On December 16, 1917, Arthur C. Clarke was born. Clarke was a science and science fiction writer, perhaps best remembered as the co-writer of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
That film was loosely based on "The Sentinel," a short story Clarke had written in 1948. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick worked on the screenplay and the novel simultaneously, each providing feedback to the other. Both received writing credit for the movie, but the novel version of 2001 (e-book, print) was credited to Clarke only, and published a few months after the film was released in 1968.
By the time 2001 was released, science fiction fans had been reading Clarke's work for twenty years. His first professional short stories were published in 1948, and he'd already published several popular novels. Among his most successful early works were the 1953 novel Childhood's End (e-book, print), in which Earth is visited by the Overlords, aliens who seem to have only the best of intentions; and the 1956 novel The City and the Stars (e-book), the story of the last two cities on a far-future desolate Earth.
Clarke continued writing for another forty years after 2001. Two of his novels recieved both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, the two major American awards for science fiction. Rendezvous With Rama (e-book, print) is the story of a team of human explorers investigating an alien craft that enters our solar system, and The Fountains of Paradise (e-book, print) is about the physical and political challenges of building a space elevator, a cable which allows travel into space to a habitat or satellite located in geostationary orbit.
Clarke's writing is generally optimistic, and he was a strong believer in the importance of space travel and exploration. He was a staunch atheist, but much of his writing explores themes of spirituality, and his belief that there is less difference between science and faith than we usually acknowledge. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," he once said.
In his non-fiction writing, Clarke had a strong knack for seeing where technology might take us. He did not invent the concept of geostationary satellites, but helped to popularize the idea, and was among the first to notice their potential in international communications. As early as 1959, he imagined that we would soon carry personal devices that would allow us to contact anyone on the planet, and would have global positioning technology so that "no one ever again need be lost." His only mistake was one of timing: Clarke imagined that we might have such devices by the mid-1980s.
In addition to the books linked above, many of Clarke's other novels and his collected short stories are available as e-books.
Also This Week
- December 12, 1870: Joseph Rainey was sworn in as the first African-American member of the United States House of Representatives. (Hiram Revels had become the first African-American Senator earlier that year, representing Mississippi.) Rainey represented the 1st District of South Carolina for eight years, during which time a dozen more African-Americans would be elected to Congress from the Reconstruction South. Philip Dray's Capitol Men (e-book, print) tells the story of this first generation of black political leaders.
- December 16, 1895: Andy Razaf was born. Razaf was a lyricist whose best-known songs were written with Fats Waller; they include "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Black and Blue," and "Honeysuckle Rose." Maxine Sullivan and Bobby Short have both recorded tribute albums devoted to Razaf's songs, and the Great Lyricists series includes a volume devoted to his work.
- December 14, 1946: Jobriath was born. In 1973, Jobriath signed a two-album contract with Elektra Records, making him the first openly gay rock musician signed by an American record label. His first album, Jobriath, was released with an enormous publicity campaign, and received mostly positive reviews, but it was not a commercial success. The 1974 follow-up, Creatures of the Street, didn't fare much better, and Jobriath retired. Since his death in 1983, his albums have developed a cult following. Both are available for streaming, as is the documentary Jobriath A.D.
- December 16, 1961: Bill Hicks was born. Hicks was a stand-up comedian whose act often focused on social issues, religion, and politics. His comedy was dark, angry, and sometimes aggressively controversial. His albums and DVDs became even more popular after his death from cancer in 1994. Two of his stand-up specials, Relentless and One Night Stand, and the documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story are available for streaming.