One of the world's most famous science fiction writers, Sir Arthur Charles Clarke (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008) is responsible for works such as: Childhood's End, the The Space Odyssey Series, Rendezvous with Rama and The Songs of Distant Earth. Has influenced almost all the science fiction that has arrived in his wake, from Stargate to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Much of his fiction features O. Henry style twist endings at the end of each story or chapter. He is considered one of the "Big Three" of Science Fiction along with Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. He was the last of the Big Three to leave us, after Heinlein and Asimov, in that order.
He is often credited with inventing the geostationary communications satellite, although in fact he did not originate the idea.
Formulated "Clarke's three laws", the third being the most famous and oft cited:
- 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.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Later on he also created a fourth law: For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.
He wrote the Space Odyssey sequels himself, without the input of Stanley Kubrick — each installment gets increasingly more literal and with less left to the imagination, up till 3001 which retcons all the fantastical elements out of the original story (and only has its actual plot start two-thirds of the way through the book, the preceding chapters consisting entirely of the literary equivalent of Scenery Porn). The Time Odyssey series was likewise "co-written with" Stephen Baxter. It shows there, too.
Has an award named after him.
A 1981 episode of The Goodies spoofed him as "the inventor of the digital lawnmower".
Clark would be diagnosed with post-polio syndrome in 1988, having originally suffered a bout of polio in 1962. As a result, he had to use a wheelchair most of the time thereafter. His syndrome worsened with age, severely limiting his ability to travel and giving him problems with speaking. Clarke eventually passed away on 19 March 2008, at the age of 90, from respiratory complications and heart failure related to his post-polio syndrome. His final work would be The Last Theorem, which he had written in collaboration over e-mail with fellow author, Frederik Pohl. Clarke had reviewed the final manuscript in early March 2008, just days before he died, and the book was eventually completed by Pohl, and released after the former's death.
This author's works with their own trope pages include:
- The Space Odyssey Series
- Childhood's End
- The City and the Stars (revision of Against the Fall of Night)
- A Fall of Moondust
- The Fountains of Paradise
- The Light of Other Days (with Stephen Baxter)
- Rendezvous with Rama
- The Songs of Distant Earth
- Tales from the White Hart
Selected other works:
- The Deep Range
- The Ghost From The Grand Banks
- Imperial Earth
- Islands In The Sky
- The Last Theorem (with Frederik Pohl)
- Prelude To Space
His other works provide examples of:
- Author Appeal:
- Communications satellites. (Not surprising, since he basically invented the concept.)
- In a somewhat sad example, rarely do love interests work out for the good. A common phrase used in his collections of short stories is "married another man". In the Space Odyssey series, Heywood Floyd is divorced twice with the second being on his way to Jupiter. In 3001 the first woman Poole falls for ends up horrified due to his 'mutilation' (non-medical circumcision having ceased to be a thing by the 31st century) and the second relationship falls apart romantically 15 years after they get married and have kids.
- Clarke was a diving enthusiast, which is reflected in some stories.
- Many of the stories show societies that returned to Arcadian countryside life after the development of telecommunications and personal transport allowed for greater flexibility in one's choice of workplace.
- Some of his stories, or at least the earlier ones tended to have references to a spaceship named the Morning Star.
- Bisexuality also shows up quite often in his stories in an approving manner, which doesn't help the theories surrounding his sexuality.
- The Ghost From The Grand Banks is as much a tribute to Clarke's love of the Mandelbrot set as to the Titanic.
- But What About the Astronauts?: "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth" is a post-apocalyptic story using this trope for a powerful effect. It depicts a small lunar outpost as a last remnant of humanity after a nuclear Holocaust.
- Failed Future Forecast: Soviet Russia in stories set after 1990 — including 2010: Odyssey 2.
- Future Imperfect:
- In the short story "History Lesson", Venusian reptiles discover a few relics of now-extinct humanity. One of them is a canister containing a reel of film, which the Venusians view and attempt to interpret for clues about human civilization — an effort that will lead to nothing but confusing false conclusions, since it's a Disney cartoon.Millions of times in the ages to come those last few words would flash across the screen, and none could ever guess their meaning: A Walt Disney Production.
