Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE (16 December 1917–19 March 2008) was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, most famous for the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, written in collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick, a collaboration which led also to the film of the same name; and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World.
Clarke served in the Royal Air Force as a radar instructor and technician from 1941-1946, proposed satellite communication systems in 1945 which won him the Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Gold Medal in 1963 and a nomination in 1994 for a Nobel Prize, and 1999 for literature , and became the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1947-1950 and again in 1953. Later, he helped fight for the preservation of lowland gorillas. He won the UNESCO-Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science in 1961.
During the Second World War he served in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist and was involved in the early warning radar defence system, which contributed to the RAF's success during the Battle of Britain. Clarke spent most of his wartime service working on Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) radar as documented in the semi-autobiographical Glide Path, his only non-science-fiction novel. Although GCA did not see much practical use in the war, it proved vital to the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949 after several years of development. Clarke initially served in the ranks, and was a Corporal instructor on radar at No 9 Radio School, RAF Yatesbury. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (Technical Branch) on 27 May 1943. He was promoted Flying Officer on 27 November 1943. He was appointed chief training instructor at RAF Honiley and was demobilised with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. After the war he earned a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King's College London.
In the postwar years, Clarke became the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1947-1950 and again in 1953. Although he was not the originator of the concept of geostationary satellites, one of his most important contributions may be his idea that they would be ideal telecommunications relays. He advanced this idea in a paper privately circulated among the core technical members of the BIS in 1945. The concept was published in Wireless World in October of that year. Clarke also wrote a number of non-fiction books describing the technical details and societal implications of rocketry and space flight. The most notable of these may be The Exploration of Space (1951) and The Promise of Space (1968). In recognition of these contributions the geostationary orbit above the equator is officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union as a Clarke Orbit.
On a trip to Florida in 1953 Clarke met and quickly married Marilyn Mayfield, a 22-year-old American divorcee with a young son. They separated permanently after six months, although the divorce was not finalised until 1964. "The marriage was incompatible from the beginning", says Clarke. Clarke never remarried but was close to Leslie Ekanayake, who died in 1977. Journalists who inquired of Clarke whether he was gay were told, "No, merely mildly cheerful." However, Michael Moorcock has written Moorcook's assertion is not supported by other reports, although in an interview in the July, 1986 issue of Playboy magazine, Clarke exasperatedly stated "Of course. Who hasn't?" to the question if he has had bisexual experiences.
Clarke also maintained a vast collection of manuscripts and personal memoirs, referred to as the "Clarkives", which will not be published before 30 years after his death. When asked why they were sealed up, he answered "'Well, there might be all sorts of embarrassing things in them".
Clarke corresponded with C. S. Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s and they once met in an Oxford pub, The Eastgate, to discuss science fiction and space travel. Clarke, after Lewis's death, voiced great praise for him, saying the Ransom Trilogy was one of the few works of science fiction that could be considered literature.
In 1948 he wrote "The Sentinel" for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected it changed the course of Clarke's career. Not only was it the basis for A Space Odyssey, but "The Sentinel" also introduced a more mystical and cosmic element to Clarke's work. Many of Clarke's later works feature a technologically advanced but prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. In the cases of The City and the Stars (and its original version, Against the Fall of Night), Childhood's End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution. In Clarke's authorized biography, Neil McAleer writes that: "many readers and critics still consider [Childhood's End] Arthur C. Clarke's best novel."
Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death in 2008, having emigrated there when it was still called Ceylon, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo. Clarke held citizenship of both the UK and Sri Lanka. He was an avid scuba diver and a member of the Underwater Explorers Club. Living in Sri Lanka afforded him the opportunity to visit the ocean year-round. It also inspired the locale for his novel The Fountains of Paradise in which he described a space elevator. This, he believed, ultimately will be his legacy, more so than geostationary satellites, once space elevators make space shuttles obsolete.
His many predictions culminated in 1958 when he began a series of essays in various magazines that eventually became Profiles of the Future published in book form in 1962. A timetable up to the year 2100 describes inventions and ideas including such things as a "global library" for 2005.
Early in his career Clarke had a fascination with the paranormal and stated that it was part of the inspiration for his novel Childhood's End. He also said that he was one of several who were fooled by a Uri Geller demonstration at Birkbeck College. Although he eventually dismissed and distanced himself from nearly all pseudoscience he continued to advocate research into psychokinesis and similar phenomena.
In 1975 Clarke's short story "The Star" was not included in a new high school English textbook in Sri Lanka because of concerns that it might offend Roman Catholics even though it had already been selected. The same textbook also caused controversy because it replaced Shakespeare's work with that of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Isaac Asimov.
In 1988 he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, having originally contracted polio in 1959, and needed to use a wheelchair most of the time thereafter. Sir Arthur C Clarke was for many years a Vice Patron of the British Polio Fellowship.
In the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours Clarke was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) "for services to British cultural interests in Sri Lanka". The same year he became the first Chancellor of the International Space University, serving from 1989 to 2004 and he also served as Chancellor of Moratuwa University in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 2002.
In 1994, Clarke appeared in a science fiction film; he portrayed himself in the telefilm Without Warning, an American production about an apocalyptic alien first contact scenario presented in the form of a faux newscast.
On 26 May 2000 he was made a Knight Bachelor "for services to literature" at a ceremony in Colombo. The award of a knighthood had been announced in the 1998 New Year Honours, but investiture with the award had been delayed, at Clarke's request, because of an accusation, by the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror, of paedophilia. The charge was subsequently found to be baseless by the Sri Lankan police. According to The Daily Telegraph (London), the Mirror subsequently published an apology. Clarke was then duly knighted.
In December 2007 on his 90th birthday, Clarke recorded a video message to his friends and fans bidding them good-bye.
Clarke died in Sri Lanka on 19 March 2008 after suffering from breathing problems, according to Rohan de Silva, one of his aides, only a few days after he had reviewed the final manuscript of his latest work, The Last Theorem, co-written with Frederik Pohl. He was buried in Colombo in traditional Sri Lankan fashion on 22 March, with his younger brother, Fred Clarke, and his Sri Lankan adoptive family among the thousands in attendance.
In a three-day interview described as "a dialogue on man and his world" with Alan Watts, Clarke said that he could not forgive religions for the atrocities and wars over time and admitted a bias against religion in a 1972 interview.
In a reflection of the dialogue where he more broadly stated "mankind", his introduction to the penultimate episode of Mysterious World, entitled, Strange Skies, Clarke said, "I sometimes think that the universe is a machine designed for the perpetual astonishment of astronomers."
Near the very end of that same episode, the last segment of which covered the Star of Bethlehem, he stated that his favourite theory was that it might be a pulsar. Given that pulsars were discovered in the interval between his writing the short story, The Star (1955), and making Mysterious World (1980), and given the more recent discovery of pulsar PSR B1913+16, he said, "How romantic, if even now, we can hear the dying voice of a star, which heralded the Christian era."
Clarke left written instructions for a funeral that stated: "Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral.
A famous quote of Clarke's is often cited: "The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion"
"The Sentinel" (1948) introduced a religious theme to Clarke's work, a theme that he later explored more deeply in The City and the Stars (and its earlier version, Against the Fall of Night). His interest in the paranormal was influenced by Charles Fort and embraced the belief that humanity may be the property of an ancient alien civilisation. Surprisingly for a writer who is often held up as an example of hard science fiction's obsession with technology, three of Clarke's novels have this as a theme. Another theme of "The Sentinel" was the notion that the evolution of an intelligent species would eventually make them something close to gods, which was also explored in his 1953 novel Childhood's End. He also briefly touched upon this idea in his novel Imperial Earth. This idea of transcendence through evolution seems to have been influenced by Olaf Stapledon, who wrote a number of books dealing with this theme. Clarke has said of Stapledon's 1930 book Last and First Men that "No other book had a greater influence on my life ... [It] and its successor Star Maker (1937) are the twin summits of [Stapledon's] literary career".
Due to the hectic schedule of the film's production, Kubrick and Clarke had difficulty collaborating on the book. Clarke completed a draft of the novel at the end of 1964 with the plan to publish in 1965 in advance of the film's release in 1966. After many delays the film was released in the spring of 1968, before the book was completed. The book was credited to Clarke alone. Clarke later complained that this had the effect of making the book into a novelisation, that Kubrick had manipulated circumstances to downplay Clarke's authorship. For these and other reasons, the details of the story differ slightly from the book to the movie. The film contains little explanation for the events taking place. Clarke, on the other hand, wrote thorough explanations of "cause and effect" for the events in the novel. James Randi later recounted that upon seeing 2001 for the first time, Clarke left the movie theatre during the first break crying because he was so upset about how the movie had turned out. Despite their differences, both film and novel were well received.
In 1972, Clarke published The Lost Worlds of 2001, which included his account of the production and alternate versions of key scenes. The "special edition" of the novel A Space Odyssey (released in 1999) contains an introduction by Clarke, documenting his account of the events leading to the release of the novel and film.
Clarke's email correspondence with Hyams was published in 1984. Titled The Odyssey File: The Making of 2010, and co-authored with Hyams, it illustrates his fascination with the then-pioneering medium of email and its use for them to communicate on an almost daily basis at the time of planning and production of the film while living on different continents. The book also includes Clarke's list of the best science-fiction films ever made.
With 3001: The Final Odyssey, Clarke returns to examine the character of astronaut Frank Poole, believed killed outside Discovery by HAL in the original novel and film.
Clarke's most important scientific contribution may be his idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays. He described this concept in a paper titled Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?, published in Wireless World in October 1945. The geostationary orbit is now sometimes known as the Clarke Orbit or the Clarke Belt in his honour.
However, it is not clear that this article was actually the inspiration for the modern telecommunications satellite. John R. Pierce, of Bell Labs, arrived at the idea independently in 1954 and he was actually involved in the Echo satellite and Telstar projects. Moreover, Pierce stated that the idea was "in the air" at the time and certain to be developed regardless of Clarke's publication. Nevertheless, Clarke described the idea so thoroughly that his article has been cited as prior art in judgements denying patents on the concept.
Though different from Clarke's idea of telecom relay, the idea of communicating with satellites in geostationary orbit itself had been described earlier. For example, the concept of geostationary satellites was described in Hermann Oberth's 1923 book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen(The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) and then the idea of radio communication with those satellites in Herman Potočnik's (written under the pseudonym Hermann Noordung) 1928 book Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums — der Raketen-Motor (The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor) section: Providing for Long Distance Communications and Safety published in Berlin. Clarke acknowledged the earlier concept in his book Profiles of the Future.