Thursday, 20 March 2008

Clarke RIP

Arthur C. Clarke was one of 20th century literature's three giants of science fiction. (The other two were Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.) Clarke died, at the grand age of 90, on Wednesday 19th March (though news reached UK while it was still Tuesday) and it's a very saddening thought for genre fans reflecting on how the author of classic novels - like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Childhood's End, produced such powerfully imaginative books that he was largely responsible for introducing them to SF in the first place, and making his readers life-long fans and followers of the genre's unique sense-of-wonder. (When I was a kid, it was Clarke's Earthlight which got me hooked on reading SF!)

When reading (and reviewing for Starburst #171), Odyssey, Neil McAleer's authorised biography of Clarke, I noted that it presented an essentially positive view of Clarke, without any muck-raking (Clarke's autobiography Astounding Days paints a similarly rosy picture), but that did not - and still doesn't - suggest that any negative comments were due, anyway. And it's worth remembering it was Clarke who attained a "cosmic eloquence" in his SF books and lectures that still remains unequalled in the field and the genre canon. With that in mind, I think that any number of human flaws and character faults should be overlooked. Clarke's single-volume Collected Stories is a treasure house of imaginative SF lore and it's changing focus over decades, and it reveals much about the genre's development as fantastic literature.

I've always found it fascinating to compare the film 2001 with the novel version, one being a genuine work of art by Stanley Kubrick (see here), and the other being a kind of distillation of Clarke's views on some of the big questions (about life-as-we-know-it, the ever-surprising universe, and everything..?), some of which remain unanswered in 21st century. Although it's obviously a great shame that so little of Clarke's boundless optimism has survived the various social changes of the millennium, there can be no doubt that his visionary input into SF is a vital guiding light as we lurch towards whatever future state (or complete mess?) the world gets into next.

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