One of the last of the towering giants of our field is gone. Sir Arthur C. Clarke has died at the age of 90. I learned of it when my daughter called from college to tell me she’d seen it on the BBC news site. (There’s a much better obituary in the Washington Post, also reprinted in the Boston Globe.) I was stunned, even though I knew I shouldn’t be; his health had been frail for years. Nonetheless, I feel deeply saddened, and at the same time grateful for the wonders of the imagination that he brought us all. Like many of my generation, I grew up inspired by AsimovHeinleinClarke, as well as many of their contemporaries. With Sir Arthur’s passing, that towering triumvirate is all gone now. In this world, all that remains is their work, and memories. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty impressive monument.
I never met Arthur Clarke, but we corresponded briefly when I was in college. (Correspondence is probably glorifying it, but that’s how I choose to remember it.) When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, Arthur Clarke was there with Walter Cronkite, covering the story. Being a big fan of Clarke’s at the time (in particular, I loved his short stories and the short novel Against the Fall of Night), I wrote to him in care of CBS News, telling him how great it was to see him there on TV with Walter Cronkite. A week or so later, I got a postcard back from him, thanking me. He’d written it as he was departing for his home on Sri Lanka.
He and I shared a love of something besides science and science fiction, particularly science fiction with transcendent themes—and that was scuba diving. That’s something I’d always wished we could have talked about. It was not to be, in this world. Maybe in the next.
“All writing is a form of prayer.” —John Keats