Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008

The world lost a true visionary yesterday. Arthur C. Clarke, scientist and science fiction writer, never lost his fascination with the possibilities that lay just over the horizon of human evolution. Childhood’s End and “The Sentinel,” Clarke’s novel and short story that together fused plot and theme into the landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey, speculated that the current human condition was but an early development phase that was a pre-cursor a wiser and more noble race. On a more practical level, his brilliance contributed immeasurably to modern telecommunications: combining mathematics, astronomy and gravitational physics, Clarke theorized in a 1945 paper that artificial satellites, if placed approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth, would orbit at exactly the same rate relative to the planet’s rotation, essentially fixing them in space above a single point, where they could then serve as relays for radio signals around the globe. Peers thought the idea was so outlandish that Clarke never applied for a patent, which he cheekily noted in a later essay, “A Short Pre-History of Comsats, Or How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time.” But the paper helped spark the space race. And thanks to Clarke, you can now send email or make a phone call from any spot in the world. You can navigate your next car trip with a GPS system and watch all the NCAA Tournament games on your DirecTV system. Clarke’s science fiction rarely took the political directions that contemporaries such as Robert A. Heinlein or Brian Aldiss explored, but a reader can glean from the subtext of his writings that for Clarke, the struggle to transcend material boundaries that limit human potential, be it political, technological or even biological, was central to his thinking. Obits at Fox News and MSNBC.