Arthur C. Clarke Biography

Arthur C. Clarke Biography

Arthur C. Clarke, along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, is considered one of the big three of science fiction’s golden age. 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). Known as a humanist and rationalist, Clarke nevertheless repeatedly explored religious themes in his fiction, and he was skilled at blending real-world science with technological vision. When you crack open a Clarke novel, chances are pretty good you are getting a sneak peek at the future.

Facts and Trivia

  • Though born in England, Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death in 2008. 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 was 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.”


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 received his bachelor’s degree (with first-class honors) in physics and math in 1948. From 1949 to 1951, Clarke was an assistant editor at Science Abstracts, a publication of the Institution of Electric Engineers, London. In 1951 Clarke became a full-time writer.

“My literary interests,” Clarke noted, “are divided equally between fiction and non-fiction.” His first success was an introduction to astronautics, Interplanetary Flight, followed by related works, The Exploration of Space and The Exploration of the Moon. Clarke won esteem as a science writer. Critic Ray Gibbons praised “Clarke’s ability to reduce complex subjects to simple language and his steadfast avoidance of fantasy as a substitute for factual narration.”

Clarke concurrently wrote science fiction. His Prelude to Space was hailed as “a compelling realistic novel of interplanetary flight.” Other works came quickly: The Sands of Mars, Islands in the Sky, Against the Fall of Night, and The Lion of Comarre. A milestone was Childhood’s End, for it placed Clarke in the mainstream of Anglo-American science-fiction writers. Basil Davenport of The...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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,...

(The entire section is 296 words.)