A literary and scientific giant dies

The death of Arthur C. Clarke didn’t exactly come as a surprise when I found out about it earlier today (via Twitter, of course). After all, the man was 90 years old and had suffered from post-polio disorder for decades. Toward the end he looked a lot like the wheelchair-bound figure that shows up in the movie he is most famous for — 2001: A Space Odyssey — when Keir Dullea sees himself transformed into an old man. And yet it was a sad event nonetheless. Clarke was a giant in more ways than one.

Not only was Arthur Clarke one of the world’s best-known science-fiction writers, with books like Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama to his name, but he was also a bona-fide scientist as well — the man who first popularized the idea of geosynchronous communications satellites, a concept that was almost rejected by Wireless World magazine as being too far-fetched. He also wrote science articles about rocketry and space flight, long before such things became a reality.

I remember when I first saw the movie 2001 — my father took my brothers and I to see it in a theatre when I was about six or seven years old, and I can still remember how awe-inspiring some of the scenes were (perhaps in part because I had no clue what the hell was going on). That started a life-long love affair with science fiction, and Clarke was always one of my favourite authors because of his deep understanding of science. He also continued to be an avid geek well into his 80s, sending emails and writing Web columns from his home in Sri Lanka. He will be missed.

5 thoughts on “A literary and scientific giant dies

  1. I'm reading it here first.

    I have him twice in my Facebook quotes, and 2001 is listed as one of my favourite movies. He and Freeman Dyson and E.O. Wilson and Douglas Hofstadter kept my puny teenaged brain from shriveling up.

    Once again, we will not see the Final Theorem.

  2. I remember feeling almost overwhelmed when I finished 2001 – it was as if my brain has been asked to consider things that were somehow beyond its reach.

    But the Clarke moment that will always stick with me – and made a whooshing sound when I gestured toward it on Twitter – was the end of his short story “The Nine Billion Names of God”. I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but it just seemed so perfectly understated that it's lingered somewhere in my mind ever since.

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