By now, you may have heard the sad news that science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke has passed away. Clarke was one of my favorite writers as a youth, and his writing had a big influence on me. Besides being one of a handful of science fiction writers whose work inspired a life-long love of the genre, he also had a lot to do with my teenage dream of being an astronaut. While I grew out of wanting to be an astronaut, his stories, with their optimistic view of technology and of mankind’s future, influenced my worldview.
Clarke’s most famous work is the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he wrote with Stanley Kubrick based on Clarke’s short story The Sentinel. My favorite of his novels was always Rendezvous with Rama, in which a team of astronauts explores a strange, unoccupied, 30-mile long alien spacecraft traveling through the solar system. I loved the mystery and the ambiguity as they attempted to decipher all the strange things they found in Rama before time ran out. However, to me, Clarke’s best works were his short stories: they were clever, pithy, and often ended with a surprising twist. They often displayed both his concern about the world’s problems, and his optimism that mankind can rise above our petty differences and evolve to a new level.
Clarke is famous for his three laws, the last of which has been widely quoted:
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
The world has lost a brilliant man and a great writer.
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