Saturday, March 22, 2008


Daisy, Daisy.... Give me your answer do....

A Grandmaster of Science Fiction died last week.

I thought about noting the passing of Sir Arthur C. Clarke at the time, but it's taken me this long to formulate my thoughts about him sufficiently to put into words.

I didn't really like his work.

Don't get me wrong, 2001: A Space Odyssey was an important movie in many ways. Who knows if we'd have Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, or any of a dozen-plus other movies/series without it. I suppose it's also an important book, but I have to admit to two things: First, the movie--to me--is nearly unwatchable. I think I may have accomplished the feat twice (?). And second--again IMHO--the book is even more unreadable. I've heard that you have to read the book to understand the movied; maybe therein lies my problem with the movie.

I will agree, however, that the effects and editing in the movie are fantastic. The transition from a falling, rotating bone (humanity's supposed "first tool") to a (technically) falling, rotating space vehicle (humanity's supposed "latest tool") is still riveting. The rotating wheels, exercising in space, the velcro-shod stewardesses: all amazing and classic imagery.

And no-one can call themselves a sci-fi afficionado without professing a fascination with the HAL 9000. (Did you know that HAL's name was a play on "IBM," did you know that? One of the original Trivial Pursuit questions, I believe.) I have a 386 computer in the basement, the hard drive of which is loaded with HAL 9000 quotes and sounds.

And I have to admit to having carried a copy of The Hammer of God on my honeymoon. Loving books like I do, I go NOWHERE without one. My LW tolerates that habit of mine. (Even driving the Horde to the library, I will often have a book in the car, just in case I get stuck in the car waiting for them at the store, etc.)
That being said, The Hammer of God wasn't even cracked open until we returned home from the honeymoon. So there.

I found his Rama books somewhat entertaining, too.

That's about it.

However, I'm still a little upset by his death. I hate to see the Old Guard go. There's a LOT of bad modern science fiction out there now; much of it is even more unreadable than I consider 2001, and for different reasons. There's a lot of crap. Even some of the "big names" have fallen into the trap. A lot of the "hard" science fiction novels become a vehicle for the technology at the expense of a story. There is nothing wrong with intelligent science fiction, so long as there is a story as well.

The storytellers are leaving us and we're stuck with the merchandisers and the (pseudo-)intelligentsia.


Sir Clarke did leave us with the satellite and the idea of the space elevator. And I believe he was, truly, a storyteller. I may not have liked a lot of what he did, but I have a lot of respect for what he did...and for his mind.

I doff my hat, bow my head, and wish he could tell us: is it, in fact, full of stars?

Goodbye, Sir.

We'll see you again on the other side.

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