- The Distant Epilogue of The Fountains of Paradise, set fifteen centuries after the rest of the story, describes the fog of historical knowledge. One the one hand, preserved records and basic tenets of reality mean that there are some figures that are very clearly either historic or fictional. On the other, this leaves a broad category of figures from folklore, literature and religion that cannot be clearly put in either camp, leaving doubt over whether such people as Sherlock Holmes or Frankenstein really did exist.There seemed to be a continuous spectrum between absolute fantasy and hard historical facts, with every possible graduation in between. At the one end were such figures as Columbus and Leonardo and Einstein and Lenin and Newton and Washington, whose very voices and images had often been preserved. At the other extreme were Zeus and Alice and King Kong and Gulliver and Siegfried and Merlin, who could not possibly have existed in the real world. But what was one to make of Robin Hood or Tarzan or Christ or Sherlock Holmes or Odysseus or Frankenstein? Allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration, they might well have been actual historic personages.
- In the short story "History Lesson", Venusian reptiles discover a few relics of now-extinct humanity. One of them is a canister containing a reel of film, which the Venusians view and attempt to interpret for clues about human civilization — an effort that will lead to nothing but confusing false conclusions, since it's a Disney cartoon.
- Future Primitive: In "History Lesson", the ice age has caused the collapse of human civilization, and by the time the glacier close over the equator the last living humans are stone-age primitives.
- Glacial Apocalypse: The first half of "History Lesson" follows a tribe of primitive humans migrating south to avoid the glaciers of an oncoming ice age caused by a chance cooling of the Sun. This caused a gradual growth of the polar glaciers, driving living things further and further south. By the 30th century, when the story opens, humanity endures only as Neolithic primitives and finds itself doomed when, on reaching the equator, it meets the Antarctic glaciers approaching from the south. The ice eventually closes, driving humanity extinct, and leaving only scattered bones and artifacts to be studied by intelligent beings who eventually arise on a Venus rendered cool enough to support life.
- Homeworld Evacuation: "Rescue Party" has aliens coming to Earth in order to try saving at least a few humans before the Sun goes nova. In the end, it turns out the humans built a fleet and left already.
- Living Gasbag: "A Meeting with Medusa" featured the discovery of a miles-long jellyfish-like creature floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter. (In biology, medusa is a term applied to certain forms of jellyfish.)
- No Smoking: In-universe in The Ghost from the Grand Banks. One of the characters has a job digitally removing smoking scenes from old films. Anti-smoking sentiment has grown so strong that people won't watch them otherwise.
- Once Original, Now Common: "Rescue Party" has a Twist Ending which reveals that humans managed to get off the doomed Earth after all, by means of the entire population boarding rockets and heading for the nearest star at slower-than-light speed. This shocks the aliens who had tried to rescue them, since rockets are Awesome, but Impractical and no previous civilization reached the stars without significantly more advanced technology than this. The story was written in 1946, at a time when no rocket was big enough to carry one human, let alone a whole group, and when rockets only had use as weapons of war. So the contemporary audience was without a doubt supposed to agree with the aliens' sentiment and think that only humans could think outside the box. But reading from a time when all real manned space exploration has used rockets to get there, and no other form of propulsion is even being planned, causes the subtext that Humanity Is Insane to be lost.
- YMMV. Using chemical rockets would still take tens of thousands to reach even the nearest star.
- Prefers the Illusion: In "The Lion of Comarre", the protagonist discovers an automated city of people living in virtual reality. When he tries to "liberate" two of the inhabitants, one is utterly confused by the return to reality and another understands what happened and tells him to go away and let him resume the fantasy. He leaves them to their dreams.
- Psychic Powers: In "Second Dawn", a whole alien race who entirely lack useful hands have built an entire civilization around Telepathy and other mostly-subtle mental powers. Their problem is that in their last war they have developed a psychic weapon powerful enough to destroy the minds of entire populations, and fear what will happen in their next war.
- Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: The titular "Sentinel" was "protecting itself with forces that had challenged eternity", but its mechanisms "...are meaningless".
- Solar Punk: The short story "Sunjammer", aka "The Wind from the Sun", describes a race between solar sail spacecraft.
- Sub Story: The Deep Range.
