilson embarked on a lengthy excursion to explore Australia's Great Barrier Reef; an expedition that led to all new subject matter for books such as The Deep Range (1957) and Dolphin Island (1963). While visiting Sri Lanka, Clarke became so enchanted by the culture, geography and access to deep sea diving, that in 1956, he decided to make the island nation his permanent home. Meanwhile, Clarke and Wilson started several business ventures, including dive schools and salvage operations - all of which put a financial drain on Clarke. This, however, pushed the author to churn out as much writing as possible. But public appetite for space exploration exploded with the historic 1957 launch of the unmanned Soviet spacecraft Sputnik, allowing Clarke - already widely recognized alongside science fiction giants Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein - to serve as a frequent commentator on radio and television programs. Not surprisingly, his recognition as a prominent member of the science fiction community soon granted him access to Hollywood.When filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was fresh off the success of "Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964), he made it known that he was looking to follow up with a film about man's place in the universe. Kubrick was quickly advised to seek out Clarke. The obsessive director quickly devoured nearly all of Clarke's work, so a go-between contacted Clarke about Kubrick's interest, overtly implying that he was only reluctant because he thought Clarke a recluse on his island. Though wary of Hollywood, Clarke was indeed a fan of Kubrick's "Lolita" (1962), agreeing to meet the director, referring to him as "enfant terrible" in a return message. The now historic meeting between arguably the two greatest minds in their respective fields of the day took place on April 23, 1964 at Trader Vic's outside the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Both men came away duly impressed by the other. It was the beginning of a four-year partnership on what would remain a seminal science fiction film.Unsure of even what the story should be, Clarke and Kubrick conducted several day-long meetings, strolling through Manhattan's streets, visiting museums and frequenting restaurants. Both had an insatiable curiosity about the world, with topics ranging from mathematics and anthropology, to space exploration and extraterrestrials. Despite their differing habits - Clarke was early to bed and early to rise, while Kubrick stayed up till 3 a.m. and slept past noon everyday - the two men felt a kinship, soon settling on the official terms of their agreement. Due to the vastness of the project, the men mapped out both a novel and screenplay simultaneously. The starting point for the story would be Clarke's short story, "The Sentinel" as well as other stories, which optioned for $10,000, while Clarke would earn $30,000 for the remainder of his writing services. In the meantime, the confident Kubrick approached MGM with barely an outline for the film and yet, received a green light to start production.Originally called "Journey Beyond the Stars," the title was changed to "2001: A Space Odyssey." The movie begins with the ascending three notes of composer Richard Strauss' "Thus Spake Zarathustra" over the awe-inspiring image of the sun, moon and planet Earth in perfect alignment. An opening sequence called "The Dawn of Man" depicts a tribe of ape-men locked in a territorial battle with a rival tribe over possession of a watering hole. The sudden arrival of a mysterious rectangular slab has a profound effect on the ape-men, planting the idea of using bones as tools and then weapons. A memorable transition showed a bone hurled in the air, and 4 million years later, the image turns into a spaceship orbiting the Earth. In 2001, scientists ponder the meaning of an identical rectangular monolith discovered on the moon, while the last third of the movie focused on a group of astronauts on a Jupiter mission that g s awry when the onboard computer, HAL, malfunctions and begins killing the astronauts in hibernation sleep. Lone survivor Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) encounters another alien monolith and is drawn through an interstellar star gate. The highly debated, abstract ending showed Bowman grow old in a replica Victorian mansion before being reborn as a "star child" that looks down upon Earth, representing a new evolution for mankind.Initially receiving mixed critical reactions, "2001" was embraced by the sixties generation, who likened it to a consciousness-raising psychedelic drug trip. Ever since its release, the film remained a stunning, groundbreaking work, long after trips to space became routine and visual effects moved from models to CGI. The film was a masterpiece of form and substance which spurred debate among thinkers, while at the same time, transported movieg rs looking for mere escapism. For their efforts, Clarke and Kubrick shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Meanwhile, Clarke earned celebrity status among young people, thanks in part to his overall optimism about the future, despite the film's bleak outcast. Even Walter Cronkite sought him out to comment on NASA space missions. Back to writing, he began a new science fiction book