Diviner of Modernity: Eloge for Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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

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10 Responses to “Diviner of Modernity: Eloge for Sir Arthur C. Clarke”

  1. Stiletto Says:

    I have no earthly idea what you say; however, be assured, your writing is beautiful.

  2. Shefaly Says:

    TN: I think his Science Fiction was so enchanting because he understood Science Fact. He may have inspired more into science or science-related paths in life than is possible to count. RIP, ACC!

  3. The Necromancer Says:

    Stil: Wasn’t meant to be that earthly, but thanks for the compliment…Even though I’d rather be understood than beautiful. ;)

    Shefaly: Indeed. His science fiction was of the “hard” variety, which made his thoughts and observations as relevant to our real story as they were to his fictional ones.

  4. enreal Says:

    It is amazing how some people are born visionaries and others are born blind. He was like Verne or Wells. Clarke’s mind was brilliant. I sometimes wish I could understand the mind of a literary genius, or at least be able to hear some of those thoughts…Formulating, twisting, until they land as words on a page.

  5. Alien Oceans « The Necromancer Says:

    […] oceans on Saturn’s moon, Titan. I recently mentioned the famed satellite in connection to the passing of Arthur C. Clarke, which is little coincidence given how many times Titan has likely been featured in the pages of a […]

  6. The Necromancer Says:

    Enreal: I never responded to you comment at the time, but couldn’t agree more. To translate that kind of insight into speculation about progress and social evolution and still make it ultimately readable is tantamount to genius. Clarke’s sense of the “literary” was fairly basic, I think, but as such his stories reached a very wide and willing audience.

  7. On My Desk, Vol.6 « The Necromancer Says:

    […] of classic tales by this master of the sci-fi genre, whose passing was recently mentioned here. The first, “Rescue Party”, is considered one of Clarke’s best (it was the first […]

  8. On My Desk, Vol.8: The Summer Sci-Fi Edition « The Necromancer Says:

    […] new author a try. The cover boldly promotes McDevitt as “The logical heir to Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.” I may not go that far, but the novel has a definite Golden Age-y feel and read well. Good […]

  9. Liveblogging From Amazing Randy « The Necromancer Says:

    […] sharing an anecdote about comparing the sizes of the asteroids that were named for him and Arthur C. Clarke (his is bigger). But he quickly turned the focus around to his stock and trade — illusions […]

  10. The Perfect Crime…Solved « The Necromancer Says:

    […] is precisely the theme of Arthur C. Clarke‘s short story ‘The Nine Billion Names of God‘. A community of Tibetan monks have […]

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