The Clarke Effect

The prophet of the Space Age speaks out.

Anybody who does not know Arthur C. Clarke obviously belongs to the bullock-cart age. Widely known as the prophet of the Space Age, Clarke has provided a number of classics to the field of sci-fi. But equally important are his non-fiction writings, dealing with the subjects closest to his heart.

"Greetings...." is an attempt to chronicle his non-fiction writings and showcase them chronologically. These consist of notes about people, eulogies, extracts from papers presented to councils, thoughts about the future, details of his life in Ceylon and general comments on just about everything. While a lot of it is dry, Clarke mixes it with his trademark humour to provide a delightful mix of insight, trivia and knowledge. And this is a book which can rise above the fact that it is completely non-fictional.

The book is divided into several sections, each section dealing with the writings in a particular decade. So, we start from the Thirties and proceed all the way to the Nineties. As each decade unravels, Clarke's writings bring alive the beliefs, expectations and atmosphere of that era. While his focus is on humanity's attempt to reach the stars, he makes a number of digressions into literature to strike a fine balance. Clarke profiles the great writers of the passing times and, in his own manner, pays homage to them and to the service they provided to society. Often, he brings to light unsung or forgotten heroes from the fields of literature and astronomy, such as Lord Dunsany and C.S.Lewis, amongst others. Their exploits are well-chronicled here as well as their personalities, which bring us that much closer to truly understanding what inspired them.

Clarke also keeps up a parallel account of the progress made by the scientific community. It is truly fascinating to travel back in time and to see what the thinkers of those times tried to make of the future. Comparing the reality of today with the dreams of the past becomes a highly fulfilling and awe-inspiring idea. The various stages of our progress out of Earth's atmosphere are minutely chronicled here, and are a must-read for anyone interested in the stars. Also interesting are the various theories that he details, be they the ludicrous fantasies of the early scientists or the visions of the future.

Midway through the book he begins to talk about his trips to Ceylon and his subsequent settlement there. He profiles the wondrous country and its denizens and paints a picture of as much clarity as the clearest LCD display can provide. Whether it is deep-sea diving or its mountain ranges, Ceylon comes to life under the pen of the master.

Truly, Clarke works a minor miracle with this mammoth attempt of a book. For anybody remotely interested in the minute and the remote, here's the book for you.

This article was first published on 10 Oct 2000.