Sci-fi guru Arthur C. Clarke dies at 90

COLOMBO Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:37pm EDT

1 of 5. Science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke lies in his coffin at his residence in Colombo March 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Buddhika Weerasinghe

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - Pioneering science fiction writer and visionary Arthur C. Clarke, best known for his work on the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey", has died in his adopted home of Sri Lanka at the age of 90.

He died of respiratory complications and heart failure doctors linked to the post-polio syndrome that had kept him wheelchair-bound for years.

Marking his "90th orbit of the sun" in December, the prolific British-born author and theorist made three birthday wishes: For E.T. to call, for man to kick his oil habit and for peace in Sri Lanka.

Clarke was born in England on December 16, 1917, and served as a radar specialist in the Royal Air Force during World War Two.

He was one of the first to suggest the use of satellites orbiting the earth for communications, and in the 1940s forecast that man would reach the Moon by the year 2000 -- an idea experts at first dismissed.

When Neil Armstrong landed in 1969, the United States said Clarke "provided the essential intellectual drive that led us to the Moon".

Clarke first came to the Indian Ocean island in the 1950s for scuba, later founding a diving school, and said he became a resident after he "fell in love with the place".

President Mahinda Rajapaksa paid tribute to Sri Lanka's most famous foreign resident and "prophet".

"We were all proud to have this celebrated author, visionary and promoter of space exploration, prophet of satellite communications, great humanist and lover of animals in our midst," Rajapaksa said in a statement.

Clarke wrote around 100 books and hundreds of short stories and articles, and wanted to be remembered foremost as a writer.

Trained as a scientist, he was renowned for basing his work on scientific fact and theory rather than pure fiction and for keeping humanity at the heart of his technological visions.

In 1964, he started to work with the film maker Stanley Kubrick on the script of a groundbreaking film that was to win audiences and accolades far wider than those of most previous science fiction -- "2001: A Space Odyssey".

Based loosely on a short story he had written in 1948, it dealt poetically with themes of human evolution, technology and consciousness and came to be regarded by many as one of the greatest films ever made.

BIG THREE

Clarke, one of the most prolific authors of his genre, was the last surviving member of a group of science-fiction writers known as the "Big Three".

The two others were the Russian-born Isaac Asimov, who died in 1992, and Robert A. Heinlein, a Missouri native who died in 1988.

"The thing about Clarke is he had this footprint lasting 60 years with a constant stream of publications," said Russell Galen, his New York-based literary agent for more than 30 years.

"So he has a kind of stature from his long influence that puts him in a unique, elite group."

Clarke finished reviewing the final manuscript of his latest novel "The Last Theorem" just days ago.

He had also been working on the idea of a "space elevator".

"The golden age of space is only just beginning," Clarke forecast.

"Over the next 50 years, thousands of people will travel to earth orbit and then to the Moon and beyond. Space travel and space tourism will one day become almost as commonplace as flying to exotic destinations on our own planet."

Clarke's brother was traveling to Sri Lanka for his burial, due in Colombo's general cemetery later this week. Clarke left written instructions that his funeral be private and secular.

"Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral," he wrote.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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