Humanist Profile: Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) Science Fiction Writer

The Humanist, May-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Humanist Profile: Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) Science Fiction Writer


"A faith that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets."--Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur Charles Clarke was born on December 16, 1917, in Minehead, England, where as a child he built telescopes and launched home-made rockets. Two formative events took place in Arthur's life at the age of thirteen: his father, a farmer, died, and he discovered the American science fiction magazine Astounding Stories of Super-Science.

Clarke moved to London in 1936 and pursued his early interest in space sciences by joining the British Interplanetary Society. He also started publishing stories during this time. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 and spent most of his service during World War II as a radar specialist.

In a 1945 paper published in Wireless World, Clarke seems to be the first person to articulate the idea of a communications satellite that could hover in outer space and relay signals across the globe. (He never patented the idea, however, and later wrote an essay subtitled, "How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time.")

Clarke left the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant and returned to London, where he obtained a first-class degree in mathematics and physics from King's College in 1948.

By 1951 Clarke had devoted himself to writing full-time. He went on to become a world-renowned science fiction author, with nearly thirty-five novels, thirteen short story collections, and countless essays to his name. Most famously, Clarke wrote the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (based on his 1948 short story "The Sentinel") and collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay, which Kubrick produced and directed.

Clarke's work related to global satellite systems brought him numerous honors including the 1982 Marconi International Fellowship and the gold medal of the Franklin Institute. Today, the geostationary orbit at 36,000 kilometers above the equator is named the Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union. His fiction also garnered numerous awards and a 1999 Nobel Prize nomination in Literature. …

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