2001: Time for a few words about Arthur C. Clarke
(Pictures above by Robert McCall for 2001: A Space Odyssey)
A Tribute by: SFRevu editor Ernest Lilley with contributions from:
Kevin Anderson / Gregory Benford / Ben Bova / David Brin / Michael A. Burstein / Jack L. Chalker / Greg Costikyan / James Frenkel, Tor Books / Eileen Gunn / James Gunn / Joe Haldeman / David Hecht / Paul Levinson, President, SFWA / Jerry Oltion / John Ringo / Steven Sawicki / H. Paul Shuch Executive Director, The SETI League, Inc. / Tony Tellado, SciFiTalk
I foolishly thought I'd ask a few friends, authors, and editors for a few words about one of my favorite authors, a man who brought SF even more into the mainstream than Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke. Foolishly, because I got more than a few words back.
Not quite 9 billion words, perhaps, but if I'd tried to track down a few more we'd have a book. Better to read some of his than write one about him. Two I might suggest are his collected essays in Greetings, Carbon Based Bipeds and his collected short stories in: The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. Growing up in the 60s, naturally I devoured everything Clarke published, and of course I failed to understand how anyone could be confused watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, but then, I'd read the novel the second it came into the school library.
The very dryness of Clarke's writing has always served to be a source of excitement. Epic sagas with bad science dishearten me, despite their sweeping themes and high drama. Clarke writes about futures that are almost always possible, and in doing so he gives me hope.
On the subject of how the world differs today from its depiction in 2001, most everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Clarke showed a world on the brink of war, and though peace may never break out unilaterally, we have stood down from the precipice he envisioned. Among others, he had a hand in that, by writing about it back then, as he has had a hand in many of the technological advances that have come to pass.
For all that, and for the many hours of reading pleasure he's given me, my heartfelt thanks and best wishes for the future he is still helping create.
Arthur C. Clarke Fan Club Homepage - surprisingly, at least to me, Arthur C. Clarke doesn't have an official page. The official internet fan club is a pretty good place to start.
Clarke's First Law: "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." Clarke's Second Law: "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible." Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
A few words from friends and fans:
Kevin J. Anderson - I had always been amazed by science fiction, even as a kid, but Arthur C. Clarke gave me my first truly "mind-blowing" experience in the genre. I read CHILDHOOD'S END at the end of my own childhood (in eighth grade, if I remember correctly), and instead of being just exciting it was mentally astonishing. That book jacked up my expectations of reading by several complete notches.
My dad (a small-town Wisconsin banker) took me to see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in theaters -- I was only 8 years old at the time, but I think we were both equally baffled. Only later, when I read Arthur's novel, did I slap my forehead several times. "Oh *that's* what was going on!" I still find Kubrick's film nearly impenetrable, but Arthur's novel should be required reading, like subtitles in a foreign film.
Not too many years ago, I sent Arthur a copy of my Mars novel CLIMBING OLYMPUS as a way of thanking him for DOLPHIN ISLAND, THE SANDS OF MARS, TALES FROM THE WHITE HART, THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE, RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, and on and on. He graciously mailed me back a signed copy of his new art book THE SNOWS OF OLYMPUS, which I still treasure. Very few other writers have had as much influence on me as an author and as a person. Keep those ideas coming, Sir Arthur!
Gregory Benford - I met him first through AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT, that atmospheric novella of a far future desert Earth, written in the 1940s and read by me, breathlessly, in the 1950s. I read every novel as it appeared, and of course those crisp, often funny short stories. Nobody in the genre has the range, wit and savvy of Clarke. He truly caught his time and lead it.
Ben Bova - Shortly before Sputnik went into orbit, our Martin plant (where Bova was working on the Vanguard satellite launch) was visited by Arthur C. Clarke, who was working on a book about the first artificial satellite at that time, we all thought it would be Vanguard. Clarke was already well-known for his prophetic nonfiction writings about the future as well as his visionary science-fiction stories. I was given the job of escorting Arthur through every aspect of the Vanguard project, and we became good friends during the few days of his visit.
Then I did something that still makes me blush whenever I think of it. As Arthur was leaving for his home in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), I handed him the shoebox full of my novel manuscript and asked him to read it and tell me what was wrong with it.
Generous and kind man that he is, Arthur took the tattered manuscript all the way home with him, read it with great care, and sent me a detailed letter of enormously helpful criticism, together with the manuscript, at his own expense. Twenty-five years later, when my novel MILLENNIUM was published (in which Kinsman is the central character) I made certain to personally hand Arthur the first copy off the press. (From: an autobiographical sketch written by Ben Bova for the CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS AUTOBIOGRAPHY SERIES.)
