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SCI-FI MASTER CLARKE RELISHES 2001
By Beth Duff-Brown
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, Dec. 28, 2000
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka Leaning forward in his wheelchair, the 83-year-old man
speaks deadpan into the tape recorder: "Testing one, two, three. Testing.
This is not Arthur Clarke, this is his clone."
As is so often the case with the grand old man of science fiction, it's a
fantasy that might well be a reality in the years to come. A Houston-based
company called Encounter 2001 has six strands from his thin gray hair and
wants to launch Clarke DNA into space.
"One day, some super civilization may encounter this relic from the vanished
species and I may exist in another time," he muses. "Move over, Stephen
Clarke is the novelist whose vision inspired Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece,
"2001: A Space Odyssey," and made it synonymous with our deepest fears and
hopes for the future.
Thirty-three years later, as humanity lumbers into the new millennium, he
believes his visions of aliens, asteroids, paranoid computers and men on
Mars may lie just this side of the moon.
Although he uses a wheelchair due to complications from polio he contracted
in Sri Lanka in the 1960s, Clarke looks more regal than feeble as he
receives a visitor at his home in Colombo a few days before 2001 dawns.
Barefoot in a blue Hawaiian shirt and coffee-colored sarong, he has blended
into the casual couture of his adopted South Asian homeland.
With his beloved one-eyed Chihuahua, Pepsi, at his heels, Arthur Charles
Clarke is ever the eccentric soothsayer-scientist-philosopher, besieged by
journalists seeking his reflections on 2001, and happy to oblige. 2001
belongs to him and the late Kubrick the way 1984 belongs to George Orwell,
and he knows it.
It's hard to name any other author whose stories, essays and more than 50
novels have so adeptly combined futuristic fantasy with hard-nosed science,
weaving implausible yarns in outer space that often turned out positively
In an article in Wireless World in 1945, he imagined satellites one day
revolutionizing global communications by relaying messages worldwide. The
idea was so compelling that when the first satellites were launched in the
1960s, they could not be patented.
Clarke's writings also foretold cellular phones, space stations, men on the
moon and the Internet. There is no Hilton on the moon as there was in
"2001," but there is one in Hanoi, which tells you just how hard it is to
predict the future. Appearing at the height of the Cold War and America's
involvement in Vietnam, "2001" envisaged something equally improbable:
Russian and American astronauts on friendly terms.
As Clarke's famous dictum has it: "When a distinguished but elderly
statesman states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right.
When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
Clarke wrote "2001" on a typewriter. Now, armed with half a dozen computers,
he spends hours each day using e-mail to keep in touch with friends,
colleagues and fans.
"I don't know where half my friends are physically on the planet and it
doesn't matter," he says.
The farm boy from England, whose accent still carries a Somerset burr, is
Sir Arthur now, knighted in 2000 for his contributions to literature.
He became addicted to science-fiction after buying his first copies of the
pulp magazine "Amazing Stories" at Woolworth's. He devoured English writers
H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon and began writing for his school magazine in
his teens. Clarke then went to work as a clerk in Her Majesty's Exchequer
and Audit Department in London, where he joined the British Interplanetary
Society and wrote his first short stories and scientific articles on space
With the Royal Air Force during World War II, Clarke became a radar officer
who taught himself mathematics and electronics and conceived his earliest
theories on geostationary satellites.
After the war, he earned a degree in physics and mathematics at King's
College, London. With the publication of the nonfiction "The Exploration of
Space" in 1951, and the now-classic novel "Childhood's End" in 1953,
Clarke's career rocketed.
Kubrick was interested in "The Sentinel," a short story Clarke had written
in 1948, about discovering an alien object on the moon "a kind of burglar
alarm, waiting to be set off by mankind's arrival."
From this emerged their jointly written screenplay for "2001: A Space
Odyssey." Clarke simultaneously wrote the novel, fleshing out the story
about a tribe of apes, a mysterious black monolith, a moon colony, a mission
to the outer solar system and a devilishly soft-spoken computer named Hal
Hal decides that to fulfill the spacecraft's mission, he must prevent his
own demise. So he calmly snuffs out astronauts one by one when he learns
they intend to shut him down. This, and the lobotomy performed by Astronaut
Dave Bowman on the computer, is one of the most memorable sequences in the
The film and the novel came out a year before Neil Armstrong took that giant
leap for mankind in 1969; Clarke had years earlier predicted it would happen
He believes a space colony on the moon or Mars is not that far out. It's a
matter of money and where to start.
"Mars or the moon? I feel that we should establish ourselves on the moon and
make our mistakes because that's only a couple of days away," says Clarke.
"If anything goes wrong on Mars, it's nine months back."
Clarke also believes that computers with Hal's consciousness are not far
"There's a general feeling that computer intelligence will exceed man's at
about 2010, 2020 or so," says Clarke. "The next question is when we will see
the first conscious computers. When will the first computers say, 'I think,
therefore I am?'"
Should this frighten mere mortals?
Yes, says Clarke, if computers ever develop the ability to defend themselves
against being unplugged.
"If there's ever a war between man and machine," he says, "I can guess which
side starts it."
He cocks an eyebrow and points to himself.
While "2001" dealt with artificial intelligence running amok, Clarke never
joined the Y2K doomsday chorus. He credits everyday people with having taken
the proper precautions.
And where millennia are concerned, Clarke is a purist who insists the new
one doesn't start until Jan. 1, 2001.
"It's a simple matter of fact," he says. "If you went to the grocer and you
ordered 10 kilograms of sugar and then he set the scale at 1, wouldn't you
feel that you'd been cheated?"
After "2001" he wrote "2010: Odyssey Two" and "2061: Odyssey Three." At age
80 came "3001: The Final Odyssey." Will there be a "4001: The Absolute Final
"Nope, nope. I don't have the energy or the attention span now to
contemplate anything of that length," Clarke insists. "I've got far too many
projects on my plate anyhow."
Kubrick died in March 1999, aged 70, but Clarke maintains a schedule that
might seem daunting for an octogenarian who can no longer walk unassisted
and must pause to take breaths.
Over the next six months, TV documentaries, awards, lectures, dedications
and dozens of interviews are lined up. And he still finds the energy to play
pingpong most evenings at the Colombo Swimming Club, "Leaning on the table
and I can still beat up most of them."
He has no special plans for Jan. 1, 2001. "I will have a nap. It is a good
excuse to have a good sleep," he says.
Clarke fell in love with the tropical island off the southern tip of India
during a diving expedition in 1956 and never left.
Life among Buddhists hasn't tilted him toward reincarnation.
A theme throughout Clarke's novels is the evolution of the human spirit and
man's innate desire to expand his reach. But he doesn't see religion as the
answer. He calls religion a "disease of infancy," and in "3001: The Final
Odyssey," it has become taboo, a product of man's early ignorance that
provoked hatred and bloodshed.
"One of my objections to religion is that it prevents the search for God, if
there is one," he says. "I have an open mind on the subject, if there's
anything behind the universe. And I'm quite sympathetic with the views that
there could be."
Clarke says his last ambition is to know whether there is intelligent life
"It seems truly incredible if there's not. Nobody knows, but I would guess
(the discovery) will happen this century as our technology develops. As our
instruments become more and more sensitive, we may detect planets with
Sadly, the discovery might not come in his lifetime, although he once told
TV newsman Walter Cronkite during their joint narration of the Apollo 11
moon landing 31 years ago that he had "every intention" of going to the moon
before he dies.
Does he regret never having made it?
"Yes, but I feel I've gone into space so many times now," he says.
Clarke shrugs and grins: "You know been there, done that."
Much of his work has dealt with immortality and humankind's drive to
propagate and survive.
Yet Clarke, married and divorced long ago, says he does not regret having no
children to advance his own genetics or spirit.
"I have all the fun and none of the responsibility," he says, referring to
the three young women he watched growing up. They are the daughters of his
Sri Lankan business partner and Australian wife who share his two-story
mansion in Colombo and look after his health and the scuba-diving venture
they run together.
"Those are my children, too, I guess," Clarke adds, pointing to his
bookshelves filled with hundreds of editions of "2001: A Space Odyssey" in
dozens of languages.
Not to mention those six hairs.
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