Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, born in 1917, produced some of the most well-know science fiction in the history of the genre. Born in Britain, but spending a lot of his life in Sri Lanka, Arthur C Clarke’s expansive interest and knowledge of space and technology form the main themes of his work.
Serving as a radar specialist during the Second World War, he went on to become Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1946-1947 and formulated the first ideas of using geostationary satellites for telecommunications. Due to his ongoing interest and contributions to the theory of space flight, a geostationary orbit 36,000km above the equator is known as a Clarke Orbit.
His first professional works appeared in 1946 and became a full-time writer in 1951. His most famous work, 2001 A Space Odyssey, was adapted from prose he wrote for Stanley Kubric’s film of the same name, and both were released in 1968, designed to compliment one another. With a plot stretching over millions of years, 2001 A Space Odyssey follows the rise of human intelligence and exploration from the most primitive primate beginnings to space flight in the year 2001, before exploring what the next step might be for mankind, all of which is prompted by a monolith created by an alien race to explore the universe.
Another of his most famous works, Rendezvous With Rama, published in 1972, won the Nebula Award, British Science Fiction Association Award, Hugo Award, Jupiter Award, John W Campbell Memorial Award and the Locus Award. Set in 2130, an alien spacecraft is detected entering the solar system and a spaceship is sent to investigate what mysteries it holds before it swings past the Sun and back into space. An interesting spin-off from this is that within the book, Clarke invents an asteroid detection system called Spaceguard to prevent a repeat of a fictional asteroid strike in 2077, which hit north Italy, sinking Venice. There has now been a real Spaceguard programme set up, with the same function of monitoring near-Earth objects.
Dying in 2008, Clarke left behind a significant legacy of both written work and contributions to science and communication. There are awards in both science and science fiction that carry his name, a foundation and an institute for modern technologies. With a sharp sense of humour, as well as a gift for predicting the technological advances of the future, he is supposed to have once said: ‘Perhaps, as some wit remarked, the best proof that there is Intelligent Life in Outer Space is the fact it hasn't come here. Well, it can't hide forever – one day we will overhear it.’