Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008

My first encounter of Arthur C. Clarke was in the 10th grade, when we were allowed to choose a book for a book report from a fairly long and broad list; Childhood’s End was one of them, and I was so excited to get to read science fiction for a book report. (There was also a Vonnegut title on the list, Cat’s Cradle, I think, which was described as “typical, if you like Vonnegut.”) I got marked down for totally omitting the whole “Overlords are devil figures” theme. I just didn’t think it was all that big a deal. (Note that the only thing I remember about the paper is that I didn’t mention the devil figures theme.)

One of his greatest contributions to the world was the idea of the geosynchronous orbit, which he mentioned in a letter published in Wireless World in April 1945, and expounded on in a full article the following October. In tribute to him, here is a scan of the letter:


A scan and OCR version of the full article can be found here.

As additional tribute, I thought I would list all the terms in Brave New Words for which his is the earliest citation:

  • farside (Fall of Moondust, 1961)
  • gee (= a unit of acceleration) (Interplanetary Flight, 1950)
  • overmind (Childhood’s End, 1953)
  • space elevator (Future Space Programs, 1975)
  • zero-g (Islands in the Sky, 1952)

And, of course, Clarke’s three laws, and Clarke orbit (a phrase that was likely coined by Keith Laumer in Clarke’s honor).

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2 Responses to “Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008”

  1. Fred Galvin says:

    No offense to Sir Arthur, but I think I can antedate at least one of those “earliest citations”. There is a citation for “overmind” in James H. Schmitz’s 1949 “Agent of Vega”:

    The Departmental Lab’s theory was that under the stress of a psychic attack which was about to overwhelm the individual telepath, a kind of racial Overmind took over automatically and conducted its member-mind’s escape from the emergency, it that was at all possible, with complete mechanical efficiency before restoring it to awareness of itself.

    These probably don’t count as citations for “farside”, but there are citations for “the far side” in Fredric Brown’s 1948 “What Mad Universe”:

    The paragraph on the moon in the manual of instruction had told him that the settlements, the fertile lands, were on the far side, where there was water and where the air was thicker.

    and in John W. Campbell, Jr.’s 1936 “Uncertainty”:

    The ships were first landed on the near side while the apparatus of the projectors was unloaded, then the great ships moved around to the far side. Phobos of course rotated with one face fixed irrevocably toward Mars itself, the other always to the cold of space.

    On the other hand, Clarke’s 1946 “Rescue Party” has possibly the earliest citation for a term that didn’t make the cut for BNW, “the Rim” meaning the rim of the galaxy:

    Alveron glanced at the Milky Way, lying like a veil of silver mist across the vision screen. He waved towards it with a sweep of a tentacle that embraced the whole circle of the Galaxy, from the Central Planets to the lonely suns of the Rim.

  2. jeff says:

    The Schmitz cite is very nice — I’m a little surprised, actually, since the term is so associated with “Childhood’s End”. I think that either the “the” in “the far side” or the fact that “far side” is two words (or both) disqualifies the Brown cite (as much as I love Brown’s writing) from being equivalent to “Farside”.

    As Fred knows, and probably most other people who stumble upon this blog know as well, but which is always worth repeating, virtually all first citations in any historical dictionary are more a reflection of the current state of research about a given term than they are an assertion of actual coinage. There are a fair number of words in Brave New Words for which I’m certain that the earliest citation is the coinage (or at least the first publication of the coinage — if early drafts of “Stranger in a Strange Land” still exist, they surely contain the word “grok”), but the majority of them can surely be antedated, and I hope that they will be. This is part of what makes historical lexicography fun.

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