The best obituary I saw for Arthur C. Clarke, who died last week, was this one by Michael Swanwick in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday. I think Swanwick, himself a well-know SF writer, captures the essence of the man: it was his ideas, not his prose that cemented his place in the SF pantheon (with Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and other pioneers of the form as it moved out of the pulp wasteland into grudging acceptance as a literary form), but now and again the prose was damned fine too.
Swanick mentions The Sentinel, of course, a Clarke short story which was the basis for one of the most important SF movies ever, and The Nine Billion Names of God, another story with what may be the most famous last line in all of SF, one that I constantly misquote, forgetting the “without any fuss” interjection. Had I been the one doing the obit, I’d have also added The Star, another story with a religious backdrop, which was once removed from a high school anthology because of fears it would be upsetting to Catholics because its protagonist is a Jesuit priest undergoing a crisis of faith…with good reason, as it turns out.
Childhood’s End, his most famous novel, has been at or near the top of my favorite SF works ever since I read it, a story about nothing less than the end of the human race which is at once triumphant and poignant and which also challenges man’s concepts of who and what we are and how the universe came to be. The revelation of the appearance of the mysterious Overlords is similar in nature to Harlan Ellison’s remarkable short story, The Deathbird, which I read late one night, was stunned, read again and immediately picked up my telephone to call Ellison, setting off a chain of events which dramatically affected my professional life (I’ve told that one, whole or in part, many times and will surely recount it again in the space ’cause that’s what I do).
But, as another famed writer in another field whom I also admired tremendously, was wont to say, I digress….
Arthur C. Clarke, as you’ll see clearly if you take the time to read Swanick’s tribute, was a remarkable man. In his time, in his place, he was truly a giant.