Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (Oct. 2002), with a full-page illustration by Geoff McFetridge. In the photo above, ACC holds his copy of Arthur No. 1, with that page showing.
FAMOUS ARTHUR: Arthur C. Clarke
Paul Moody enters the sci-fi court of King Arthur
Androgynous aliens searching the galaxy for the nine billion names of God; mysterious unmanned spaceships drifting Marie Celeste-like into the solar system; vast black monoliths discovered under the surface of the moon..it’s all in a day’s work for Arthur C. Clarke.
The author of more than seventy novels and the undisputed Godfather of science fiction, he’s also—to a generation brought up on his long-running UK TV series, The Mysterious World Of…—the monstrodomo of the unknown. Add the fact that’s he’s lived in self-imposed exile in Sri Lanka since 1956, became a guru to the entire US space program in the 1960s and has attracted visits from even the likes of ill-fated Rolling Stone Brian Jones in the search for answers to the reason why we’re here, and you’ve got a mystery wrapped in an enigma signed with a question mark. Religious cults have been born from less.
Yet meeting this good natured sci- fi Colonel Kurtz takes you into an even stranger world. Picture the scene as a Hollywood pitch: you’re standing in a quiet residential street in Cinnamon Gardens, the most exclusive district of Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka. Vast palm trees sway in the 90-degree heat haze. A cloud of bats flies overhead on its daily vigil toward the sunset. Suddenly a ten foot grille slides open and you’re walking into the private residence of one of the most reclusive figures on the planet.
Yet it’s all true. As you go up the stairs of his palatial headquarters you begin to realize you’ve entered a one-man orchestrated nerve-center. This is a far cry from the days when Clarke owned the first television set in Sri Lanka. Banks of computers drone harmoniously; fax machines buzz with communications from all corners of the globe (the telecommunications bills rarely drop below $1000 a month). Signed pictures of everyone from Neil Armstrong to Elizabeth Taylor to the Pope line the walls, amid vast blown-up NASA Moonscapes, whilst a vast floor to ceiling bookcase at one end of the room is filled entirely with hardback first editions of Clarke’s novels.
The overall effect is like entering the inner sanctum of a benign, hyper-active Bond villain. Prodigious isn’t the word for Clarke. He claims to have 102 projects on the go at any one time, and in this setting, aided by a host of assistants, it’s hard to disbelieve him. On top of all this, a wall-sized TV screen is beaming footage of Clarke appearing as a hologram at the Playboy Mansion last year. Standing on a dais addressing an invited crowd of NASA dignitaries, octogenarian swingers and luminescent blank-eyed Playboy bunnies, Clarke delivers a speech as a shimmering, golden, light projection. The effect is much like seeing Kirk and Spock mid-dematerialization on the USS Enterprise. Except Clarke really is going where no man has been before.
As you’d imagine, he’s pleased with it.
“You are watching history!” he booms by way of introduction, gesturing at the screen. Wheelchair bound due to the debilitating effects of post-polio syndrome, nonetheless he wheels himself forward at high speed wrapped in a batik sarong.Continue reading