Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Arthur Charles Clarke was a commercially successful and highly respected contemporary science-fiction writer. Born on December 16, 1917, in Minehead, a coastal town in Somerset, England, he was the oldest of the four children of Charles Wright and Norah (Willis) Clarke. Clarke’s father was a post office engineer and farmer. “My youth,” Clarke recalls, “was spent alternating between the seaside and my parents’ small farm.” Having developed an early interest in science (from reading about dinosaurs), Clarke built a telescope at the age of thirteen and mapped the moon with it. From 1928 to 1936, he attended Huish’s Grammar School, Taunton, and wrote for the school’s literary magazine.
Since poverty prevented his attending college, Clarke worked for the British Civil Service as an auditor from 1936 to 1941. During this time he joined the British Interplanetary Society, becoming its chairman. During World War II Clarke served as a radar instructor in the Royal Air Force, rising to the rank of flight lieutenant. While in the military he wrote several articles on electronics and sold his first science-fiction stories. In an article published in Wireless World (October, 1945), Clarke predicted the development of communications satellites. A veterans grant enabled him to attend King’s College, the University of London, where he...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Reared in the country, Arthur Charles Clarke worked as a government auditor (1936-1941) in London, where he became active in the British Interplanetary Society (eventually becoming Chairman, 1946-1947, 1950-1952). A Royal Air Force instructor in the infant technology of radar during World War II, he published the first speculations on “stationary” communications satellites in 1945. After earning his B.S. in physics and mathematics at King’s College, London (1948), he became assistant editor of Science Abstracts (1949-1951) before turning to full-time writing. Introduced in 1953 to scuba diving, he moved to what was then Ceylon in 1956 and remained there for many years. Clarke married Marilyn Mayfield in 1954, but they were divorced in 1964.
Clarke has more than five hundred works attributed to him. He is known as one of the most influential writers in the science-fiction field, as well as a visionary seer on scientific speculation. Clarke was the first, for example, to propose the idea of communications satellites, in his article “Extraterrestrial Relays” in 1945. He was a mathematician and physicist as well as a novelist and commentator. His talent for peering into the future led to his involvement in advising governments on communication and on the human use of space. Clarke believed in and popularized his belief in the total exploration of space and the sea. He became Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka and was...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Arthur Charles Clarke, born December 16, 1917, first displayed his interests in science fiction and science as a child, reading pulp magazines and conducting his own experiments. By the late 1930’s, he was living in London, working for the British Interplanetary Society and publishing scientific articles. During World War II, he helped develop a system for radar-assisted airplane landings, an experience he recounted fictionally in his 1963 novel Glide Path. In 1945, he published a now-famous article that first proposed communications satellites. After the war, he graduated from college and worked as assistant editor of Physics Abstracts before quitting to pursue a writing career.
In the 1950’s, Clarke grew fascinated with the sea, and, in 1956, he moved to the island nation of Sri Lanka, which became his permanent residence. His 1953 marriage to Marilyn Mayfield ended in divorce in 1964. After the success of 2001, Clarke signed a million-dollar contract to write Rendezvous with Rama, Imperial Earth, and The Fountains of Paradise, once announced as his final work. Clarke continued writing novels—sequels to 2001 along with The Songs of Distant Earth, The Ghost from the Grand Banks, and The Hammer of God—though many were disappointed by a flurry of collaborations: Cradle, Rama II, The Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed, all...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Arthur C. Clarke was born in the village of Minehead, Somerset, England, on December 16, 1917, the son of Charles Wright Clarke and Norah Mary Willis Clarke. Even as a boy, he was interested in science and writing. In 1931, he read Last and First Men (1930) by Olaf Stapledon, a book that changed his life. A strong advocate of space exploration, he joined the British Interplanetary Society in 1935, serving as its chair from 1946 to 1947 and again from 1950 to 1953.
Clarke did well in mathematics but could not afford to attend a university. Instead, he took the civil service examination and in 1936 found employment as an assistant auditor in His Majesty’s Exchequer and Audit Department. He continued to read widely and began to publish short fiction in 1937.
