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Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE (born 16 December 1917 – 18 March 2008) is a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, most famous for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, and for collaborating with director Stanley Kubrick on the film of the same name. Clarke is the last surviving member of what was sometimes known as the «Big Three» of science fiction, which included Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.
Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, United Kingdom. As a boy, he enjoyed stargazing and reading old American science fiction pulp magazines (many of which made their way to the UK in ships with sailors who read them to pass the time). After secondary school and studying at Huish’s Grammar School, Taunton, he was unable to afford a university education and got a job as an auditor in the pensions section of the Board of Education.
During the Second World War, he served in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist and was involved in the early warning radar defence system which contributed to the RAF’s success during the Battle of Britain. Clarke actually spent most of his service time working on Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) radar, as documented in his semi-autobiographical novel Glide Path. Although GCA did not see much practical use in the war, after several more years of development it was vital to the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. He was demobilised with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. After the war, he earned a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King’s College London.
In the postwar years, Clarke became involved with the British Interplanetary Society and served for a time as its chairman. His most important contribution may have been the idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays. He was the first in the world to propose this concept, doing so in a paper privately circulated among the core technical members of the BIS in 1945. The concept later was published in Wireless World in October of that year. Clarke also has written a number of non-fiction books describing the technical details and societal implications of rocketry and space flight. The most notable of these may be The Exploration of Space (1951) and The Promise of Space (1968). In recognition of these contributions, a geostationary orbit sometimes is referred to as a «Clarke orbit».
While Clarke had a few stories published in fanzines between 1937 and 1945, his first professional sales appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946: «Loophole» was published in April, while «Rescue Party», his first sale, was published in May. Along with his writing, Clarke briefly worked as Assistant Editor of Science Abstracts (1949) before devoting himself to writing full-time from 1951 onward. Clarke also contributed to the Dan Dare series published in Eagle, and his first three published novels were written for children.
Clarke corresponded with C. S. Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s, and once met in an Oxford pub, the Eastgate, to discuss science fiction and space travel. Clarke, after Lewis’s death, voiced great praise for him, saying the Ransom Trilogy was one of the few works of science fiction that could be considered literature.
In 1948, he wrote «The Sentinel» for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected, it changed the course of Clarke’s career. Not only was it the basis for A Space Odyssey, but «The Sentinel» also introduced a more mystical and cosmic element to Clarke’s work. Many of Clarke’s later works feature a technologically advanced but prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. In the cases of The City and the Stars, Childhood’s End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution.
In 1953, Clarke met and quickly married Marilyn Mayfield, a 22-year-old American divorcee with a young son. They separated permanently after six months, although the divorce was not finalised until 1964.
Clarke has lived in Sri Lanka since 1956, immigrating there when it was still called Ceylon, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo. Clarke holds citizenship of both the UK and Sri Lanka. He long has been an avid scuba diver and a member of the Underwater Explorers Club; living in Sri Lanka has afforded him the opportunity to visit the ocean year-round. It also inspired the locale for his novel The Fountains of Paradise, in which he first described a space elevator. This, he believes, ultimately will be his legacy, more so than geostationary satellites, once space elevators make space shuttles obsolete.
His many predictions culminated in 1958 when he began a series of essays in various magazines that eventually became Profiles of the Future, published in book form in 1962. A timetable up to the year 2100 describes inventions and ideas including such things as a «global library» for 2005.
Early in his career, Clarke had a fascination with the paranormal, and has stated that it was part of the inspiration for his novel Childhood’s End. He also has said that he was one of several who were fooled by a Uri Geller demonstration at Birkbeck College. Although he long has since dismissed and distanced himself from nearly all pseudoscience, he still advocates research into purported instances of psychokinesis and other similar phenomena.
In the early 1970s, Clarke signed a three-book publishing deal, a record for a science-fiction writer at the time. The first of the three was Rendezvous with Rama in 1973, which won him all the main genre awards and has spawned sequels, which, along with the 2001 series, formed the backbone of his later career.
In 1975, Clarke’s short story «The Star» was not included in a new high school English textbook in Sri Lanka because of concerns that it might offend Roman Catholics even though it already had been selected. The same textbook also caused controversy because it replaced Shakespeare’s work with that of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Isaac Asimov.
In the 1980s, Clarke became well known to many for his television programmes Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers.
In 1988, he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome and has needed to use a wheelchair most of the time since then. On 10 September 2007, while commenting on the Cassini probe’s flyby of Iapetus (which plays an important role in 2001: A Space Odyssey), Clarke mentioned that he now is completely wheelchair-bound by polio, and does not plan to leave Sri Lanka again.
Clarke was the first Chancellor of the International Space University, serving from 1989 to 2004, and also served as Chancellor of Moratuwa University in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 2002.
In December 2007, the occasion of his 90th birthday, Clarke recorded a video message to his friends and fans, bidding them «good-bye». Wikipedia.