For Arthur C. Clarke…
It is with lots of reflection on his death, that I realize what an influence the man was… Yes, yes, 2001 and all that, but even some of his quotes worked into my life, until I believed some had spilled out of my own head. Not so! They were his, and I was just borrowing, using and allowing them to illuminate the darkness just a bit.
Good on you Arthur, thanks for it all.
On The Menu:
Sir Arthur C Clarke: 90th Birthday Reflections (Thank You Peter!)
Arthur C. Clarke Quotes
A Partial Bibliography
Pink Floyd – Childhood’s End
The Nine Billion Names of God
Rumi: On Death
Space Odyssey: Trip
Sir Arthur C Clarke: 90th Birthday Reflections (Thank You Peter!)
Arthur C. Clarke Quotes:
If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
We have to abandon the idea that schooling is something restricted to youth. How can it be, in a world where half the things a man knows at 20 are no longer true at 40 — and half the things he knows at 40 hadn’t been discovered when he was 20?
Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It’s completely impossible. 2- It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along.
Human judges can show mercy. But against the laws of nature, there is no appeal.
It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.
Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the idea is quite staggering.
The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.
Reading computer manuals without the hardware is as frustrating as reading manuals without the software.
I don’t pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about.
I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
This is the first age that’s ever paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we may not have one.
CNN is one of the participants in the war. I have a fantasy where Ted Turner is elected president but refuses because he doesn’t want to give up power.
There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.
A Partial Bibliography:
Prelude to Space (1951)
The Sands of Mars (1951)
Islands in the Sky (1952)
Against the Fall of Night (1953)
Childhood’s End (1953)
The City and the Stars (1956)
The Deep Range (1957)
A Fall of Moondust (1961)
Dolphin Island (1963)
Glide Path (1963)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Rendezvous with Rama (1972)
Imperial Earth (1975)
The Fountains of Paradise (1979)
2010: Odyssey Two (1982)
The Songs of Distant Earth (1986)
2061: Odyssey Three (1988)
A Meeting with Medusa (1988)
Cradle (1988) (with Gentry Lee)
Rama II (1989) (with Gentry Lee)
Beyond the Fall of Night (1990) (with Gregory Benford)
The Ghost from the Grand Banks (1990)
The Garden of Rama (1991) (with Gentry Lee)
Rama Revealed (1993) (with Gentry Lee)
The Hammer of God (1993)
Richter 10 (1996) (with Mike McQuay)
3001: The Final Odyssey (1997)
The Trigger (1999) (with Michael P. Kube-McDowell)
The Light of Other Days (2000) (with Stephen Baxter)
Time’s Eye (2003) (with Stephen Baxter)
Sunstorm (2005) (with Stephen Baxter)
Firstborn (2007) (with Stephen Baxter)
The Last Theorem (to be published in 2008) (with Frederik Pohl)
Childhood’s End was perhaps my favourite Arthur C. Clarke Book. I read it several times, aided by this fine piece of music from Pink Floyd, and sundry alkemical mixtures…. 80)
Pink Floyd – Childhood’s End
The Nine Billion Names of God
By Arthur Clarke
“This is a slightly unusual request,” said Dr. Wagner, with what he hoped was commendable restraint. “As far as I know, its the first time anyones been asked to supply a Tibetan monastery with an automatic sequence computer. I dont wish to be inquisitive, but I should hardly thought that your –ah– establishment had much use for such a machine. Could you explain just what you intend to do with it?”
“Gladly,” replied the lama, readjusting his silk robe and carefully putting away the slide rule he had been using for currency conversions. “Your Mark V computer can carry out any routine mathematical operation involving up to ten digits. However, for our work we are interested in letters, not numbers. As we wish you to modify the output circuits, the machine will be printing words, not columns of figures.”
“I dont understand . . .”
“This is a project on which we have been working for the last three centuries — since the lamasery was founded, in fact. It is somewhat alien to your way of thought, so I hope you will listen with an open mind while I explain it.”
“It is really quite simple. We have been compiling a list which shall contain all the possible names of God.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“We have reason to believe,” continued the lama imperturbably, “that all such names can be written with not more than nine letters in an alphabet we have devised.”
