Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke is dead

What a sad week: Terry Pratchett is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. No-one comes close as an F&SF comic writer and inspiration -- a pole star who says to me that (at least once) it can be done. Someone can write fantasy that's funny, shrewd, happy, with developed characters and crafted plots. The covers of his books lead you to expect some naff swords-and-sorcery romp; the insides persuade you are in the presence of a fine comic novelist. He too, by the way, like Clarke (and like me) trained as a physicist first.

Then Arthur C Clarke, aged 90, finally gives up his struggle with gravity and decay and leaves the planet by the conventional route. I read everything of his I could lay my hands on when I was a teenager. Like P G Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, and (to a lesser extent because I read him later in life) Terry Pratchett, his ghostly presence shapes what I do and how I think about how writing should be.

If not from him, where else did I get this:

  • Studied physics at King's College London and then became a writer
  • Was passionate about good, hard, accurate science and maths
  • Was fundamentally optimistic about human beings and the future and the galaxy
  • Saw technology as a navigable route to magic and wonder and aspiration

Clarke has left instructions for a strictly secular funeral. As a younger man he had a correspondence with CS Lewis which resulted eventually in a meeting in a pub. Each brought along a companion (Lewis brought J R R Tolkien). Lewis was the better theologian; Clarke the better scientist. Each adorned the worlds of fiction and popular apologetic. Each is so close to my heart. I am so privileged and enriched to have been able to drink deeply of them.

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