Ladies and gentlemen, the last of the “big three of science fiction,” Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, left us today.
Arthur C. Clarke (I could never think of him as “Sir Clarke,” and he professed embarrassment about the title) was my first role model as a writer: Stanley Kubrick said, “Arthur’s ability to impart poignancy to a dying ocean or an intelligent vapor is unique.” His grasp on the English language in his prime was remarkable — fluid, at times majestic, and always concise.
I got to know Arthur Clarke’s work in the mid-1960s through his short story collection Expedition to Earth, a copy of which my father had around, and was entranced by the “sense of wonder” captured by a couple of his earliest works of longer fiction, “The Lion of Commarre,” and his very short first novel Against the Fall of Night. I didn’t see much more of this tone as his work matured, but in my mind one of his most amazing works was Childhood’s End, a visionary novel about (among other things) a quantum leap in the evolution of humankind. Oddly, he dismissed this story in the later 1970s.
Arthur, forgive me, but I am going to thank you for Childhood’s End, and for Rendezvous with Rama, The Fountains of Paradise, “The Nine Billion Names of God,” “The Star,” “A Meeting with Medusa,” “Transit of Earth,” “Hide and Seek,” and dozens of other stories that captured my imagination and took me to the planets, and to the stars.
And, of course, for your pivotal part in the landmark film 2001, a Space Odyssey.
It seems fitting to share the last few sentences from his Childhood’s End, where Karellen, one of the extraterrestrial midwives of the evolutionary leap of the human species into a unified being of conscious energy, regards, from the distance, the passing of the species he knew as humanity:
Karellen raised his hand, and the picture changed once more. A single brilliant star glowed in the center of the screen: no one could have told, from this distance, that the Sun had ever possesed planets or that one of them had now been lost. For a long time Karellen stared back across that swiftly widening gulf, while many memories raced through his vast and labyrinthine mind. In silent farewell, he saluted the men he had known, whether they had hindered or helped him in his purpose.
No one dared disturb him or interrupt his thoughts: and presently he turned his back upon the dwindling Sun.
Good night to you, Arthur. Godspeed.
Copyright © 2008, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.