For most people not brought up on a diet of post-war sci-fi literature the seminal movie “2001” would be their first and most vivid contact with the writer Arthur C Clarke. As Mat Irvine explained at the OAS Meeting on 25 January, this was actually based on an Arthur C Clarke short story – “The Sentinel” and only turned into a novel following the successful collaboration between Clarke and Kubrick which resulted in the cinematic masterpiece. Mat explained the influences that led to Clarke becoming one of the most influential science fiction writers of his time. In the course of writing his 30 novels and 130 short stories, Clarke managed to forecast and highlight many of the themes and technologies that are now seen as commonplace – long before their time. These included GPS, 3D printing and maglev railways.
Mat’s own career as a builder of sets for sci-fi productions brought him into regular contact with Clarke and gave him insights into his influences and the personalities with whom he worked. His extensive range of anecdotes brought out key points in Clarke’s life. One of these was the development of “Clarke’s Three Laws” – basically a challenge to all received scientific wisdom, and most famously including the suggestion that advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic. This had unexpectedly proved to be a money-spinner for Clarke after the copyright was purchased by a major Japanese company. The three laws are increasingly borne out by our everyday experiences as astronomers.