David Brin - Our 2001 is a better world, in part because of 2001
When Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey appeared in the mid-1960s, two monumental projects transfixed the people of the United States -- conquering outer space and overcoming deeply rooted social injustice. This juxtaposition is clear in the film... and its sequel, 2010. Both movies portray the scientific and manipulative power of humanity far outstripping our wisdom. Seldom have we seen better expression of the oft-repeated lament that "our technology has far outstripped our wisdom."
But is that, in fact, what happened?
Consider those wonderful toys. The "wheel" space stations, rotating to Strauss waltzes. Or those marvelous moon cities. Or vibrant, argumentative computer minds like Hal 9000. We have none of them, alas.
Now recall the human political hierarchies portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey -- hierarchies that were rigidly pyramidal, officious, patronizing and relentlessly white-male. Remember the film's basic plot premise? Every tragedy arose from obsessive secrecy, as aloof bureaucrats like Heywood Floyd contemptuously concealed information from the public - and even from professional astronauts - out of fear their poor sheeplike minds would suffer "social disorientation."
What horridly disorienting information were they protecting people from? An archeological dig on the moon?
Now don't get me wrong. That scenario seemed totally plausible then! The predictions -- both technical and social -- appeared to be so on-target.*
But they weren't. And that's where it gets so interesting.
Who would have imagined that colonizing space would prove so grindingly slow -- and yet, by the real year 2001 we'd refute so many cruel bigotries that were once taken for granted, way back in 1967? We still don't (again, alas!) have the fancy space stations of 2001: A Space Odyssey - but today our astronauts come in all sexes and colors. And kids who watch them on TV feel less fettered by presumed limitations. Each may choose to hope, or not, without relentlessly hearing "you can't."
In this year 2001, an officious prig like Heywood Floyd would be haunted by whistleblowers. And one crewmember of Discovery, being female, might actually listen to poor HAL instead of bullying the poor conflicted machine into feeling cornered and lashing out.
No, this is not a criticism of 2001: A Space Odyssey! The film did a great job in the context of its time and it remains terrific art. Indeed, it is not the job of art -- even sci fi -- to predict!
Especially in science fiction, art is at its best when it helps put things into perspective, which is what this venerable collaboration between Kubrick and Clarke still does, even where the forecasts proved wrong.
2001: A Space Odyssey can, and should, make you think. About all the fancy toys we were promised, but don't yet have as the millennium rolls around. And about a society that Clarke feared would stay the recalcitrant... but hasn't.
(Does this sense of guarded optimism apply, beyond the borders of America and Europe? Who can say? To some extent, it may depend on how far the "culture of science fiction" has spread. Look at a map of the world. Ponder the rate at which science fiction stories and novels have become incorporated in various societies. It's no exaggeration to claim that the popularity of science fiction correlates almost perfectly with cultures where egalitarianism, tolerance, openness, ease with technology and suspicion of authority have become ingrained, or where those values are in rebellion against old constraints, as in the former USSR. Indeed, might science fiction be the best way to proselytize those same values, in lands where they haven't yet taken root? Could 2001 and its cousins be our secret weapon, in an ancient struggle against intolerant ways?)
I think that may be the most important thing to notice, as we turn away from the past and face the future. The road ahead remains long, hard and murky. Our achievements often seem dim compared to imperfections that are left unsolved. But at this rate, who will bet me that a woman or a person of color won't preside in the White House long before the first human being steps on Mars?
Progress doesn't always go the way we expect it to.
It is sometimes wiser than we are.
(Excerpted from a longer essay on 2001, that can be found via http://www.davidbrin.com/)
Michael A. Burstein - I'm one of the generation born after the movie 2001 came out, so for me, it wasn't as influential as it probably was for people who lived before the Moon landing. However, the film has always given us a vision of the future to look forward to--AI, human exploration of the solar system, permanent presence in space, etc.
I'm delighted that we're getting to live through the real year 2001 and compare it to Clarke's wonderful vision. Rereading the novel last year made me realize just how much we as a species have grown -- and how much further we have to go.
Jack L. Chalker - I have been fortunate enough to sit around in a group that included Arthur Clarke, more listening than talking, taking in concepts and ideas that flew around the room like lightning bolts, and I was also always struck with what a kind man, generous with his time and patient with others, he is. Ultimately, though, I think I owe him his statement, oft paraphrased as I'll do it here, that any science significantly advanced enough to be beyond our current knowledge would appear to us like magic. That one statement has let me get away with murder for a quarter of a century.
