Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke in February 1965, with props for 2001: A Space Odyssey
Clarke in February 1965, with props for
2001: A Space Odyssey
BornArthur Charles Clarke
(1917-12-16)16 December 1917
Minehead, Somerset, England, United Kingdom
Died19 March 2008(2008-03-19) (aged 90)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Pen nameCharles Willis
E. G. O'Brien[1][2]
OccupationWriter, inventor, futurist
Alma materKing's College London
Period1946–2008 (professional fiction writer)
GenreHard science fiction
Popular science
Notable works
Marilyn Mayfield
(m. 1953; div. 1964)

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke CBE FRAS (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008) was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist,[3] inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host.

He is famous for being co-writer of the screenplay for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, widely considered to be one of the most influential films of all time.[4][5] Clarke was a science writer, who was both an avid populariser of space travel and a futurist of uncanny ability. On these subjects he wrote over a dozen books and many essays, which appeared in various popular magazines. In 1961 he was awarded the Kalinga Prize, an award which is given by UNESCO for popularising science. These along with his science fiction writings eventually earned him the moniker "Prophet of the Space Age".[6] His other science fiction writings earned him a number of Hugo and Nebula awards, which along with a large readership made him one of the towering figures of science fiction. For many years Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were known as the "Big Three" of science fiction.[7]

Clarke was a lifelong proponent of space travel. In 1934, while still a teenager, he joined the British Interplanetary Society. In 1945, he proposed a satellite communication system using geostationary orbits.[8] He was the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1946–47 and again in 1951–53.[9]

Clarke emigrated from England to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) in 1956, largely to pursue his interest in scuba diving.[10] That year he discovered the underwater ruins of the ancient Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee. Clarke augmented his fame later on in the 1980s, from being the host of several television shows such as Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World. He lived in Sri Lanka until his death.[11] He was knighted in 1998[12][13] and was awarded Sri Lanka's highest civil honour, Sri Lankabhimanya, in 2005.[14]


Early years

Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, England,[15] and grew up in nearby Bishops Lydeard. As a boy, he lived on a farm, where he enjoyed stargazing, fossil collecting, and reading American science fiction pulp magazines. He received his secondary education at Huish Grammar school in Taunton. Early influences included dinosaur cigarette cards, which led to an enthusiasm for fossils starting about 1925. Clarke attributed his interest in science fiction to reading three items: the November 1928 issue of Amazing Stories in 1929; Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon in 1930; and The Conquest of Space by David Lasser in 1931.[16]

In his teens, he joined the Junior Astronomical Association and contributed to Urania, the society's journal, which was edited in Glasgow by Marion Eadie. At Clarke's request, she added an Astronautics Section, which featured a series of articles by him on spacecraft and space travel. Clarke also contributed pieces to the Debates and Discussions Corner, a counterblast to a Urania article offering the case against space travel, and also his recollections of the Walt Disney film Fantasia. He moved to London in 1936 and joined the Board of Education as a pensions auditor.[17] He and some fellow science fiction writers shared a flat in Gray's Inn Road, where he got the nickname "Ego" because of his absorption in subjects that interested him,[18] and would later name his office filled with memorabilia as his "ego chamber".[19]

Second World War

During the Second World War from 1941 to 1946 he served in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist and was involved in the early-warning radar defence system, which contributed to the RAF's success during the Battle of Britain. Clarke spent most of his wartime service working on ground-controlled approach (GCA) radar, as documented in the semi-autobiographical Glide Path, his only non-science-fiction novel. Although GCA did not see much practical use during the war, it proved vital to the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949 after several years of development. Clarke initially served in the ranks, and was a corporal instructor on radar at No. 2 Radio School, RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire. He was commissioned as a pilot officer (technical branch) on 27 May 1943.[20] He was promoted flying officer on 27 November 1943.[21] He was appointed chief training instructor at RAF Honiley in Warwickshire and was demobilised with the rank of flight lieutenant.


