Writer Arthur C. Clarke dies at 90
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Arthur C. Clarke, a visionary science fiction writer who wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey” and won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future, died Wednesday, an aide said. He was 90.
Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome for years, died at 1:30 a.m. in his adopted home of Sri Lanka after suffering breathing problems, aide Rohan De Silva said.
The 1968 story “2001: A Space Odyssey” ó written simultaneously as a novel and screenplay with director Stanley Kubrick ó was a frightening prophesy of artificial intelligence run amok.
One year after it made Clarke a household name in fiction, the scientist entered the homes of millions of Americans alongside Walter Cronkite anchoring television coverage of the Apollo mission to the moon.
Clarke also was credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called Clarke orbits.
His non-fiction volumes on space travel and his explorations of the Great Barrier Reef and Indian Ocean earned him respect in the world of science, and in 1976 he became an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
But it was his writing that shot him to his greatest fame and that gave him the greatest fulfillment.
“Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered,” Clarke said recently. “I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these I would like to be remembered as a writer.”
From 1950, he began a prolific output of both fiction and non-fiction, sometimes publishing three books in a year. He published his best-selling “3001: The Final Odyssey” when he was 79.
A statement from Clarke’s office said that Clarke had recently reviewed the final manuscript of his latest novel. “The Last Theorem,” co-written with Frederik Pohl, will be published later this year, the statement said.
Some of his best-known books are “Childhood’s End,” 1953; “The City and The Stars,” 1956, “The Nine Billion Names of God,” 1967; “Rendezvous with Rama,” 1973; “Imperial Earth,” 1975; and “The Songs of Distant Earth,” 1986.
When Clarke and Kubrick got together to develop a movie about space, they used as basic ideas several of Clarke’s shorter pieces, including “The Sentinel,” written in 1948, and “Encounter in the Dawn.” As work progressed on the screenplay, Clarke also wrote a novel of the story. He followed it up with “2010,” “2061,” and “3001: The Final Odyssey.”
In 1989, two decades after the Apollo 11 moon landings, Clarke wrote: “2001 was written in an age which now lies beyond one of the great divides in human history; we are sundered from it forever by the moment when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out on to the Sea of Tranquility. Now history and fiction have become inexorably intertwined.”
Clarke won the Nebula Award of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1972, 1974 and 1979; the Hugo Award of the World Science Fiction Convention in 1974 and 1980, and in 1986 became Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He was awarded the CBE in 1989.
Born in Minehead, western England, on Dec. 16, 1917, the son of a farmer, Arthur Charles Clark became addicted to science fiction after buying his first copies of the pulp magazine “Amazing Stories” at Woolworth’s. He read English writers H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon and began writing for his school magazine in his teens.
Clarke went to work as a clerk in Her Majesty’s Exchequer and Audit Department in London, where he joined the British Interplanetary Society and wrote his first short stories and scientific articles on space travel.
It was not until after the World War II that Clarke received a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics from King’s College in London.
In the wartime Royal Air Force, he was put in charge of a new radar blind-landing system.
But it was an RAF memo he wrote in 1945 about the future of communications that led him to fame. It was about the possibility of using satellites to revolutionize communications ó an idea whose time had decidedly not come.
Clarke later sent it to a publication called Wireless World, which almost rejected it as too far-fetched.
Clarke married in 1953, and was divorced in 1964. He had no children.
He moved to the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka in 1956 after embarking on a study of the Great Barrier Reef.
Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome since the 1960s and sometimes used a wheelchair, discovered that scuba-diving approximated the feeling of weightlessness that astronauts experience in space. He remained a diving enthusiast, running his own scuba venture into old age.
“I’m perfectly operational underwater,” he once said.
Clarke was linked by his computer with friends and fans around the world, spending each morning answering e-mails and browsing the Internet.
At a 90th birthday party thrown for Clarke in December, the author said he had three wishes: for Sri Lanka’s raging civil war to end, for the world to embrace cleaner sources of energy and for evidence of extraterrestrial beings to be discovered.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Clarke once said he did not regret having never followed his novels into space, adding that he had arranged to have DNA from strands of his hair sent into orbit.
“One day, some super civilization may encounter this relic from the vanished species and I may exist in another time,” he said. “Move over, Stephen King.”
Writer Arthur C. Clarke dies at 90