Awesome Men Throughout History: Arthur C. Clarke
A decent amount of TSB’s Awesome Men Throughout History have been writers (to my eternal shame), but their accomplishments are usually limited to the immediate impact of their writing, and the quality thereof. By contrast, this week’s subject—novelist, sci-fi pioneer and all-around chill bro Arthur C. Clarke—made his mark on the modern world in three separate, kick-ass ways.
First up, his contributions to science. Clarke was a radar specialist in England’s Royal Air Force during World War II, and worked on the Ground Controlled Approach radar system that was essential to the success of the Berlin Airlift.
That would be cool enough on its own, but after Clarke got a degree in mathematics and physics from King’s College London, he came up with the idea of using geostationary satellites as telecommunications relays, and spread his idea among his cronies in the British Interplanetary Society, writing a few books on the subject once he’d published the concept in Wireless World. Because of this, the geostationary orbit above the Earth’s equator is called a Clarke Orbit.
Not bad, eh? But there’s more. Clarke loved scuba diving, and moved to Sri Lanka in the 1950s to pursue that interest. In 1956, he and photographer Mike Wilson discovered the underwater ruins of Koneswaram, a Hindu temple that had been destroyed by colonial attacks in the 17th century. Clarke wrote about his findings in the 1957 book The Reefs of Taprobane, and his discovery played an important role in the temple’s reconstruction.
Finally, there’s his writing; Clarke penned over 100 books, both fiction and non-fiction, over the course of his life, so it’s safe to say that he was prolific. Clarke’s fiction was a natural outlet for his enduring belief in the possibilities of space travel and technological progress, and for the utopian concept of transcendence through evolution (which Clarke picked up from British philosopher Olaf Stapledon). In some ways, Clarke is like an optimistic, not-racist H.P. Lovecraft, in that his characters are struggling to understand a universe that is not only beyond their comprehension, but seemingly designed to baffle them at every turn. More than a few astronauts were inspired by reading his books as children.
Clarke also collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, writing the novel as Kubrick developed and made the film. Clarke was unhappy with the film, and didn’t like working with Kubrick (who was kind of a douche, to be fair) all that much, but both the film and the novel are considered masterpieces, so I’ll count that experience as a home run for him.
So yeah, Arthur C. Clarke was pretty great. I’ll end with this 1974 ABC interview in which he correctly predicts the way personal computing would change the modern world forever, just in case your mind wasn’t blown already.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.