Saturday, 22 March 2008

Sir Arthur C Clarke

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

This is the Clarke epigram most quoted in the announcements of his death which appeared in the various media. It surprised me that UK radio news gave so little time to appreciations of Clarke. Of course, it didn't help that the news came through as we were mourning the untimely end of Anthony Minghella and shortly before Paul Scofield died. However, "Leading Edge" (science news) and "Brief Lives" on Radio 4 made up for this. These programmes should still be available as podcasts or on BBC's Listen Again facility, developments which would have pleased Clarke.

My favourite passage is from "The View from Serendip", a collection of essays published in 1976. In "How to Dig Space", he writes:
"For a couple of hundred years, no one did much about Space except look at it. A few crazy writers - if that is not a tautology - wrote stories about going into Space. Nobody took them seriously, which was just as well because most of their Space stories were excuses to poke fun at the existing state of affairs. If the authors hadn't set their adventures in imaginary planets, they would have gone to very real jails. (However, it is always dangerous to send authors to jail. This removes their chief excuse for not writing.)" [My emphasis]

(In another essay, "The Second Century of the Telephone", he predicts - and welcomes - the development of the mobile phone and of WiFi, though using optical, rather than radio, waves.)

"The View from Serendip" was put together at the same time as he was writing "The Fountains of Paradise", in which Sri Lanka (once known as Serendip) also features. It must be significant that, on the island where he at last found personal fulfilment and emotional stability, he wrote the book in which a rounded, believable, human being steps off the page, as it were. For me, the characters in his previous work were merely devices to carry the ideas forward - though what ideas!

The dead tree media were rather more generous than their electronic brethren. For instance, The Independent gave a full page to two obituaries. The second, from Simon Welfare, who was involved in the making of Clarke's TV series "Mysterious World", concludes:
"Between takes on location, Arthur often amused himself, and us, by concocting new, and often outrageous, epitaphs. We gave a prize for the best. For once, I think, it was written by someone else, but it was fitting for a man whose vision had ranged so inspiringly across the seas of space. It read: 'I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.'"

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