|May you live many thousands of years, Sir Arthur C. Clarke!|
by Bircan Ünver
Every birthday of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the legendary writer and scientist, who will celebrate his 86th birthday on December 16, is celebrated in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo as if it's a "national holiday." Sir Clarke, who was born in 1917, in Blenheim, London, lives in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo (formerly Ceylon) since 1956.
We, too, celebrate Sir Clarke's 86th birthday and his new age by our 13th issue: May you live many thousands of years Dear Sir Clarke! Happy birthday!
(New York) Last year, I visited Sir Arthur Clarke in Sri Lanka to celebrate his 85th birthday. During my previous two visits, he had emphasized that he did not give interviews any more and that he stopped writing as well. When I visited him the third time on January 14, 2003, the day I was to leave for New York, I learned that he changed his decision about "not writing" when he handed to me his new book's first chapter called "The Last Theorem" which had been just written and printed out, along with his permission for me to read it.
Sir Clarke's story titled "Travel by Wire" was published in 1937. He opened the way for satellite communications, cellular phones and the World Wide Web to come alive in our era through the vision of his article called "Extraterrestrial Relays" which appeared in Wireless World in October 1945. Not only by this article, but also by his over 90 books including The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke and The Collected Essays of Arthur C. Clarke where he has foreseen the future based on scientific data, he has brought new dimensions to space research and made countless contributions.
The main characters of Sir Clarke's novel titled Childhood Ends, published in 1954, are the Overlords (they are the lords or masters of skies) who come from other planets to provide peace and harmony on the Earth and they dwell in the skies of New York. The control and supervision mechanism which the Overlords have built on the Earth gives the novel a quality of a foresight of peace being brought by the United Nations. At the same time, starting with this book, Sir Clarke displays the "greatness of mind" in all of his books as an indispensable track and a bright star wished to be arrived at.
As the chance of 'peace' at human beings' own will is slipping quickly through our hands, especially at the beginning of 21st century, Sir Clarke's vision of almost half a century turns into a hope too.
Sir Clarke, who suggests in his book The Foundations of Paradise that the "Space Elevator"project is possible with today's technology, emphasizes the same opinion in articles and interviews made in various times. He sees Sri Lanka as the ideal location for the "Space Elevator"in his book (Sir Clarke also gives another reference for a possible location for the "Space Elevator"in the "Afterwards"of the book.). If the project is realized, Sir Clarke states in an interview published in October 1999 in the New York Times, anybody who wishes would be able to travel to "Space"for only 200 USD, costing less than a plane ticket, and there would be a big boom in space tourism.
I have been planning to go to Sri Lanka and visit Arthur C. Clarke for the last few years. In September 2001, I had read an article about Arthur C. Clarke in Milliyet Sanat written by Cuneyt Ayral. Cuneyt Ayral's being in Istanbul at the same time with me was a coincidence. On January 14, 2002, with the contact information I received from dear Cuneyt, I faxed a written interview proposal to Sir Clarke himself to be e-published on The Light Millennium.
I was not expecting Sir Clarke to answer each and every one of the 17-18 questions of the interview, but I wanted to take my chances anyway. In a very short time, on January 16, 2002, I received a reply fax stating that he did not give interviews anymore.
On the "Sir Arthur C. Clarke"letter headed and signed reply, while he was explaining why he was not able to accept my proposition, he was suggesting me to contact with Simon Welfare for the documentary titled The Universe of Arthur C. Clarke. On the footnote of the fax, he was saying: "I discovered now: the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee states that his Internet idea has been inspired by my story 'Dial F for Frankenstein.'" This story also takes place in his book of 996 pages called The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (2000).
In The Island newspaper published in Sri Lanka, a French journalist, Paul Michaud, underlines that the birthday celebrations for Sir Arthur C. Clarke have turned into a national holiday. In the same article, while stating that Sir Clarke "did not write any more," Michaud was hoping that he would change his decision.
Despite this information that I have read in the paper and the writer's own fax, I, for some reason, did not want to believe that he stopped writing and to accept his decision. At my third visit, I was not expecting him to change his mind about not giving any interviews indeed. While he was giving the news of this wonderful surprising change, Sir Clarke, like a little child, bringing his finger to his lips, said: "Even my own agents don't know yet," with a low tone of voice.
He had just started to write his new book on January 14, 2003. The title of his book's first chapter was "The Last Theorem." I had an impression that this chapter's title would be the same with the book, but I could not ask him that. It all was so new that his secretary Tony Thurgoo was just working on the corrections and changes of the new written chapter on the computer. When I think of 3001: The Last Odyssey and among his more than 90 books, the ones that are nearly of 1000 pages titled The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke and The Collected Essays of Arthur C. Clarke altogether, I still think his new book may be called "The Last Theorem."*
The protagonist of the new book is an Indian amateur astronaut who makes early space explorations at the dawn of the 20th century. Sir Clarke showed me a black and white photograph of the astronaut and an article about the astronaut's work, but he did not want me to record his name.
