Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Last Giant Falls

Arthur C. Clarke, the last of the "Big 3" classic science fiction writers, died early Wednesday morning in Sri Lanka. Clarke was 90.

Like his peer, Isaac Asimov (but unlike his other peer, Robert Heinlein), Clarke wasn't all that good a writer in my opinion. His characterization was terrible, with protagonists so wooden that you'd risk splinters if you had brushed against them. And many of his plots were simply there for Clarke to hang scientific speculations on. But it's that last where Arthur C. Clarke outperformed nearly every other science fiction writer.

"A radar pioneer in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Clarke wrote a 1945 article in Wireless World magazine in which he outlined a worldwide communications network based on fixed satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 22,300 miles -- an orbital area now often referred to as the Clarke Orbit.

Clarke's seminal article, for which he received $40, was published two decades before Syncom II became the world's first communications satellite put into geosynchronous orbit in 1963." LA Times Obituary
Besides the communications satellite, a strong argument can be made that Clarke also predicted space stations, moon landings using a mother ship and a landing pod, cellular phones and the Internet.

Thanks to a bout of the flu last week, I've been feeling a bit too mortal and of my age of late. It hasn't been helped by the fact that Dave Stevens - younger than I - passed away, or that a co-worker's cousin - younger than either of us - had a massive stroke over the weekend and passed away a few days ago. Nor that one of my literary heroes, Harlan Ellison, who I knew fairly well when I was a teenager and he he was in his mid-30s has somehow turned 73 - reminding me that I'm in my mid-50s.

Clarke's passing marks another milestone. So many of the giants that shaped my sense of wonder - Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein most of all, Alfie Bester, C.M. Kornbluth, others - have fallen.

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