RIP Arthur C. Clarke
Word the world learned of Arthur C. Clarke's death on March 16 2008. He dies at the last surviving member of what many consider to be the great triumvirate of classic science fiction writers of the 20th century, Himself, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein.
Like many people, my first, and most intimate contact with Clarke was through the movie “2001: A space Odyssey.” I was born the year it came out, which was also the year the first Planet of the Apes movie came out. It was a good year for science fiction films, creatively, critically, and commercially. Both of these films took a genre that had been relegated to b-movies, world destruction, alien invasion, etc, and showed that the science fiction could be used to examine the human condition in a first class manner.
“2001” also tapped into a social movement that saw mankind's destiny in the stars and sought new ways of exploring consciousness. On the one hand, folks were attempting to find a new, harmonious relationship with the planet and beyond, and on the other, were lying down in front of the front row of the theater smoking pot watching the colors zoom past them.
As a teenager I read the novel, the sequel “2010,” (though it would be a few years before I saw that movie), and “The Lost Worlds of 2001,” the original short story and a collection of writing exercises by the author around it. This was during a summer I spent at a summer stock theater in Upstate New York. I never saw stars like that before in my life. The crystal clear mountain air opened up the heavens to me and I found myself spending hours lying in the grass of the harness racing track at the fairgrounds just gazing up at the Milky Way. I imagines that somewhere up there was the Monolith, just waiting for me.
I also read the Foundation series and Battlefield Earth that summer, so it was a good summer for Science Fiction.
But before I had ever read the books or seen the movie, I had been aware of it. Even before VHS, Betamax, and DVD made every movie have three birthdays and was instantly available to everyone, “2001” was a cultural icon. My closest contact with it was the comic book series by Jack Kirby. I found an issue of it in a grab bag from Supersnipe, the old comic book shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In it was a story of a stone-age leader who, after contact with the Monolith, uses the revolutionary technology of metalworking and the wheel to conquer his neighbors. The story then jumped forward in time to his distant descendant who's journey paralleled that of Kier Dulea in the movie.
I was very much a child of my times. The idea that mankind had a connection to the stars, a destiny beyond this planet attracted me. Having been given an unusual name in that era helped. I was a bit of an outsider, and such outsiders frequently were the ones chosen to find their cosmic destiny in stories I read and saw in the movies.
Not only had Arthur C. Clarke written the definitive story about mankind's cosmic destiny, he predicted that we would reach the moon before 1970, and he was right. In many ways, I am a product of the culture that he began.