Greg Costikyan - The right book, at the right time, can engender a sense of high intellectual excitement--an experience that, over time, seems to happen more and more rarely. Thirty-five years ago, I went to camp with a box full of science fiction which I plowed through over the course of the summer. One such was Childhood's End--in my opinion Clarke's single greatest work, more obscure than some others solely because our culture values movies more highly than actual writing. That same summer, the Supreme Court declared execution a cruel and inhumane punishment, which seemed to me an indication that, even if we were not moving toward Clarke's transcendental transformation of the human species, we were clearly becoming more civilized and humane. A precious illusion, but for me, the book is intermingled with a sense of excitement, possibility, and the smell of the white pines that surrounded my cabin that summer.
James Frenkel, Consulting Editor, Tor Books - Arthur C. Clarke has always been to me one of the great, awe-inspiring figures of SF. Awe-inspiring because of his powerful sense of wonder as can be seen in numerous short stories, and in novels like CHILDHOOD'S END, RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY. I particularly recall my experience reading CHILDHOOD'S END for the first time. It was years after its publication, so its reputation preceded it. I wasn't disappointed; I was profoundly affected by its view of the cosmos and humanity's potential within it. Clarke's gift has always been this way: powerful, visionary.
Eileen Gunn - I first read Arthur C. Clarke's work in the late Fifties, when I was maybe 13 or so -- Childhood's End, The Other Side of the Sky, Earthlight, Against the Fall of Night, Ballantine paperbacks with evocative titles and fantastical covers. His work was too difficult for me at that age, really, compared to the digestible tales of Heinlein and Asimov, but I certainly came away from it with the impression that the world was bigger than my small town, that adulthood was dark and complex, and that the universe held mysteries bigger and darker and more complex that adulthood and the world. The concepts I absorbed form his work are not his scientific extrapolations -- communications satellites, the space ladder, etc. -- but rather his vision of human beings and their struggles silhouetted against the scope of the universe. In Sir Arthur's work, humans are not necessarily rendered small or unimportant to themselves, but the vastness of the universe is revealed with awe.
James Gunn - Arthur wrote some of the great SF stories and novels of our time (I still teach CHILDHOOD'S END in my summer program), but just as important, his work was a significant contribution to the transition of science fiction from a ghetto genre to a mainstream category, from SF fans talking to each other at conventions to conversing with millions on the Walter Cronkite moon-shot shows. Here's to Arthur!
Joe Haldeman - Clarke had a profound effect on my marriage. About forty years ago, when I started dating the girl I would marry and spend the rest of the century with, she wondered about this science fiction stuff. (I was a stone fan.) I loaned her Expedition to Earth, and she loved it. If she hadn't, I probably would've gone off to find a girl who did ....
David Hecht - I do not remember the first Clarke I read. Likely it was one of his "O'Henryish" short stories that were later anthologized in "Prelude to Space" and "The Sands of Mars." I do remember how brilliantly written they seemed to me as a boy. I haven't reread them in years: perhaps it is time.
Like all of us from a certain generation, I saw "2001: A Space Odyssey" when it came out. In those days of awesomely fake special effects and truly goofy movie SF plots, it was almost incredible to watch. Despite being perhaps one of the slowest-paced movies of all time, I must have--in those pre-cable, pre-video days--have gone to see it in the movie theatre at least a half-dozen times. One can hardly imagine today's MTV-driven kids doing the same, even once!
A third of a century ago, with the Apollo program well on its way to putting a man on the moon, 2001 seemed almost infinitely remote: *of course* we would have a commercial manned space station by then, *of course* we would have a lunar colony, *of course* we would be readying a manned expedition to the outer planets!
Alas, the dream died. Pan Am is no more, and neither is the commercial space station or the lunar colony--or any of the other elements of tomorrow's promise embodied in that movie.
Is the world a better or a worse place than Clarke's vision? Certainly I never expected to live to see the fall of the Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in my lifetime. Given those alternatives, I happily choose our timeline over Clarke's. Yet, it grieves me to think of that which we have lost--the sense of adventure, of promise that the future held, only a generation ago!
We live in an era of shrunken expectations and diminished hopes. Talleyrand once observed that only those who had lived in France under the Ancien Regime could truly know the sweetness of life. Despite the fact that we undoubtedly live in a better, safer, more prosperous world than that of our fathers, it is nevertheless also duller, flatter, more insipid.
Just over a hundred years ago, Frederick Jackson Turner wrote his now-famous essay on the closing of the American Frontier. We live in the age of the closing of the global frontier--and, in our case, not by our arrival at an insurmountable barrier, but by our lack of virtue. We have failed to keep faith with Clarke's vision of a new dawn of hope for mankind.
Paul Levinson, President of SFWA - Arthur C. Clarke was always the most mystical of the Big Three -- Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke -- who shaped so much of our hard science fiction for the next half century. From Childhood's End to 2001, Clarke's work always engaged the ineffable. When I first encountered his writing, at age 12, I found this invocation of greater cosmic purpose somewhat infuriating -- I preferred the neatly logical, tactical, social solutions of Asimov and Heinlein. Now, as the decades fly and the immensity of what we do not know seems ever more obvious, I'm glad to know that Clarke has been there.
Jerry Oltion - My first encounter with Arthur C. Clarke's work came through a Readers Digest Condensed Book version of A FALL OF MOONDUST. It's a tribute to his skill as a storyteller that his novel survived the editors' axe with enough vigor left to send me out in search of more of his work. I found it in CHILDHOOD'S END, 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY (the novel, not the movie), and several of his classic short stories.
From the very start, his vision of the future captured my imagination like nothing else had before. In a time when schoolchildren were practicing "duck and cover" drills, here was a man who told us that the world could be a better place, a more exciting place, that we could venture into space and find wondrous things waiting for us every step of the way.
Clarke's optimistic view of science and technology's role in human development led me directly into the sciences myself. I fully intended to live in the future he described, and I intended to help make it happen. The future didn't develop quite the way either of us expected. We're about thirty years behind schedule, and heading in a different direction, but we're getting there. In the meantime I discovered that I liked writing science fiction myself, and so I wound up spending a great deal of my time in worlds much closer to those that Clarke envisioned than our lowest common denominator. I spend so much time there, in fact, that I feel it's fair to say that Clarke's universe is where I live, and I only come here to check my mail and to visit my friends who must, for a time, live a more mundane existence than he envisioned for us. For giving me that vision and that refuge, I will always be thankful.
John Ringo - Most people when asked about Arthur C. Clarke turn immediately to 2001. But to do that ignores the vast panorama of Clarke's writings. To me, when asked about ACC, I think first of "Mission to the Moon", a wildly inaccurate but none the less incredibly fun look at a tri-lateral moon mission. The Russian scientist who is done in by his biological Frankenstein is a gem as is the simple addition of a stencil to the sodium gun. From "Mission to Mars" thoughts segue to "Tales from the White Hart" and a story for all henpecked husbands which defined and expanded the meanings of "defenestrate" for an unenlightened twelve year old.
ACC prophesied: international satellite television communication (Tales), virtual reality computer games (the City and the Stars), Kryton rebreathers (the Deep Range) and a host of other technological marvels that no one considered possible in a single lifetime.
Last but not least, Clarke ably demonstrated that it is possible to have a tale which is both deeply entrenched in science and deeply emotional. "The Star" is, quite possibly, the most moving story ever written in SF and it is also technically complex (for its time.) "Nightfall", "The Cold Equations", even "Requiem" or "The Long Watch" do not bring tears to the eye, immediately and with first thought, as "The Star" does, and yet it was the first story to explain in some detail the concept of a supernova. Few writers have had such an impact on the "technical accuracy" side of science fiction writing, proving that it is possible to "humanize" hard SF, to breathe tragedy and pathos into "space stories", and it is a better genre for it.
Steven Sawicki - I took the liberty to watch 2001 last night again and was struck by the space station scene. Here we are in the real 2001 with a space station floating above us being visited by American and Russian (and other) astronauts just like in the fictional 2001. Sure, ours is a bit less developed and we don't have the commercial aspects but it's not that far off considering the time frame and certainly a lot closer than many other writer's offerings.
H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D., CFII, FBIS Executive Director, The SETI League, Inc. ("We Know We're Not Alone!") - Although Clarke has had a direct influence on my whole career (whose hasn't he influenced?), and we have corresponded from time to time, I did not actually meet him in the flesh until just one year ago. It was a memorable meeting (more about which later). Certainly the first Clarke SF I read (in high school) included Childhood's End and Prelude to Space. But it was his brief article 'Extraterrestrial Relays,' from Wireless World, that had its most profound early impact on me.
(that's H. Paul Shuch paying homage to Arthur on the left)
In 1961 I was a high school student, and a radio ham, and the youngster sitting in the back of the room at Project OSCAR meetings, watching my mentors design and build the world's first non-government communications satellite. I remember thinking 'this is what I want to be when I grow up.' We had all read Clarke's article, and (although OSCAR 1 was a low-orbiter) were already thinking about the geosynchronous orbit that he 'invented' back in 1945.