From 1941 to 1946, Clarke served in the Royal Air Force (RAF). Because of his poor eyesight, he was unable to qualify for pilot training. He was sent to electronics and radar school and worked as a technical officer on the first trials of ground control approach radar. He also served as a radar instructor. A technical paper that he wrote describing the possibility of communications satellites was published in the October, 1945, issue of Wireless World, an engineering journal. After leaving the RAF in 1946, he received a grant to enter King’s College, London; he...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Arthur C. Clarke’s stories are grounded in scientific fact, but they also deal with a future that cannot be known. For the most part, he is optimistic about that future and the role humans will play in it, and he sees space travel as an invigorating force. He believes that life exists on other planets and that eventually humans will make contact with it. Although the human race may reach the end of its evolutionary development, it has the potential to become something better.
In Profiles of the Future (1962), one of his nonfiction books, Clarke writes that he is not trying “to describe the future, but to define the boundaries within which possible futures must lie.” When considering the future, he says, the one fact “of which we can be certain is that it will be utterly fantastic.”
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Author Arthur C. Clarke was born in England at Minehead, Somerset, in 1917. His ancestors, as far as he has been able to trace, were all farmers. His interest in science began before he was ten years old, after his father gave him a cigarette card from a series of images of prehistoric animals. He became fascinated by paleontology and collected fossils; before long he switched to astronomy. He built small telescopes from lenses and cardboard tubes, and spent so many nights mapping the Moon that he knew the lunar landscape much better than Somerset.
During his teens, Clarke spent much of his time building scientific gadgets while his widowed mother struggled to make a living from their small farm. Among the most challenging devices were a photophone transmitter made from a bicycle lamp and an audio-modulator of sunlight. A device based on the latter principle has been developed for communications in space.
When he was fourteen, Clarke saw his first copies of Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories. For years he collected every science fiction magazine he could get his hands on. At fifteen, he started writing short articles for his school magazine, eventually becoming its assistant editor. When he passed the Civil Service Executive examination at nineteen, he moved to London. There he met the men who became the British Interplanetary Society, an association of fans and authors. Clarke edited, wrote for, and duplicated countless...
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Clarke was born on December 16, 1917, in Minehead, Somersetshire, England. Like many children in his generation, Clarke first discovered science fiction through Amazing Stories, one of the popular science fiction pulp magazines—so-called because they were printed on cheap, wood-pulp paper. Clarke moved on to reading books by H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, and other British science fiction writers, and he wrote stories for a school magazine as a teenager. In 1936, he could no longer afford his education and dropped out to work as a government auditor. At the same time, he became involved with the British Interplanetary Society, an association formed by fans of science fiction and space science. Here, Clarke met many science fiction editors and writers, who helped him start selling some of his short stories.
In 1941, Clarke enlisted in the Royal Air Force. After teaching himself mathematics and electronics theory, he served as a radar instructor until the end of the war. In 1945, he published his famous article, ‘‘Extraterrestrial Relays,’’ in which he introduced the idea of communication satellites. After the war, he returned to school, earning degrees in physics and in pure and applied mathematics from King’s College, University of London, in 1948. While working as an assistant editor for a technical journal, Science Abstracts, Clarke continued devoting time to both his science writing and his science fiction writing. In 1952, he...
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Arthur C. Clarke was born on December 16, 1917, in Minehead, Somerset, England. He was brought up on a farm by his parents Charles Wright Clarke and Norah Mary Willis Clarke. Just before his ninth birthday, Clarke took his first airplane ride and was thrilled by air travel. He combined his interest in flying with rocketry and, by the time he entered his early teens, he was making homemade rockets, fireworks, and experimenting with communication devices. Clarke built his own refractor telescopes from old lenses, cardboard tubes, and miscellaneous spare parts. At age seventeen Clarke built a lightbeam transmitter, which used light to transmit sound. It formed the basis for Clarke’s later design for what became the communications satellite.
