Arthur C. Clarke Links

April 27, 1998

A live Webcast of the 30th anniversary of "2001: A Space Odyssey" will be available on April 29 from 6:30 to 9:00 PM PST (APRIL 30, 02:30 to 05:00 UTC).

Ron Baalke

April 2, 1998


The disgraceful allegations made against Sir Arthur by a British Sunday paper have now been conclusively demolished. The local broadcaster who had taped some of the most serious charges has now sworn, under oath, that they were completely false. And Sir Arthur is very grateful to the IGP and the Crimes Department of the Sri Lanka Police for locating and questioning the other persons mentioned.

The attempts by the paper to link Sir Arthur's name with dubious organisations and individuals suspected to be involved in child-abuse cases have also been proved to be fabrications - or downright lies - by the reporters concerned, who are now themselves under investigation. (One had lost his job attempting to sell a fraudulent 'scoop' to a British tabloid!)

In a last-ditch effort to maintain credibility, the London paper now claims to have an incriminating tape. This is in fact a tape which Sir Arthur insisted on making himself, and giving to the reporters, expressing his abhorrence of any form of sexual exploitation - especially that involving children. Some of his statements have been deliberately taken out of context, to convey the exact opposite of his meaning.

It now seems probable that this whole affair was an attempt to embarrass the Government on the eve of Prince Charles' visit for the 50th Independence Day Celebrations (when he would have formally invested Sir Arthur with his knighthood 'for services to literature'.)
Fortunately, there was enough time for the authorities, here and in the UK, to ascertain that the charges were groundless. Sir Arthur attended the Independence Day Banquet and was warmly greeted by H.E. the President and the Prince of Wales. The photos of Prince Charles and Sir Arthur laughing and shaking hands speak more eloquently than many thousands of words.

It has since been discovered that certain persons and individuals here in Sri Lanka have been engaged for several years in attempts to discredit Sir Arthur for their own purposes. So although the case against him may now be regarded as closed, another investigation is now under way in Colombo to look into this. And, of course, in view of the immense damage done to Sir Arthur's reputation, his London and Washington lawyers are now considering what further action he should take.


Since the Independence Day Banquet, at which I was very happy to have received sympathetic greetings from dozens of ambassadors and other dignitaries, I have also received a flood of good wishes from friends, known and unknown, all over the world. And here in Colombo, perfect strangers now go out of their way to wish me well - and to congratulate me on the millions in damages they fully expect me to collect. It has even been suggested, ironically, that in the long run my legal income may far outstrip my literary one...

That remains to be seen, but if I do receive any of the compensation to which I feel morally entitled, it will all come to Sri Lanka. And it will be used to support genuine children and young persons' organisations here, as well as the Ragama Rehabilitation Hospital, of which I am honoured to be Patron.

The first months of 1998 have been the most unpleasant of my life, but I am now certain that out of evil may come forth a great deal of good. And I hope that I have been able to protect other innocent persons, who may not be in a position to defend themselves from scoundrels willing to destroy a reputation for the sake of a headline.

Sir Arthur Clarke, Kt., CBE


On December 16, 1997, Dr. Arthur C. Clarke celebrated his 80th birtday.

Arthur C. Clarke is best known for the famous SF movie 2001: A Space Odyssey for which he wrote the script with Stanley Kubrick. In 1968 his novelization of the movie was published. 2001 was followed in 1982 by 2010: Odyssey Two (filmed by Peter Hyams in 1984), in 1988 by 2061: Odyssey Three and in 1997 by 3001: The Final Odyssey.

The above mentioned books are but a few of his science fiction oeuvre. Well known, for instance, are his Childhood's End (1950), The Sands of Mars (1951) and Rendezvous with Rama (1973). Clarke has won all of science fiction's highest tributes, including the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell awards.

Arthur C. Clarke also wrote non-fiction books and articles, many of them about undersea exploration (he is an enthousiastic skin-diver himself, one reason for his residence in Sri Lanka). In 1962 he was awarded the UNESCO Kalinga prize for his popularizations of science. His most important non-fiction books are Interplanetary Flight (1950), The exploration of Space (1951), The Exploration of the Moon (1954), Profiles of the Future (1962, revised 1973) and The Promise of Space (1968). Arthur C. Clarke became well known all over the world when he appeared as commentator on CBS TV for the Apollo 11, 12 and 15 Moon missions.

For his work as a populariser and sf prophet Clarke received the Lindbergh Award in 1987 and the CBE in 1989.

ASTRONET's webmaster congratulates Dr. Clarke on his birthday. He still cherishes the memory of visiting him in Sri Lanka. He also appreciates the stimulating words Clarke wrote about the Dutch precursor of the Moon Handbook.

Many happy returns, Ego!

Carl Koppeschaar

A review of Clarke's 3001: A Space Odyssey (written in Dutch) can be found on the Dutch pages of ASTRONET. Below follows an excerpt of an article on predicting the future that appeared in the February, 1985 issue of Quest magazine.


by Carl Koppeschaar

More than once renowned scientists have declared that certain developments were impossible. Flying? Rockets? Space travel? Forget it. Science fiction writers looked at things differently, and they have been proved right.

One day Arthur C. Clarke, the grand master in science fiction, was in the public library in Colombo when he came across a passage in a book written by a physicist in the 1920's. He burst into laughter at 'this jewel of scientific arrogance', causing indignant visitors to the library to point furiously at the notice demanding SILENCE.

