Sir Arthur Charles Clarke is among the giants of contemporary science fiction authors, and also a leading science writer. He was born in the town of Minehead on the western coast of England on December 16, 1917. As a child Clarke was a precocious tinkerer with gadgets, once constructing a light-beam sound transmitter. In 1936 he took a job with the British Exchequer and Audit Department, then served in the Royal Air Force, where he was a trainer for a prototype radar system in WWII. After the war, Clarke took First Class Honours in physics and mathematics at King's College in London, which later elected him Fellow. His article "Extra-Terrestrial Relays" in the October 1945 Wireless World was the first explanation by anyone of how to set up a system of communications satellites; the 22,300-mile-high orbit he proposed is sometimes called the "Clarke Orbit" in his honor.
During this period he began writing science fiction, and his first-sold story, "Rescue Party," appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946. From 1948-50 Clarke was Assistant Physics Editor at the Institution of Electrical Engineers and chaired the British Interplanetary Society 1946-47 and 1950-53. His love of scuba diving and dislike of British winters led him to move to Sri Lanka in 1956, where he and Mike Wilson established the scuba diving company Underwater Safaris. Several films and books resulted from their adventures, including The Coast of Coral in 1956.
Also in the 1950s he became one of the "Big Three" science fiction writers, along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. His books Childhood's End (1953) and The City and the Stars (1956) are usually considered to be among the greatest SF novels. Meanwhile, Clarke's science fact and fiction writings made him one of the great promoters of space exploration and a leading scientific visionary; some refer to him as the "poet of the Space Age." Among his prominent science books are Profiles of the Future (1962), Voices From the Sky (1965), and The Promise of Space (1968).
In the late 1960s he joined director Stanley Kubrick to create the milestone sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film and Clarke's subsequent novelization made ACC a world-wide superstar. Sequels are 2010, 2061, and 3001. Also among the best of his later stories are the novels Rendezvous with Rama (1973) and The Fountains of Paradise (1979). In the latter book Clarke promotes one of his favorite visions, the space elevator, as an inexpensive way to go from earth to space. Greetings, Carbon-based Bipeds (1999) collects essays from his entire career.
Clarke's awards and honors are legion. He has won the Hugo, Nebula, John W. Campbell, and other awards in science fiction, and was named a "Grand Master" by the Science Fiction Writers of America. In 1961 came the prestigious UNESCO Kalinga Prize for his science writing. Several universities have bestowed on him honorary doctorates in science and literature. In 1979 the president of Sri Lanka named him Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa, where he oversees the Arthur Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, and in 1998 was knighted by the Queen of England for his "services to literature." And this list barely scratches the surface. (complete awards list at Clarke Quotes Part 7)
Arthur C. Clarke still resides in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where despite his crippling post-polio syndrome he can whip almost anyone in table tennis. His most recent book is Time's Eye, co-written with Stephen Baxter (see SF Site's review of Time's Eye, or for a list of all of Clarke's books, go to Rbianchi's Arthur C. Clarke bibliography)
On Space Exploration:
"It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars." (First On the Moon, 1970)
"The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars....A whole generation is growing up which has been attracted to the hard disciplines of science and engineering by the romance of space." (from First on the Moon, 1970)
Above: ACC in his high-tech Sri Lankan home
"I was sure we'd go into space; sure we'd go to the Moon and planets; but I didn't really believe I'd live to see it. Or live to see it finished! That's something I never would have dreamed of: that we would go to the Moon, and abandon it after five years!....You can't make much of a case for man in space until you've got efficient and reliable propulsion systems. Once we've got that, everything else will follow automatically. It only costs about a hundred dollars to go to the Moon - in terms of kilowatt hours, if you were to buy the energy from your friendly local power station. Whereas it costs about a billion dollars the way we've done it....There's no reason why, in the next century, it should cost more to go to the Moon than it costs to fly around the world today." (from 1993 Wired magazine interview)
"Space is actually paying for itself in the communication and weather satellites. The money we have put into space has been returned many, many times over in the unmanned application satellites. Similarly, explorations of deeper space will eventually pay for themselves, too." (from 1997 interview with movie critic Roger Ebert)
"It is hard - though not impossible - to think of any scenario which would, as Apollo did for the Moon, accelerate the course of history so that a Mars mission would occur as soon as it became technically feasible. What is more likely is that astronautical knowledge and engineering skills will steadily increase until, at some time in the next century, it becomes clear that a flight to Mars is a reasonable extension of current technology, largely using extant hardware. A good case can be made for going back to the Moon first, and learning how to live there....Spending extra time and money on the Moon could save many lives on the road to Mars....(and) the Moon might play a vital role in the exploration of the Solar System by providing a low-gravity base."
(from The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars, 1994)