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'Space Odyssey' Author Clarke Dies at 90


And let's take a moment to remember Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who has died at the age of 90. He's best known for writing "2001: A Space Odyssey," which became a movie. But he wrote many dozens of science fiction novels. He was a trained scientist who applied intellectual rigor to his imagination. And he inspired generations of writers and scientists.

NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY: On his 90th birthday just a few months ago, Arthur C. Clarke recorded a YouTube message to his friends and fans.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Mr. ARTHUR C. CLARKE (Author): Hello, this is Arthur Clarke speaking to you from my home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

ULABY: Clarke has lived there since the 1950s, and that's where he died after suffering for years from post-polio syndrome.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Mr. CLARKE: Being completely wheelchaired doesn't stop my mind from roaming the universe. On the contrary, in my time I've been very fortunate to have seen many of my dreams come true.

ULABY: One idea Clarke himself hypothesized was geosynchronous orbits, which physics Professor John Cramer says we now take for granted as part of our communications system. He teaches at the University of Washington and he describes Arthur Clarke as a scientist's science fiction writer.

Professor JOHN CRAMER (University of Washington): He basically was one of the very first people to write what is now called hard science fiction. Hard meaning that the physics and the chemistry and the biology and so forth are accurate and more or less trustworthy.

ULABY: Clarke studied math and physics before serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Science fiction editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden says Clarke recognized the almost mystical awe that fuels great science, and as a storyteller he released it step by rational step.

Mr. PATRICK NIELSEN HAYDEN (Editor): A great deal of what his work is about is that moment when the universe reveals its true, almost unencompassable vastness to human observers.

(Soundbite of symphony, "Also Sprach Zarathustra")

ULABY: Clarke rejoiced in the romance of living in a gigantic universe. He embraced the idea that it's human destiny to move beyond the Earth. Those ideas were most famously expressed in the book and movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

(Soundbite of movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey")

Mr. KEIR DULLEA (Actor): (As Dr. Dave Bowman) Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

Mr. DOUGLAS RAIN (Actor): (As HAL 9000) I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

ULABY: Although the movie spawned one of science fiction's great malevolent characters in the computer of HAL, Clarke told NPR he was never anything but delighted by technology.

Mr. CLARKE: The computers are probably our successors. The intelligent computers of the future. And I don't see why we should worry about that. I only hope they'll treat us kindly, like household pets.

ULABY: Arthur Clarke was an obvious choice to work with Walter Cronkite covering the Apollo 12 and 15 missions. He also hosted a 1980s TV series that questioned, among other things, the existence of underwater monsters.

(Soundbite of TV show)

Mr. CLARKE: In Lake Okanagan, a midnight vigil by 60 divers in search of Ogopogo. There have been red submarines, yellow submarines...

ULABY: Clarke's curiosity for underwater exploration led him to establish a diving station in Sri Lanka decades ago. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, he said he had three wishes: to see evidence of extra-terrestrial life, to bring an end to global warming, and to see peace in Sri Lanka, his adopted home.

Mr. CLARKE: This is Arthur Clarke, saying thank you and goodbye from Colombo.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.