The death of Arthur C. Clarke didn’t exactly come as a surprise when I found out about it earlier today (via Twitter, of course). After all, the man was 90 years old and had suffered from post-polio disorder for decades. Toward the end he looked a lot like the wheelchair-bound figure that shows up in the movie he is most famous for — 2001: A Space Odyssey — when Keir Dullea sees himself transformed into an old man. And yet it was a sad event nonetheless. Clarke was a giant in more ways than one.
Not only was Arthur Clarke one of the world’s best-known science-fiction writers, with books like Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama to his name, but he was also a bona-fide scientist as well — the man who first popularized the idea of geosynchronous communications satellites, a concept that was almost rejected by Wireless World magazine as being too far-fetched. He also wrote science articles about rocketry and space flight, long before such things became a reality.
I remember when I first saw the movie 2001 — my father took my brothers and I to see it in a theatre when I was about six or seven years old, and I can still remember how awe-inspiring some of the scenes were (perhaps in part because I had no clue what the hell was going on). That started a life-long love affair with science fiction, and Clarke was always one of my favourite authors because of his deep understanding of science. He also continued to be an avid geek well into his 80s, sending emails and writing Web columns from his home in Sri Lanka. He will be missed.