Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, R.I.P.

I note the passing yesterday of visionary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. When I was in high school, I idolized Clarke, read and re-read every word he wrote. When I started college at Florida State, I was amazed to discover that Clarke was one of the featured speakers that fall, and since I worked for the student paper and blathered endlessly about Childhood's End, I was assigned to pick up Clarke from the airport early, "babysit" him all day until his talk and do an interview.

The catch was that I'd never done a real interview, in fact being a freshman in college in 1968 had trouble distinguishing my ass-end from a hole in the ground. So I picked him up in my clapped-out, primer gray 356B Porsche convertible with the top down and holes in the floorboards — the great man his transportation — then using one of those "portable" tape recorders the size of a suitcase I did what may be the worst interviews in history. Clarke was a consummate gentleman and answered my insipid questions with a thoughfulness far beyond what they deserved.

To top it off, since hotel check-in wasn't until 3 PM, I treated Arthur Clarke to lunch at a Sizzler Steak House...god help me, I was from Memphis...I didn't know any better! I was all set to talk about 2001 the move, but Clarke wanted to talk about the media, about television and satellites and changes that were coming beyond what I could imagine. The man was hypnotic...he talked about a time when everyone would be connected, where media would be omnipresent and linked in ways that allowed us to share information between individuals...

It was an amazing lunch...all I did was sit there and nod my head, enthralled. We both had cherry pie, and within six months I changed my college major from physics/math to media. I also learned how to interview.

I once watched a friend disassemble a pocketwatch and was awed by how all those little gears and levers pivoted on tiny ruby you're reading this blog because I bought Arthur C. Clarke a really bad lunch once, and my life pivoted on that tiny bearing.

Rest in peace, Sir Arthur.


Anonymous said...

That was very touching, Michael. It's obvious that Mr. Clarke left an impression on you that will last thoughout your life. You're right about those "tiny ruby bearings". From my perspective in middle age, it's the small, precious turning points in life (which we don't necessarialy recognize when they occur) that produce the most profound changes.

Eric said...

Go read Jerry Pournelle's day book entry for Tuesday to see how an encounter with Sir Arthur changed his life:

Anonymous said...

Clarke was my favorite author and someone I looked up to for a number of reasons. Clarkes passing and the SCOTUS hearings made for a rather emotionally charged day. I enjoyed your story and it's also nice to know I'm not the only gun toting scifi fan.

Anonymous said...

Hey, now, Sizzler's is fantastic. Their all-you-can-eat shrimp plate is delicious.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story! You are fortunate indeed to have had that experience. I also idolized him; we are all poorer for his passing.

Anonymous said...

Add another gun lovin' Science Fiction fanatic to the list. Sir Clark, along with Mr. Heinlein, opened my eyes and mind to all the great possibilities out there.

I will always regret not being able to meet them face-to-face.

Definitely a sad sad day for me.

Anonymous said...

Michael, that is such a wonderful story. You are fortunate to have met so many great people. I am sure Clarke was happy to meet you too and enjoyed the chance for some honest conversation and a good cheap lunch (which shall never be underestimated in its usefulness).

Anonymous said...

I am STUNNED that I am just now finding out about this.

Sir Aurthur wrote true 'science' fiction. He was a visionary who dreamed the dreams that later geeks (who also were inspired by him) made happen.

Thank God that we still have his words.

Jerry The Geek said...

such a coincidence.

Last month I picked up a buncha books from a University Food Drive Book Sale ... 50 cents for paperbacks. One of which was "Childhood's End".

Monday I pulled out that Clarke book and began reading it. (Okay, re-re-reading it for the first time in 20 years.)

Today I learned that Clarke had died, so I finished the book in a 40 minute reading marathon in the Crapper at the office.

I was struck, once again, at how dismal and depressing was the storyline. The Devil ended the Human Race?
And I was again reminded about why I loved him, and why I quit reading him 20 years ago.

No disrespect intended to Clarke, but I've alsobeen re-reading Azimov ("Foundation") and Heinlein ("Expanded Universe") for the past two weeks, and all of them ... ALL OF THEM ... were entirely negative about the future of the Human Race from 1950 to circa 1988.

Still, these were the Deans of Science Fiction. I adored them then for their talent, and I adore them still.

But I don't re-read them more than once every 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great anecdote. I loved his books since I was a kid, and I honor the man. Rest in peace, indeed, Sir Arthur.

Erich Martell