Authors: Arthur C. Clarke

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

British novelist, short-story writer, and essayist

December 16, 1917

Minehead, Somerset, England

March 19, 2008

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Biography

Arthur Charles Clarke was a commercially successful and highly respected contemporary science-fiction writer. Born on December 16, 1917, in Minehead, a coastal town in Somerset, England, he was the oldest of the four children of Charles Wright and Norah (Willis) Clarke. Clarke’s father was a post office engineer and farmer. “My youth,” Clarke recalls, “was spent alternating between the seaside and my parents’ small farm.” Having developed an early interest in science (from reading about dinosaurs), Clarke built a telescope at the age of thirteen and mapped the moon with it. From 1928 to 1936, he attended Huish’s Grammar School, Taunton, and wrote for the school’s literary magazine. {$I[AN]9810001292} {$I[A]Clarke, Arthur C.} {$I[geo]ENGLAND;Clarke, Arthur C.} {$I[tim]1917;Clarke, Arthur C.}

Arthur C. Clarke.

By Rob C. Croes / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Since poverty prevented his attending college, Clarke worked for the British Civil Service as an auditor from 1936 to 1941. During this time he joined the British Interplanetary Society, becoming its chairman. During World War II Clarke served as a radar instructor in the Royal Air Force, rising to the rank of flight lieutenant. While in the military he wrote several articles on electronics and sold his first science-fiction stories. In an article published in Wireless World (October, 1945), Clarke predicted the development of communications satellites. A veterans grant enabled him to attend King’s College, the University of London, where he received his bachelor’s degree (with first-class honors) in physics and math in 1948. From 1949 to 1951, Clarke was an assistant editor at Science Abstracts, a publication of the Institution of Electric Engineers, London. In 1951 Clarke became a full-time writer.

“My literary interests,” Clarke noted, “are divided equally between fiction and non-fiction.” His first success was an introduction to astronautics, Interplanetary Flight, followed by related works, The Exploration of Space and The Exploration of the Moon. Clarke won esteem as a science writer. Critic Ray Gibbons praised “Clarke’s ability to reduce complex subjects to simple language and his steadfast avoidance of fantasy as a substitute for factual narration.”

Clarke concurrently wrote science fiction. His Prelude to Space was hailed as “a compelling realistic novel of interplanetary flight.” Other works came quickly: The Sands of Mars, Islands in the Sky, Against the Fall of Night, and The Lion of Comarre. A milestone was Childhood’s End, for it placed Clarke in the mainstream of Anglo-American science-fiction writers. Basil Davenport of The New York Times added Clarke’s name to those of “Olaf Stapleton, C. S. Lewis, and H. G. Wells, ”the very small group of writers who have used science fiction as the vehicle of philosophical ideas—not merely ideas about the nature of future society, but ideas about the End of Man.” In 1952, Clarke received the International Fantasy Award for his work. This was the first of hundreds of awards he was to receive throughout his life.

Long interested in underwater exploration and photography, Clarke began, with Mike Wilson, to swim off the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the coasts of Sri Lanka. These experiences inspired nonfiction works set in the sea, including The Challenge of the Sea, The First Five Fathoms, and, with Mike Wilson, Indian Ocean Adventure and Indian Ocean Treasure—as well as such novels as Dolphin Island and Cradle.

Clarke’s collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on the film and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey was another turning point. Clarke emerged as both a scientist and a storyteller. Clifton Fadiman’s prediction was fulfilled: “Clarke is no mere dreamer. If he roves space, it is with a slide rule in hand.” Three more novels, 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey explored the evolutionary impact of human life in space and completed his groundbreaking story. Encounters with extraterrestrials were discussed, a theme developed in Rendezvous with Rama, winning for Clarke a second Nebula Award and the Hugo Award. The idea of humans living in space inspired Imperial Earth (written for the American Bicentennial), The Fountains of Paradise (which envisioned a vast elevator to the heavens), and The Songs of Distant Earth (an epic of human pilgrims fleeing a dying Earth).

Clarke went on to complete the Rama books in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the publication of Rama II, The Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed, all cowritten with Gentry Lee, an engineer at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In this masterfully written series Clarke returned to the metaphysical ideas of works such as “The Nine Billion Names of God” and Childhood’s End, with the final volume integrating science and religion in such a way that God indeed becomes the master-builder of Clarke’s universe. Clarke, in collaboration with Gregory Benford, also returned to the universe of his short story “Against the Fall of Night” with the publication in 1990 of Beyond the Fall of Night, a tale of the culmination of a far-future humanity’s destiny.

