Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008) was a British science fiction writer, science writer, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host.
He is perhaps most famous for being co-writer of the screenplay for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, considered by the American Film Institute to be one of the most influential films of all time. His other science fiction writings earned him a number of Hugo and Nebula awards, along with a large readership, making him into one of the towering figures of the field. For many years he, along with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, were known as the “Big Three” of science fiction.
Clarke was a lifelong proponent of space travel. In 1934 while still a teenager, he joined the British Interplanetary Society. In 1945, he proposed a satellite communication system—an idea that, in 1963, won him the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal. Later he was the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1946–47 and again in 1951–53.
Clarke was also a science writer, who was both an avid populariser of space travel and a futurist of uncanny ability, who won a Kalinga Prize (award given by UNESCO for popularising science) in 1961. These all together eventually earned him the moniker “prophet of the space age”.
Clarke emigrated to Sri Lanka in 1956, largely to pursue his interest in scuba diving. That year he discovered the underwater ruins of the ancient Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee.
Clarke augmented his fame later on in the 1980s, by being the host of several television shows such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World.
He lived in Sri Lanka until his death. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 and was awarded Sri Lanka’s highest civil honour, Sri Lankabhimanya, in 2005.
“No regrets and no more personal ambitions…”
In a film made on Sir Arthur’s 90th birthday, he said he had “no regrets and no more personal ambitions… I’ve had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer – one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well.”
“Seer of 2001, prophet of the space satellite, early star and later Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, Arthur C. Clarke [occupies] a position in the factual world of science which comes near to rivalling his importance as a giant of science fiction.” – Brian Ash, Who’s Who in Science Fiction (Elm Tree, 1976)
Born in Minehead, Somerset, England, Arthur Charles Clarke was educated at Huish’s Grammar School, Taunton, and King’s College, London. He worked in the British Exchequer and Audit Department and served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force before turning a full time author in 1950.
In a landmark scientific paper titled “Extra-terrestrial Relays” published in 1945, Sir Arthur was the first to set out the principles of satellite communication with satellites placed in geostationary orbits. He never patented the idea, and received no financial benefit from his invention. He was content being acknowledged as the “Godfather of the communication satellite”, and having the geostationary orbit designated as “Clarke Orbit”. In 1969, Sir Arthur’s respected position in the scientific community earned him a place alongside Walter Cronkite in narrating the lunar landing of Apollo 11, a role he would later repeat for Apollo 12 and 15.
Sir Arthur’s interest in diving and underwater exploration led him to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he settled down in 1956. He pioneered diving and underwater tourism in Sri Lanka through his company Underwater Safaris, and played an active role as a public intellectual and as a patron of art, science and higher education. He served as Chancellor of Sri Lanka’s technological University of Moratuwa from 1979 to 2002. Although he became the island nation’s first Resident Guest in 1975, Sir Arthur always remained a British citizen. The Sri Lankan government presented him the Lankabhimanya (‘Pride of Lanka’), the country’s highest civilian honour, in 2005.
Sir Arthur’s literary achievements were recognised by Queen Elizabeth II when she honoured him with a Knighthood in 1998. He had earlier received the British Royal honour of CBE in 1989. As will as receiving several honorary doctorates from universities around the world, Sir Arthur won all the major science fiction literary awards over the course of his long and storied career.
In 1996, the International Astronomical Union named asteroid No 4923 in his honour, while scientists at the University of Monash, Australia, named a newly discovered dinosaur species as Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei in 2003.
Sir Arthur and the Award
The Arthur C. Clarke Award was established with a grant from Sir Arthur in 1986.
The prize money (initially £1,000) for the Arthur C. Clarke Award was to be given to the best science fiction novel published in Britain in the previous year. In 2001 the prize was increased to £2,001, and its value now matches the year (e.g., £2017 in 2017).
Although neither Sir Arthur nor his foundation are currently involved with the award that bears his name, the Arthur C. Clarke Award still proudly carries on his tradition of creativity and imagination.