Friday, March 21, 2008

R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

One of my favorite notable people died the other day--in fact, the very day I unknowingly, maybe psychically, posted a comment about viewers whom I feel incorrectly judge my favorite and, frankly, the best movie of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction/fact writer who co-authored the script to 2001 with Stanley Kubrick, and then wrote the novel around the script while stationed at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, was a ripe 90 years old. With his age, I can't say his death was a surprise (he even recorded a goodbye to life for those concerned about him), but it was unfortunate nevertheless. My feeling is that most people, including me, have no idea how he affected our world. And younger generations probably didn't even know who this man was.

Clarke was British, but he'd lived in Sri Lanka for the last 52 years. In addition to writing "The Sentinel," the 1948 short story on which 2001 was based, he also authored Childhood's End, Rendezvous with Rama, Fountains of Paradise, a rare memoir titled The Lost Worlds of 2001, and one of the great science fact books ever, Man in Space. He commented on live TV regarding man's landing on the moon, was the person who first posited the idea of using satellites as telecommunications relays, and he himself said his most valuable notion was the concept of space elevators, which are being experimented with today! So without him, no cell phones, no global communications, no eventual space exploration for the common man! The guy helped bring us all closer together, for Pete's sake!

Needless to say (but I will say it anyway), he was very wise and talented, and he had nothing but contempt for the man-made notion of religion, being a full believer in the "religion" of science (I find it irksome, though, that he wrote he "sometimes [thought] that the universe is a machine designed for the perpetual astonishment of astronomers." If that was his belief, then where did God lie in his worldview, I wonder).

I met him once in L.A., when I was much younger, while he was promoting the entertaining but inevitably disappointing sequel to 2001, 2010. I was so starry-eyed, I can't remember what we talked about. I mean, I NEVER expected to meet Mr. Clarke, particularly on my first time out as an 18-year-old film reporter. I'd been a fan of his since I saw 2001 for the first time when I was eleven! What do you say to a person like that, a person who knows so much about seemingly everything? In my daze, all I do remember is that he was quite cordial and dignified.

He lived a long fruitful life, and I'm sure he and Stanley are somewhere commenting wryly on the state of the world and deeply discussing scientific matters. Who knows? Maybe they're flying to the center of the solar system together. They would both probably hate the religious, after-life implications of this cornball idea, but it could be happening nonetheless. I mean, the universe, I'm sure Clarke would agree, is a bizarre and surprising place. This man believed in the endless possibilities of space travel, and always had fascinating facts to drop about the vastness of our cosmos. For instance, did you know that the number of planets out there is roughly equal to the number of people who have ever lived on earth? He said with wonder that each person, living or dead, then could possess one planet all to themselves. Isn't that an astonishing notion?

Goodbye, Sir Arthur. Travel safe.


Lisa said...

I knew I could count on you to write about Arthur C. Clarke's passing in a manner both intelligent and slightly, ever so sweetly, sentimental.

Lovely post.

Brad Hundt said...

A favorite Arthur C. Clarke memory is how he was on CNN for much of the day on Dec. 31, 1999 from Sri Lanka. Amid the Y2K hysteria, he offered many witty insights and fascinating commentary. I imagine he would have been great to sit next to on a long plane ride.

I read the novel "2001" in 2001, and I'll probably get to "2010" in 2010. I'd like to think I'll be around in 2061 to read "2061," but I'd better not wait until 3001 to dip into "3001."

Lynn said...

Great article about a great man.

Lynn said...

Oh, man!! I really like the photos you included in this article (especially the one with Clarke and Kubrick together). They add a nice touch. Much better than just the standard movie photos one usually sees.