He wore pajamas and a bathrobe, and a swollen bare foot was propped up on an ottoman. That was the figure cut by the revered science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke the one time that I, along with a few other Scientific American editors, met him. It was October 1999, and he was in New York City, making an extremely rare trip, for medical reasons, outside of his adopted home country of Sri Lanka.
Clarke had invited us to his room at the historic Hotel Chelsea, where in the mid-1960s he worked on his best-known piece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. There he berated us for not taking cold fusion seriously enough. He believed that a revolutionary discovery could still come from the experiments of the small scattering of remaining devotees to the idea. Clarke’s optimism about the possibilities of future technology is embodied in his three famous “laws,” one of which states that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
In 1945 he wrote in the magazine Wireless World of how a satellite in an equatorial orbit with a radius of 42,000 kilometers would remain over the same location of the earth and how three of them could relay radio signals to anywhere on the globe. The concept was not new with Clarke, but he popularized the idea. In 1964 the first such geostationary communications satellite was launched.
Clarke, who suffered from post-polio syndrome and reportedly had trouble breathing before his death on March 18, wrote scores of books, both fiction and nonfiction, and won numerous awards. An asteroid, an orbit, a species of dinosaur and several prizes have been named after him. Many scientists, astronauts and writers have credited him with inspiring them in starting their careers. His impact, you might say, was indistinguishable from magic.