2001: A Space Odyssey's Creator Arthur C. Clarke and His Visionary Works

Science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke anticipated communications satellites, cell phones, GPS and the Internet.
Marcia Wendorf
A scene from 2001: A Space OdysseyMatthew J. Cotter/Wikimedia Commons

Ask any science fiction aficionado who his or her favorite author is and you're likely to get the name, Arthur C. Clarke.

Over a 50-year career, Clarke wrote some of the most-loved sci-fi works, including 2001 A Space Odyssey and the classic Childhood's End. For many years Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov were known as the "Big Three" of science fiction.

Arthur Charles Clarke was born in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset, England on December 16, 1917. In 1936, he moved to London, joined the British Interplanetary Society, and started writing science fiction.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Source: ITU Pictures/Wikimedia Commons

During World War II, Clarke served as an RAF officer, working with the first ground-controlled approach (GCA) radar. Following the war, he wrote his only non-science-fiction novel, Glide Path, based on those experiences.

Following the war, Clarke returned to London, and in 1945, he published the technical paper, "Extra-terrestrial Relays," which laid down the principles for satellites in geostationary orbits.

Today, at 36,000 kilometers (22,000 mi) above the earth, the geostationary orbit is named The Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Communications satellite
Communications satellite. Source: USAF/Wikimedia Commons

"The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine." -- J. B. S. Haldane

In March 1945, Clarke sold his first professional science fiction story, "Rescue Party", and it appeared in the May 1946 issue of Astounding Science.

In 1948, Clarke obtained a first-class degree in Physics and Mathematics from King's College, London.

Sci-fi magazines
Sci-fi magazines. Source: Wings Publishing/Allen Anderson/Wikimedia Commons

In 1954, Clarke wrote to Dr. Harry Wexler, who was then the chief of the Scientific Services Division of the US Weather Bureau, asking him about the possible use of satellites in weather forecasting.

Out of that communication arose an entirely new branch of meteorology with Wexler as its driving force.


Clarke wrote a number of non-fiction books describing the technical details of space flight and its possible effect on society.

These include Interplanetary Flight: An Introduction to Astronautics in 1950, The Exploration of Space in 1951, and The Promise of Space in 1968.

In his 1962 book, Profiles of the Future, Clarke stated his Three Laws, one of which is the famous: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

If Magazine
If Magazine. Source: Quinn Publishing/Kenneth Fagg/Wikimedia Commons

2001: A Space Odyssey

In 1964, Clarke began a collaboration with movie director Stanley Kubrick, and four years later, Clarke shared an Academy Award nomination with Kubrick for the screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey LP album cover. Source: Per-Olof Forsberg/Flickr

The film was based on a 1948 story of Clarke's entitled "The Sentinel", and Clarke published a novel based on the film in 1968.

In 1972, Clarke published The Lost Worlds of 2001, which included his account of the movie's production, and alternative versions of key scenes.

2001: A Space Odyssey book
2001: A Space Odyssey book cover. Source: Christo Drummkopf/Flickr

A Love Affair With Sri Lanka

In December 1954, Clarke first visited Colombo, Sri Lanka, which at the time was called Ceylon, and he turned his attention from the sky to the sea. The first SCUBA equipment began appearing around this time, and Clarke said, "When the first skin-diving equipment started to appear in the late 1940s, I suddenly realized that here was a cheap and simple way of imitating one of the most magical aspects of spaceflight - weightlessness."

Clarke discovered the underwater ruins of the ancient Koneswaram temple off the coast of Trincomalee, which he described in his 1957 book The Reefs of Taprobane. That was his second diving book after 1956's The Coast of Coral.


In 1958, Clarke began a series of magazine essays that eventually became the 1962 book Profiles of the Future. In the book, Clarke described a "global library", hundreds of TV channels available anywhere on the planet, and a "personal transceiver, so small and compact that every man carries one."

Clarke wrote that "the time will come when we will be able to call a person anywhere on Earth merely by dialing a number," and that such a device would include means for global positioning so that "no one need ever again be lost." He even predicted that such a device would be invented in the mid-1980s.

In a 1974 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Clarke was asked what life would be like for the interviewer's son in the year 2001. Clarke responded:

"He will have, in his own house, ... a [computer] console through which he can talk, through his friendly local computer and get all the information he needs for his everyday life, like his bank statements, his theater reservations, all the information you need in the course of living in our complex modern society, this will be in a compact form in his own house ... and he will take it as much for granted as we take the telephone."

"Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." -- Arthur C. Clarke

During the Apollo 11, 12 and 15 missions, Clarke joined broadcaster Walter Cronkite and ex-astronaut Wally Schirra as a commentator on the CBS network. In 1973, Clarke published the novel Rendezvous with Rama, which swept all the science fiction book awards that year.

In 1982, Clarke published a sequel to 2001 entitled 2010: Odyssey Two and he worked with writer/director Peter Hyams on the 1984 movie version by using a modem while he was in Sri Lanka and Hyams was in Los Angeles.

Clarke turned their communications into the book The Odyssey File - The Making of 2010 which described his awe at being able to communicate on a daily basis with someone on the opposite side of the world.

In 1981, Clarke created a thirteen-part TV series entitled Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, and in 1984, he created Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers.

In 1994, the 26-part Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe began appearing.

In 1989, Clarke was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) "for services to British cultural interests in Sri Lanka." He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998, and he received Sri Lanka's highest civil honor, the Sri Lankabhimanya in 2005.

"Any path to knowledge is a path to God — or Reality, whichever word one prefers to use." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke spent the remainder of his life in Sri Lanka doing underwater explorations along its coast and the Great Barrier Reef. He published his last novel in March 1998 entitled 3001: The Final Odyssey.

Just hours before Clarke died, a gamma-ray burst (GRB), known as GRB 080319B, reached earth. It became the farthest object ever to be visible to the naked eye. Science writer for Sky and Telescope magazine, Larry Sessions, blogging on earthsky.org, suggested that the burst be named "The Clarke Event."

American Atheist Magazine wrote of the idea: "It would be a fitting tribute to a man who contributed so much, and helped lift our eyes and our minds to a cosmos once thought to be province only of gods." Clarke died on March 19, 2008.

Among the awards Clarke received are the 1956 Hugo award for his short story, "The Star", a Nebula award in 1973 for his novella, "A Meeting with Medusa," both Nebula and Hugo awards in 1974 for his novel Rendezvous with Rama, and in 1979/1980 both Nebula and Hugo awards for his novel The Fountains of Paradise.

In 1985, the Science Fiction Writers of America named Clarke their 7th SFWA Grand Master.

A mountain on Pluto's moon Charon, Clarke Montes, is named after Clarke, as is the asteroid 4923 Clarke. A species of Australian dinosaur, Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei, was named after Clarke.

Today, the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation presents the annual Arthur C. Clarke award for the best science fiction writing published in the UK, the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for achievements in space, the Arthur C. Clarke Innovator's Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award.

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