Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Childhoods End

Arthur C Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke the great SF writer who put the 'science' into science fiction has passed on. He was a humanist who believed in the spirit of man. I got emails from Clarke because he supported the SETI project.

In 1945, a UK periodical magazine “Wireless World” published his landmark technical paper "Extra-terrestrial Relays" in which he first set out the principles of satellite communication with satellites in geostationary orbits - a speculation realised 25 years later. During the evolution of his discovery, he worked with scientists and engineers in the USA in the development of spacecraft and launch systems, and addressed the United Nations during their deliberations on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Today, the geostationary orbit at 36,000 kilometres above the Equator is named The Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union.


Space expert Robin Scagell told Sky News: "He was very much a scientist and science was at the heart of his work.

"As well as predicting satellites, he saw that rockets would go into space."

Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore paid tribute to his friend.

"He was a great visionary, a brilliant science fiction writer and a great forecaster," he said.

"He foresaw communications satellites, a nationwide network of computers, interplanetary travel - he said there would be a man on the moon by 1970, while I said 1980 - and he was right."

Childhood's End is a science fiction novel by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. It was originally published in 1953, and a version with a new first chapter was released in 1990 due to the anachronistic nature of the opening chapter (the first attempts to launch rockets into orbit by both the Americans and Russians are in progress but aborted suddenly when aliens arrive, with a sense of the death of a dream). This story was originally a short story dubbed Guardian Angel which Clarke first published in 1950 for the Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine. It is basically the novel's section after the prologue, Earth and the Overlords but with some different text in certain places.

Clarke struck notes that were poignant and challenging, as with this final, anguished question which ends "The Star":

"There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last. Yet, oh God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?"

May he join the stars in his passing unto the duat.

"Term of all that liveth, whose name is Death and inscrutable
, be thou favorable unto us in thine hour. And unto him, from whose mortal eyes the veil of physical life hath fallen, grant that there may be the accomplishment of his True Will. Should he will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with his chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labour and heroism of incarnation on this planet or another or in any star, or aught else, unto him may there be granted the accomplishment of his true will."

My libertarian science fiction opera loving uncle Phil Smith, a bread truck driver, turned me on to sci-fi as a kid. Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Andre Norton, the books he read he passed on to me. And we both shared our love of sci-fi with lots of political debate as well as I became a radical teen ager. He was right wing libertarian and I was a left wing anarchist, yet we agreed more often than disagreed. My favorite memory of my uncle was the two of us seeing 2001 together.I got to help him pass into the duat when he died of cancer.

Unfortunately as I cruise the sci-fi section of bookstores I find that it is stuffed full of fantasy novels, sci-fi has been eclipsed by the money making fantasy genre. Hopefully with Clarke's passing more folks will decide to read his works, as dated as they me be, and to begin to read more sci-fi because science fiction has always been a radical critique of existing society unlike fantasy. Which may be why the publishers like it, safe money making literature, not unlike that other fantasy genre; romance novels.


Vonnegut, Dresden and Canada


Octavia Butler RIP

Van Allen Belt


Andre Norton 1912-2005

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