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...

(The entire section is 1060 words.)

Arthur C. Clarke Biography

(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 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 founder of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Advanced Technology. Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death in 2008 at age 90.

Arthur C. Clarke Biography

(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, 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 cowritten with Gentry Lee; Beyond the Fall of Night, cowritten with Gregory Benford; Richter 10, cowritten with Mike McQuay; The Trigger, cowritten with Michael Kube-McDowell; and The Light of Other Days, Time’s Eye, Sunstorm, and Firstborn, cowritten with Stephen Baxter. In these works, Clarke’s participation was presumed to be minimal. A final novel, The Last Theorem, was begun by Clarke alone but completed by Frederik Pohl because of Clarke’s declining health. Shortly after reviewing the proofs of this novel, Clarke died of heart failure and respiratory complications on March 19, 2008.

Arthur C. Clarke Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 received a degree in physics and mathematics in 1948. From 1949 to 1950, he was an assistant editor for...

(The entire section is 436 words.)

Arthur C. Clarke Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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.”

Arthur C. Clarke Biography

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(Short Stories for Students)

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