I was shocked and saddened to learn that one of the most influential science-fiction writers of our time, and a personal favorite of mine, Mr. Arthur C. Clarke, died at his home in Sri Lanka at the age of 90.
In the mainstream press, the word "iconic" is used to describe either the man, his accomplishments, or both. To a baby-boomer such as myself there are quite a few "iconic" images from the '60s. Just a few that come to mind are The Beatles, JFK, Vietnam, the moon landing, Peter Maxx posters, and, indisputably, 2001: A Space Oddysey.
"Open The Pod Bay Doors, HAL"
That last one, a collaboration between Clarke and iconic director Stanley Kubrick, broke new ground in the way space-themed pictures were made, taking five years and $8-10 million by the time of its release in 1968 (around $100 million or better in today's money). Based on several of Clarke's stories (The Sentinel and Childhood's End, among others) and discussions with Kubrick about what would make the (insert Kubrick making big air-quotes here) "proverbial good science-fiction movie", the two introduced two main ideas: 1. That extraterrestrials not only influenced our evolution, but would reveal themselves in due time. And, 2., that a sufficiently advanced computer, programmed for artificial intelligence, could develop a mental disorder and maybe even have a nervous breakdown.
Even the theme music for 2001 is iconic: the haunting Thus Spake Zarathustra builds from a near whisper to what amounts to orchestral power-chords in an ingenius implementation of classical music inextricably associated with the movie. But....I digress.
I read a few Clarke novels. Besides 2001, another one that made a big impression on me was Rendezvous With Rama, another tale of an encounter with an alien civilization that sort of drifts into our solar system in a most unique way. This is currently being developed into a movie with Morgan Freeman, as I understand it.
I think why Arthur C. Clarke so appeals to me is he stuck with "hard-science"-type stories, shying away from injecting much fantasy (no "warp speeds" or anything). This built worlds that were admittedly purely speculative, but not impossible.
While it's commonly known Clarke was visionary in his prediction of global communication satellites, writing about them as early as 1945, it's less commonly known that he was a big fan of underwater exploration and marine diving, a big reason he moved to Sri Lanka in 1956. Besides the research benefits, he loved the weightlessness diving brought him (Clarke suffered debilitating effects of post-polio syndrome). He rarely left Sri Lanka afterwards. (A close friend of mine once received a hand-written reply to a fan letter he'd written Clarke. In it, Clarke stated he'd been to Florida for a diving expedition in the late '50s! That's pretty cool.)
Arthur C. Clarke won a plethora of awards for his writing and was knighted in 2000.
Toward the end of his life, he admitted he had no further professional ambitions, but expressed three personal wishes to close friends and associates: 1. That extraterrestrial life would make itself known, or at least be proven to have existed. 2. That we abandon our dependence on fossil fuels and embrace cleaner and safer energy. 3. Closer to home, that his beloved adopted home of Sri Lanka would unify its violent and divided political factions and know peace.
Like other grandmasters of his generation who are no longer with us, Arthur C. Clarke was a giant and will be sorely missed.
WRIGHT IS WRONG FOR OBAMA
I have been slow to comment on this latest scandal and I apologize. It has been the rage of talk radio and TV. This week's Mike's Rant has some great commentary on it. Before my absence on this important political development becomes more conspicuous, I would like to briefly comment, and it will be brief, because Mike does a great job. I just want to go on record about it.
I am, of course, talking about the firestorm of controversy surrounding Barack Obama's minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose inflammatory anti-American and racist remarks (recorded and played on TV and radio) have negatively impacted Obama's presidential bid, perhaps fatally. Wright has been Obama's minister for 20 years and is credited for getting Obama into the Christian church. (Obama's previous religious affiliation is another hot-button topic we'll save for another day.) When the Rev. Wright gave a fire-and-brimstone sermon about how America invited 9/11 to happen and how the black man has been kept down by the whites, it was capped off by the extremely memorable line, "Not God Bless America, no no no. It's God DAMN America!"
When confronted by this, Obama distanced himself from his preacher, but only slightly, saying something kinda lame like "he's my spiritual advisor, not my political one." He disagreed with the expressed sentiments, said he'd never heard the Reverend speak this way before, and added that this is how many black people think. His recent noteworthy televised speech rebuking the comments was a wonderful effort at damage control, and as the New York Times said, "couldn't have handled it any better," but the damage has already been done.
The comments about Wright's feelings being a big surprise to Obama are simply not credible. By all accounts, Wright's sermon was a typical one and it's not possible to believe he's never talked like this before! Obama will not disown the preacher (admirable, although he'd look even worse than he does now, if he did), any more than he will disown his wife (for her remarks about being ashamed of America), or his white grandmother (who commented on being afraid to encounter black men). So here it is, kids:
The young Illinois senator has gracefully handled every barb and accusation up to this point, because people wanted to see him do well, I think, and give Hillary Clinton some worthy opposition. But, the tidal wave of negativity is about to submerge him and I don't think this latest chapter is recoverable.