When Arthur C. Clarke was born, 100 Years ago to the day of writing this, World War I still raged, which featured men doing combat in the skies over France in kite box-like airplanes. When he finally died on March 19, 2008, men had walked on the moon, and people were living and working on a space station in low Earth orbit. The reality was not quite the vision of “2001: A Space Odyssey” that had featured a vast, wheeled shaped space station, a base on the moon, and a nuclear-powered spacecraft headed to the outer planets. That real life had not entirely aligned with Clarke’s vision was not in any way an indictment of what he had foreseen.

The City and the Stars

Most people, when they think of Clarke, remember the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a film that came out in 1968, a year before the first moon landing. However, my first encounter with Clarke was a book called “The City and the Stars,” a novel set billions of years in the future in which humanity was divided between a sealed city of the future called Diaspar and a green oasis called Lys. The story is a hero’s journey of a young man named Alvin who breaks free of the confines of Diaspar and his discovery of humanity’s lost history, when it had conquered the stars, and the first space expedition in many eons. I read and reread the book regularly as a kid.

“2001” of course

In seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” for the first time in 1968, a year of race riots, the Vietnam War, and assassinations, we really thought it was a documentary of the future, a more hopeful one that the present.

The reality did not quite match the vision, though. Clarke’s future brought to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick, remains a beautiful look at what might have been and what yet may still be. It should be noted that “2001” imagined space commercialization long before it was a thing. The space station is run by Hilton and the space shuttle by PanAm, then a functional airline.

Clarke as a prophet of the space age

Arthur C. Clarke, as much as any science fiction writer of his generation, was a prophet of the Space Age. Many of his books, such as “Rendezvous with Rama,” “Childhood’s End,” and “The Fountains of Paradise” still hold up after so long and should be read by anyone interested in the literature of space exploration.

No piece on Clarke cannot pass without mention of his invention of the communications satellite, published in an article in Wireless World in 1945. Comsats remains one of the primary methods of making money in space and have changed the world in many profound ways.

Clarke could be said to be more spiritual than religious, an attitude that ran through his body of work. In a way, space exploration was, for him, a metaphor for the search for the ultimate truth, for God, reality, or whatever one chooses to call it. One should hope that when he finally departed this existence that he found some of the answers he looked for. Happy birthday, Sir. Arthur. Thanks for all the adventures on the printed page over the years.