A scientist first
Arthur ClarkeArthur Charles Clarke was born on December 16, 1917 in Minehead, United Kingdom. When he was a student, he integrated the Royal Air Force where he worked on radars, while preparing his degree. At this time, he started to write science-fiction short stories, but wasn't famous.
In science, Clarke played with great people : the resistance that England put up during the Second World War was partly due to the radar system he created. He was member of many organizations, like the British Interplanetary Society (of which he even was chairman) or the Underwater Explorers Club. He also was one of the most famous members of the Scientific skepticism, a movement that advocates the confirmation of scientist facts by experiments, mostly with the purpose to fight conspiracy theories, alternative medicines and all pseudo-scientist rip-offs (Fox Mulder, go away)... However, the biggest scientist contribution of Clarke remains the geostationary orbit : this particular orbit is the one where corpses turn as fast as the Earth. So a satellite placed on this orbit will always fly above the same earth point, which is very interesting for communication. A lot of scientists consider that Clarke was the first one to study this orbit, in an article from 1945. Also about anticipation, he popularized the idea of space elevator, a tool that would permit us to get out from the Eart attraction field without spaceship, which would be economic for frequent space travels. Even if it won't be like the great glass elevator of Roald Dahl, this tool is no more an idea of science-fiction : the appearance of nanotechnologies, which can build strong materials, could concretise it, spatial agencies are seriously studying it.
Clarke is also known in science for the laws he formulated in 1962 : « when a distinguished but old scientist says that something is possible, he's certainly right, but when he says something isn't possible, he's probably wrong » ; « the only way to discover limits of possibilities is to go a little further, in the impossible ». In 1973, in a correction of his text, Clarke added the third law (« every enough advanced technology can't be differencied with magic ») and conclued « As three laws were enough for Newton, I modestly decided to stop there ». The most famous formulation of Clarke's laws is the one of Gregory Benford (an other writer and physicist), which is a consequence of the third one : « Every technology that can be distinguished from magic isn't enough advanced ». A proof of that is the space elevator : it was in the end of the twentieth century from the domain of science-fiction and we now can imagine it.

The space Odysseys
Clarke received a lot of honours : he gave his name to an asteroid ((4923) Clarke), a dinosaur (Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei), an orbit (the geostationary orbit is also called Clarke's orbit), a litterature prize (awarding science-fiction books) and he was ennobled. However, he's mostly known from people for his writings, in which I will quote The Sentinel (short story published in 1951), Dolphin Island, and - mostly - Rama and the space odysseys.
2001, a space odysseyWe are in 1968. In France, students are in the streets and in the other side of Atlantic, a man begins to get famous. His name is Stanley Kubrick, great director. Four years passed since he realised his last film, Dr Strangelove, a cynical and acerbic comedy about race for weapons. In this time of cold war, the only equivalent to this nuclear race is the space race and Kubrick is interested in it... He contacts Clarke because he decided to adapt The Sentinel. Clarke enjoys this idea, and decides to take a profit : he will also make an adaptation on his owm short story, to make it an entire novel.
So in 1968, two great creations are made : 2001, a space odyssey : one in bookshops and the other one in theaters. It's probably a special example in history of cinema and litterature : the movie isn't adapted from the book, but the book isn't adapted from the movie ! Like Clarke will explain it in a lot of prefaces of odysseys, both have been developped in the same time. Clarke influenced Kubrick's script and integrated in the book the last rushes of the movie... It resulted from this strange collaboration two different stories, because Clarke was a little more optimistic than Kubrick was.
The space odyssey happen, has its title says, in 2001... but this 2001 that people used to imagine it in 1968, more futurist than reality. The Moon has already been colonised, and one discover on it a strange object : the « monolith », a kind of black box perfectly smooth and with exact proportions (1/4/9). It also seems to send waves to a far star, Tycho. The discovery of this object motivates humans to make an expedition in direction of Tycho...
The book and the movie tackle a lot of classical subjects of science-fiction : a new kind of panspermia (panspermia is a theory saying that terrestrial life derives from extraterrestrial life ; in the space osyssey, aliens have « only » helped evolution), long trips in space, the possibility on a third kind metting (that will not happen !), artificial intelligence, etc...
After this success, Clarke wrote a continuation in 1982 (2010, Odyssey two). The first expedition failed for an unknown reason, but the computer is suspected. A second expedition, including the programmer of the computer, is built to join the ship and investigate. As often, this spatial story is a pretext for Clarke to deal with terrestrial subjects. In 2010, cold war isn't over. On the contrary, tensions between the USA and Russia are bigger than ever. The new expedition takes place in this frame : its origin is russian and there are american astronauts in the mission only to avoid that russians take the control of the first ship and its technology. However, Clarke write as usual a message of peace : whereas their leaders are opposed, astronauts and cosmonauts develop links of friendship (and love) and they finally will have to face the same danger. Odyssey two was also a movie, which was this time really inspired from the book. It's 2010, the year we make contact, realised in 1984 by Peter Hyams.
In 1988, Clarke published the third book : 2061, Odyssey three. At the end of the second odyssey, the expedition had discovered a lot of monoliths, and then those monoliths had gathered around surface of Jupiter and had exploded, making of the planet a new sun called Lucifer. After having thus shown their power (but what was their purpose ?), aliens had asked us to make peace. Their pacific message was however tuned down by a mysterious prohibition : to land on Europe, the old satellite of Jupiter that became a watter planet. But in 2061, a distress ship is forced to land on Europe. Men discover new forms on life.
The last odyssey was written much later (in 1997), and action also takes place much later : Clarke makes a step of many centuries for 3001, the final odyssey. We find back one of the astronauts of 2001, who had been projected in space. The cold didn't kill him, but cryogenised him. His body is discovered and he's awaken. He discovers what Earth became : under the heat of the new sun, Lucifer, Earth became an uninhabitable desert. To survive, humans built four gigantic towers, so high that they're taller than atmospher : Africa, America, Asia and Pacifica. After having experimented this new way of life, the astronaut decides to search the last link to his past : the only other member of the 2001 mission that could also had survived. We finally discover the purpose of aliens and the reason why they built the monoliths...

Rama : the Man revealed
Even if 3001, the final odyssey is more pessimistic than the three other odysseys, it still has a universal peace message, which seems to have been very important for Clarke. As I said before, we also count in his creation the tetralogy Rama, which also takes place in a long period. It's also about a third kind meeting, but more directly : inhabitants of the solar system (humans colonised almost all the system) discover a big ship in the end of the system and call it Rama. In the first book, they decide to explore it and realise that it's inhabitated by a superior intelligence. In the following volume, a second ship comes but this time humans receive a message : they are invited to send volunteers in the ship... The two other books tell the story of this men. The subjects of this tetralogy are mostly human relations and behaviours : Clarke describes ideological confrontations (the colonists of the different planets form opposite clans), reactions and fear of stranger (some planets want to destroy the ship, other don't), difficulty to create a well-balanced society (the inside of the ship), reflexions about democracy, power, profit, exclusion, ...

So Clarke was a scientist, inventor of the geostationary orbit, who used his knowledge to write credible science-fiction. Author of one of the most famous books, which also is equivalent to the most known Kubrick's movie, he wanted more than all understanding between men, and he fought for a positiv, thought and ethical use of science... That's why the information of his death on March 19, 2008 was so terrible, come from Sri Lanka where he lived since a few years. He was a scientist of this category which should be the most wide-spread : open, pacific and in service of humanity.

To Sir Clarke, for these hours of delicious readings