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Arthur C. Clarke Remembered

Featurette

Martin Gardner

Volume 32.4, July / August 2008

Only once did I have the great pleasure of meeting Sir Arthur C. Clarke. It was for lunch in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Also at the table was a woman who talked incessantly about Jung and a handsome young black man who I later learned was the boxing champion of Sri Lanka. Arthur and Isaac Asimov at that time were, of course, the two giants of science fiction.

My acquaintance with Arthur, and my correspondence with him, arose from a mutual interest in recreational mathematics. The wall in Clarke’s early story “The Wall of Darkness” is a one-sided Moebius band. He was so intrigued by my Scientific American column on pentominoes that he wrote an article titled “Help! I’m a Pentomino Addict!” The twelve shapes played a role in one of his novels as a model of life’s endless combinatorial possibilities.

Sir Arthur not only will be remembered for his popular science fiction but also for the accuracy of his many predictions and for two memorable remarks:

“A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and, “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

Less well known, but my favorite, is the following: “I sometimes think that the universe is a machine designed for the perpetual astonishment of astronomers.”

Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner is author of more than seventy books, most recently The Jinn from Hyperspace and When You Were a Tadpole and I was a Fish, and Other Speculations About This and That.