You all probably know from earlier columns that I am a Science Fiction fan. Not a nut - I don't go to fan conventions or wear silly Star Trek costumes. As a matter of fact, I have lately been getting away from the genre, being somewhat bored with recent offerings. I am not quite sure whether imagination has deserted the newer authors, or that my sense of awe and wonder at their imagination has lessened.
But I do know that SciFi played an important part in my childhood and early adult years and helped for better or worse mold me as the (old) man I am today. SciFi showed my mind that it could wander, could speculate, could think, and could dream.
Sir Arthur left us this past week. I don't as a rule eulogize, and I hope I won't do too much of that now. But his importance to SciFi and to me cannot be minimized. Before we get into the topic, I must confess that in fact I am not a true fan. I found his work, especially the latter work, somewhat boring and wordy. I suspect that this has its roots in either his advancing age, or the profit motive. I hope neither.
It all started with "Childhood's End", his fifth novel, written in 1953. I consider "Childhood's End" one of the all-time classics of SciFi and would encourage even modern readers to find and enjoy it. (Yes, I have a copy!) I don't want to get into details, but it was the first time I was faced with the concept that mankind has a purpose, a future - and perhaps, a guide. The story details the evolution of man, on the grandest of scales. I am not sure when I first read it, but I believe it to be sometime in the late 50's. But more importantly, "Childhood's End" illustrated to the young me that SciFi was not just about aliens and monsters, but about the most important topic of all - mankind itself. (Note to SciFi Channel: perhaps you could learn a bit from this lesson now!)
I almost cried (or perhaps I did) at our loss of humanity at the end. And the lessons and the story text itself have never left me after all this time.
But Arthur wasn't done. The next iteration was "2001: A Space Odyssey". As with many of us, I first saw the movie and only read the book later. I remember going to see it with my future wife and best friend. They were not into SciFi and spent much of the movie oscillating between boredom and snickering. I was mesmerized. Interestingly, the topic was similar - the evolution of man. The sequels were not as dramatic or important, but "2001" again boosted my SciFi appreciation, and probably accounted for the next 20 or so years of active reading.
Following right on the heels of "2001" was "Rendezvous with Rama". Although this did not deal with the physical or psychic evolution of man, it did deal with "the big picture" and where we as mankind fit into it. Another novel that I read cover-to-cover many times. And, again, the sequels were somewhat overblown and boring. But the original cemented Sir Arthur in my pantheon of SciFi stars.
Hollywood has talked about a movie of "Rama" but mercifully they are holding off until they get it right. (An example of getting it wrong was "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams; a terrible movie even though directly supported by the author. Yet another: Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot".)
And there were many other Clarke novels along the way, most of lesser importance to me, but still significant.
Part of the appeal of Sir Arthur to me was not only that he was able to imagine the boldest of SciFi, but that he also had a base in real science. He is widely credited with the concept of geostationary (or geosynchronous) satellites and the use of such a satellite as a communications platform.
So I lost a friend, one whom I had never met. But I think he knew the impact he had on us - not only on SciFi, but on the minds of his readers. I understand that a final novel, "The Last Theorem" is due to be published soon, and I am looking forward to it as Fermat's Last Theorem has always held a fascination for me since I first read about it in, yes, a SciFi novel.
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)