The author of the book was Professor A. W. Bickerton, who had written:

'This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd lenght to which vicious specialization will carry scientist working in thought-tight compartments. Let us critically examine the proposal. For a projectile entirely to escape the gravitation of earth, it needs a velocity of 7 miles a second. The thermal energy of a gramme at this speed is 15,180 calories... The energy of our most violent explosive - nitroglycerine - is less than 1,500 calories per gramme. Consequently, even had the explosive nothing to carry, it has only one-tenth of the energy necessary to escape the earth... Hence the proposition appears to be basically impossible ...

These harsh words were written by Bickerton after the American rocket expert, Robert Goddard, launched his first rocket on March 16, 1926. The rocket was filled with kersone and oxygen, and went only 13 metres during its 60-metre trajectory. Goddard was jeered and ridiculed. Was this the long-awaited experiment which he had in mind in 1919 when he wrote his classic description about projecting rockets in A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes? For a long time, other scientists considered his work to be but science fiction. Man was not predestined to leave Earth. And, moreover, no one need have any illusions that life aboard a rocket or on the Moon would in any way be like that on Earth.

'A billion years ago the more conservative fishes said exactly the same to their amphibian relations,' Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his Profiles of the Future, 'Existence on dry land bears not the remotest resemblance to fishy life under water. We shall stay were we are. And that is what they did. That is why they are still fishes.' According to Clarke, Bickerton's greatest mistake can be traced back to gross stupidity. So what if the nitroglycerine has only a tenth of the energy needed to escape from the Earth? The fuel itself does not need to escape the Earth; it can be entirely burned up well before it leaves the Earth's atmosphere. It only means that 10 kilograms of nitroglycerine is necessary to launch a load of 1 kilo weight. As long as the energy impulse is transmitted to the load wihch is to be launched, nothing else is needed.

Thirty-three years after Bickerton wrote that such thing was impossible, the Lunik-2 proved him wrong. True, the several hunderd tonnes of kerosene and liquid oxygen did not go far from Russia - but the metal sphere weighing half a tonne arrived absolutely on target in Mare Imbrium. So Clarke's consternation in the public library can easily be understood. Who would not have disturbed the peace by bursting into laughter when reading such nonsense, especially from the pen of a physicist?

As far as predicting the future goes, scientists are, almost without exception, bad prophets. And that is odd, because vision must be one of the first essentials for practising science sucessfully. Yet eminent scholars have from time to time made fools of themselves by publicly declaring that a certain future development was physically impossible. Bickerton's pronouncement on the technique of rockets is but one example.

In a similar way, the American astronomer Simon Newcomb in 1906 'proved' that an aeroplane could never be built. 'The demonstration that no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which men shall fly long distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as its is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be.' are the words Newcomb chose to end his argument. So much for 'proof'.

In Holland, the famous Dutch lawyer and amateur astronomer Professor G. van den Bergh, was often quoted in newspapers for pronouncing space travel an impossibility. He stuck to his guns up to the moment that the first Sputnik was launched. But when he continued to do so after Sputnik, he showed that he lacked as much imagination as Jules Verne had had too much. An orbit round the Earth could not be called space travel, argued Van den Bergh. That was altogether too close at hand. To the Moon or still further - only that was space travel; but that was, of course, impossible. How terribly wrong history has proved this man.

Who then is in a position to predict the future accurately? Science fiction writers? Many have tried to predict technological developments, with varying degrees of cuccess. Jules verne is one of the most successful, and we may never see the likes of him again. He was born at a unique period and exploited it for all his worth. His life (1828-1905) almost exactly covered the rise of the applied sciences, and because of this Verne could risk predicting all sorts of 20th-century inventions: submarines, air ships and space travel.

Only one other person exceeded Verne in the number and accuracy of his predictions. That was the American author and inventor Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967). As early as 1911, in his serial story Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the year 2660, he anticipated radar, television and solar energy installations among other things. Hugo Gernsback also introduced for the first time the expression 'science fiction': stories covered with a veneer of science. It was precisely this combination - a background of the sciences and a considerable measure of imagination - which has made so many of the technological predictions by SF writers into reality.

Take communication satellites. They became technically feasible due to a fortunate freak of nature: the existence of a geostationary orbit. In such an orbit at 36,000 km above the equator, a satellite completes one revolution every 24 hours. That too is the period which the Earth needs to turn once on its axis. Therefore, it is possible to hang a satellite permanently above the same spot on the the surface of the Earth. Contrary to every other heavenly body, therefore, such a satellite never rises or sets. In the past 22 years, hundreds of communication satellites have been fixed in this way in the sky. They inhabit the geostationary orbit like a string of pearls, and no one can no longer imagine telecommunication techniques without them.

But did you know that the first concept originated in the world of science fiction? In 1945, Arthur C. Clarke hit on the idea of using this sort of satellite as a 'booster station without a pole' and published this in the October issue of the magazine Wireless World.

Extra Terrestrial Relays. By Arthur C. Clarke

However, even the powers of the SF prophets fail at times. Twelve years before the launch of Sputnik, Clarke was not very optimistic about the probability of his idea being realised in the near future. In fact, he says he did not expect to live to see the arrival of communication satellites in space. Now he is sorry that he did not patent his idea. It would have made him a billionaire. Only INTELSAT, the International Telecommunication Satellite Organisation, does not forget the original inventor. This organisation always refers to the 'geostationary orbit' as the 'Clarke orbit'.

Back to ASTRONET's home page
Terug naar ASTRONET's home page