|A Visit with Arthur C. Clarke|
by John L. Coker III
John L. Coker III, a long-time fan and Locus contributor as a photographer, recently took early retirement from his corporate job and took the opportunity to make a 30-day trip through Asia. He visited Clarke in Sri Lanka on February 4, 1999 -- they had met before in Florida (Locus October '94). The following conversation also includes some excerpts from Clarke's New Year's Egogram on what he has been doing. We've left it in conversation form to give you an idea of the rapid-fire way Clarke thinks and speaks.
JLC: You first visited Ceylon in 1954. What prompted you to live here?
Sir ACC: I was on my way to Australia. My quick answer is thirty English winters. But of course, I became more involved with the ocean, and that's what got me here. We have a large organization here [Underwater Safaris] that is being run by Hector and Valerie.
Have you seen this calendar? Every day of the year it has something about space. I got a letter from one of Von Braun's associates, and he rubbishes space tourism pretty thoroughly. Did you see Apple Computer's Super Bowl ad? Three million bucks for sixty seconds. Spectacular! I've got it right here on a zip disk.
JLC: When I spoke with the de Camps, they asked that I extend their greetings to you. In a recent letter from Sprague, he mentions a research trip that he made in 1966 with Alan Nourse, visiting sites for his book Great Cities of the Ancient World. He recalls that on thefirst leg of the tour in Colombo you and Hector came along in another car to climb Sigiriya Rock with them. He says that his mountain climbing days are behind him now.
Egogram 98: Though I am no longer able to walk without assistance, I still play table tennis daily, leaning against the table. Apart from occasional coughs and colds my health has been quite good: I wish I could say the same about my memory.
On New Year's Day, the British High Commissioner gave me the splendid news that Her Majesty was awarding me a Knighthood for 'Services to Literature'. I regarded this as a compliment to the entire genre of Science Fiction as much as to myself. The English Lit mandarins could put this piece of news in their pipes and smoke it.
Sir ACC: I don't have much time for reading, but I've just been sent four or five fantastic books on how the mind works. In the one from David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality, he is convinced there are multiple universes, multiverses, an infinite number of universes. It is a staggering thought. I received a nice letter the other day from the Dalai Lama. He had read 'The Nine Billion Names of God'. It is about a computer at a Tibetan monastery, one of my most famous stories.
Egogram 98: I have a couple of books and about ten TV and movie projects lined up, so boredom is the least of my worries. One recent disappointment: although Steven Spielberg optioned The Hammer of God it received no credit in his Deep Impact. I wept bitterly all the way to the bank.
JLC: Today people are seeking technological fixes for many of our modern problems. Should we slow down?
Sir ACC:We should accelerate. But, there are some technologies, obviously, many military technologies that I'd like to see stopped. But, civilization is technology. Do you want to abolish fire and clothing? A man is coming from America next week. He's going to take some of my hair and its going to be shot out into outer space. Then, in maybe a hundred million years someone can clone me. It is called 'Project Encounter'. Its an interesting idea, isn't it? He's launched quite a few spacecraft already, it's his business.
JLC: What is the greatest danger in the world today to humankind?
Sir ACC: Humankind. Our only hope is intelligence and common sense, which is so uncommon. The things you read in the papers or the things that politicians say. I won't name any, but you can think of plenty of examples.
I hope to see 2001. Have you seen the debate in which I've been involved about the millennium? I was asked to write a little memorandum on what I thought everyone knew about the first of January 2001. Instantly, there was a firestorm of protests. I was a spoilsport, a party pooper. In fact, it would give you an excuse for a whole year of partying. We should celebrate the year 2000, but the millennium is 2001. Moreover, some Christians are making a fuss. Why didn't they celebrate the millennium of Christ when it happened, about five years ago?
Sir ACC: My new book has just been edited and it is seven hundred pages. It is called Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds. It is a selection from my non-fiction over the last 65 years, starting with articles from 1934, plus an extensive collection of photographs recording my progress from first to second childhood. It is being edited by my old friend Ian Macauley, who has done a terrific job on it. The book is due out in August, from St. Martin's. You won't be able to avoid it.
JLC: Some of the oldest recordings are deteriorating in archives, and scientists are playing them one last time, to digitize them and clean them up with a computer. What are some of the science-fiction films that present the view of the future with which you would tend to agree?
Sir ACC: Well, 2001 missed the date by a few decades. Blade Runner is a classic, of course. Don't you think that it is time for some cheerful future? Have you seen Jurassic Park? I thought it was fantastic! Very scary. There's so much out there, you can't read it all. What we want are intelligent agents. In fact, a guy is coming to see me shortly. He is designing intelligent agents which will hunt the web and get you what you're interested in. That doesn't always work, because you often don't know what you are interested in until you see it by accident.
Have you seen the article in The New Yorker about 'degrees of separation'? One of my friends, who is perhaps one of the most powerful women in the world, is the cultural czar of Chicago. In this article, she knows everybody, and puts everyone in touch. The article discusses how many jumps it takes to get from you to anybody else. When I think of the number of people I know, or have met or talked to, or had some contact with, I think that I canget to anyone in the world in a matter of one jump.
Egogram 98: If I could be granted three wishes, they would be: 1) Peace in Sri Lanka - and the whole world, if that's not asking too much; 2) The first commercial prototypes of the clean, virtually infinite energy devices which will end the fossil fuel age; 3) Proof of life elsewhere - preferably intelligent, though I'd settle for anything that can put a couple of cells together. There are indications that the first may be in sight - and I've been expecting number 2 'real soon now' for the past five years. As for the third - well, your guess is as good as mine.
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