Archive for March, 2008

Diviner of Modernity: Eloge for Sir Arthur C. Clarke

March 24, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke was a legend before I was born. His visionary grasp of the early space age brought him to the attention of the world, and his book The Exploration of Space (1951) is a classic. Clarke was a futurist par excellence — not just randomly speculating on trends but a diviner, able to lay them out clearly. Clarke’s article on geostationary communications satellites in the magazine Wireless World (1945) and subsequent reputation as the initial conceiver of these devices is only the most famous example of his foresight.

He was also a seminal figure in the history of sci-fi, perhaps the defining genre of the twentieth century. Part of a Golden Age trinity. If Asimov was in a sense the father (or one of them) and Heinlein (and his 1950s Cold War forged brethren) the son, then Clarke truly was a ghostly, spirit figure, haunting seven decades of the genre. His influence profound — eternal. And seeing as he was also a committed atheist, my use of religious iconography in this passage would likely have completely dismayed him.

There have been stand-up tributes. The New York Times obituary is quite good. As is a brief article on the Guardian website.

In recalling my own engagement with many of his stories and books, my fondest memory is of reading a more obscure novel, Imperial Earth (1975). The plot was one of periphery and core — country boy comes to the big city. In this case, the “country” was a colony on the edge of a young interplanetary empire — on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, if memory serves.

The protagonist’s journey to the core of the empire, Earth, is painstakingly laid out. There is that Clarkean twist you never would have thought of yourself — the ship powered by a complex controlled nuclear reaction — all lovingly, lavishly and logically described.

Beyond the journey into speculations about interplanetary space travel, this novel touched on the nature of government — and featured a fascinating portrayal of the corrupt, almost stagnant social world at the heart of an ancient American empire. It further dealt importantly with issues of cloning and genetic engineering. I have no doubt were I to re-read it today, I’d find in the novel poignant and precise future visions.

And this is precisely what makes Clarke’s passing noteworthy: His focused genius will be missed from this humble orb.

One could go on about the link Clarke had to Hollywood through the Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but it isn’t necessary. The first tale in this vein was a short story, entitled “The Sentinel” (1951). While the 2001 series is doubtless fascinating, it’s only the beginning of an impressive oeuvre of galaxy spanning, mind-expanding fare — on page after page.

There is another article I note from the BBC about his funeral, a day ago, featuring the epitaph on his gravestone. I cannot think of a more spirited, vibrant ode to his ever curious soul:

“Here lies Arthur C. Clarke. He never grew up and he did not stop growing.”

Clarke was 90 and died in Sri Lanka, where he had lived since the mid-1950s.

N.B. Some of these and other links can also be found over at Arts & Letters Daily

Dude, Why Does Anyone Live Around Here?

March 21, 2008

Was mean out there today in the 514. Blustery, slippery, and pretty pointless. I didn’t bother noting the passing of the spring equinox in this venue (although I celebrated it with a Dionysian beer fest-fueled jaunt home from the Main at 3-ish and nearly died from exposure — mind you, it’s a long walk, partly across what are, for lack of a better term, the snowy wastes of the Lachine canal), because it doesn’t feel like spring. At all.

Well, the light is a bit longer. And the sun is a little stronger. Sorta.

To wit, my title. I mean, really, what posses us as Montrealers to even bother some days? There has been some epic snowfalls this season. Paralyzing.

After one last near record super crazy bad and long winter I never really needed to live through, I’m out of here soon and never coming back between October and April. That’s my new rule. Maybe I’ll never come back again.

Wow, that would be hard…

The Historian’s Trade

March 17, 2008

“I don’t think the historian’s trade is much given to psychological analysis. In our work we have to do only with sentiments in the whole to which we give generic titles such as Ambition and Interest. And yet if I had even a shadow of self-knowledge, I could put it to good use now…”

From La Nausée (Nausea) (1938) by Jean-Paul Sartre.

A, Robot

March 16, 2008


In the hood.

The March of Time

March 1, 2008

Originally had very different intentions for this post. Different title, too. It was “The Catacombs of Time”, and the essential thrust was a maudlin mixed bag of the usual suspects — nostalgia, history, the dark linings of silver clouds.

Instead, I’m taking a different tack. Life’s like that. You wake up one day and really, truly say: “OK…enough of this…I’m bored”. Bored with your own antics, your own self-delusions, your own lies (“oh no, not the lies too!”). That happened yesterday. The impact was, how should I say, deep. An extinction level event.

So, there are new horizons on the horizon, some modicum of rationality returning (“was it ever there to begin with?”), and a general plan of action. That’s all I’m prepared to say at this point. The refocusing (more like changing lenses in a telescope than simply adjusting a pair of binoculars — i.e. a whole new world view) involves, with apologies to Vila, an avoidance of “smoking sections” (of ALL sorts…). Will be interesting, however, to find new places to hang out…

And that’s pretty much the shift. Towards the new. Unexpected for someone so passionately preoccupied with the old. But in the game of life there are no hard and fast rules. Except maybe to go hard and fast…

Or not. The process will probably feel like waiting for polar ice caps to melt (which isn’t, after all, what it used to be). But that’s the thing about time…It marches…Step-by-step.

I’m keeping the other title, though — will make a great short story. In time.


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