Most of Clarke’s published work after the late 1980s was in collaboration with other distinguished authors and scientists. Although the ideas expressed were distinctly Clarke’s, the writing often lacked his poetic, fluid touch. Critics found them to be of secondary importance in his canon generally. In the early 2000s, Clarke continued his collaborations, as well as writing articles and essays for various journals.

Clarke was also a futurist, as evidenced in the nonfiction Profiles of the Future and other works. He contended that “anything that is theoretically possible will be achieved in practice, no matter what the technical difficulties, if it is desired greatly enough.” Open-ended in his hopes for humankind, “Clarke’s Law” states, “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

For years Clarke was a popular lecturer in the United Kingdom and the United States. By the mid-1950s, he had taken residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, a decision later reinforced by his divorce in 1964 from Marilyn Mayfield. (The couple had been married in 1953.) In 1979 Clarke became chancellor of Moratuwa University. “Baldish” and “bespectacled,” he was fond of diving, photography, and table tennis. In December 1997, he was knighted, becoming Sir Arthur C. Clarke. A world-class writer, Clarke’s reputation is secure. Godfrey Smith, writing in The New York Times, said, “He writes clear prose which draws its solidity and confidence from his formal scientific training but it is occasionally laced with passages of something like poetry.” Clarke lived in Colombo until his death at age ninety, on March 19, 2008.

