Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP

This makes me incredibly sad.

I have always, always loved Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction, mostly because it is so categorically different from other Sci-Fi writers. Whereas others focus on action and adventure, Clarke's works always struck me more as ways in which he could project his different visions of the future, and of society. The story was simply the vehicle to convey the message--much as Tolkein's works started out as a way for him to use the new languages he had created. In reading his books, I always loved simply puzzling out the sort of society he had projected.

Similarly, his books The Trigger and The Light of Other Days explore how a single invention could change society: in The Trigger, there is an invention that causes explosives to detonate within a certain range, which almost instantly ends the scourge of handguns (with differing reactions in different parts of the world), and in The Light of Other Days, a way is found to project a sort of worm-hole to look at any place in the world at any time in history: the invention aside, his point was to explore what would happen in the world if privacy instantly vanished and everything you ever did could be looked at by anyone, any time now or in the future.

There was also something timeless about his stories. Even reading the works written long before the present, there are themes and ideas that resonate. So much Sci-Fi written in the 50s and 60s--and even in the 70s and 80s--can seem incredibly dated, relying too much on then-fantastical technology that to us now seems mundane. But you can read his stories and connect with them--much like Shakespeare and Mozart's operas are enjoyable and meaningful to audiences hundreds of years later.

I have not read everything of Clarke's, and so much of it is sadly out of print. Here's hoping that with his death, some of this older novels will be republished.

We lost a great author and great man today.

(Final aside: In all of his books that created future societies (instead of being set in the present), there was one constant: total acceptance and toleration of homosexuality. And in his Rama series, there is a direct parallel and deep compassion for HIV/AIDS and criticism of those who would quarantine those afflicted by it.)

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