Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A 90 Year Odyssey

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is 90 years old.

He was born in 1917 - imagine how many of the things he predicted in his novels that have come true. It must be something to see so many of those things become real. And, of course, sadly many things that seemed so possible, so easy, so close when he wrote them in the 50's an 60's that could have happened, and didn't.

Other writers told fabulous stories and tales of adventure - but Clarke? Clarke's work was different, Clarke's work had grandeur, there is a vastness in his work. Clarke used words like nobody else, it was almost poetry. Some of his passages have haunted me for most of my life. Chapter 85, Experiment from 2001 - the one that begins "Call it the Star Gate. For three million years it had circled Saturn, waiting for a moment in destiny that might never come. In it's making a moon had been shattered and the debris of it's creation orbited still..." Or the final passages from The City and the Stars. Dolphin Island was one of the very first science fiction books I ever read - and I remember almost every passage 40 years later.

If I were to compile a top 100 favorite scifi books from my library it would include nearly all of Clarke's early work:
Happy Birthday Sir Arthur. Hope you get your wishes.


  1. "Yes, we are the midwives. But we ourselves are barren."

    That was my .sig on Usenet for a very long time.

  2. Childhood's End. I love that book. I still want to know more about the Overlord's planet.

  3. I read nearly everything he had written when I was in college and wrote a senior-level paper on his use of religion in his works. I think I stopped reading his stuff when most of his output started to be co-written. About eight years ago I gave away most of my collection, but Childhood's End and Rama (I) are still on my shelf.

  4. I'm afraid I'm a miscreant. The only one I've read is Rama.

    *blushes shamefully*

  5. In many cases, Clarke was so forward seeing in his works that much of it is still relevant.

    Try Childhood's End, and most especially The City and the Stars. 2001 is still an incredible book, and hardly dated at all.

    Steve, you gave away books. Gave away? Blasphemy!

    I will admit that I am not a fan of the stuff that was 'co-authored' with Gentry Lee. Obviously, Lee wrote the books and Clarke put his name on them. I don't like what Lee did with Alvin's story After The Fall of Night, the 'sequel' to The City and The Stars (which itself was Clarke's rewrite of Against the Fall of Night).

  6. I'm worse than Janiece. Haven't. Read. One.

    And Jim, How are you enjoying that copy of "Lamb" I gave you.

    Double shame on me.

  7. You didn't give me anything, Nathan. I won it from you in a manly duel of skill, wits, and inhuman strength (you're visualizing me in a loin cloth, bulging muscles covered glistening oil, holding a large sword, aren't you? Aren't you?)

    Hey speaking of Scifi books - go here, to Eric's site, and follow the links. Funny stuff.

  8. Oh, and I've read the first chapter of Lamb. Hysterical, and strangely interesting - not what I expected at all.

    I had to put it down until after Christmas (is there a pun or a strange coincidence in there somewhere), I've just got too much work to do in the shop. That's deadline stuff, so books must wait a week.

  9. Guess I should fess up and say that the only one I've read was Childhood's End. If anyone's a total miscreant, it has to be me, because I've also only read two Heinleins and no Asimovs.

    But I did put in an order for Old Man's War at amazon.com last weekend!

    Also: I think the ante is up on that "Oh Yeah!" dance. Now it must be done in a loincloth with glistening oil and a giant sword!

  10. You guys are killing me!

    Go, now, to your local used book store and buy some Clarke, Heinlein too. Asimov I can take or leave - his stuff reads like Chemistry Textbook.

    And yes, Nathan I haven't forgotten that I owe you some Niven and Pournelle. I will get them to you, I swear.

    And MWT? Ain't happening. Hell, I don't even own a loin cloth - though I do have a sword, an authentic Toledo steel Navy Warrant Officer's sword. I even know how to use it - you slice the cake the long wise first...

  11. I think I told you I had to run out and buy another Christopher Moore book after I sent you "Lamb". I'm now a total convert and will have to snap up all the rest of his stuff. He's totally warped in not quite the same way as any of the other warped writers I like.

    Loin clothes can be made very simply. Take your authentic Navy Warrant Officer Sword. Slit open the crotch of you least favorite jeans. cut off the legs immediately below crotch level. Bingo...loincloth. (Use of khaki colored briefs is recommended. Please.)

    My sword (saber) belonged to a Major somebody or other and it was made in 1919 (I think). Haven't looked at it recently. I prefer the two-handed "Conan" broadsword type of swing. Slices the entire top layer off the cake in one go.

  12. Well, what can I say. I wasted my youth on Star Trek pocketbooks. Not only am I a miscreant, I'm extra lame. ;)

    As for loincloths, you could also just use a towel and rope.

    Hmmm. I have a decorative dagger somewhere. Maybe I'll take a picture and put that up next time I need a fluff post to stall for time while I think of something useful to say...

  13. Childhood's End would probably end up on my list of top five favorite SF books ever - awesome, timeless novel!

    And, while Christopher Moore's work probably wouldn't make my top five, I've read everything he's written and some are absolute masterpieces - I recently re-read Island of the Sequined Love Nun and still enjoyed it the second time through. I would LOVE to be able to write humor like that man.

  14. Of the "Big Three" from the Golden Age--Clarke, Heinlein and Asimov--I've always thought Clarke was the best by far. He not only tended to get the science right, but he could handle characters in a way that always seemed to elude Heinlein and Asimov.

    One other aspect of Clarke's life that I don't feel has received the attention it deserves is his pushing of critical thinking skills. Clarke hosted a series back in the '80s, Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, I believe the name was, skeptically covering topics like ESP or the Loch Ness Monster and whatnot. Clarke didn't write the show--he merely hosted and offered a few comments here and there. But his presence was nonetheless inspiring: skeptical, yet curious; critical, yet willing to consider almost any possibility as being worth a test; and always gentlemanly (something rare, I regret to say), an elder statesman for capital-R Reason.

    A brilliant man, and judging by the way he acts and carries himself in public, a lovely one, as well.

    There's a site to leave Sir Arthur a "happy birthday" , if you're interested.

  15. Eric, Mysterious World is available on DVD now, I saw it on Overstock.com a while. I loved that show.

    Another aspect of Clarke that many people don't know is his contribution to ocean exploration, and that he lists his profession as writer, explorer, and inventor. A truly fascinating guy.


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