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Arthur C. Clarke Remembered

Featurette

James Randi

Volume 32.4, July / August 2008

I first met Arthur at his home in Sri Lanka where I had gone with an NBC television crew during the taping of a TV special, “Magic or Miracle?” That was in 1983. The man credited with having “invented” the geosynchronous satellite was a trifle embarrassed. The president of Sri Lanka was due at his home to watch a football game via the only satellite dish that existed in all of the tiny island nation—Arthur’s dish—and that device was lying on its side, a victim of a recent storm. His mobile telephone, too, was “dead” because its charger had become disconnected, and I had the honor of wriggling down underneath a massive desk to plug in the transformer for him; the bits of wildlife I ran into underneath, I leave to your imagination.

Arthur facilitated our visit, and I recall that when we arrived at the airport and announced who our host was, we were instantly moved through immigration and customs and escorted outside to our waiting transportation; this man was highly respected in his new home and once commented to me that he found it far more agreeable to be a large fish in a small pond than any other configuration of those elements that he could imagine.

Over the years, I ran into Arthur C. Clarke several more times and once had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the United Nations. His thought process was evident from his speaking manner. As in his writing, everything he delivered was clear, concise, and effective.

I was an invited guest in New York City at the premiere of the Kubrick film 2001, and I saw Arthur in tears when he began to realize just how Kubrick had ignored the subtleties of the original story; we were both dismayed by the erroneous interpretations members of the audience offered as explanations of the “psychedelic” sequences in the film. I suggest that readers examine his short story “The Sentinel” —upon which that film was based—and The Lost Worlds of 2001, then see the film again for a better understanding of what it should have shown.

Arthur was a delight. Yes, I grieve at his passing, but—much more important—I celebrate his existence. If you want to see him at his very best, look up the short story titled “The Nine Billion Names of God.” When you get to the last line, if you don’t gasp, Arthur might have bored you….

James Randi

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James “The Amazing” Randi is a magician, investigator of psychic claims, author (Flim-Flam!, The Faith Healers, The Mask of Nostradamus, The Magic of Uri Geller), and the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He was a founding fellow of CSICOP. This article is based on a special presentation on investigating psychics he gave at the Fifth World Skeptics Congress, Abano Terme, Italy, October 8—10, 2004.