Arthur C. Clarke
Clarke, Arthur Charles [Sir] [C.B.E.] (16 December 1917 - 18 March 2008)
Clarke - a preeminent writer of science fiction and a Commander of the British Empire who was knighted in 1997 - emigrated in 1956 from England to Sri Lanka, where he became one of that island’s major figures. He is Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa and of the International Space University in Sri Lanka.
In 1968, he wrote the memorable science fiction work, 2001. The dean of the science fiction genre, he has become internationally famous partly because his work has been turned into realistic motion pictures, notably “2001,” which have captured the imaginations of many viewers.
Science fiction, which sometimes resembles Utopian fiction, is a literary type whose writers have included Mary Shelley, Poe, Verne, Fitz-James O’Brien, and H. G. Wells. Samuel Clemens’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is exemplary of the genre. Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. have used it as an instrument of social criticism.
Bicycling While Dreaming of Space
When a farm lad in Minehead, England, Clarke had a job as mail deliverer that required him to ride his bicycle on winter nights. He had already started a serious collection of science fiction magazines, and from his bicycle the teenager gazed into the night sky, sure that one day men would walk on the moon and leave their bootprints on the red sands of Mars. His certainty that the exploration of space was inevitable found few that were in agreement. Even in the RAF he was considered some kind of screwball, always talking about the British Interplanetary Society and taking it for granted that rocket-launched satellites could be made to remain stationary over the Earth. When the Nazi V-2 rockets began raining terror on British cities, his “crackpot views” suddenly became credible.
Beginning in the mid 1940s and with the subsequent travel into outer space, authors such as Clarke have extended science fiction into new realms, extrapolating about the future of space travel and anticipating the resultant problems and challenges which will face humankind. Neil McAleer, in Arthur C. Clarke, The Authorized Biography (1992), reveals the following details about the author whose books have sold more than fifty million copies:
- During World War II, inductees into the RAF who had no religious affiliation were required to put “Church of England” on their dogtags. Clarke, who unhappily had gone to an Anglican Sunday school as a farm lad, refused. “I got the man who was handling the paperwork and made them change it to pantheist,” he explained. From his youth, he has had a consistent aversion to organized religion, saying faith is no substitute for knowledge.
- In 1943 while in the RAF, he complained to C. S. Lewis that his novels attacked scientific humanism in general and scientists and astronauts in particular.
- Early in 1970, he told the Playboy interviewer, “I have a long-standing bias against religion that may be reflected in my comments,” adding that he could not forgive religions for the wars and atrocities they have inspired. Many, said Clark, “confuse religion with a belief in God. Buddhists don’t necessarily believe in a god or a supreme being at all; whereas one could easily believe in a supreme being and not have any religion.” Clarke knew Buddhism well, having chosen in the 1970s to live in Sri Lanka.
- When a “20 / 20” ABC camera once captured the parade of the Buddha’s tooth, the Perahera, Clarke observed to the reporter, “I’m anti-mysticism. I’m very anti the sort of lamebrains who accept anything fanciful, nonsensical like pyramid power, astrology, which is utter rubbish, much UFOlogy, flying saucers. There’s so much garbage floating around and on the newsstands. This is one thing that does worry me about the present mental state of the West, not only the United States. At the same time, I’m sure there are many very strange things in the universe.”
- When in the USSR it was revealed that 2010: Odyssey Two takes place aboard Cosmonaut Leonov’s spaceship, officials at first were delighted. But then they read the book’s dedication:
- Dedicated, with respectful admiration, to two great Russians both depicted herein: General Alexei Leonov Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union, Artist and Academician Andrei Sakharov Scientist, Nobel Laureate, Humanist
Sakharov had been banished to Gorky two years prior, and officials thereupon banned the book.
- His story, “The Nine Billion Names of God,” describes two computer engineers hired by a sect of Tibetan monks to program and run a computer to help generate the nine billion names of God, which they have worked on for three centuries. They believe that once their goal is reached, God’s purpose will end and mankind will have completed its reason for existence. Clarke’s memorable end-line: “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.” When he read the story in 1997, the Dalai Lama wrote to Clarke, “Your short story titled ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’ was particularly amusing.”
- His story, “The Star,” has an opening line that describes the conflicting scientific and religious systems of belief: “It is three thousand light-years to the Vatican.”
