Sci-fi guru Arthur C. Clarke dies at 90

By | March 18, 2008 at 6:30 PM

Arthur C. Clarke, a visionary science fiction writer who won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future, died Wednesday in his adopted home of Sri Lanka, an aide said. He was 90.

Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome since the 1960s and sometimes used a wheelchair, died at 1:30 a.m. local time after suffering breathing problems, aide Rohan De Silva told The Associated Press.

Clarke was regarded as a technological seer as well as a science-fiction writer, and was known as “the godfather of the telecommunications satellite.”

His most famous novel, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” was the basis of the 1968 film of the same name, co-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film and the book elevated the plot’s mentally unbalanced computer, HAL 9000, into the pantheon of great fictional characters.

Three “2001” book sequels followed, and one of them – “2010” – was made into a movie as well.

In addition to the “2001” series, some of Clarke’s best-known works are “Childhood’s End” (1953), “The City and the Stars” (1956), “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1967), “Imperial Earth” (1975) and “The Songs of Distant Earth” (1986). His 1973 novel “Rendezvous With Rama” is reportedly being adapted for film, with actor Morgan Freeman as producer and star.

A statement from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation said that Clarke had recently reviewed the final manuscript of his latest novel. “The Last Theorem,” co-written with Frederik Pohl, will be published later this year, the foundation said.

Clarke won the Nebula Award of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1972, 1974 and 1979; the Hugo Award of the World Science Fiction Convention in 1974 and 1980, and in 1986 became Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He became an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1976, and was awarded British knighthood in 1989.

Son of a farmer
Arthur Charles Clarke was born in 1917 in the English coastal town of Minehead, the eldest of four children in a farming family. He became addicted to science fiction after buying his first copies of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories at a Woolworth’s store. He devoured the writings of H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon, and began writing for his school magazine in his teens.

During World War II, the Royal Air Force put him in charge of a new radar blind-landing system. Then, after the war, he proposed the idea of using geostationary satellites as relays for wireless communication. It took decades for the idea to bear fruit, but it eventually earned him a claim to fame almost as great as his science-fiction stories. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are today called Clarke orbits.

Also during the 1940s, Clarke predicted that man would reach the moon by the year 2000 – an idea that some experts dismissed as nonsense. In the late 1960s, Clarke served as a commentator along with CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite for the Apollo missions that turned his prediction into reality. Later, NASA Administrator Tom Paine wrote in an inscription to Clarke that the science-fiction author “provided the essential intellectual drive that led us to the moon.”

Yet another novel of Clarke’s, “The Fountains of Paradise,” helped spark the real-world efforts to build a space elevator from Earth to orbit. The idea is still being pursued, although its realization may still be decades away.

“Sir Arthur’s positive vision of the future excited generations about space exploration, and inspired millions to pursue scientific careers,” Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin said after hearing the news of Clarke’s death.

Disabled by post-polio syndrome, the lingering effects of a disease that had paralyzed him for two months in 1959, Clarke rarely left his adopted home in the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka.

He moved there in 1956, lured by his interest in marine diving – which, he said, was as close as he could get to the weightless feeling of space. “I’m perfectly operational underwater,” he once said.

Clarke was married in 1953 and was divorced in 1964. He had no children, but kept in touch with friends and fans around the world via computer. He spent each morning answering e-mails and browsing the Internet.

On the occasion of his 90th birthday last December, Clarke delivered a speech to a small gathering during which he passed along three wishes: for ethnically divided Sri Lanka to find a lasting peace, for the world to embrace cleaner energy resources, and for extraterrestrial beings to “call us or give us a sign.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Clarke said he did not regret never having followed his novels into space, adding that he had arranged to have DNA from strands of his hair sent into orbit. “One day, some super civilization may encounter this relic from the vanished species and I may exist in another time,” he told AP.

Along with his DNA sample, Clarke enclosed a note with a brief handwritten wish addressed to that far-flung future: “Fare well, my clone.”

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