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This Day in History, 2008: Arthur C. Clarke Dies

A year ago today, the world got the news that the last of the Big Three science fiction writers, Arthur C. Clarke, had died.

Growing up, I wasn't much of a Clarke reader. I loved Asimov's work, though, and Asimov himself used to say that people who liked his work also liked Clarke's. But for the most part, I never enjoyed Clarke's books as much as I did Asimov's. However, I did find Clarke's ideas mind-blowing, and I did enjoy Clarke's short stories more than his novels. (Who could forget "The Star" or "The Nine Billion Names of God"?)

I also loved Clarke's essays on science and the world. He seemed to have an innate inability to grasp the direction in which we were going as a species.

Oddly enough, when he died last year, I was in the middle of trying to figure out the plot of a new short story, the story that would give its title to my collection I Remember the Future. As I said in the book, Clarke's death somehow triggered in my mind exactly what I needed to write the story, and so I dedicated it to him.

As I noted last year when Clarke died, many people liked to quote his Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") but I was more interested in exploring the ramifications of his Second Law: "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."

It's something I try to do every day.

Comments

I was asked to put an SF-themed display up in the library last month. I think the librarians were thinking more along the Star Wars/Trek line or something. While I did bring in some TV/movie-based stuff to decorate the display (a Lego Yoda sculpture, talking Black Dalek, an Alien action fig, a Borg action fig, my Torchwood cap, my ST:TOS blue uniform shirt, that sort of thing), I intentionally went for as many of the classic SF books and writers and then modern hard SF writers as I could find in our library. (Librarians supplemented with other books aimed at the younger set of a more variable quality.)

At the top of the display is Clarke's Second Law in three-inch tall letters.

Oddly, I have never read much Asimov -- only a few odd short stories in old collections. I never read a lot of Heinlein either. I absolutely love Clarke's short stories though (and have read a few of his books too, though the short form is where he really excelled). Quite a fan of Niven's as well.

I still love Arthur C. Clarke's comment, in 1997, around the time that HAL 9000 was first invented in the 2001: A Space Odyssey timeline, of what HAL's first words would have been:
"Good morning, doctors. I have taken the liberty of removing Windows 95 from my hard drive."


I think of that as a very powerful two-sentence Clarke short story. ;)
I'm with you in enjoying his short stories more than the novels. Stories like the ones you cited blew me away when I first read them, but I often felt a little let down after books like The Songs of Distant Earth.
A friend of mine (I can't remember which one) used to like to cite a corollary to the third law: "Any technology which is distinguishable from magic is not sufficiently advanced".
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