Science Fiction: Latter-Day Jules Verne

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Across the U.S., a superior science-fiction movie called 2001: A Space Odyssey is playing to packed houses. An engrossing novel expanded from the movie's screenplay and a new nonfiction book called The Promise of Space are selling briskly in bookstores. Some 22,000 miles above the equator, communications satellites are relaying TV pictures and telephone calls between the continents. The movie, the books and the satellites all have something in common: they are the brainchildren of Arthur C. Clarke, a tall, springy and remarkably imaginative Englishman whose writing bridges the gap between the far reaches of science fiction and the intricate realities of scientific fact.

Science-fiction connoisseurs see the precise Clarke as a latter-day Jules Verne. Space scientists who invited him to address the international conference on bioastronautics and space exploration three weeks ago obviously regard him as a peer. That broad acceptance testifies to the validity of the three premises of which Clarke bases all his writing, fiction and nonfiction alike:

>When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, is almost certainly right. When he States that something is impossible, he 'is very probably wrong."

> "The only way to define the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible."

> "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

By mining the magic of the impossible, Clarke has uncovered the material for 40 volumes that have sold more than 5,000,000 copies—to say nothing of hundreds of articles in Sunday supplements and magazines ranging from LIFE to Playboy. His energy is impressive. In Colombo, Ceylon, where he has lived for the past twelve years, the author taught himself to be an expert skindiver. He has explored many tropical roofs, and charted and searched sunken wrecks in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Inevitably, he has also written extensively about underwater exploration.

Wireless World. Clarke, now 50, traces his interest in science to the time he built a telescope while he was still a schoolboy in England. But exposure to such U.S. science-fiction magazines as Astounding Stories and Amazing Stories in the early 1930s really ignited his imagination, led him to study physics and electrical engineering, and turned him toward the typewriter.

In 1945, during a five-year stint as a radar instructor in the R.A.F., Clarke wrote an article called "Extraterrestrial Relays" for the magazine Wireless World. Heart of the piece was a detailed proposal for a synchronous communications satellite. Almost 20 years later, the device became a reality as Syncom 2. After the war, Clarke went to Kinks College in London, graduated with honors in physics and math, soon turned to writing full time.

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