Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

I'm supposed to be writing a short story now. I'm supposed to be doing other work. I'm supposed to be answering e-mails or doing my laundry or anything but writing what I suspect is going to be a long blog post.

But what I'm doing instead is sitting here, teary-eyed, and crying over Arthur C. Clarke.

I never met the man. I never knew him personally. I wasn't even born by the time he was old.

Yet he's touched my life in such a profound way that I don't know how to deal with his death by doing anything, but writing this.

There are some people in science fiction and fantasy fandom who can tell you when their pivotal moment of becoming a fan was. They can pinpoint the book they read or the short story in a magazine or the episode of Star Trek that won them over. There are some people, and Connie Willis comes to mind, if you saw her Worldcon 2006 speech, who can tell wonderful stories about when and where in their life they were when certain books influenced them.

I'm not exactly one of them. Sure, I can tell you that I read HAWAII by James Michener in sixth grade and I remember that because I thought the racy parts were fascinating. I can tell you that I read LITTLE WOMEN in second grade, JANE EYRE in fourth grade, and that my uncle gave me a copy of IVANHOE when I was a young girl. But I can't tell you when I read certain science fiction and fantasy novels because I simply don't remember. There's just this one continuous blur in my head where that genre is concerned, and I've come to the conclusion that it's because I've been reading such stories since before I could read for myself, and I've simply never stopped.

So I don't remember when I read 2001. I don't remember when I read the Rama books, although I think it was in my teens. I don't remember when I read any of the sequels to 2001 (and I've read them all), except for the last one, since I remember it being released in my lifetime and buying it in a bookstore. And most importantly of all, I don't remember when I read CHILDHOOD'S END, which has always been my favorite of Arthur C. Clarke's books.

I feel like there's half of me that's missing because these pieces of my reading history have simply vanished from my memory. Yet they're just dates and times and places; important, yes, but not anything compared to the books themselves.

Arthur C. Clarke taught me that devils could be good, that humans could evolve in the presence of giant monoliths, and that sometimes space stations were way too vast for their own good. He taught me that there is excitement to be found in the most mundane of scientific tasks, and that the very minutia of science can be fascinating. His books kept me reading other science fiction novels, in a continuous pattern from him to Asimov to Heinlein to countless others. He made the future interesting and the past an engrossing puzzle to solve. He forever embedded emblems into our collective cultural consciousness, and together with Stanley Kubrick, he made one of the most bizarrely beautiful movies ever.

None of this takes into account all the actual science he helped contribute to, his love of scuba diving, or the geosynchronous satellites. They are facets of the man, but they are not what he was to me.

Instead, he was simply someone who spoke with his words, and opened up new worlds to a book-loving child. He was the man behind the magic, the one working everything behind the curtain, and as a kid, you never knew he was there.

I will forever miss him because of that.


Kristine Overbrook said...

I understand your pain for someone that touched your life through their work. Take solace that the work lives on and will continue to effect and inspire the minds and hearts of others.

Dave Williams said...

We all write in his shadow, and it's all we can do. RIP.