While he was turning his computer on to show me the first one of the two photographs that have been amongst the visual references in his book, he asked: "Did you go to Trincomalee?" Trincomalee is one of the most beautiful coasts and famous harbors on the eastern banks of Sri Lanka according to Sri Lanka guide books. Its population of more than 56,000 is evenly split between Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. I had thought of going to Trincomalee, but since I have heard that during that season, in that region there were tropical downpours and the visitors could not go out of their hotels for three days, it was not on top of my list of places that I have planned to see. Just then he asked if I had been to Trincomalee. Thinking of Trincomalee was a source for his book's first chapter, I said: "I will go there next time."
Sir Clarke retrieved the first photograph on his computer's monitor. On the eastern bank of Trincomalee, two rocks parallel to each other were rising from the shore of the ocean. It was a very beautiful, striking photograph in which the ocean was lying, as if it were in a sandwich, at the bottom of these rocks which were stretched to form a cliff.
After this one, he clicked on the second photograph. The second photograph was taken from the top of one of these two rocks with a bird's eye view. The structure formed at the top of the rock was surprisingly similar to the structure in many photographs that NASA had published about the landscape of Mars. The early period amateur Indian astronaut determined this similarity between the structure on top of the rock and the ground structure of Mars at the beginning of the 20th century before he saw any of the photographs that have been sent to Earth either by satellites or rocket ships.
Previously, I had read that, a few strands of Sir Clarke's hair would be sent to Mars by a rocket in 2003 for the advanced civilizations in future years to find them. After a short research I made once I returned to New York, I read that Sir Clarke has based his belief about nature's being alive on Mars on scientific data by evaluating some of the photographic data sent from Mars (space.com).
There are of course other reasons for my assumption that the book will build relationships between the high cliff at the seashore in Tincomalee and Mars and future life in Mars. One of them is: The book and the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (he is, as well, the joint screen writer of the film together with Stanley Kubrick) carries the traces of the antique ruins of Anuradhapura from 2,500 years ago. The second reason is his famous book titled Foundations of Paradise which was published in 1979 and received the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. In this book, he writes about the theme "Space Elevator" and the Buddhist monks who were the heroes of the legends of the Sacred Mountain whose summit is reached by climbing 2,240 meters in Sri Pada and once again he forms an organic structure by intertwining the entirety and continuity of the past and the future in a poetic and scientific manner. There, he links the era of 2,500 years ago with the year 2,500 A.D. as if he is communicating with us from the future.
His book The Foundations of Paradise, where he combines the elements mentioned above and foresees the realization of "Space Elevator," is more than science fiction; it is a sentimentally passionate novel as much as it's scientific, legendary, and mythological, and at the same time, makes one think that it carries the hints of "The Last Theorem."
As the legend goes in The Foundations of Paradise, in a period of time in the future, the Buddhist monks leave the mountain when the yellow butterflies reach the summit over the Sacred Mountain.
The Sacred Mountain or Adam's Peak is also known as the first place Adam set foot on Earth after he was cast out of heaven. This mountain is also claimed for possession by other beliefs or religions with similar values. For instance, Buddhists believe that it is Buddha's "foot print" despite the claim that it is Adam's foot print.
At the beginning of the book Rendezvous with Rama that Sir Clarke had written exactly thirty years before the events of 9/11/2001, chaos and a humanistic tragedy takes place on September 11. In his "Egogram," which the author has written at the end of 2002 and summarizes the entire year, he evaluates this as an astonishing coincidence that is unexplainable. He also states that, following the book's publishing, this part of the book caused many space guard foundations to be established that did not exist before.
In all his books he has written until today, many of the scientific revelations and the futuristic vision of Sir Clarke, whose published books have sold over one hundred million, have the originality and context that would light the way for hundreds and thousands of years to come as much as they have done so for the 20th century.
In his book 2001: A Space Odyssey, he states: "Hundreds of failures won't matter when one single success changes the destiny of the world." With his vision that brought technological revolutions in communication and inspired scientific discoveries regarding space, Sir Clarke has drawn one of the main lines that would take the Earth's fate to the future. While politics and balances of power of the Earth have been based on "war and killing," the legendary writer and scientist is getting ready to celebrate his 86th birthday in his wheel chair due to his "post-polio" illness. At the same time, with his latest book, he continues to prepare us for the surprises of Mars and a possible beautiful future for humanity and suggests us to turn our eyes/senses from television screens to the monitors of the sky.
Against everything-against the enforcing characteristic of wars that slow down or stop the revelations and discoveries- it is certain that we have a common witnessing of the realization of most of his foresights in our time. For this reason, Sir Arthur C. Clarke is one of the most brilliant minds of our era who has put his signature under not only one but countless successes that will change the fate of humanity. At the same time, I cannot help myself to think that Sir Arthur Clarke, who has shared with us in his novels the different hundreds and thousands years of the future as if he lived in the future, is a gift to the Earth from the future.
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