Thursday, August 14, 2008

Still relevant after all these years: Arthur C. Clarke

It was a summer somewhere in the 1980's, I was twelve or so, and I needed books. This summer holiday we would be traveling a lot with the camper, meaning I had days and days to read while my father drove - so I needed quite a bit of reading. One of the volumes I ended up taking with me the local library was a book called "2010: Odyssey 2" by one Arthur C. Clarke. Its' cover intrigued me, and being an amateur astronomer, all things space travel fascinated me anyway. And it turned out to be very fascinating indeed! Even without having read part 1, which was not available, the story gripped me.

I'm still trying to find out what it was that appealed to me. The bits of dry wit, a fascinating future of space travel, the characters, new perspectives on time and space..all that and more, I think. Over the years I kept reading his books, bought several of them, watched him on TV and read articles about him, and I was impressed and amazed on more than one occasion.

Again it was summer, and I needed something to read for the holiday, and Arthur had just passed away. It seemed fitting to buy something from him again: The Collected Stories. It's almost a thousand pages and contains Clarke's short stories, written between 1937(!) and 1999.

Unfortunately it came too late for the holiday, but I have read a sampling of the stories, and again I was surprised by how relevant much of it still is. Many of the concepts found in Star Trek for instance, can be found in these short stories - but these stories often date from the 1940's or 1950's. Many of the stuff taken for granted in current scifi, can be found here - in writings fifty or sixty years old. And much of it is still science fiction even today!

Of course, some of the material is dated. Clarke couldn't, for instance, foretell the shape of the current internet in the 1940's, even though he wrote about reading the paper on an electronic device and over a network, in the late 1960's.

And, a disclaimer: it's possible that Clarke got some of his ideas from other, older writers. His bio on Wikipedia for instance mentions that Clarke, as a kid, read cheap US scifi pulp magazines - who knows what ideas found their humble beginnings in these mags?

But still. The man who has given us the communication satellite left us a great body of literature; food for thought for many years to come. I wouldn't be surprised if some of his stories are still relevant as SciFi stories in another fifty years.

No comments: