On This Day: Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, on the 16th December, 1917. He was the last of The Big Three to leave us, passing away in 2008 (Robert A. Heinlein died in 1988 and Isaac Asimov in 1992).

He served in the Royal Air Force from 1941 to 1946 where he worked as a radar specialist and was part of the team that developed the early warning radar defence system, which was so important to the RAF’s success in the Battle of Britain. This experience formed the basis for Glide Path, his only non-science fiction novel.

Clarke became a household name with 2001: A Space Odyssey and, later, the television series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, but his major impact upon all of our lives came two decades earlier. In the October, 1945 issue of Wireless World, he published an article titled ‘Extra-Terrestrial Relays – Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?’, which was influential in establishing the concept of telecommunications satellites.

His literary achievements are legion: three Hugos (and a Retro Hugo), three Nebulas, the John W. Campbell Award, the BSFA Award, the SFWA Grand Master Award, Science Fiction Hall of Fame Living Inductee. He was one of only five authors to win the Hugo and Nebula Awards with the same novel on two occasions, and his 1974 masterpiece Rendezvous with Rama swept the board, winning the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA and John W. Campbell Awards.

Arthur C. Clarke worked tirelessly to promote the cause of science and was a passionate believer in the good it could do. In 1983, he established the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation to promote the use of space and telecommunications technology for the benefit of humankind. A year later he founded the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies in Sri Lanka. Both the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction and the Sir Arthur C. Clarke Award for space achievement are given each year in his honour. In 2000, he was made a Knight Bachelor for services to literature.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke died on 19th March, 2008, aged 90. He left a rich literary and scientific legacy, best unified in his famous Clarke’s Laws. The most famous of these is his Third Law – ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ – but I think his work and his life are best encapsulated in the second:

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

First published on the SF Gateway blog 16th DEcember 2013.