- Tomato Surprise: Most of Clarke's short stories, and many chapters of his novels, end with a big twist (or a big reveal) in the very last sentence.
- "Who's There" has a fluffy Tomato Surprise. The reader is led to believe by the character that something is trying to get into his spacesuit, or that the spacesuit is about to fail because it was repaired after a previous fatal accident. Instead, the astronaut is simply hearing the muffled noises and scratchings of three kittens 'nesting' in the space suit and were born to the station mascot.
- Twist Ending: Used in many of his short stories, many times the final sentence is all that's required for the twist. What exact version of the various twists will depend on the story. Many also double as a Wham Line.
[O]h God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?
- "The Nine Billion Names of God" is about a religious sect which hires a computer and two technicians to print out all the names of God, which they believe is the purpose of the universe - therefore the world will end when they are finished. The technicians decide to cut and run before the program is finished to avoid the monks' anger and disappointment when the world fails to end. The final line has them looking up and seeing that "Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."
- "Breaking Strain" is a story about Grant (ship captain), and McNeil (engineer) who become trapped on a wrecked ship with only enough air to last one of them. The twist is that Grant has badly misjudged McNeil and Grant eventually accepts his own death to allow McNeil to survive.
- "Loophole" has Martians telling Earth to stop rocketry research, or else. Earth stops researching rockets. Instead, they perfect matter transportation and bomb the Martians out of existence without launching a single rocket.
- "Hide and Seek": The reader expects the mysterious agent who avoided the warship to be the teller of the tale. Instead, the teller of the tale is the captain of the ship who was thrown out of the service for being unable to catch a single man with the fastest ship in the fleet.
- "Superiority", where the twist isn't anything to do with the technology involved, but that the narrator has been forced to share a prison cell with the man responsible for the downfall of their nation.
- "Reunion", where aliens approaching Earth reveal that humanity is one of their lost colonies. The aliens are aware that many humans contracted a disfiguring disease which caused hatred and suspicion over many centuries, but they have good news: they can cure anyone who is still white.
- "The Star" is narrated by a Jesuit priest and astronaut whose faith has been badly shaken by the discovery of an alien civilization that was wiped out when their sun went nova, and the implications of their extinction.
- "Rescue Party" ends in a line implying both that Humans Are Special and that Humans Are the Real Monsters. While nothing exceptional for Military Science Fiction, it's particularly jarring to see it in Clarke's context.
- "The Food of the Gods" is set in the far future where artificial food is used, and most people don't even realize that artificial meat is made to resemble dead animal flesh. It turns out that a new, instantly popular artificial meat is made to resemble human flesh.
- The psychic aliens in "Second Dawn" (see the Psychic Powers entry) discover another intelligent species on their world with much better manipulative appendages, and hope that the development of a new civilization based on physical science will avert an otherwise inevitable psychic war. The story ends with the discovery of a curious glowing rock, their first step toward the discovery of nuclear fission.
- Uplifted Animal: 'Superchimps' or 'simps' (an in-universe misnomer - they're uplifted monkeys, not apes) appear in some of his works, including Rendezvous with Rama and "A Meeting with Medusa". Clarke also used this theme with respect to humanity itself in 2001. The Sufficiently Advanced Aliens took a tribe of apes and manipulated their intelligence, planting the seeds of modern man. They then took a modern man, and uplifted him to create a Star Child.
- Watch the World Die: The short story "The Nine Billion Names of God". It ends with the main characters standing outside a monastery, watching as God turns off the universe and the stars go out one by one. Subverted in that there's not really a safe vantage point from which to watch the end of the universe.
- Zero-G Spot: In Imperial Earth, travelers from Saturn to Earth have a few hours of zero-gee halfway along, while the ship is flipping over to decelerate.No wonder that the most popular item in the ship's library these last few days had been the NASA Sutra, an old book and an old joke, explained so often that it was no longer funny.
"... and everyone had learned a great deal, though not necessarily in the areas that the organizers had intended. The first few weeks, for example, were mostly occupied by experiments in zero-gravity sex, despite warnings that this was an expensive addiction for those compelled to spend most of their lives on planetary surfaces."
- And the flight of the cruise liner Mentor had: