Mar. 19th, 2008

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Finding out about Clarke's death yesterday made me very sad and also caused me to think about the impact he had on my life. Way back when I grew up, there was a lot less SF, and so I read a large amount of what was then considered the SF canon – Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Leigh Brackett, John Campbell, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Andre Norton, Alan Nourse, Frederick Pohl, Robert Silverberg, Smith (both E.E & Cordwainer), Roger Zelazny, and of course Arthur C. Clarke.

Of all of these authors that I started reading when I was 6 or 7 and, some of whom I continue to read today (for the last 25+ years I'd have needed a significant sum of money to persuade me to read anything by Heinlein, and an even larger sum to consider reading anything by Frank Herbert), two had the most affect on me – Andre Norton and Arthur C. Clarke. Norton helped me appreciate both people and animals, she introduced me to ideas about magic, ancient wonders, friendship, and romance, and how they aren't all that different from one another, and she also helped foster my sense of wonder.

Arthur C. Clarke had simpler characters in his novels and short stories, but his ideas were glorious and he did even more for my sense of wonder. More than anyone on the above list, he offered alien vistas that were both alien and glorious. I still remember the brief images in Childhood's End (both in the psychic vision and in the Overlord museum) of life on other worlds, just as I remember the wonders of Diaspar and the rest of the universe in The City and the Stars, and of course all of the brief vistas seen in his many short stories. Unlike the pair of choices so common in that era of SF, of either having no aliens at all or the only aliens being silly-looking animal people, Clarke offered images of aliens that were often truly and deeply alien, like the colonial intelligence the protagonist briefly met in The City and the Stars.

However, there was more than that. While I enjoyed Asimov's nonfiction when I was young, I absolutely devoured Clarke's non-fiction. I read the essays in Report on Planet Three, until the book literally fell apart and I had to purchase another (which I still possess). I just looked at his essay "Technology and the Future" (written in 1967) in that book
"I hope to see the automatic car before I die. Personally, I refuse to drive a car – I won't have anything to do with any kind of transportation in which I can't read. I can see the time when it's illegal for a human being to drive a car on a main highway"
I still wait for that day, but it looks like it will be here sooner rather than later, and I fully agree with his statement. In fact, I just reread that essay, and found two interesting things. First, he had a fascinating mixture of precise accuracy (especially about many things involving electronics – including how email and mobile phones would change the world, and how electronic communications would kill off print newspapers), to equally glaring mistakes, such as the lack of hovercraft as a major form of cargo transportation, and the fact that increased technology has made cities grow and not shrink and vanish into endless exurbs and telecommuting. I'm especially glad the last has not come to pass, I held the opposite view when I was young, but learned how many impressive advantages cities offer.

In any case, there is also a distinct lack of orbital hotels, but I'm guessing that will also change in a decade or two, but only for the exceptionally wealthy. From the same essay:
"How I look forward to the day when I can press a button and get any type of news, editorials, book and theater reviews, etc., merely by dialing the right channel"
I've been reading the New York Times on-line for the past 6 years, and don't remember the last time I purchased a print newspaper or even read one. I reread this essay and also realized that Clarke's fundamental belief in technology, his internationalism and distrust of national borders, his dismissal of and distrust of organized religion, and his general sense of hope about the world and the future are in large part where I got all of these same ideas. I also vividly remember my youthful wonder reading his essays (in the same book) "More Than Five Senses" & "The World We Cannot See", about all of the many senses we do not possess that animals, possible aliens, and technological instruments do. More than that, reading novels like The City and the Stars and various others helped form the basis for my own transhumanism.

When I write for SF RPGs, I try for the same sense of wonder and often unconsciously look to Clarke for inspiration. More than anyone (including in many ways my parents), he and Andre Norton made me who I am today.

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