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Obituary: Arthur C Clarke

Obituary by Jack Foley

SCIENCE fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke has died in Sri Lanka at the age of 90, it has been confirmed.

The author passed away at 1.30am local time on Wednesday, March 19 (2008) after suffering a cardio-respiratory attack, according to one of his aides.

Born in Somerset, Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1956 from where he successfully established himself as one of the leading scientific writers of all-time. His vivid descriptions of space shuttles, super-computers and rapid communications systems were enjoyed by millions of readers around the world.

The author really shot to prominence in 1968, however, when his short story The Sentinel was adapted into the film 2001: A Space Odyssey by late director Stanley Kubrick. Clarke shared an Academy Award nomination for his work on the project.

Born on December 16, 1917, in the seaside town of Minehead, Clarke was the son of a farmer but quickly developed a passion for science and joined the British Interplanetary Society in 1936, at the age of 19.

He had been educated at Huish’s Grammar School in Taunton, from where he joined the civil service.

During the Second World War he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, where he worked in the top secret development of radar, and foresaw the concept of communication satellites, even publishing a paper in which he predicted that, at 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, communications satellites could sit in geo-stationary orbit, thereby allowing electronic signals to be bounced off them around the world.

He was also in charge of the first radar talk-down equipment, the Ground Controlled Approach.

At the end of the war, he attended King’s College, in London, where he took a First in maths and physics, before becoming a full-time writer in the late 1940s, by which time he had predicted that man would reach the moon by the year 2000 – a claim that was initially dismissed.

After turning his hand to writing, he published more than 100 fiction and non-fiction books, writing story-lines for the comic-book hero, Dan Dare, and inspiring Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek.

He was once referred to as “the first dweller in the electronic cottage”, while many credited his work and theories with giving science fiction a human and practical face.

After a failed marriage, Sir Arthur moved to Sri Lanka with his family and a business partner in 1956 and pursued his interest in scuba-diving.

He also continued to lecture and regularly appeared on television, most notably in the series, Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World.

But his status as the grand old master of science fiction was threatened in 1998 by allegations of child abuse, which caused the confirmation of his knighthood to be delayed while an investigation cleared his name.

Since 1995, the author had been largely confined to a wheelchair by post-polio syndrome, but continued to provide the inspiration for countless writers and to make public appearances.

Upon celebrating his 90th birthday last year, he told fans: “I want to be remembered most as a writer. I want to entertain readers and hopefully stretch their imaginations as well. If I have given you delight in all that I have done, let me lie quiet in that night, which shall be yours anon.”

His last novel was published in March 1998, entitled 3001: The Final Odyssey, a follow-up to both 2001 and its sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two (which had also been turned into a movie by Peter Hyams).


British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, who had known Sir Arthur since meeting him as a teenager at the British Interplanetary Society, was among the first to pay tribute to his friend’s life and achievements.

He said: “Arthur was ahead of his time in so many ways. Quite apart from artificial satellites there were other things too. A great science fiction writer, a very good scientist, a great prophet and a very dear friend, I’m very, very sad that he’s gone.”

Author Terry Pratchett, meanwhile, credited him for the way he “made things seem real”, adding: “He saw the things that he had forecast come to pass – not all of them, but certainly the artificial satellite in synchronous orbit, was one of his ideas and so he’s perhaps, quite well known, as – if you like – one of the founding fathers of the space age.”

And George Whitesides, of the National Space Society, said: “He was always thinking about what could come next but also about how life could be improved in the future. It’s a vision that I think we could use more of today.”