Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP

Arthur C Clarke, best known for his 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the series it spawned, died yesterday at the age of 90 in his home in Sri Lanka. In writing about the self-aware HAL computer, and about all the things good and bad the humans might do to their futures, Clarke was both prescient - he predicted wireless communications – and a harbinger of serious warnings. Yet as a person, as a man, he was one of the nicest most engaging people you will ever meet.

Over at the Intersection, Chris Mooney wrote yesterday about ocean iron fertilization. I had planned a post to talk about that subject – it’s the sort of futuristic humans attempt yet again to control their environment thing that Clarke would have loved to weave into a book – but with Mr. Clarke’s passing, I thought instead I’d commemorate his life by telling you what very little I learned about the man over dinner.

You see, while Mr. Clarke had the fabulous home in Sri Lanka and spent a lot of time there, in the 1990’s he also had a winter home in St. Petersburg, FL in the same retirement community that my late paternal grandparents lived in. Every winter, he’d come state-side for several months, and spend his days writing, dropping in on literary classes at Eckerd College, and hosting weekly dinners in the center’s dining room for fellow residents. Somewhere along the way, he made the acquaintance of my grandfather, a retired Presbyterian pastor, and so periodically he and my grandmother would get invited to dinner.

I was fortunate enough, being an Eckerd Student and then St. Petersburg resident, to attend one such feast. Mr. Clarke was as casual, as open, as any person I’ve ever encountered. As I recall dinner lasted about 4 hours, mostly because Mr. Clarke wanted to know each person he was dinning with. His questions, and thus our discussion, ranged all over, but what most fascinated him was the daily things we all did –whether the latest correspondence from a grandchild, the latest vacation, or one’s opinion on events of the day, Mr. Clarke had that knack of listening to you, really listening, and then weaving your story back into the conversation for the group as a whole. He was, or appeared to be, particularly fascinated with my studies and interests in oceanography, and for a lay person, was well read in the current issues in our field at the time. I would have loved to have had more such dinners.

So here’s to a great Author. Arthur C. Clarke was one of a kind, and both the science Fiction world and the real world have lost one of the good ones.

No comments: