Goodbye, Arthur C. Clarke.

Another of the great ones is gone. Scientist, science fiction writer, and visionary Arthur C. Clarke died the day before yesterday at age 90. He is best known for the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, on which the eternally rewatchable movie of the same name was based (though they were written simultaneously!). But he made so many more contributions than that. The Wikipedia article on him provides a fairly decent summary, including links to various obituaries. I particularly recommend the article about him by fellow writer David Brin, in the Daily Kos of all places. The NPR story on yesterday’s Morning Edition was an effective four-minute vignette.

I particularly remember Clarke’s observation that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” as well as his agreement with the late, lamented Isaac Asimov that each would refer to himself as “the world’s second best science fiction writer.” As Asimov wrote in his autobiography:

Arthur Charles Clarke was born toward the end of 1917 in Great Britain. He is another science fiction writer who has been thoroughly educated in science and he did extremely well in physics and mathematics.

He and I are now widely known as the Big Two of science fiction. Until early 1988, as I’ve said, people spoke of the Big Three, but then Arthur fashioned a little human figurine of wax and with a long pin.

At least, he has told me this. Perhaps he’s trying to warn me. I have made it quite plain to him, however, that if he were to find himself the Big One, he would be very lonely. At the thought of that, he was affected to the point of tears, so I think I’m safe.

I’m very fond of Arthur, and have been for forty years. We came to an agreement many years ago in a taxi which, at the time, was moving south on Park Avenue, so it is called the Treaty of Park Avenue. By it, I have agreed to maintain, on questioning, that Arthur is the best science fiction writer in the world, though I am also allowed to say, if questioned assiduously, that I am breathing down his neck as we run. In return, Arthur has agreed to insist, forever, that I am the best science writer in the world. He must say it, whether he believes it or not.

I don’t know if he gets credited for my stuff, but I am frequently blamed for his. People have a tendency to confuse us because we both write cerebral stories in which scientific ideas are more important than action.

Both Clarke and Asimov were science-based writers of science fiction; neither was a prose stylist, but both of them stuck to a transparent style that let the content of their writing shine through with great clarity.

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