Author Works Long Fiction: Prelude to Space, 1951 The Sands of Mars, 1951 Against the Fall of Night, 1953, revised 1956 (as The City and the Stars) Childhood’s End, 1953, 2001 Earthlight, 1955 The Deep Range, 1957 Across the Sea of Stars, 1959 A Fall of Moondust, 1961 From the Ocean, from the Stars, 1962 Glide Path, 1963 Prelude to Mars, 1965 “The Lion of Comarre” and “Against the Fall of Night,” 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 Rendezvous with Rama, 1973 Imperial Earth, 1975 The Fountains of Paradise, 1979 2010: Odyssey Two, 1982 The Songs of Distant Earth, 1986 2061: Odyssey Three, 1987 Cradle, 1988 (with Gentry Lee) Rama II, 1989 (with Lee) The Ghost from the Grand Banks, 1990 Beyond the Fall of Night, 1990 (with Gregory Benford) The Garden of Rama, 1991 (with Lee) The Hammer of God, 1993 Rama Revealed, 1993 (with Lee) Richter 10, 1996 (with Mike McQuay) 3001: The Final Odyssey, 1997 The Trigger, 1999 (with Michael Kube-McDowell) The Light of Other Days, 2000 (with Stephen Baxter) Time’s Eye, 2004 (with Stephen Baxter Sunstorm, 2005 (with Stephen Baxter) Firstborn, 2008 (with Stephen Baxter) Short Fiction: Expedition to Earth, 1953 Reach for Tomorrow, 1956 Tales from the White Hart, 1957 The Other Side of the Sky, 1958 Tales of Ten Worlds, 1962 The Nine Billion Names of God, 1967 Of Time and Stars: The Worlds of Arthur C. Clarke, 1972 The Wind from the Sun, 1972 The Best of Arthur C. Clarke, 1937-1971, 1973 The Sentinel: Masterworks of Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1983 Dilemmas: The Secret, 1989 Tales from Planet Earth, 1989 More than One Universe: The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, 1991 The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 Poetry: The Fantastic Muse, 1992 Nonfiction: Interplanetary Flight, 1950 The Exploration of Space, 1951, revised 1959 The Exploration of the Moon, 1954 Going into Space, 1954 The Coast of Coral, 1956 The Making of a Moon, 1957 The Reefs of Taprobane, 1957 Voice Across the Sea, 1958 The Challenge of the Spaceship, 1959 The Challenge of the Sea, 1960 The First Five Fathoms, 1960 Indian Ocean Adventure, 1961 (with Mike Wilson) Profiles of the Future, 1962 Man and Space, 1964 (with others) Indian Ocean Treasure, 1964 (with Wilson) The Treasure of the Great Reef, 1964, 1974 Voices from the Sky, 1965 The Promise of Space, 1968 First on the Moon, 1970 (with others) Into Space, 1971 (with Robert Silverberg) Report on Planet Three, 1972 Beyond Jupiter, 1972 (with Chesley Bonestall) The Lost Worlds of 2001, 1972 The View from Serendip, 1977 (autobiographical) 1984: Spring, a Choice of Futures, 1984 Ascent to Orbit: A Scientific Autobiography—The Technical Writings of Arthur C. Clarke, 1984 Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the Twenty-first Century, 1986 The Odyssey File, 1985 (with Peter Hyams) Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Autobiography, 1989 How the World Was One: Beyond the Global Village, 1992 By Space Possessed, 1993 The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars, 1994 Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! Collected Essays, 1934–1998, 1999 The Last Theorem, 2008 (with Frederik Pohl) Children’s/Young Adult Literature: Islands in the Sky, 1952 The Young Traveller in Space, 1954 Dolphin Island, 1963 Edited Texts: Time Probe; The Sciences in Science Fiction, 1966 Coming of the Space Age; Famous Accounts of Man’s Probing of the Universe, 1967 Bibliography Blackford, Russell. “Technological Meliorism and the Posthuman Vision: Arthur C. Clarke and the Ultimate Future of Intelligence.” New York Review of Science Fiction 14 (November, 2001): 1, 10–12. Examines Clarke’s visionary predictions in his nonfiction Profiles of the Future and discusses how certain ideas later reappeared in his fiction. Brull, Steven, and Neil Gross. “The Next World According to Clarke.” Business Week, February 24, 1997, 123–124. Notes that scientists take Clarke’s musings about the future seriously, for Clarke has always blurred the lines between what people dream and what engineers create; notes that many respected scientists, engineers, and writers praise Clarke for infusing science fiction with verisimilitude and helping inspire real-world scientists. Clarke, Arthur C. Astounding Days: A Science-Fictional Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1989. Although this volume is not really an autobiography, Clarke offers a brief memoir of his youth. He explains how writers and editors of Astounding magazine (later named Analog) first aroused his interest in science fiction and discusses his work on rocketry and radar. Provides a pleasant diversion on Clarke’s background. Clarke, Arthur C. The View from Serendip. New York: Random House, 1977. Clarke writes with interest of the three s’s in his life—space, serendipity, and the sea. The twenty-five chapters touch on the events in his life, the people he has met, and the technological advances of the present and the future. A good introduction to Clarke’s wide-ranging interests. Guterl, Frederick V. “An Odyssey of Sorts.” Discover 18 (May, 1997): 68–69. In this interview, Clarke discusses, among other subjects, the cold-fusion energy revolution and the evidence for life on Mars. Hollow, John. Against the Night, the Stars: The Science Fiction of Arthur C. Clarke. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. Presents an analysis of the major themes found in Clarke’s fiction. James, Edward. “Clarke’s Utopian Vision.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 34 (April, 2005): 26–33. Analyzes Clarke’s fiction and notes that his apparently utopian futures are often undermined by assertions that humanity’s destiny is in fact tied to the human tendencies toward endless dissatisfaction and questing. Lehman-Wilzig, Sam N. “Science-Fiction as Futurist Prediction: Alternate Visions of Heinlein and Clarke.” The Literary Review 20 (Winter, 1977) 133–151. The author contrasts the science-fiction works of Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein and asserts that Heinlein is the superior stylist but Clarke is the one who excels in ideas—both technological and philosophical—and futurist vision. McAleer, Neil. Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1992. Provides a definitive account of Clarke’s career, written with Clarke’s cooperation. Draws on extensive interviews with Clarke’s friends, colleagues, and family members. Meisenheimer, Donald K., Jr. “Machining the Man: From Neurasthenia to Psychasthenia in SF and the Genre Western.” Science-Fiction Studies 24 (November, 1997): 441–458. Argues that although Clarke works within the tradition of Wellsian science fiction, he also makes heavy use of the elements of the genre Western as established by Owen Wister and Frederic Remington. Olander, Joseph D., and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Arthur C. Clarke. New York: Taplinger, 1977. Collection of nine essays is a good source of textual criticism of Clarke’s fiction. Examines both individual works and his science-fiction writings in general. Supplemented by a select bibliography and a biographical note. Rabkin, Eric S. Arthur C. Clarke. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1980. Provides a good short introduction to Clarke’s most important science-fiction works, with brief descriptions of each. Includes biographical information, an annotated bibliography, and a chronology. Reid, Robin Anne. Arthur C. Clarke: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. General introduction to Clarke’s life and work presents a brief biographical chapter, a discussion of his science fiction in general, and nine chapters devoted to individual novels. Includes bibliography and index. Samuelson, David N. Arthur C. Clarke: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. A complete bibliography of Clarke’s works from the 1930’s to early 1980’s. Slusser, George Edgar. The Space Odysseys of Arthur C. Clarke. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1978. A brief but provocative commentary on Clarke’s fiction. Zivkovic, Zolan. “The Motif of First Contact in Arthur C. Clarke’s ’A Meeting with Medusa.’” New York Review of Science Fiction, February/March, 2001, 1, 8–13; 10–17. Examines in detail four Clarke stories that involve humans’ first contact with alien beings: “Report from Planet Three,” “Crusade,” “History Lesson,” and “A Meeting with Medusa.”

Categories: Authors