(AFP) – Mar 18, 2008
COLOMBO (AFP) — Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who died Wednesday aged 90, captured the world's imagination with his vision of the future in books such as "2001: A Space Odyssey" and predicted communication satellites.
Born in Britain, Clarke had lived in Sri Lanka for more than half a century, holed up in an "electronic cottage" from which he communicated with the world via a battery of monitors, radios and computer keyboards.
Clarke was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth in 1998 in recognition of his status as the grand old man of science fiction.
After a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser, Clarke said he would like to be remembered primarily as a writer and wished for peace in his adopted home Sri Lanka where had lived since 1956.
"I want to be remembered most as a writer -- one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well," Clarke said in December.
Just a few days before he died, Clarke reviewed the final manuscript of his latest novel, "The Last Theorem" co-written with American author Frederik Pohl, which is to be published later this year.
"The Last Theorem has taken a lot longer than I expected. That could well be my last novel, but then I've said that before," Clarke said last year.
Clarke wanted to be allowed three wishes. As well as peace in Sri Lanka, he hoped for evidence of extra-terrestrial life and for the world to adopt cleaner fuels.
"I have no regrets and no more personal ambitions," he said at his 90th birthday even as he was confined to a wheelchair over the past three decades because of the effects of childhood polio.
Though indissociably linked with the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, with whom he wrote the novel and screenplay of the cult classic "2001: A Space Odyssey", Clarke first made his mark with a visionary paper written during World War II in which he worked out the conditions for placing geostationary satellites in orbit.
He was paid 15 pounds for a theory that launched an industry than can now be measured in billions of dollars.
"People say I could have made a lot of money if I applied for a patent," Clarke said. "I did not get a patent because I never thought it will happen in my life time."
Born to farming parents on December 16, 1917 at Minehead in the west of England (he retained his Somerset burr to the end of his life), Clarke was only 12 when he developed an interest in science fiction after reading the March 1930 issue of the US sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories.
He became an early member of the British Interplanetary Society, a group of dreamers who met to discuss ways of putting a man on the moon, performed war service as an RAF lieutenant working in radar, and acquired a postwar physics and maths degree from King's College, London. And in 1950 began writing books.
His first efforts were non-fiction, involving early descriptions of space flight. But in 1953 he received rave reviews for "Childhood's End", his fifth science-fiction novel, and was freed financially pursue his other love, and the subject of a dozen of his later books, underwater exploration.
That brought him to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) where he settled (though remaining a British citizen) in the 1950s, setting up a diving school at Hikkaduwa, down the coast from Colombo.
He also spent several months a year living in New York, and it was there that he met Kubrick, who was keen on making a science-fiction movie. The idea for "2001" was born of a meeting in Trader Vic's bar, the filmmaker requiring Clarke to write out a full-length novel before they worked on a script.
The film met mixed critical reviews initially, but soon established itself as a classic of the genre. Clarke himself regarded it as one of the three great achievements of his life, along with the satellite paper and the lead he gave for the television series "Star Trek".
Despite his specialist knowledge and visionary status, Clarke had an uneasy relationship with the scientific establishment, and many of his technical papers were published in Playboy magazine.
Among the "extrapolations" he made for the future (he avoided the word predictions), Clarke envisaged mankind making contact with intelligent life on other planets by 2030 and discovering the secret of immortality by 2090 -- probably "electronic immortality, with all sorts of good results, and some bad results."
Keeping up a punishing work routine into his eighties, Clarke wrote three sequels to "2001", the last in 1997, entitled "3001: The Final Odyssey".
Living in Sri Lanka as a "failed recluse", he was granted unique tax-free status after he persuaded the authorities to enact the Resident Guest Scheme (popularly known as "the Arthur Clarke law") permitting prominent foreigners who bring in hard currency to enjoy minimal taxes and a variety of perks.
"He is a national asset for Sri Lanka," President Mahinda Rajapakse said at Clarke's 90th birthday bash in Colombo.
Clarke enjoyed the company of the famous, and his home was lined with photographs of his meetings with the late Pope John Paul II, or with astronaut Neil Armstrong, or with Prince Charles who travelled to Colombo to confer his knighthood on him.
The ceremony was postponed amid unsubstantiated allegations of paedophilia in the British media based on unguarded remarks Clarke made to two visiting journalists. Clarke vigorously rejected the allegations.
In 1953, Clarke married Marilyn Mayfield, an American divorcee, but separated six months later.
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