- To Pope Pius XII’s statement that exploring space is simply to fulfill mankind’s God-given potential, Clarke wrote, “Any path to knowledge is a path to God—or to Reality, whichever word one prefers to use.”
- Father Lee Lubbers, a Jesuit priest and one of the dozens McAleer interviewed for the book, recalls that when he met the man who had first predicted telecommunications via satellite, Clarke stepped out from behind his desk, extended his right hand, “as though he were protesting dramatically that I was going to convert him before he could reach the other end of the room,” all the while saying, “I am an atheist.”
- In 1975, addressing the U.S. Congress, Clarke remarked, “It is true that we must cherish and conserve the treasures of this fragile Earth, which we have so shamefully wasted. . . . It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars.”
Mark Nuttal, a reporter for the London Times interviewed Clarke (4 Aug 1992), asserting there had been a spate of books linking science and an ultimate creator with titles such as The Mind of God. And would he comment, please? To which Clarke responded:
- I remain an aggressive agnostic.”
Time, in a special Fall 1992 issue, “Beyond the Year 2000,” published Clarke’s “The Hammer of God,” a story set in the third millennium about an asteroid that imperils the earth—it was only the second piece of fiction ever to be published by the magazine, the first having been a 1969 selection by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The story was further evidence of Clarke’s agnosticism and philosophic naturalism, and it pointed up the dangers of any increases in religious fundamentalist groups around the world.
Atheism and Humanism
A member and an active supporter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York, Clarke has long been on record as being a non-believer. “It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God,” he once wrote, “but to create him.” He also told Popular Science in 2004, "Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses. We should get rid of it as quick as we can." "Why should a vow of chastity," he wrote to a friend, "be nobler than a vow of constipation?"
Isaac Asimov, also an active supporter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York, was his friend and sparring partner. As for Clarke’s ability to reconcile materialistic science with a kind of mystic imagination, Asimov wrote:
- Old Arthur C. Clarke of Sri Lanka
- Now sits in the sun sipping Sanka
- Enjoying his ease
- Excepting when he’s
- Receiving pleased notes from his banker.
Satellites and Predictions
Clarke, the man who first put forward the concept of a communications satellite in 1945, also predicted then that the first flight around the moon would be in 1967 - a year early - and that the first manned moon landing would be between 1970 and 1972 - just six months off. His longer-term forecasts were not so accurate: that the first flight around Mars would be in 1980 and the first landing there would be in 1990. In 1966 he predicted that the actual colonization of other planets would take place by the year 2000. And he believes “there’s a 99% chance of life all over the universe and a 90% chance of intelligent life being all over the place as well.” By 2015, he has recently stated, a baby will have been born on Mars.
Clarke extrapolated further in a 1997 novel, 3001. The character of Frank Poole, who had been killed by Hal the computer in 2001, is accidentally discovered in a frozen state. He awakes in a rather dull utopia, in which organized religion, circumcision, meat-eating, madness, prisons, and poverty have all disappeared. Earth’s ten billion humans were too many and the place became no longer habitable, so one billion who survived now lived in a cartwheel, its rim in orbit, its spokes reaching down to the earth at the hub. Poole, after getting his bearings, leaves for the Jovian satellite Europa, finding one of the big black monoliths mentioned also in 2001, 2010, and 2061, monoliths which imply a connection with the meaning of existence. The visionary Clarke at one point cites Lucretius, who
- . . . hit it on the nail when he said that religion was the by-product of fear—a reaction to a mysterious and often hostile universe. For much of human prehistory, it may have been a necessary evil—but why was it so much more evil than necessary—and why did it survive when it was no longer necessary?
He also notes that
- . . . most of the other religions, with a few honorable exceptions, were just as bad as Christianity. . . . Even in your century, little boys were kept chained and whipped until they’d memorized whole volumes of pious gibberish, and robbed of their childhood and manhood to become monks. . . . Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the whole affair is how obvious madmen, century after century, would proclaim that they—and they alone!—had received messages from God. If all the messages had agreed, that would have settled the matter. But of course they were wildly discordant—which never prevented self-styled messiahs from gathering hundreds—sometimes millions—of adherents, who would fight to the death against equally deluded believers of a microscopically differing faith.
