Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous | Jacket Copy Home | Next»

The passing of a legend: Arthur C. Clarke


(photo: Associated Press)

Arthur C. Clarke, a giant of modern science fiction, has died in Sri Lanka at the age of 90. An aide told the Associated Press that Clarke had been suffering from breathing problems and had been in and out of the hospital.

It didn't seem possible that we would ever hear such news: Didn't Clarke seem timeless? As unchanged as the monolith discovered on the moon in the story "The Sentinel"? That story was later expanded into the novel "2001: A Space Odyssey." He was as prolific (the A.P. estimates that he authored more than 100 books) as he was optimistic about science and technology. His name is everywhere.

In his characteristically sniffy manner, critic Thomas Disch once called Clarke's "2010," a followup of sorts to "2001," as representative of the science fiction genre's "meat-and-potatoes mid-range." He also grudgingly pointed out that Isaac Asimov and Clarke were "as close to household words as any writers in the field."

Clarke certainly reached the mainstream, but not only because of his speculations about the future. I think it was also because readers detected something else dominant in some of his work: the presence of religious questions, even though Clarke himself was opposed to organized religion. That's what has always drawn me to him, and that is what has always startled students in my writing classes when, near the semester's end, I ask them to read a brief story of Clarke's called "The Star." A starship's chief astrophysicist, who also happens to be a Jesuit priest, undergoes a religious crisis when he realizes that a star that went supernova 3,000 years ago, annihilating the peace-loving inhabitants of a nearby planet, was the same star that brought the magi to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Jesus. The priest's realization of this is moving and ironic: It never disappoints students.

If there's any legacy that Clarke has left us, it is that science doesn't solve the problems of the human condition. In fact, science forces us to wrestle even more deeply with our beliefs, choices and what we understand about ourselves. Clarke struck notes that were poignant and challenging, as with this final, anguished question which ends "The Star":

"There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last. Yet, oh God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?"

Nick Owchar

Comments () | Archives (12)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I've read all of Sir Arthur's books and have just lost one of my favorite authors and idols.

RIP You will be missed

3,000 years ago! The Star is set in approximately 3,000 AD (so there will be star travel) rather than 2,000AD.

It was a pleasure know Arthur Clarke. Most people didn't know Arthur wrote books on Diving and Treasure Hunting. One of the highlights of my Treasure career was indeed diving with him, and making the Documentary "Before 2001" the story of the Taj Mahal Treasure. It was an honor to be seated right next to him at the 25th. anniversary showing of "2001 A Space Odyssey" in Minehead England. You will be missed my Friend. The story of Sir Arthur and the Taj Mahal Treasure is posted at www.DiveForTreasure.com

The story of Arthur C. Clarke and the Taj Mahal Treasure is posted at www.divefortreasure.com A lot of Clarkes fans are not aware that he was also a Treasure Hunter.

Are you sure? He requested to be buried with no...religious rites whatsoever and he was know to loathe religion!! You need to check your facts, wrote about religions? yes, but endorsed it...no! :)
Also good to know that everybody is born...an Atheist! Noone believes in God until they are being brainwashed to do so! So tired of Religion being shoved in our face days in and out, I m curious to see if this will get published. ;)

Oh my God, he was full of stars. R.I.P., Mr. Clarke.

Long ago I had the good fortune of meeting and spending time with Arthur C. Clark. In 1983, I was a student on the SS Universe with the Semester-at-Sea program. Before our departure from Hong Kong, Mr. Clark joined our cruise as a sort of water-born hitchhiker cum associate professor. During the passage from Hong Kong to Sri Lanka we were honored as Mr. Clark hosted a viewing of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. After the movie there was a Q&A in which many questions about the film, the book and the true meaning of the Black Monolith were asked, to which Mr. Clark would merely smile and ask back to the interviewer, "What do you think they mean, that is what is truly important." Myself and a few other students spent most of our time with Mr. Clark playing ping pong, not one of us were able to beat him, and drinking gin and tonics in the ships bar. The most remarkable thing about him was the ever present brightly patterned surongs he envariablyconstantly wore and his ability to be just one of the group. In Sri Lanka he invited a number of us up to his house in the jungle hills high aboe the port of Columbo. The house had a wide veranda that look remarkable like the commando school in the Bridge on the River Kwai (much of the movie was filmed on the island). We had a great meal and listened to Mr. Clark's stories late into the evening. It was a true pleasure and priviledge. Farewell.

He shaped my cosmic vision of life. What else can I say?

Despite all that he did to popularize space exploration, the novel of Sir Arthur's that has most stayed with me over the years is "The Deep Range". He painted a vivid picture how mankind might properly manage the harvest of the oceans in the late 21st century. A great movie could be made from the book, which might also help to put Clarke's visionary ideas into practice.

A colleague of mine was fortunate to be the last journalist to interview Clarke before his death, you can listen to the interview at http://spectrum.ieee.org/radio?id=2518, read a summary at http://spectrum.ieee.org/mar08/6075, or read the whole transcript http://spectrum.ieee.org/mar08/6076.

Religious huh? That's an interesting perspective. Try this interview with Arthur C. Clarke as it will give a more accurate representation of the man.



Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Explore Bestsellers Lists





Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.