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Sri Lankabhimanya Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008) was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, most famous for the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, written in parallel with the script for the eponymous film, co-written with film-director Stanley Kubrick; and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke were known as the "Big Three" of science fiction.
Clarke served in the Royal Air Force as a radar instructor and technician from 1941–1946. He proposed a satellite communication system in 1945 which won him the Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Gold Medal in 1963. He was the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1947–1950 and again in 1953.
Clarke emigrated to Sri Lanka in 1956 largely to pursue his interest in scuba diving, and lived there until his death. He was knighted by the British monarchy in 1998 and was awarded Sri Lanka's highest civil honour, Sri Lankabhimanya, in 2005.
Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, England. As a boy he enjoyed stargazing and reading old American science fiction pulp magazines. After secondary school and studying at Huish's Grammar School, Taunton, he was unable to afford a university education and got a job as an auditor in the pensions section of the Board of Education.
During the Second World War he served in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist and was involved in the early warning radar defence system, which contributed to the RAF's success during the Battle of Britain. Clarke spent most of his wartime service working on Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) radar as documented in the semi-autobiographical Glide Path, his only non-science-fiction novel. Although GCA did not see much practical use in the war, it proved vital to the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949 after several years of development. Clarke initially served in the ranks, and was a Corporal instructor on radar at No 9 Radio School, RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (Technical Branch) on 27 May 1943. He was promoted Flying Officer on 27 November 1943. He was appointed chief training instructor at RAF Honiley in Warwickshire and was demobilised with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. After the war he earned a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King's College London.
In the postwar years, Clarke became the Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1946-1947. and again from 1951-1953 Although he was not the originator of the concept of geostationary satellites, one of his most important contributions may be his idea that they would be ideal telecommunications relays. He advanced this idea in a paper privately circulated among the core technical members of the BIS in 1945. The concept was published in Wireless World in October of that year. Clarke also wrote a number of non-fiction books describing the technical details and societal implications of rocketry and space flight. The most notable of these may be The Exploration of Space (1951) and The Promise of Space (1968). In recognition of these contributions the geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometres (22,000 mi) above the equator is officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union as a Clarke Orbit.
On a trip to Florida in 1953 Clarke met and quickly married Marilyn Mayfield, a 22-year-old American divorcee with a young son. They separated permanently after six months, although the divorce was not finalised until 1964. "The marriage was incompatible from the beginning", says Clarke. Clarke never remarried but was close to a Sri Lankan man, Leslie Ekanayake, whom the author called his "only perfect friend of a lifetime" in his dedication to The Fountains of Paradise. Clark is buried with Ekanayake, who predeceased him by three decades in 1977, in the Colombo central cemetery. In his biography of Stanley Kubrick, John Baxter cites Clarke's homosexuality as a reason why he relocated, due to more tolerant laws with regard to homosexuality in Sri Lanka. Journalists who inquired of Clarke whether he was gay were told, "No, merely mildly cheerful." However, Michael Moorcock has written:
Everyone knew he was gay. In the 1950s I'd go out drinking with his boyfriend. We met his proteges, western and eastern, and their families, people who had only the most generous praise for his kindness. Self-absorbed he might be, and a teetotaller, but an impeccable gent through and through. Moorcock's assertion is not supported by other reports, although in an interview in the July 1986 issue of Playboy magazine, Clarke stated "Of course. Who hasn't?" when asked if he had had bisexual experiences.
Clarke also maintained a vast collection of manuscripts and personal memoirs, maintained by his brother Fred Clarke in Taunton, Somerset, England, and referred to as the "Clarkives." Clarke has said that some of his private diaries will not be published until 30 years after his death. When asked why they were sealed up, he answered "'Well, there might be all sorts of embarrassing things in them".
While Clarke had a few stories published in fanzines, between 1937 and 1945, his first professional sales appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946: "Loophole" was published in April, while "Rescue Party", his first sale, was published in May. Along with his writing Clarke briefly worked as Assistant Editor of Science Abstracts (1949) before devoting himself to writing full-time from 1951 onward. Clarke also contributed to the Dan Dare series published in Eagle, and his first three published novels were written for children.
Clarke corresponded with C. S. Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s and they once met in an Oxford pub, The Eastgate, to discuss science fiction and space travel. Clarke, after Lewis's death, voiced great praise for him, saying the Ransom Trilogy was one of the few works of science fiction that could be considered literature.
In 1948 he wrote "The Sentinel" for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected, it changed the course of Clarke's career. Not only was it the basis for A Space Odyssey, but "The Sentinel" also introduced a more mystical and cosmic element to Clarke's work. Many of Clarke's later works feature a technologically advanced but still-prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. In the cases of The City and the Stars (and its original version, Against the Fall of Night), Childhood's End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution. In Clarke's authorized biography, Neil McAleer writes that: "many readers and critics still consider [Childhood's End] Arthur C. Clarke's best novel."
Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death in 2008, having emigrated there when it was still called Ceylon, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo. Clarke held citizenship of both the UK and Sri Lanka. He was an avid scuba diver and a member of the Underwater Explorers Club. In addition to writing, Clarke set up several diving-related ventures with his business partner Mike Wilson. In 1961, while filming off Great Basses Reef, Wilson found a wreck and retrieved silver coins. Plans to dive on the wreck the following year were stopped when Clarke developed paralysis, ultimately diagnosed as polio. A year later, Clarke observed the salvage from the shore and the surface. The ship, ultimately identified as belonging to the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, yielded fused bags of silver rupees, cannons, and other artifacts, carefully documented, became the basis for The Treasure of the Great Reef. Living in Sri Lanka and learning its history also inspired the backdrop for his novel The Fountains of Paradise in which he described a space elevator. This, he believed, would make rocket based access to space obsolete and, more than geostationary satellites, would ultimately be his scientific legacy.
His many predictions culminated in 1958 when he began a series of essays in various magazines that eventually became Profiles of the Future published in book form in 1962. A timetable up to the year 2100 describes inventions and ideas including such things as a "global library" for 2005. The same work also contained "Clarke's First Law" and text which would become Clarke's three laws in later editions.