Lest that leave any doubt as to his outlook, Clarke informed the media that he considered the Pope as well as Mother Teresa two of the most dangerous people in the world, this because of their doctrinal stands on condom usage, the rights of women to become church leaders, sexuality, family planning, etc. “Would you argue that anyone with strong religious beliefs was insane?” Poole asks Dr. Khan in 3001. Khan replies, “In a strictly technical sense, yes—if they really were sincere, and not hypocrites. As I suspect ninety percent were.”
Clarke enjoyed having been listed in Who's Who in Hell. He was amused by some of their correspondence.
He and its author, Warren Allen Smith, had a mutual friend, the singer Gilbert Price, and letters about their friendship have yet to be printed.
From Sir Arthur C. Clarke on 5 September 2007 to Warren Allen Smith
I didn't know about the Philosopedia and have just taken a look - it's a great idea!
Comments on my own entry:
- 1. You should include a reference to Encyclical, which I had Pope John Paul VI deliver on the Easter of 2032. Written circa 1990, I worked it in as chapter 17 of The Hammer of God (1993) and later included it in my collection of essays, Greetings, Carbon-based Bipeds! (1999).
- 2. Several of my remarks on religion have been collected - you might like to give a link or reproduce these.
- 3. The late J B S Haldane made a perceptive remark on my views on religions and theology. I have quoted him in the attached foreword to a book due in 2008.
- 4. Some years ago, I started working on an essay titled "Where God went wrong: Her ten biggest mistakes", but I never got around to completing it. The first one I listed was the sad mismatch between the life spans of us humans and our canine friends...
- Amused to see exchanges.
- All good wishes - keep up the good struggle!
Arthur 5 Sep 2007
Sir Arthur's 2007 Egogram
Friends, Earthlings, ETs -- lend me your sensory organs! I send you greetings and good wishes at the beginning of another year. I’ll be celebrating (?) my 90th birthday in December – a few weeks after the Space Age completes its first half century.
When the late and unlamented Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957, it took only about five minutes for the world to realise what had happened. And although I had been writing and speaking about space travel for years, the moment is still frozen in my own memory: I was in Barcelona attending the 8th International Astronautical Congress. We had retired to our hotel rooms after a busy day of presentations when the news broke -- I was awakened by reporters seeking comments on the Soviet feat. Our theories and speculations had become reality!
Notwithstanding the remarkable accomplishments during the past 50 years, I believe that the Golden Age of space travel is still ahead of us. Before the current decade is out, fee-paying passengers will be experiencing sub-orbital flights aboard privately funded passenger vehicles, built by a new generation of engineer-entrepreneurs with an unstoppable passion for space. And over the next 50 years, thousands of people will gain access to the orbital realm – and then, to the Moon and beyond.
During 2006, I followed with interest the emergence of this new breed of ‘Citizen Astronauts’ and private space enterprise. I am very encouraged by the wide-spread acceptance of the Space Elevator, which can make space transport cheap and affordable to ordinary people. This concept, which I popularised in The Fountains of Paradise (1978), is now taken very seriously, with space agencies and entrepreneurs investing money and effort in developing prototypes. A dozen of these parties competed for the NASA-sponsored, US$ 150,000 X Prize Cup which took place in October 2006 at the Las Cruces International Airport, New Mexico.
The Arthur Clarke Foundation continues to recognise and encourage men and women who blaze new trails to space. A few days before the X Prize Cup competition, my old friend Walter Cronkite received the Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I have known Walter for over half a century, and my commentary with him during the heady days of the Apollo Moon landings now belongs to another era. A space ‘pathfinder’ of the Twenty First Century, Bob Bigelow, was presented the Arthur C. Clarke Innovator Award for his work in the development of space habitats. With the successful launch of Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis 1, Bob is leading the way for private individuals willing to advance space exploration with minimum reliance on government programmes.
Meanwhile, planning and fund raising work continued for the Arthur C. Clarke Center "to Investigate the Reach and Impact of Human Imagination", to be set up in partnership with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Objective: to identify young people with imagination, and to help their parents and teachers make the most of that talent. The Board members of the Clarke Foundation, led by its indefatigable Chairman, Tedson Meyers, have taken on the challenge of raising US$ 70 million for this project. I’m hopeful that the billion dollar communications satellite industry I founded 60 years ago with my Wireless World paper (October 1945), for which I received the astronomical sum of £15, will be partners in this splendid enterprise.
