Much before the likes of Philip K Dick, William Gibson, Ian M Banks, Greg Bear and other ‘cutting edge’ science fiction writers adorned my study shelves, there was the holy duality of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. Asimov’s SF heavily leant towards the space opera handlebars, with grand epics including the mythologies of the Foundation and Robot series wowing the pants off me. Clarke’s writing was more nuanced — even philosophical to the point of making me truly believe that the future to which I was hurtling towards would make me automatically a smarter person (and not only surrounded by smarter gadgets).
Most of us will associate Clarke with his classic short story, ‘The Sentinel’, routed via Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, that in turn led to Clarke writing a full-fledged novel (and a series) out of it. Written in 1948 as an entry to a BBC short story competition (it didn’t win anything), ‘The Sentinel’ is the story of a mysterious artefact placed by aliens on the moon. The tetrahedral object (changed to a flat, black monolith in the movie and novel) underlined “technology of para-physical forces” — something that would be fleshed out in Clarke’s famous quote later about how “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
Living in Sri Lanka since 1956 close to his beloved dolphins, Clarke survived the 2004 tsunami. While brighter folks will remember him as the man whose 1945 paper, ‘Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?’ led to the advent of geostationary satellites, for me he’s the man who seamlessly bridged SF and philosophy (he made the word ‘philosophy’ less pretentious for me) in his immaculately toned short stories and novels like Childhood’s End and The Fountains of Paradise (in which he fleshed out the notion of a space elevator).
Arthur C Clarke was the man who made me look forward to the future and the puzzling encounters it would hold. Even with him gone now to the mothership in the sky, I’m still waiting.