Clarke, (Sir) Arthur C(harles)

Clarke, (Sir) Arthur C(harles)
    (1917– )
   The author of the screenplay (with STANLEY KUBRICK) and novel, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), Arthur C. Clarke is now regarded as one of the most important SCIENCE FICTION authors of the 20th century. Very early in life, Clarke displayed passion for astronomy, paleontology, and science fiction—perhaps unlikely pursuits for a boy growing up in England’s farm country. He later recalled: “As a child, I read all the science-fiction magazines I could get my hands on. Science fiction is an education in itself. . . . I became interested in science fiction when I read the March 30, 1930, issue of Astounding magazine. Don’t ask me why, but it did the trick. ”
   Clarke’s father died around this time, as a result of exposure to poisonous gas during World War I. Perhaps science fiction provided the 13-year-old Arthur a means of coping with the loss. Quickly graduating from fan to participant, Clarke published his first science fiction stories while still in high school. He studied physics and mathematics at King’s College, London, where he received his B. S. degree, with honors. During World War II, Clarke served in the Royal Air Force (RAF), working alongside physicist Luis Alvarez (who soon would be called away to the Manhattan Project), developing radio “talk-down” equipment to enable bombers to land in adverse weather. Clarke’s experience in the RAF led him to publish several scientific essays in technical journals after the war. In the most famous of these, in the October 1945 issue of Wireless World, Clarke laid out his forward-thinking proposal that synchronous satellites be used for purposes of communications. He later recalled, somewhat incredulously, “Many people thought I was some kind of nut when I predicted the enormous and revolutionary impact of communications satellites. ”
   Clarke went on to work as an auditor, then an editor, before finally settling into his long career as a full-time writer in 1951. He was an early proponent of space travel and believed that Great Britain would play a key role in its development. Clarke’s first book, Interplanetary Flight (1950) an its follow-up, The Exploration of Space (1951), offered nonfiction treatises on the necessity of space travel and the potential for profitability in that field.
   Clarke’s fiction oeuvre displays three prominent strains, according to literary scholar Peter Brigg: (1) 46 n Ciment, Michel precise extrapolation from detailed scientific knowledge; (2) comical stories; and (3) transcendent, metaphysical speculation. These are not exclusive categories, and most of Clarke’s work contains varying combinations of the three. The first type of story is characterized by a matter-of-fact narrative tone and a brisk writing style. In these extensions of hard science (either presently accepted knowledge or plausible speculation), Clarke covers tremendous amounts of narrative material in relatively short order. The focus is not on well-developed characters but rather on the science itself.
   Clarke’s comic stories, best exemplified in his collection Tales from the White Hart (1957), often employ characters that are stereotypes, such as scientist, bureaucrat, military man, or alien. The jokes in these stories often come as punch lines, surprise twist endings that Clarke conjures up and springs on the reader with much delight. The stories come sometimes as tall tales,“shaggy dog” scenarios, interspecies comedies of errors, or whimsical ghost stories. Brigg describes the results as mixed: often brilliant but sometimes dismally flat.
   Although on several occasions Clarke has dismissed conventional religion as mere superstition, his stories in the third category, particularly Childhood’s End (1953), often do touch on the human relationship to what some would term “God. ” Clarke’s metaphysical stories usually begin with the mundane but reach into the unknown, to profound results. By the time Stanley Kubrick contacted him in early 1964, Clarke was already a highly esteemed science fiction author, on par with Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End, which explores the possibility of cosmic intervention in human evolutionary history, is considered a classic of the genre. The combination in his work of speculative science fiction and real scientific thought made Clarke the perfect collaborator for Kubrick to make “the proverbial good science-fiction movie,” as the director put it. Clarke’s contribution to 2001:A Space Odyssey springs mainly from three sources: his early mythic novels, his short story “THE SENTINEL,” and another short story,“Encounter at Dawn. ” In the latter, Clarke broaches the idea of a superintelligent alien race tutoring prehistoric humans.
   Clarke came to New York to work with Kubrick on the development of a booklength treatment for the project, whose working title was Journey Beyond the Stars. That treatment was to evolve into both screenplay and novel, by way of an extended collaboration between the two. Clarke set up lodging in New York City’s famed Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street, the residence of authors Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Arthur Miller (and the former home of Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan), among others. To this day, the Chelsea still boasts that the novels Naked Lunch (by William S. Burroughs) and 2001:A Space Odyssey were written there.