series, Rendezvous with Rama, an award-winning novel about a mysterious alien cylinder visiting the solar system which sparked considerable interest in Hollywood, including from director David Fincher, decades after its publication. Clarke was further pushed into the limelight by hosting two British television series, "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" (syndicated, 1980) and "Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers" (syndicated, 1985), both of which investigated supernatural phenomena such as poltergeists, UFOs and the origins of Stonehenge.In 1982, Clarke returned to the world of alien monoliths with 2010: Odyssey Two, which picked up on an investigation into the strange events from "2001." Two years later, the book was made into the film "2010" (1984), directed by Peter Hyams. Starring Roy Scheider as scientist Heywood Floyd, the sequel was not nearly as ambitious or groundbreaking as the first, though it did later gain acceptance among fans as a decidedly competent story and overall good film. Meanwhile, Clarke himself appeared twice in a cameo, first as a man feeding pigeons on a park bench outside the White House, as well as on the cover of Time magazine, alongside Stanley Kubrick, where they were depicted as the U.S. president and Soviet premiere, respectively. Interestingly, while "2010" was later noted for having failed to anticipate the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Cold War, the book and film were not proven wrong about continued tensions between the U.S. and Russia.Clarke wrote two more installments in the series - 2061: Odyssey Three in 1988 and 3001: The Final Odyssey in 1997 - though he often insisted the books should be considered retellings of the same concept, rather than sequels to one story. Continuing his ongoing relationship with Hollywood, his novel, The Hammer of God, was adapted into the blustery summer blockbuster, "Deep Impact" (1998). Clarke also co-wrote additional installments of the "Rama" series with writer Gentry Lee, and returned to the sea with 1990's Ghost of the Grand Banks, about a race to raise the tragic oceanliner Titanic from the bottom of the Atlantic. His short stories, which were found in ongoing collections and reprintings, continued to delight and disturb readers long after their initial publication. "The Star" (1955), which postulated the theory that the Star of Bethlehem was actually a supernova that wiped out an entire population of a planet, continued to spark controversy with its place in high school curricula. It was later adapted into an episode of the second edition of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1985-89) series. Another short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God," about a group of computer scientists hired by Tibetan monks to assemble and collate all the possible names of the Divine Creator, continued to inspire awe and dread - as the computer made its final tally, the engineers looked up to see the stars in the night sky quietly extinguish, signifying the end of the universe.While many science fiction writers derived their works out of fear and trepidation of new technology, Clarke often embraced developments as inevitable and even unremarkable, with 2001 one of the few instances in his fiction to portray machines as a threat to man. Like many of his peers, Clarke was eccentric, if not inconsistent with his own use of technology - he rarely drove a car, but was an avid scuba diver. Clarke was also an early adapter, tossing out his typewriter in exchange for a word processor to write "2010" and using an early form of email to communicate with Peter Hyams in the early 1980s, years before the invention of the internet. Their exchanges were collected and printed in the book The Odyssey File: The Making of 2010. Throughout his career, Clarke answered few questions about his personal life. His 1953 marriage to Marilyn Mayfield ended in separation after six months. Although it was 10 years before their divorce was finalized, Clarke never remarried. His closest friend and fellow diver Leslie Ekanayake was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1977. Afterwards, Clarke shared a home with Ekanayake's brother Hector and his family, acting as a grandfather to the couple's three daughters.Even during his later years, Clarke found himself besieged by visitors and speaking requests, most of which he was forced to turn down when he was confined to a wheelchair after contracting polio in 1988. Because of his contributions to art and science, Clarke was knighted by the Queen of England in 1998. In 2001, he made a commemorative presentation at the Academy Awards for Best Screenplay via video feed from his home in Sri Lanka. He continued to write, turning out several books with co-author Stephen Baxter, including the Time Odyssey trilogy, which concluded with the novel Firstborn in 2007. He was working on another book, The Final Theorem with Frederik Pohl when he suffered a brief illness and died in Sri Lanka, where he was later buried in a non-religious ceremony, at the age of 90. Clarke often said that to a primitive race, any form of advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic. For millions of readers around the world, Clarke's work was just that: logical, precise, advanced and magic.