Biography of Arthur Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke was one the most revered science fiction writers of the 20th century. He was born in 1917 in Somersetshire, England to Charles Clarke, a farmer, and his wife Nora. Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Man (1930), a science fiction classic, heavily influenced Clarke in his youth. After Clarke’s father died when he was 13, he focused on school and worked with his mother on the farm. He was interested in astronomy and collected American science fiction periodicals. In 1936 he moved to London and took a civil service post in lieu of attending university, which he could not afford. During WWII he worked as a radar technician in the Royal Air Force, and following the war did finally take a degree in mathematics and physics at King’s College.

Clarke was chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1946-47 and again in 1950-53. He was writing speculative fiction during this time, which was characterized by a degree of realism alongside its imaginative centre. His first published story was “Loophole” (1946), appearing in Astounding Science Fiction. His short story “The Sentinel” was rejected for publication in a BBC competition, but nonetheless became one of his most famous works and one that would evolve into 2001: A Space Odyssey.

From the early 1950s onward he wrote consistently, both fiction and nonfiction. He married a young woman after three weeks and divorced six months later; he then moved to Sri Lanka where he remained until the rest of his life. There he took up diving; he even wrote of work of nonfiction about communication between humans and dolphins (Dolphin Island [1963]).

His most famous novels consist of Childhood's End (1953), The City and the Stars (1956), Rendezvous with Rama (1973), and the Odyssey series (2001: A Space Odyssey [1968], 2010: Odyssey Two [1982], 2061: Odyssey Three [1988], and 3001: The Final Odyssey [1997]. Scholars Geoff Hamilton and Brian Jones offer this analysis of Clarke’s major works: In some ways Clarke's work is the epitome of the "hard," realistic, technically feasible, technologically savvy and methodically extrapolated science fiction…his scientific background is clearly apparent within even his most imaginative pieces... Paradoxically, however, Clarke's fiction also reflects an obsession with the paranormal, the metaphysical, and the mystical, with several of the novels depicting scientific progress and alien intervention as parallel with human advancement or even transcendence. In Clarke's work—particularly Childhood's End and the Odyssey series—advanced alien races appear as benign father figures (perhaps reflecting Clarke's own loss as a boy), next to whom humanity is little more than a curious, shortsighted, and occasionally petulant child. For many, this pseudo-religious allegorical aspect of Clarke's fiction sits uneasily with the scientific rationalism he displays elsewhere.

Clarke attained a great deal of fame for his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on the script for 2001.

Alongside his fiction were notable works of nonfiction on space and the sea, such as The Exploration of Space (1951), winner of the 1952 International Fantasy Award; The Promise of Space (1968); The Challenge of the Sea (1960); and Indian Ocean Treasure (1964). He won the 1962 UNESCO Kalinga Prize for science writing and was knighted in 2000. He was recognized by the United Nations, and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. A European communication satellite was also named after him.

Clarke died in 2008 at the age of ninety.


Study Guides on Works by Arthur Clarke

Childhood’s End is one of Arthur C. Clarke’s most popular and critically acclaimed works, and a mainstay of 20th century science fiction. Published by Ballantine in 1953, it began with the short story “The Guardian Angel," published in Famous...