I remember discovering Clarke’s works just after I turned seven or eight. I had just finished my first “adult book,” Lucifer’s Hammer, after a couple years of The Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventures. I was just fascinated with science fiction and the local librarian ushered me towards the scif-fi shelves where Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Phillip Dick, Ben Bova, and others tempted me with strange worlds, alternate universes, and scientific possibilities. However, it was Clarke’s visionary works that gripped me more than any other.
Clarke’s fiction remained grounded in hard science, rarely (if ever) delving into fantasy. Knowing that what he envisioned beneath the covers of his books could become reality, and some of his ideas actually already having become reality, filled me with a sense that today’s fantastic imaginings could become tomorrow’s common realism.
The first story Clarke composed which I remember reading was “The Sentinel,” which inspired 2001: A Space Odyssey. While the initial film in the series confounded me at the time, I loved the second film after reading the novel. My father and I sat in the theater with a massive tub of popcorn, and I was enthralled seeing on the big screen what I had only imagined. Nothing else mattered for the week after I saw the movie; I wanted to watch it again (dad said “no”) and I read the book twice more. When each of the final two installments hit the shelves, I was at the book store as the doors opened and read each novel in a sitting.
Following the 2001 series I discovered the Rama series and recently I read the The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke over the course of the summer of 2001. What a summer!
I told the neighboring teacher at school that I couldn’t write anything about the world losing a literary and scientific visionary like Clarke without feeling “weepy.” I feel that same sense of mourning as I did when Ken Kesey died. I couldn’t adequately explain these feelings to my students today, but I tried. I likened this to the times I finish a series of books which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, except that in this case I know there are no more stories to come. It’s over. It’s final.
I almost feel like I knew Clarke, and I think this is due to reading so many of his works and having enjoyed them so much, especially the collection of short stories where I could see his writing progress and change and mature. I know some of my friends do not understand my feeling of loss, but that’s ok. I understand it, and I only hope that others discover Clarke’s talents and learn to appreciate the roles science fiction and Arthur C. Clarke have played in shaping the future.
Maybe we can send his remains to Europa. I think Clarke would approve.