Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goodbye from Colombo

Yesterday the world lost one of its preeminent science fiction writers. Sir Arthur C. Clarke died at the age of 90 in Sri Lanka, where he had lived for the past 50 years. While he is now probably best known as the author and screenwriter of 2001: A Space Odyssey; Clarke wrote about 100 other books, stories, and articles. I've read perhaps a quarter of those; many are now very obscure and hard to find, even with the help of Amazon. Before becoming getting established as a writer, Clarke was a radar specialist in the RAF, working on early warning defense radar, known as Chain Home. He later was involved with GCA - Ground Controlled Approach - a system which allowed a controller on the ground to 'talk' an airplane to the ground (something I also did as a controller in Louisiana). Clarke is also known for his advancement of the idea of communication satellites in geosynchronous orbits, without which today's world-wide communications would not be possible. See these references:

One interesting bit or trivia that I remember hearing about Clarke, although I don't remember where I heard it, was that he didn't drive. Once having earned his license, he never drove again. He compared his story to that of Stanley Kubric, who was terrified of flying, but managed to earn a pilot's license.

Another interesting tidbit is that
Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, the theme from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, was hardly known before its use in the soundtrack popularized it; even today, nearly 40 years later, hearing that piece immediately invokes thoughts of the film.

While in his output in recent years has been scant, he will still be sorely missed. For the final time, we've heard "This is Arthur Clarke, saying thank you and goodbye from Colombo."

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