   During the 10-month process of writing the treatment, Kubrick and Clarke put in an average of four hours a day, six days a week, according to VINCENT LOBRUTTO. When Clarke presented Kubrick with the first finished manuscript at Christmastime in 1964, Kubrick was ecstatic, and he told Clarke, “We have extended the range of science fiction. ” Literary scholar George Edgar Slusser describes an “Odyssey pattern” in much of Clarke’s work, involving a venturing out and a return, characterized by ambiguity (which he calls the “central idea in Clarke”) and an ironic use of mythical or cultural allusion. Slusser cites the choice of the name Bowman, for the hero of 2001 as an oblique reference to Odysseus. Clarke makes the association clear in his own Lost Worlds of 2001: “When Odysseus returned to Ithaca, and identified himself in the banqueting hall by stringing the great bow that he alone could wield, he slew the parasitical suitors who for years had been wasting his estate. ” (Emphasis added. ) One may only speculate whether this suggests a vengeful purpose in Bowman’s return to Earth as the star child at the end of 2001—a possibility that seems more likely in Clarke’s novel than in Kubrick’s film. Most of Clarke’s fiction lacks true villains, and PIERS BIZONY posits that the insertion of HAL-9000 into 2001, as a sort of minotaur,was chiefly Kubrick’s contribution. Given Kubrick’s long-standing fascination with computers and considering his healthy cynicism, this does not seem farfetched. Of course, Clarke himself has shown a good deal of fascination with the potential of computers. Indeed, he has theorized that one day, humans and computers will be all but indistinguishable. In the distant future, he predicts,“we will not travel in spaceships; we will be spaceships. ” Furthermore, he hopes for the day when computers will do all of the world’s work, allowing humans to lead lives of leisure and intellectual pursuits: Arthur C. Clarke on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (Author’s collection) Pericles never had to go to a daily job. Neither did Socrates. No freeman of ancient Athens had to labor to live. Man’s purpose in the universe should be to enjoy himself—and it is about time that he did. Future man will have millions of superior machines to do the world’s work. . . . The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.
   . . . One of the prominent changes of the future will be the disinvention of work. The success of 2001: A Space Odyssey brought Arthur C. Clarke his greatest fame, and it remains the work for which he is best known. With Kubrick, Clarke received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, and the coincidence of the film’s release with NASA’s accelerated efforts to put man on the moon landed Clarke squarely in the collective consciousness. He appeared alongside Walter Cronkite as a commentator during the historic Apollo 11 mission (a role he would reprise for Apollo 12 and 15). Keir Dullea, who was there with Clarke in the CBS newsroom when astronaut Neil Armstrong took his “one small step,” recalled, “I remember looking over, and he [Clarke] had tears in his eyes. ”
   The success of 2001 spurred increased awareness of an interest in Clarke’s earlier work. In 1969 there were three reprintings of Childhood’s End, and a movie based on that book went into production. And in just a few years, Clarke would reach what some critics hailed as a new artistic peak, at the age of 56, with Rendezvous With Rama (1973). Inevitably, sequels to 2001 would follow, and to date there have been three: 2010: Odyssey Two (1982); 2061: Odyssey Three (1987); and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997). Upon publication of 2010, Clarke telephoned Kubrick and joked, “Your job is to stop anybody making it so I won’t be bothered. ”
   There was talk at the time of having Kubrick direct the film version of 2010, but he declined, probably having no desire (and seeing no need) to repeat himself. (Indeed, one of the most oft-repeated evaluations of Kubrick’s oeuvre is that he “never made the same picture twice. ”) However, this author has discovered some compelling evidence that, at least for a time, Kubrick was seriously considering taking on a major creative role in the film sequel: In the fall of 1982, Arthur C. Clarke had been in New York and California, presumably engaged in talks with various studios about the film rights to 2010: Odyssey 2, while also doing personal appearances to publicize the book’s release. In a letter dated November 26, 1982, written from Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel, after his lengthy stay in the United States, Clarke states quite plainly: “Just before I left, Spielberg rang to say he’ll be in Sri Lanka 11 Dec. checking on Raiders II locations. And I left Hollywood with a phrase whispered in my ear: ‘Tell Steven that if he’ll direct, Stanley will produce. ’ My God . . . ” Ultimately, of course,Kubrick had no hand in the production of 2010:The Year We Make Contact, other than collecting royalties due him under his original contract with Clarke; nor did STEVEN SPIELBERG. The film, directed by Peter Hyams, is a rather strained and clumsy attempt to “explain” the more elusive elements from the original film, and it is interesting to Kubrick aficionados only as a curious footnote. Arthur C. Clarke’s more recent novels include The Ghost From the Grand Banks (1990), about two entrepreneurs’ efforts to raise the Titanic, and The Hammer of God (1993). Since the late 1980s, Clarke has become involved in several collaborations with other authors, including four novels with Gerry Lee from 1988 to 1993, and the novel Richter 10 (1996) with Mike McQuay. Clarke has hosted two TV documentary series: Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World (1981) and Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (1984)
   His passion for science lies not only in the realm of space exploration; since the 1950s, Clarke has been an avid underwater explorer and photographer. Indeed, many of Clarke’s short stories concern exploring the sea, rather than outer space; but their thematic concerns remain consistent with his other work. Photographer Mike Wilson introduced Clarke to the wonders of the undersea world, and they have collaborated on six books and a film. Clarke particularly enjoys skin diving off the Great Barrier Reef, and his fascination with the sea led him to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), which has been his home since 1956.