As a child, Clarke briefly attended an Anglican Church Sunday school. He later recalled that after a few months he concluded that it was ‘‘a bunch of nonsense’’ and refused to return. His rejection of religion and his interest in science and technology form the basis for much of his writing. Nearly all of his fiction involves underlying religious themes, with the spiritual evolution of humankind a particularly prominent theme.
There is speculation that the death of his father when Clarke was only thirteen was a great influence on his life. His writing reflects this loss and often features father figures and father-son relationships, perhaps most prominently in the novel Childhood’s End. Another important influence on Clarke’s later career as a writer was his discovery, at the age of twelve, of the magazine Amazing Stories, which features science fiction as well as fantasy tales.
Clarke was an early member of the British Interplanetary Society, a group of science fiction fans and writers. He began publishing science fiction stories in the 1930s and early 1940s—the beginning of the period known as ‘‘the Golden Age of Science Fiction,’’ when most of the genre’s acknowledged masters, including Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein were beginning their careers. In 1941 he joined the British Air Force, becoming adept in radar applications, mathematics, and electronics. After World War II he entered college and took degrees in physics and mathematics. By the early 1950s, with the publication of his first nonfiction book, The Exploration of Space, and the novel Childhood’s End, Clarke became a full-time and very prolific writer. He continued to write both fiction and nonfiction works that draw from his extensive scientific background. He is acknowledged as the preeminent writer of ‘‘hard science fiction’’ that does not depart from known science or natural law or employ elements of the fantastic, and his nonfiction writings are praised for their ability to make scientific ideas understandable to a general readership.
Clarke first visited Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1954 and established permanent residence there in 1975. He lived there part-time for twenty years, required by local laws to leave the country for at least six months a year. During the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey, he was in the United States for so long that he had to obtain a Resident Alien card. He joked that the card always made him ‘‘feel like a certified extraterrestrial.’’ He was finally able to obtain legal ‘‘Resident Guest’’ status in Sri Lanka when that country passed what became known as ‘‘The Clarke Act’’ in 1974. He continues to live and write in Sri Lanka. Late in the twentieth century, Clarke has expressed optimism that he will live into the year 2001 and the new millennium.
IntroductionAlong with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke is considered one of the big three of science fiction’s golden age. For over 50 years now, he has been deeply influential on the genre—not only for his original writing (such as the 1953 novel Childhood’s End), but also for his works that have been adapted (the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was based in part on his earlier short story “The Sentinel”) and for his collaborations (such as the novel Beyond the Fall of Night, which Clarke coauthored with Gregory Benford). A known humanist and rationalist, Clarke nevertheless has repeatedly explored religious themes in his fiction, and he is skilled at blending real-world science with technological vision. When you crack open a new Clarke novel, chances are pretty good you are getting a sneak peek at the future.
- Though born in England, Clarke currently lives in Sri Lanka. He survived the tsunami that hit the island in 2004—but it did destroy his scuba diving school.
- He didn’t take out a patent, but Clarke is credited with coming up with the idea of communication satellites.
- Clarke was knighted for his achievements in 2000. He had been scheduled to be knighted in 1998, but a particularly nasty—and false—story in a British tabloid caused him to ask for the ceremony to be delayed.
- How great is Clarke’s influence? A dinosaur, an asteroid, a Mars explorer, an orbit, a school, and more than one award have been named after him.
- Clarke’s law about advanced technology is even quoted by people who don’t otherwise know who he is: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
All Resources by Category
2001 - Literary Characters
Arthur C. Clarke - Critical Survey of Short Fiction
Childhood's End - Literary Characters
Childhood's End - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
Imperial Earth - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
The City and the Stars - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Fountains of Paradise - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Rama Series - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
The Space Odyssey Series - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature (eNotes)
The Science-Fiction Novel (Critical Survey of Long Fiction)
2001: A Space Odyssey Study Guide (quickNotes)
2061: Odyssey Three Study Guide (quickNotes)
3001: The Final Odyssey Study Guide (quickNotes)
Childhood's End quickNotes
If I Forget Thee, O Earth . . . Study Guide
The Garden of Rama quickNotes
The Ghost from the Grand Banks quickNotes
The Hammer of God quickNotes
The Star Study Guide (eNotes)