After the war he attained a first-class degree in mathematics and physics from King's College London.[22][23][24] After this he worked as assistant editor at Physics Abstracts.[25] Clarke then served as president of the British Interplanetary Society from 1946 to 1947 and again from 1951 to 1953.[26]

Although he was not the originator of the concept of geostationary satellites, one of his most important contributions in this field may be his idea that they would be ideal telecommunications relays. He advanced this idea in a paper privately circulated among the core technical members of the British Interplanetary Society in 1945. The concept was published in Wireless World in October of that year.[8] Clarke also wrote a number of non-fiction books describing the technical details and societal implications of rocketry and space flight. The most notable of these may be Interplanetary Flight: An Introduction to Astronautics (1950), The Exploration of Space (1951) and The Promise of Space (1968). In recognition of these contributions, the geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometres (22,000 mi) above the equator is officially recognised by the International Astronomical Union as the Clarke Orbit.[27]

Following the 1968 release of 2001, Clarke became much in demand as a commentator on science and technology, especially at the time of the Apollo space program. On 20 July 1969 Clarke appeared as a commentator for CBS for the Apollo 11 moon landing.[28][29]

Sri Lanka and diving

Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death in 2008, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo.[30] Initially, he and his friend Mike Wilson travelled around Sri Lanka, diving in the coral waters around the coast with the Beachcombers club. In 1957, during a dive trip off Trincomalee, Clarke discovered the underwater ruins of a temple which would subsequently make the region popular with divers.[31] He subsequently described it in his 1957 book The Reefs of Taprobane. This was his second diving book after the 1956 The Coast of Coral.[32] Though Clarke lived mostly in Colombo, he set up a small diving school and a simple dive shop near Trincomalee. He dived often at Hikkaduwa, Trincomalee and Nilaveli.[33]

The Sri Lankan government offered Clarke resident guest status in 1975.[34] He was held in such high esteem that when fellow science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein came to visit, the Sri Lanka Air Force provided a helicopter to take them around the country.[35] In the early 1970s, Clarke signed a three-book publishing deal, a record for a science-fiction writer at the time. The first of the three was Rendezvous with Rama in 1973, which won all the main genre awards[36] and spawned sequels that along with the 2001 series formed the backbone of his later career.

In 1986 Clarke was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America.[37]

In 1988 he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, having originally contracted polio in 1962, and needed to use a wheelchair most of the time thereafter.[30] Clarke was for many years a Vice-Patron of the British Polio Fellowship.[38]

In the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours Clarke was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) "for services to British cultural interests in Sri Lanka".[39] The same year he became the first Chancellor of the International Space University, serving from 1989 to 2004. He also served as Chancellor of Moratuwa University in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 2002.

In 1994, Clarke appeared in a science fiction film; he portrayed himself in the telefilm Without Warning, an American production about an apocalyptic alien first-contact scenario presented in the form of a faux newscast.

Clarke also became active in promoting the protection of gorillas and became a patron of the Gorilla Organization which fights for the preservation of gorillas.[40] When tantalum mining for cell phone manufacture threatened the gorillas in 2001, he lent his voice to their cause.[41] The dive shop that he set up continues to operate from Trincomalee through the Arthur C Clarke foundation.[42]

Television series host

In the 1980s Clarke became well known to many for his television programmes Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers and Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe.

Personal life

On a trip to Florida in 1953[1] Clarke met and quickly married Marilyn Mayfield, a 22-year-old American divorcee with a young son. They separated permanently after six months, although the divorce was not finalised until 1964.[43] "The marriage was incompatible from the beginning", said Clarke.[43] Clarke never remarried, but was close to a Sri Lankan man, Leslie Ekanayake (13 July 1947 – 4 July 1977), whom Clarke called his "only perfect friend of a lifetime" in the dedication to his novel The Fountains of Paradise.[a] Clarke is buried with Ekanayake, who predeceased him by three decades, in Colombo's central cemetery.[44] In his biography of Stanley Kubrick, John Baxter cites Clarke's homosexuality as a reason why he relocated, due to more tolerant laws with regard to homosexuality in Sri Lanka.[45] Journalists who enquired of Clarke whether he was gay were told, "No, merely mildly cheerful."[30] However, Michael Moorcock wrote:

Everyone knew he was gay. In the 1950s I'd go out drinking with his boyfriend. We met his protégés, western and eastern, and their families, people who had only the most generous praise for his kindness. Self-absorbed he might be and a teetotaller, but an impeccable gent through and through.[46]

In an interview in the July 1986 issue of Playboy magazine, when asked if he had had a bisexual experience, Clarke stated "Of course. Who hasn't?"[47] In his obituary, Clarke's friend Kerry O'Quinn wrote: "Yes, Arthur was gay ... As Isaac Asimov once told me, 'I think he simply found he preferred men.' Arthur didn't publicise his sexuality—that wasn't the focus of his life—but if asked, he was open and honest."[48]

