Writer Arthur C. Clarke died this week at the age of 90.
Farm boys with vivid imaginations tend toward science fiction, and since our tiny school library didn't stock that shelf very well, my sympathetic parents let me sign up for the Science Fiction Book Club. One of the first books I got was Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Clarke at the same time he wrote the screenplay for the movie. The idea that space travel could have a mythic, mystical dimension that transcends technology was just the fuel to fire my imagination. It was maybe five years later that I finally saw the movie, but after reading the book the movie was superfluous.
Most people, even Sir Arthur himself, did not always realize how much his thinking crossed back and forth across the boundary between imagination and reality. In the 1940s he believed that man would reach the moon by the year 2000. No one else believed back then, even though he overshot the prediction by 30 years.
The Associated Press reported that, "serving in the wartime Royal Air Force, he wrote a 1945 memo about the possibility of using satellites to revolutionize communications. Clarke later sent it to a publication called Wireless World, which almost rejected it as too far-fetched." But now, a geostationary orbit at 36 000 km is called a "Clarke orbit."
Up until the end Clarke explored and imagined. He had just finished reviewing the manuscript of his latest science fiction novel when we passed away, having already authored more than thirty novels and countless short stories and magazine articles.
Such a creative iron man is both an inspiration and an embarrassment to most of us. I wonder how many of us will keep up and keep ahead as we get up into our 60s and 70s. Or will we succumb to creativity fatigue, watching timidly while our students (and our students' students) pass through paradigm shifts that we today cannot imagine? In twenty years, will we still be twittering at SecondLife seminars, left behind in the dust while whole other new minds commune within other new virtual worlds?