I was very sad upon hearing of Clarke's death, but nothing I could say would match this.Arthur C. Clarke: requiescat intra astra
Arthur C. Clarke died today, at age 90. He was the last of the Big Three — Isaac Asimov, Clarke, and Robert Heinlein — to pass away, and we shall not see their like again.
It is hard to overstate the impact that these three authors had upon not just one, but at least two or three generations of scientists and engineers in the Anglosphere, particularly those of us who grew up in the 1950s through the 1970s. They wrote science fiction for both kids and adults; they also wrote non-fiction, usually science-related. The earliest novel I remember reading — somewhere around age 8, back in 1961 — was by Heinlein, and I read all three authors voraciously through elementary school, junior high, and high school. Each had his own voice and political point of view, but all three spoke to the power of knowledge, the benefits of science/engineering, and the necessity of intellectual honesty.
Their influence was a much a matter of timing as anything. Their writing careers coincided with rising levels of literacy and scientific/engineering advancement in the Anglosphere, along with post-war prosperity, that preceded the ubiquity of non-reading information and entertainment (cable, internet, video games, personal computers, and so on). In other words, kids growing up in the late 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and even 1970s were more literate and had more free time than preceding generations, yet had fewer things to occupy their time than following generations. At the same time, we were surrounded by an increasing rate of scientific/engineering advancements and breakthroughs. So we all read; many of us read voraciously, making weekly trips to the public or school libraries; and some of us read heavily about science and engineering, both fact and fiction.
We read lots of different authors, but the Big Three were and are Asmiov, Clarke, and Heinlein, who all started writing within a few years of each other, just before the start of WW II, and who were all very prolific. We grew up wanting to live in their future, wanting to bring that future to pass, to be the technological heroes that they wrote about. So we went into science and engineering, or into related fields. Grab any scientist or engineer over the age of 40 and ask her or him about favorite childhood authors — and you’re likely to hear one or all of the Big Three named. Ask her or him why s/he became a scientist/engineer — and, again, you’re likely to hear the Big Three named.
The irony is that Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein would all have loved to go into space personally, but obviously were never able to. Heinlein postulated a “false dawn” of space travel in his Future History timeline, which turned out to be all too true — even if NASA’s current plans hold up (no sure thing), half a century will have passed between our first and second sets of human Moon landings. It was only half a century from the first transatlantic flight (1919) to the first manned Moon landing (1969). Since then we’ve not only not progressed, we’ve lost ground.
The best memorial that we can give to Clarke — and Asimov, and Heinlein — are permanent human stations outside of near-earth orbit.
But I’m not holding my breath.http://and-still-i-persist.com/2008/03/18/art...