Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke: 90 Orbits Around The Sun (1917-2008)

Well, I guess this is something that we should get used to: Living in a world without our heroes. This year, Robert James Fischer, a hero of childhood died, and now it is Arthur Clarke, who died today(19 March 1:30am Sri Lanka local time) at the Apollo Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Sir Arthur Clarke was a writer (among other things), whose work we have hard time classifying. Was he a fiction writer? He could be, because he wrote about computers with human intelligence, extra-terrestrial worlds, different living species and so on. Was he writer and a technology popularizer? He could be since he write about computers, space expeditions, wireless communications and being a step ahead from his time, predicted the man on the moon by 1970, the invention of satellites and so many other. His "Space Odyssey", 'featuring' the HAL supercomputer (actually a wordplay of IBM, if you shift by one the letters), was directed by Stanley Kubrick and is one of the kind in science fiction films.

However, my favorite was by far "The Sentinel", a short passage that I read years ago. It is a about an artifact that astronauts discover in Moon and bring to Earth, but the humans cannot decode what it is, only that it constantly transmits a "beep" over the universe. They want to analyze the artifact but it resists until nuclear power is used to crack it open. "Now its signals have ceased, and those whose duty it is will be turning their minds upon Earth. Perhaps they wish to help our infant civilization. But they must be very, very old, and the old are often insanely jealous of the young...Now we should wait them to come..." The artifact was put there by an extra terrestrial civilization to warn them for the development of intelligence in this little promising planet, called Earth! If someone could make it stop, he must be intelligent enough to manage powers such as the nuclear. Brilliant and thrilling!

It is weird enough that Clarke was born nearly at the time Jules Verne, another writer of his kind, who envisioned space and underwater travels with spaceships and submarines, passed away. He lived for the last 50 years of his life in Sri Lanka and since 1989 needed to use wheel chair since he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome.

Recently, approaching the age of 90, or as he humorously says "completing the 90th orbit around the sun", Clarke created a moving goodbye video for all of his fans. You can find it also in Youtube here. He prefers to be remembered as a writer and his last words on the video are from Rudyard Kipling's, "The Books I Leave Behind",

If I have given you delight
By aught that I have done,
Let me lie quiet in that night
Which shall be yours anon:
And for that little, little span
The dead are borne in mind
Seek not to question other than
The books I leave behind.

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