Visionary – the Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Visionary – the Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke

by Neil McAleer, (first printing of the collector’s edition)

At last! Neil McAleer’s long anticipated revised, updated and extended biography of  Arthur Clarke  has arrived. Was it worth the wait? The answer is an emphatic Yes!

Neil McAleer with Arthur Clarke

Neil McAleer with Arthur Clarke. Photo by Karl H. Anders.

In fact so much work has gone into this book that it is in effect a completely new edition. As Neil points out in the opening to his book, Arthur’s life lasted longer than it takes Halley’s Comet to orbit the Sun. That life encompassed some of the most memorable events of the twentieth century.  It was an existence which touched, and continues to touch, so many others. It is impossible to tell Arthur’s story without telling the history of both spaceflight and science fiction; the two are closely interwoven and McAleer does an excellent job in demonstrating how Arthur’s ideas led the way in both fields. To read about Arthur Clarke  is to read about the Apollo Moon landings (Arthur was part of the famous anchor team that covered the landings in the States and which included his great friends Walter Cronkite and Robert Heinlein – in fact some Americans mistook Clarke’s West Country burr for an American accent when he appeared in these now famous transmissions); SETI; the development and impact of the communications satellite; the triumphs of fellow science fiction legends such as Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov; that famous collaboration  – concerning a certain mysterious sentinel – with Stanley Kubrick, who is as sadly and profoundly missed as Clarke himself; and, of course, the early history of the BIS itself.

Arthur lived to see the devastation wrought on his adopted homeland by the 2004 Christmas tsunami and this is movingly covered in one of the later chapters, as is Arthur’s famous optimism which lasts quite literally to his final breath.  It is that optimism which runs through all of Clarke’s stories, a determinedly positive outlook which saw a bright future for mankind in space, a bright future which petered out – in reality as least – with the end of the Apollo programme.  This trait – a passionate wish to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecies of doom so beloved by other science fiction writers in novels of Armageddon and dystopia – was perhaps Arthur’s most defining characteristic, one which Cronkite touchingly reflects upon in the wistful tribute at the beginning of the book.

Neil’s choice of memorable quotes includes Edward Young: “Too low they build, who build beneath the stars.” Arthur’s stories transcended the stars (you only have to think of the way he fashioned and embellished such wonderful creations as the space elevator and the Star Gate to see how transcendent his ideas truly were) and his official biographer chronicles the big Clarke novels well. The biography now includes the final, grand solo efforts – the pure Clarke – which amounted to the final signing-off on Arthur’s legacy (The Hammer of God and the mighty 3001: The Final Odyssey).

Arthur C Clarke

Arthur reading the casebound original screenplay of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey in 2004. This copy was a gift to Tom Hanks from his wife. The casebound screenplay was taken to Sri Lanka by Neil so that Arthur could inscribe it for Tom.

Neil rightly acknowledges the support and loyalty of Arthur’s long time personal research assistant, Nalaka Gunawardene, who continues to protect, promote and cherish Arthur’s memory in Sri Lanka. The book is partly dedicated to that other great champion of Arthur’s memory, his brother Fred.

Arthur’s gifts as a futurologist, a seer of scientific trends yet to come, is still unequalled and the book includes a welcome and still mind-boggling list of Arthur’s predictions.

The book’s credentials are impeccable, from the twin Forewords by Ray Bradbury and Walter Cronkite to the final touching letter from Tom Hanks, this is a distinguished and defining read.

In his opening to the book Neil states that “The challenge was to create a physical book that might survive perhaps half a millennium. With that goal in mind the biographer researched the use of preservation quality materials in its production, paper, ink, binding, casing, Smyth-sewn signatures and silver dye stamps evoking the stars.” I have no doubt that thanks to the expert chronicling skills of Neil McAleer, Arthur’s legacy will last twice as long, to 3001 and beyond.  A must buy book in every sense.

For further information, or placing advanced orders, please email: [email protected] or

Mark Stewart FBIS

BIS Honorary Archival Librarian

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