||Born: December 16, 1917
Died: March 19, 2008
***SPOILER ALERT for Arthur C Clarke: “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Songs of a Distant Earth”, and “Childhood’s End”***
Arthur C Clarke, one of the Grand Old Men of science fiction, is likely best known for his knowledge and practical (if always futuristic) use of science in his novels. Indeed, more than merely writing science fiction, he lived it. His non-literary accomplishments include co-broadcasting for the Apollo 11 moon landing, holding the Chancellor position at the International Space Institute (1989-2004) and most notably, introducing the idea of telecommunications satellites (1945).
Yet for all his life and literary scientific acumen, I feel that what set him apart as a science fiction writer was his ability to meld the best elements of hard and soft science fiction. He had the skill to work the potentially practical with the absolutely fantastical in ways that complemented each and had the reader thinking about each in ways they might not have otherwise.
The most obvious example of this was the Space Odyssey series. From the development of Hal and a feasible, intra-stellar propulsion system, Clarke pulled the reader into the baffling, fuzzy, and fascinating universe built by an ancient. galactic, and (eventually revealed) extinct race.
This theme of contrast is most whimsically treated in the less well known, “Songs of a Distant Earth.” As in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the practical, hard science fiction is illustrated by the human trans-galactic travel along with other technology such as a “space hook”. Fantastical elements rest with the still primitive, non-human intelligence represented by a group of giant lobsters.
What makes this ironic is the human’s almost total lack of interest in the discover of the first, and thus far, only known non-terrestial sentient species. This whole plot line is secondary to the political, sexual, and familial story lines that span the novel. Man’s self-absorbtion very cleverly, if subtly, illustrated.
In “Childhood’s End” the contrast of hard and soft science fiction is darkly, even distrubingly reversed. It’s the alien technology that represents mundane science and although it technically may fall under “soft” in that it has the appearance of magic, it is described as technology that humans could acheive if given enough millenia. Mankinds’ evolution and final shape as revealed at the end of the novel is what is most profoundly mystical, not the aliens. The reversal separates this piece not only from Clarke’s own body of work but from virtually every similarly themed science fiction novel before or since. It’s haunting and memorable, and extemely uncomfortable.
Arthur C Clarke as a scientist, author and student of the spiritual, laid the groundwork for decades to come – science fiction’s popular theme of the ever changing, ever fascinating interplay between the extra-ordinarily real and enchantingly unreal.
Lisa K. Dec. 11, 2012
Islands in the Sky (1952)
Childhood’s End (1953)
The City and the Stars (1956)
The Deep Range (1957)
A Fall of Moondust (1961)
Dolphin Island (1963)
Glide Path (1963)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Rendezvous with Rama (1972)
Imperial Earth (1975)
The Fountains of Paradise (1979)
2010: Odyssey Two (1982)
The Songs of Distant Earth (1986)
2061: Odyssey Three (1987)
Cradle (with Gentry Lee) (1988)
Rama II (with Gentry Lee) (1989)
Beyond the Fall of Night (with Gregory Benford) (1990)
The Ghost from the Grand Banks (1990)
The Garden of Rama (with Gentry Lee) (1991)
Rama Revealed (with Gentry Lee) (1993)
The Hammer of God (1993)
Richter 10 (with Mike McQuay) (1996)
3001: The Final Odyssey (1997)
The Trigger (with Michael P. Kube-McDowell) (1999)
The Light of Other Days (with Stephen Baxter) (2000)
Time’s Eye (with Stephen Baxter) (2003)
Sunstorm (with Stephen Baxter) (2005)
Firstborn (with Stephen Baxter) (2007)
The Last Theorem (with Frederik Pohl) (2008)