I’ve only been able to make a few encouraging noises from the sidelines for these and other worthy projects as I’m now very limited in time and energy owing to Post Polio. But I’m happy to report that my health remains stable, and I’m in no discomfort or pain. Being completely wheel-chaired helps me to concentrate on my reading and writing.
During the year, I wrote a number of short articles, book reviews and commentaries for a variety of print and online outlets. I also did a few carefully chosen media interviews, and filmed video greetings to important scientific or literary gatherings in different parts of the world.
I was particularly glad to find a co-author to complete my last novel, The Last Theorem, which remained half-written for a couple of years. I had mapped out the entire story, but then found I didn’t have the energy to work on the balance of the text. Accomplished American writer Frederik Pohl has now taken up the challenge. Meanwhile, co-author Stephen Baxter has completed First-born, the third novel in our collaborative Time Odyssey series, to be published in 2007.
Members of my adopted family - Hector, Valerie, Cherene, Tamara and Melinda Ekanayake - are keeping well. Hector has been looking after me since 1956, and with his wife Valerie, has made a home for me at 25, Barnes Place, Colombo. Hector continued to rebuild the diving operation that was wiped out by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004. Sri Lanka’s tourism sector, still recovering from the mega-disaster, weathered a further crisis as the long-drawn civil conflict ignited again after more than three years of relative peace and quiet. I remain hopeful that a lasting solution will be worked out by the various national and international players engaged in the peace process.
I’m still missing and mourning my beloved Chihuahua Pepsi, who left us more than a year ago. I’ve just heard that dogs aren’t allowed in Heaven, so I’m not going there. (All the interesting people are in the other place anyway!)
Brother Fred, Chris Howse, Angie Edwards and Navam Tambayah look after my affairs in England. My agents David Higham Associates (www.davidhigham.co.uk) and Scovil, Chichak & Galen Literary Agency (www.scglit.com) deal with rapacious editors and media executives. They both follow my general directive: No reasonable offer even considered.
I am well supported by my staff and take this opportunity to thank them all:
- Executive Officer: Nalaka Gunawardene
- Personal Assistant: Rohan De Silva
- Secretary: Dottie Weerasooriya
- Valets: Titus, Saman, Chandra, Dharmawardena
- Drivers: Lalith & Anthony
- Domestic Staff: Kesavan, Jayasiri, Mallika & Sumana
- Gardener: Jagath
Let me end with an extract from my tribute to Star Trek on its 40th anniversary – this message is more relevant today than when the series first aired in the heady days of Apollo:
- Appearing at such a time in human history, Star Trek popularised much more than the vision of a space-faring civilisation. In episode after episode, it promoted the then unpopular ideals of tolerance for differing cultures and respect for life in all forms – without preaching, and always with a saving sense of humour.”
Arthur C Clarke
- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- 2007.1.28 /revised 2007.7/11 and 2007.12/28
New York City's Hotel Chelsea
In 2005, a plaque composed and donated by Warren Allen Smith and approved by Sir Arthur (who particularly liked including HAL and his words) was posted on the front of the Hotel Chelsea, the site of Clarke's having written 2001. On Clarke's last visit to the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan at 222 West 23rd Street, he invited Smith for breakfast - he arrived just after Rupert Murdoch and Woody Allen had come early in the morning to see him. For the first time Smith met Hector Ekanayake, once a wrestler who with wife Valerie and their three daughters shared his home in Colombo, helped look after him, and was a partner in their scuba diving school. Hector's brother Leslie, who had been one of Clarke's closest friends, had died in a 1977 motorcycle accident. "I can't believe you lived in this hotel," Hector exclaimed, inspecting the room. "But you don't know the memories that I have of this place," Clarke responded, smiling to his longtime correspondent Smith, whom he described as "a little to the left of the Chelsea."
Clarke's secretary, Rohad de Silva, on 18 March 2008 confirmed that Clarke had died from a cardio-respiratory attack at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sir Arthur had been having trouble breathing, was wheel-chaired, and for twenty years had suffered from post-polio syndrome.
The Press Association carried an item describing the funeral:
- Science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke wanted to be remembered as someone who "never grew up and did not stop growing," his adopted family said at his funeral.
