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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My God, it's full of stars

UPDATE: I'll update this post with links to other blog posts on Clarke's passing that strike my eye.



Arthur C. Clarke is dead.

This is really no surprise, as Clarke was very old, and though I haven't read any of his new work since I was disappointed by 3001, I am saddened by his passing. Clarke was the first science fiction author whose work I really loved, going way back to when I was in high school and read 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke was just awfully good at capturing that good old "sense of wonder" without getting too wordy, in my view; he would simply describe things with none of the "You will be amazed by this!" subtext that I can often detect in other SF writers. That, his ability to keep the story moving, and the way he could relate the futuristic stuff to the concerns of contemporary readers was always impressive.

I don't think I even own a copy of 2001 at the moment, so I can't even quote my favorite Clarke passage. For those of you who own the book, you can look it up: it's the part where David Bowman is settling in for the long lonely journey to Saturn (what remains of the journey, anyway) after HAL has killed Frank Poole and the hibernating crew members, and he tries to take his mind off his loneliness by listening to music; but over time he finds that the constant parade of human voices actually increases his loneliness rather than decreasing it, and his search for musical companionship finally leads him to the abstract counterpoint of Johann Sebastian Bach. I always thought that this passage represented a particularly keen bit of human insight for a science fiction author, given the stereotype of SF writers as being concerned with the Gosh WOW! stuff and less with the human concerns.

Clarke was a part of my reading landscape fairly early on; I remember reading Dolphin Island (although I don't so much remember Dolphin Island itself), and a frankly wonderful true-life tale of discovering a sunken wreck in Indian Ocean Treasure. I've never had any desire to read the follow-ups, but I did admire Rendezvous with Rama greatly. And his short fiction was also amazing; "The Star" and "The Nine Billion Names of God" particularly haunt my imagination. I even remember some road trip or other with my family when I was six or seven years old; my sister was reading a book whose title stuck in my head even then as being pretty provocative and intriguing. The book? Childhood's End.

I truly believe that Arthur C. Clarke is one of the more important figures of the 20th century, and I honor his life now.



(Here's a good article on Clarke's life.)

UPDATE I: Steven Den Beste: "Clarke didn't write as much as the others, I think, and it's also not really correct to say his stuff was more imaginative. But I think that there was a quality to his work that made it stand apart. His stories were, how to put this, further away than Heinlein and Asimov."

Charlie Stross.

UPDATE II: SamuraiFrog: "Thank you, Arthur, for believing that we were worth the trouble and that we might, one day, snap out of this. Thank you for showing us it was full stars."

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who apparently was on NPR to discuss Clarke. I'll look for an audio link later today.

Lou Anders.

Lots of good linkage (as usual) at SFSignal.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

HAL killed Frank? SPOILER!
(I jest.)