Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Without any fuss, a star goes out

So farewell then, Arthur C. Clarke. The BBC has an obituary here. Personally I think Patrick Nielsen Hayden says it best on Making Light:
"Like Heinlein, and unlike Asimov, in Clarke a practical science-and-engineering outlook coexisted with a mystical streak a mile wide. Indeed, much of his work establishes the basic template for one of modern science fiction’s most evergreen effects: the numinous explosion of mystical awe that’s carefully built up to, step by rational step. So much of Clarke’s best work is about that moment when the universe reveals its true vastness to human observers. And unlike many other writers who’ve wrestled with that wrenching frame shift, for Clarke it was rarely terrifying, rarely an engine of alienation and despair. He was all about the transformational reframe, the cosmic perspective, that step off into the great shining dark. He believed it would improve us. He rejoiced to live in a gigantic universe of unencompassable scale, and he thought the rest of us should rejoice, too."
Preach it, brother. I will also add that Clarke's characters tended to be either British (for the same reasons as Heinlein's tended to be American) or - best of all - international.

I find it hard to be upset at his passing: The Songs of Distant Earth (1986) was about the last book worth reading. But his body of work from before then deserves to be immortalised.

Every report I heard on the radio banged on about Clarke being best remembered for 2001, which seems grossly unfair. 2001, or something like it, would have been made with or without him. Likewise communications satellites were an idea waiting to happen. But Clarke saw the great technological and scientific vistas that were opening up after WW2 and, even if he didn't always get it right in the details, the themes he communicated prepared us to receive the future.

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