Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goodbye Sir, Arthur C Clarke

I discover that Arthur C. Clarke passed away yesterday from Sharon Bakar’s blog. His passing marks the closing of an era of the grandmasters of science fiction which include Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Stanislaw Lem and Cordwainer Smith. Theirs was the frontier era of science fiction. Science fiction was then pulp fiction, not worthy of attention of more serious readers. However, theirs was a romantic era; of rocketships, Mars, aliens, ray guns and damsels-in-distress. There was not much science but plenty of fiction. Often it was cowboys and Indians among the stars, written by young men struck by a “sense of wonder.” This “sense of wonder" is the addiction of all science fiction fans.

Of the few science fiction authors I mentioned, Arthur C. Clarke was the only one that have a scientific grounding to all of his stories. He is well known for his prediction of satellites, space elevators, computers and telecommunications. However, it was his skill in mixing his science with fiction that captivated me from the start. I have read all his novels which starts with The Sands of Mars (1952). I just bought his latest novel, written with Stephen Baxter, Firstborn (2007) five days ago, and was looking forward to read it over the Easter weekend. Little do I know that it is his swan song.

Clarke was a humanist, believing that technology will benefit humanity, yet warning us that humanity is also capable of both great good and evil. He was also interested in exploring situations where we meet aliens of higher technological capabilities. That is the basis of his 2001 series, his Rama series, The Songs of Distant Earth and Childhood’s End. Not all his novels were in space. He also explored the seas in The Deep Range and Dolphin Island, reflecting his love of the sea.

I never forget the impact of Childhood’s End when I first read it. It deals with an alien race, racial memory and the next stage of human evolution. I remember dumbstruck by it. The other great Clarke book that I love is his short story collection, Tales from the White Hart.

I have read one or two of his non-fiction but what I enjoyed most was his The Snows of Olympus-A Garden on Mars (1994) which was a collection of Martian photos with his commentary. What impressed me from his non-fiction writings is his formulation of the three laws from his Profiles of the Future (1999)

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 only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur Clarke passing is like a loss of an old friend even if I have not met him in person. I do however have a few autographed copies of his novels...and is a lapsed member of the Interplanetary Society.

Some biography data here and here
The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation


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Blogger bibliobibuli said...

enjoyed this, Alex, a very fitting tribute.

thos autographed copies must be worth a great deal - hold on to 'em!

6:31 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi bibliobibuli,

they gonna have to pry it from my dead fingers (figuratively speaking) :)

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Shashwat said...

Hi Mr. Tang

I came across your blog some time ago through a google search of iain buchanan's book (armies of god) and as I read through your blog, I saw that you like Isaac Asimov's foundation series - he has always been my favorite author, his imagination mesmerizes me through the world it draws me into. I would like it if you would write some posts about your thoughts on Asimov. I have read all of his books, though in the early part of his chronology I did not understand one thing. In "Nemesis" Isaac reveals that the rotorians were the antecedents of the Spacers but by the end of the book the Earthmen had also begun hyperspatial flight. In the Robot series (from Caves of Steel to Robots and Empire), the star system Nemesis is not mentioned in the books and the Earthmen remained confined to Earth, although this story makes a cameo in Forward the Foundation (Hari Seldon tells Dors about a girl who could telepathically communicate with an entire planet). Could you please explain why Asimov diverged from his chronology in the robot books? Or were the characters in the robot books "changed" by Erythro's powers to forget about Erythro so that it could protect itself?

1:14 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...


I loved Asimov's science fiction's books and like you I believe I have read most of them. BTW I do not pretend to be an expert of his stories but as I understand it, the Foundation series and the Robot series are written independent of each other.

Only in his later years did Asimov attemptted to bring them together as a single storyline. Unfortunately he did not have the time to create a Foundation/Robot universe.

4:45 PM  

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