Arthur C. Clarke heads off to that great Rama in the sky

It is with much sadness that I learn of the death of Arthur C. Clarke at the age of 90 in his country of residence, Sri Lanka. Arthur C. Clarke was the last surviving member of the trio of great golden age science fiction writers affectionately known as the “Big Three”, which also included Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. Arthur C. Clarke’s work was hugely influential in the genre of science fiction. In particular, he co-wrote the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick (and a novel of the same name), yielding a groundbreaking science fiction film that still stands on its own decades later.

Arthur C. Clarke was also hugely influential on a very personal level to me. He was my first introduction to the amazing genre of adult science fiction (up until that point I had read a lot of Tom Swift novels, but that’s more adventure than true scifi). I still remember, as an elementary school kid, finding a mysterious slim black volume amongst my dad’s book collection entitled Rendezvous with Rama. I don’t know what drew me to it, but I know I wanted to read it, and once I cracked that cover, I couldn’t put it down. It was unlike anything I had been exposed to up until that point. It had fantastic concepts, a ridiculously huge enigmatic alien spaceship, a vision of the future in which travel to space was becoming commonplace, forward thinking, and philosophical questions about how first contact would affect humanity. It even had a little bit of sex in it, something my young mind wasn’t quite ready to grasp but found fascinating nonetheless. I didn’t even realize something that awesome existed up until that point. I was enthralled.

From Rama I began branching out into other works by Arthur C. Clarke (2001 amongst them). Then I discovered Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Stephen Baxter, and other greats of the field. I have read dozens, perhaps hundreds, of speculative fiction novels since then, but I will never forget my first. It affected me in a profound way. Within short order at school I was writing stories about spaceships for class assignments. I lacked the skills to come up with a setting of my own that even came close to rivaling that of Rama’s, my gold standard at the time, so I shamelessly ripped it off, writing a story about a hollowed-out, rotating spaceship with a four letter name that came unannounced to Earth, exactly like Rama, except only bigger: I multiplied all of the dimensions by two. Surely that made it even better than Rama?

I will go to bed tonight sadder than when I awoke this morning, knowing that the world is a little poorer off for seeing the passing of one of its great creative minds. You may never have read any of his works, but Arthur C. Clarke touched generations of people, filling their minds with wonder and their hearts with hope. I know not how many people like me were introduced to science fiction through his works, but I do know that all of us, however many there are, will be mourning his death tonight. Rest in peace, and may your singular works continue to inspire for generations to come.

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