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Sir Arthur C Clarke

Sir Arthur C Clarke, science fiction writer and visionary, died on 19 March 2008. He was 90 years old.

The Times has this to say about his childhood fascination with technology:

As a boy he displayed a great enthusiasm for the workings of the world. He had a crystal set, fashioned telescopes from cardboard tubes and developed an interest in fossils when his father (who died when he was only 13) gave him a Player’s cigarette card with a picture of a dinosaur. He learnt how to send Morse code from his mother, who ran the local post office. After buying a copy of Amazing Stories at Woolworth’s, he became addicted to science fiction magazines, on which he would spend all his pocket money.

The Daily Telegraph focuses on his remarkable record in predicting scientific and technological advances:

In the 100 or so books he wrote, co-wrote or edited, Clarke predicted, with remarkable accuracy, such developments as the moon landings, space travel, communications satellites, compact computers, cloning, commercial hovercraft and a slew of other scientific developments – though he was also, inevitably, often wide of the mark.

In many cases, though, that was because Clarke underestimated the speed of technology’s advance.

The Independent carries a personal view of Sir Arthur in his later years in Sri Lanka from Simon Welfare:

A glance round his study, or “Ego Chamber” as he liked to call it, gave visitors to Arthur C. Clarke’s home in Colombo the bare bones of his story. The walls were covered with the memorabilia of a long, successful and influential life: framed citations, an Oscar nomination, photographs taken with the world’s movers and shakers, tributes from astronauts, cosmonauts and scientists, and a faded, but prized, copy of his famous Wireless World satellite paper. His shelves were crammed with awards and countless editions of his best-selling books. And the daily ritual of opening the morning post, and more recently the countless emails that somehow reached him at his secret inbox, were other reminders that Clarke was one of the few authors who could claim, with justification, that his words had changed the world.

All the obituaries touch on the scandalous 1998 story in the Sunday Mirror alleging his pederasty, which broke just as Sir Arthur was about to receive his newly-announced knighthood from Prince Charles, who was visiting Sri Lanka. But The Times, unlike the other three quality dailies, fails to mention either that the Sri Lankan authorities cleared his name or that the Sunday Mirror published an apology:

Clarke postponed the investiture to save the Prince embarrassment, and denied the charges absolutely. He was later given his honour at a quieter ceremony, but the rumours lingered even though no other paper followed them up.

The Guardian‘s obituary was written by Anthony Tucker, who however predeceased Sir Arthur by 10 years (it’s been updated, of course). He wound up with Sir Arthur’s famous Three Laws:

These are touched by the kind of eternal practicality which make his science fiction so effective and reveal his inner convictions:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The limits of the possible can only be found by going beyond them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology may, at first, be indistinguishable from magic.

Certainly, Clarke’s imagination was magical, carrying him beyond the limits of possibility: his greatness was and remains that, from his almost Olympian heights, he could see more than ordinary men will ever see.

(Sir Arthur Charles Clarke CBE, born 16 December 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, died 19 March 2008 in Colombo.)