Teahouse on the Tracks (Alastair Reynolds)
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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Arthur C Clarke
Now Playing: Not a lot

I'm sorry to hear of the death of Arthur C Clarke. To a large extent, I owe my entire interest in written SF to early exposure to Clarke's writings. From around the time that I was eight, I started reading Clarke's short stories in the back pages of "Speed and Power" magazine, a boys-orientated UK periodical that ran for a year or two after 1974.  At the time, I had no idea that these stories were not original to the magazine, written new each week. In fact, most of them were at least a decade old - stories like "Transit of Earth", "Into the Comet", "The Sentinel". They had a terrific effect on me, not least because they were well illustrated, with imaginative colour paintings in a style not unlike that of Chris Foss. For the most part, these were stories about space exploration, told realistically. In the early seventies, it was still possible to view these stories as snapshots from a future that was more or less guaranteed to happen.

One story hit me particularly hard - "A Meeting with Medusa". It was serialised in S&P over several weeks, beginning with Howard Falcon's airship crash - again, brilliantly illustrated. But it was only at the very end of the story that we found out what had really happened to Falcon. The artist's depiction as Falcon-as-cyborg (a human torso in a business suit mounted on what appeared to be a set of aircraft undercarriage) scared the hell out of me. But I couldn't get the story out of my mind. That was the point, I think, where Clarke really bit into my imagination. Not long after, I read (but didn't really understand) 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wasn't to see the film for several more years, by which time I'd already read "Rendezvous with Rama". "City and the Stars", "The Sands of Mars", "Childhood's End" and "Earthlight" soon followed. The latter two were Christmas presents, given a year or so apart. I can still remember the thrill of curling up in bed at the end of Christmas day, beginning to read. Clarke never let me down, and those books still resonate tremendously. Clarke's non-fiction - especially "Profiles of the Future" - introduced me to the popular science. To a large degree, it also shaped the way I think about technology and the future. I'm fundamentally an optimist and think that - no matter how inauspicious things may appear in the early decades of the twenty first century - the human species does have a future in space. If Clarke indoctrinated me in that mode of thinking, then I'm more than happy to have been indoctrinated.

I'm in Chicago at the moment, travelling. If I were home, I'd be inclined to sit down and read one of my favorite Clarke stories. Maybe it would be the one about the haunted spacesuit - I was talking to a group of people in a library in Cardiff about that story only a couple of weeks ago. Or that beautiful and sad vignette about the "moonquake", or the astronaut falling towards certain death when his launch catapult fails... 

I was born in Barry. Across the Bristol channel, on a clear day, you could see Minehead. It was only a few miles away, as the crow flies...

Posted by voxish at 4:12 PM MEST

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