I was saddened to learn of the death of author Arthur C. Clarke at the age of 90. Clarke was my favorite author and so I very much feel the need to write a few words about his work and what it has meant to me. He is well-known as one of the true grand masters of the science fiction genre and I’m certain that a great deal will be written about his life and work over the next few days, so I am going to focus on my own general feelings and reactions to his work. This may come off as a bit rambling as I’m writing it largely off-the-cuff and it honestly has been quite some time since I have read most of Clarke’s books.
I first discovered Clarke’s writing when I was in junior high school back in the early 1980s. Like many people, I first became aware of him after seeing the film version of "2001: A Space Odyssey". I was fascinated (and, admittedly, more than a bit confused) by the movie and became interested in reading the book. Clarke’s collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on 2001 was rather unusual, with the two initially working out the basic story together and then Kubrick going off to write the screenplay (and make the film) while Clarke went off to write the novel. This resulted in a book and movie that had the same basic plot line and characters, but also some substantial differences in approach.
While Kubrick kept the events rather mysterious, at times to the point of obliqueness, Clarke’s writing was much clearer. Reading the book, I was immediately struck by Clarke’s ability to tell a story that was dense in scientific and technical details and filled with speculative elements both about a plausible future and an alien encounter, but still present it in a manner that was very readable and basically understandable. Keep in mind that I was junior high school age at the time as well. Even though I was always a somewhat advanced reader, it still says a lot about Clarke’s writing that he was able to write stories that were so dense in content and unquestionably non-juvenile, but which were still within the grasp of fairly young readers. I don’t know if our school librarian was aware of this or if they simply ordered science fiction somewhat blindly (I suspect the latter), but they had quite a few Clarke books in their collection and I quickly started going through them all, eventually extending that to the collection in the public library and even a few paperbacks purchased.