Fast forward to the early 1970s. I had become an aerospace engineer, and was running a small Silicon Valley microwave company, developing receivers for the first geosynchronous earth imaging and communications satellites. I had a small (16 foot - gigantic by today's standards) satellite TV dish in my back yard, and read in Coop's Satellite Digest that Clarke himself had a similar dish perched on the balcony of his Colombo residence. In 1979 (by now an engineering professor), I chanced to be in Hawaii, touring the Comsat telemetry, tracking and control (TT&C) station on the North end of Oahu. My host showed me a brief PR film called "Pathways to the World," narrated by none other than ACC. There was a scene showing him standing under his dish, and I thought this would be a great thing to show my students. I asked the Comsat people how I might obtain a print of the film. "Do you have access to an Intelsat terminal?" I was asked. I did indeed (my old homebrew 16 foot dish and C-band receiver). I was given a satellite name, and a transponder number, and a time about a week hence. When I arrived home on the Mainland I aimed my dish and tuned my receiver appropriately, and videotaped "Pathways to the World." How's that for appropriate use of Clarke's technology?
I've since showed the tape to a couple of thousand students, and still cherish it in my video collection. Following the US Congress canceling the NASA SETI program in 1993, several organizations (included the nonprofit, membership-supported SETI League) emerged to fill the void. I was tapped as The SETI League's Executive Director, and one of my first tasks was to recruit luminaries to serve on our advisory board. Arthur accepted graciously, without hesitation. We have enjoyed a rich email correspondence these past six years, touching sometimes on SETI matters, sometimes on communications technology and science, and sometimes on science fiction. When I went on lecture tour to India last January, Sir Arthur kindly invited me to take a side-trip to Colombo, and pay him a visit.
Arriving at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, I saw a familiar face in the lobby -- Arthur's brother Fred, whom I had met in the UK a few years earlier. Not only did I not know we were staying in the same hotel; I had no idea Fred was in Sri Lanka! That's how small a world we inhabit, and Arthur helped to make it so. Fred's wife Babs had just died two months prior, and he came to visit his brother, and to mourn. Fred and I stayed up most of the night together, sharing songs and poetry, and reminiscing about this elegant woman who dazzled me the one time I had met her.
Next day, it was off to Arthur's home (Fred and I together.) When questioned by the hotel concierge earlier as to my business in Colombo (there was a war on, so they asked such questions), I had simply said I was there to visit a friend. Now, as I hired a car and gave that same concierge the address, his eyes widened in a mixture of recognition, surprise and respect. It seems Arthur's house is well known in Colombo! You may recall that when Isaac Asimov died a few years back, Clarke eulogized him as 'the world's second-greatest science fiction writer.' That gave me an idea. Visiting Arthur in his home, I brought the customary gift. Not the traditional bottle of wine, since I no longer live in California; instead, I wrote the song 'Extraterrestrial Relays' (online at http://www.setileague.org/songbook/etrelays.htm), brought along my guitar, and had a chance to sing it to Arthur, his brother, and his staff. Arthur was delighted, and asked for a copy. I was prepared, and made him a formal presentation of the original. The sheet music is inscribed "to Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the world's second greatest communications engineer."
Tony Tellado, SciFiTalk - In this year of 2001 which Ernest called Mr Clarke’s year on our latest Sci-Fi Talk webcast, Arthur C. Clarke has achieved legendary status among authors. My memories were reading Childhood’s End in the late 70’s when talk loomed about a possible movie that was eventually doomed. The tall overlords of the classic novel weren’t practical to commit to film ( Now with CGI maybe) . I saw 2001 when it was revived in 1976. It blew me away. I thought it was the purest science fiction film ever made. I still do. The collaboration of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke showed the potential when literary SF met Media SF and formed a partnership. I’m still waiting for the potential to be realized. In 1984 Arthur C. Clarke had a computer link set up with Peter Hyams who was filming 2010, the sequel to 2001. The two conversed via computer on the script’s creation before e-mail became a fact of life. When I met Hyams in 1997, he was defensive about the finished film saying that it was one that he never wanted to make. It pales beside the original but it was a noble effort. Arthur’s stories challenge us and also offer a kind of SF spirituality that always touched me deeply...But if there is a regret in 2001 is that Stanley Kubrick never lived to see it.
Arthur C. Clarke's Science Fiction 2001 Calendar
You'd think the stores would be full of 2001: A Space Odyssey stuff. All I wanted a big wall calendar with the Discovery, and Dave, and Hal looking out over me for the next year. I never found one. This is as close as I came, much to my amazement. - el
Check out this calendar at amazon.com