   Over the years, Arthur C. Clarke has received numerous prizes and honors. Most notably, in 1961 he was awarded UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for the popularization of science, and in early 1998, he became the first person ever to be knighted primarily for writing science fiction. Turning from honoree to benefactor, Clarke has established an annual prize in his own name for the best science fiction novel published in Great Britain. In a fitting tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey (which won only one Oscar) Arthur C. Clarke appeared via satellite at the coincidentally eponymous 2001 Academy Awards to present the award for best original screenplay. Ironically, Clarke and Kubrick were nominated for the same award in 1969, but they lost to Mel Brooks, for The Producers. Though stories abound regarding onagain, off-again tensions between Clarke and Kubrick, in retrospect the two geniuses openly expressed their respect and affection for each other. Of Clarke, Kubrick once said: “Arthur’s ability to impart poignancy to a dying ocean or an intelligent vapor is unique. He has the kind of mind of which the world can never have quite enough, an array of imagination, intelligence, knowledge, and a quirkish curiosity that often uncovers more than the first three qualities. ” On another occasion, he said: “One of the most fruitful and enjoyable collaborations I have had was with Arthur C. Clarke. ”
   In a very touching foreword to Piers Bizony’s 2001: Filming the Future, Arthur C. Clarke offers this rather personal tribute to Kubrick’s memory: Just recently, I dreamed that Stanley and I were talking together. He was looking exactly the same as he did in 1964, when I first knew him. He turned to me and asked:‘Well,Arthur? What shall we do next?’ For the last three decades, I always felt there might really have been a ‘next,’ but when I received the shocking news that Stanley had died suddenly at the age of 70, I knew, with great sorrow, that he and I would not be able to welcome the year 2001 together. I shall miss him.
   ■ Agel, Jerome, ed. , The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (New York: Signet, 1970);
   ■ Bizony, Piers, 2001: Filming the Future (London:Aurum, 2000);
   ■ Brigg, Peter,“Three Styles of Arthur C. Clarke:The Projector, the Wit, and the Mystic,” in Writers of the 21st Century, Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. (New York: Taplinger, 1977), pp. 15–51; Brynofski, Dedria, ed. , Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 13. (Detroit: Gale, 1980), pp. 148–155; Clarke, Arthur C. , unpublished letter to Judy [perhaps an editor or publicist at Ballantine], November 26, 1982; Slusser, George Edgar, The Space Odysseys of Arthur C. Clarke (San Bernardino, Calif. : Borgo Press, 1978); LoBrutto,Vincent, Stanley Kubrick:A Biography (New York: D. I. Fine/Da Capo, 1997, 1999); Jonas, Gerald, “Bridge to the Stars,” New York Times Book Review, March 18, 1979, p. 13+; Ethridge, James M. , and Barbara Kopala, eds. , Contemporary Authors. first revision, vols. 1–4 (Detroit: Gale, 1980), pp. 179–180; Samuelson, David N. , and Gary Westfahl, “Sir Arthur C. Clarke,” in Science Fiction Writers. 2nd ed. , Richard Bleiler, ed. (New York: Scribners/Macmillan, 1999), pp. 203–212.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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