Clarke accumulated a vast collection of manuscripts and personal memoirs, maintained by his brother Fred Clarke in Taunton, Somerset, England, and referred to as the "Clarkives". Clarke said that some of his private diaries will not be published until 30 years after his death. When asked why they were sealed, he answered, "Well, there might be all sorts of embarrassing things in them."[3]


On 26 May 2000 he was made a Knight Bachelor "for services to literature" at a ceremony in Colombo.[13][b][49] The award of a knighthood had been announced in the 1998 New Year Honours list,[12][50] but investiture with the award had been delayed, at Clarke's request, because of an accusation, by the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror, of paedophilia.[51][52] The charge was subsequently found to be baseless by the Sri Lankan police.[53][54] According to The Daily Telegraph (London), the Mirror subsequently published an apology, and Clarke chose not to sue for defamation.[55][56] Clarke himself said that "I take an extremely dim view of people mucking about with boys", and Rupert Murdoch promised him the reporters responsible would never work in Fleet Street again.[57] Clarke was then duly knighted.

Later years

Clarke at his home in Sri Lanka, 2005

Although he and his home were unharmed by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake tsunami, his "Arthur C. Clarke Diving School" (also called "Underwater safaris")[58] at Hikkaduwa near Galle was destroyed.[59] He made humanitarian appeals, and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation worked towards better disaster notification systems.[60] The school has since been rebuilt.[citation needed]

Because of his post-polio deficits, which limited his ability to travel and gave him halting speech, most of Clarke's communications in his last years were in the form of recorded addresses. In July 2007, he provided a video address for the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial in which he closed his comments with a goodbye to his fans. In September 2007, he provided a video greeting for NASA's Cassini probe's flyby of Iapetus (which plays an important role in the book of 2001: A Space Odyssey).[61] In December 2007 on his 90th birthday, Clarke recorded a video message to his friends and fans bidding them good-bye.[62]

Clarke died in Sri Lanka on 19 March 2008 after suffering from respiratory failure, according to Rohan de Silva, one of his aides.[30][63][64][65] His aide described the cause as respiratory complications and heart failure stemming from post-polio syndrome.[66]

Just hours before Clarke's death a massive gamma-ray burst (GRB) reached Earth. Known as GRB 080319B, the burst set a new record as the farthest object that could be seen from Earth with the naked eye.[67] It occurred about 7.5 billion years ago (roughly equal to half the time since the Big Bang), taking the light that long to reach Earth.[67] It was suggested by Larry Sessions, a science writer for Sky and Telescope magazine blogging on, that the burst be named "The Clarke Event".[68][69] American Atheist Magazine wrote of the idea: "It would be a fitting tribute to a man who contributed so much, and helped lift our eyes and our minds to a cosmos once thought to be province only of gods."[70]

A few days before he died, he had reviewed the manuscript of his final work, The Last Theorem, on which he had collaborated by e-mail with his contemporary Frederik Pohl.[71] The book was published after Clarke's death.[72] Clarke was buried alongside Leslie Ekanayake in Colombo in traditional Sri Lankan fashion on 22 March. His younger brother, Fred Clarke, and his Sri Lankan adoptive family were among the thousands in attendance.[73]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Arthur C. Clarke
Alemannisch: Arthur C. Clarke
العربية: آرثر سي كلارك
aragonés: Arthur C. Clarke
asturianu: Arthur C. Clarke
azərbaycanca: Artur Klark
Bân-lâm-gú: Arthur C. Clarke
беларуская: Артур Кларк
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Артур Кларк
български: Артър Кларк
Ελληνικά: Άρθουρ Κλαρκ
Esperanto: Arthur C. Clarke
français: Arthur C. Clarke
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Bahasa Indonesia: Arthur C. Clarke
íslenska: Arthur C. Clarke
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ქართული: ართურ კლარკი
latviešu: Arturs Klārks
Lëtzebuergesch: Arthur C. Clarke
lietuvių: Arthur C. Clarke
македонски: Артур Ч. Кларк
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Nederlands: Arthur C. Clarke
português: Arthur C. Clarke
Simple English: Arthur C. Clarke
slovenčina: Arthur C. Clarke
slovenščina: Arthur Charles Clarke
српски / srpski: Артур Ч. Кларк
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Arthur C. Clarke
українська: Артур Кларк
Tiếng Việt: Arthur C. Clarke