- Mr Clarke was buried in a brief, secular funeral according to his wishes at the general cemetery in Colombo, the capital of his adopted country, Sri Lanka.
- The Ekanayake family, with whom the British author lived in the final decades of his life, cried as his coffin was lowered into the grave.
- His brother, Fred Clarke, and other family members were among the mourners.
- Some fans and followers also sprinkled soil into the grave.
- Music from the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was played at the funeral and at Mr Clarke's home before the ceremony. Mr Clarke co-wrote the film's original screenplay with director Stanley Kubrick.
- Tamara Ekanayake, the daughter of Mr Clarke's business partner and long-time friend Hector Ekanayake, made a brief speech at their home before the funeral procession began.
- She said Mr Clarke's gravestone would be engraved according to his wishes:
- Here lies Arthur C Clarke. He never grew up and did not stop growing.
- Born in western England on December 16, 1917, Mr Clarke earlier served in the Royal Air Force during World War II before moving to Sri Lanka in 1956.
- He died on Wednesday in a Colombo hospital after suffering breathing problems at the age of 90.
The New York Times added that although Clarke had asked for a funeral without political pomp or religious rites, politicians, "a dozen Buddhist monks, and a Catholic priest joined the mourners and watched as his body was buried."
Agence-France-Presse, noting that obituary writers had resurrected the 1998 accusations that he had sex with young boys in his adopted country, reported that Sri Lankan authorities had cleared him "of decade-old paedophile allegations before his death last week."
- The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) chief, Jagath Wellawatte, said Sunday there was no case against the writer, who captured the world's imagination with 2001: A Space Odyssey and visions of extra-terrestrial civilisations. "We had no case against Clarke and no one had come forward to say they were abused by him," Wellawatte told AFP. The agency was established under new child protection laws enacted after the allegations against Clarke surfaced. "We have not had any formal complaint or testimony from anyone saying they were abused by Sir Arthur," said NCPA investigator W.T.D. Wijesena. "We cannot go on the basis of rumours."
The Economist on 29 March 2008 published a long obituary that included the following:
- From Ape to Star Child
- Few could have foreseen the track of his career at the start. He was born poor, on a farm, near the small coastal town of Minehead in the west of England in 1917. Space, rockets and science sprang out of the pages of the pulp science-fiction magazines he bought in Woolworths for threepence each, and which he could not always afford. His brother Fred remembered him building telescopes and launching home-made rockets. Science fiction inspired him—though his first job after leaving school was in the down-to-earth British civil service, which gave him plenty of time to think and write. From there, imagining the possible and the probable gradually took over.
- His notions of the future remained unswervingly radical. Sir Arthur knew that outlandish ideas often became reality. But they provoked, he wrote, three stages of reaction. First, “It's completely impossible.” Second, “It's possible but not worth doing.” Third, “I said it was a good idea all along.” He believed, for example, that humans would one day build lifts that could take them into space using only electrical power, and that men would be able to transfer their thoughts into machines. The space-lifts, he reckoned, would become reality a few decades after people stopped laughing at the idea. “Any sufficiently advanced technology”, he declared, “is indistinguishable from magic.”
- By the 2020s he thought it likely that artificial intelligence would reach human level, dinosaurs would be cloned, and neurological research into the senses would mean that mankind could bypass information from the ears, eyes and skin. By 2050, he said, millions of bored human beings would freeze themselves in order to emigrate into the future to find adventure. He was not religious, and was no metaphysician; but he wanted and expected men to evolve until they became like gods. In “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), which he co-wrote with Stanley Kubrick, ape-man evolved into Star Child.
- He also got things wrong, of course. He predicted that humans would land on Mars—by 1994, then by 2010. In the early days, he also believed that a human presence in space would be important for work such as servicing satellites. His cosmic visions left him with little patience for lowlier, grittier issues of politics and economics. Those, he wrote, were concerned with “power and wealth, neither of which should be the primary...concern of full-grown men”. To him, it seemed self-evident that humanity would welcome the technological path towards evolution, whatever the cost. “The dinosaurs disappeared because they could not adapt to their changing environment. We shall disappear if we cannot adapt to an environment that now contains spaceships, computers - and thermonuclear weapons.”
(See "For Clarke, Issues of Faith, But Tackled Scientifically" by Edward Rothstein in The New York Times, 20 March 2008).