“And you have been doing this for three centuries?”
“Yes. We expected it would take us about fifteen thousand years to complete the task.”
“Oh.” Dr. Wagner looked a little dazed. “Now I see why you wanted to hire one of our machines. But exactly what is the purpose of this project?”
The lama hesitated for a fraction of a second, and Wagner wondered if he had offended him. If so, there was no trace of annoyance in the reply.
“Call it ritual, if you like, but its a fundamental part of our belief. All the many names of the Supreme Being — God, Jehovah, Allah, and so on — they are only man-made labels. There is a philosophical problem of some difficulty here, which I do not propose to discuss, but somewhere among all the possible combinations of letters, which can occur, are what one may call the real names of God. By systematic permutation of letters, we have been trying to list them all.”
“I see. Youve been starting at AAAAAAAAA . . . and working up to ZZZZZZZZZ . . .”
“Exactly — though we use a special alphabet of our own. Modifying the electromatic typewriters to deal with this is, of course, trivial. A rather more interesting problem is that of devising suitable circuits to eliminate ridiculous combinations. For example, no letter must occur more than three times in succession.”
“Three? Surely you mean two.”
“Three is correct. I am afraid it would take too long to explain why, even if you understood our language.”
“Im sure it would,” said Wagner hastily. “Go on.”
“Luckily it will be a simple matter to adapt your automatic sequence computer for this work, since once it has been programmed properly it will permute each letter in turn and print the result. What would have taken us fifteen thousand years it will be able to do in a thousand days.”
Dr. Wagner was scarcely conscious of the faint sounds from the Manhattan streets far below. He was in a different world, a world of natural, not man-made, mountains. High up in their remote aeries these monks had been patiently at work, generation after generation, compiling their lists of meaningless words. Was there any limit to the follies of mankind? Still, he must give no hint of his inner thoughts. The customer was always right . . .
“Theres no doubt,” replied the doctor, “that we can modify the Mark V to print lists of this nature. Im much more worried about the problem of installation and maintenance. Getting out to Tibet, in these days, is not going to be easy.”
“We can arrange that. The components are small enough to travel by air — that is one reason why we chose your machine. If you can get them to India, we will provide transport from there.”
“And you want to hire two of our engineers?”
“Yes, for the three months which the project should occupy.”
“Ive no doubt that Personnel can manage that.” Dr. Wagner scribbled a note on his desk pad. “There are just two other points–”
Before he could finish the sentence, the lama had produced a small slip of paper.
“This is my certified credit balance at the Asiatic Bank.”
“Thank you. It appears to be–ah–adequate. The second matter is so trivial that I hesitate to mention it — but its surprising how often the obvious gets overlooked. What source of electrical energy have you?”
“A diesel generator providing 50 kilowatts at 110 volts. It was installed about five years ago and is quite reliable. Its made life at the lamasery much more comfortable, but of course it was really installed to provide power for the motors driving the prayer wheels.”
“Of course,” echoed Dr. Wagner. “I should have thought of that.”
The view from the parapet was vertiginous, but in time one gets used to anything. After three months George Hanley was not impressed by the two-thousand-foot swoop into the abyss or the remote checkerboard of fields in the valley below. He was leaning against the wind-smoothed stones and staring morosely at the distant mountains whose names he had never bothered to discover.
This, thought George, was the craziest thing that had ever happened to him. “Project Shangri-La,” some wit at the labs had christened it. For weeks now, Mark V had been churning out acres of sheets covered with gibberish. Patiently, inexorably, the computer had been rearranging letters in all their possible combinations, exhausting each class before going on to the next. As the sheets had emerged from the electromatic typewriters, the monks had carefully cut them up and pasted them into enormous books. In another week, heaven be praised, they would have finished. Just what obscure calculations had convinced the monks that they neednt bother to go on to words of ten, twenty, or a hundred letters, George didnt know. One of his recurring nightmares was that there would be some change of plan and that the High Lama (whom theyd naturally called Sam Jaffe, though he didnt look a bit like him) would suddenly announce that the project would be extended to approximately 2060 A.D. They were quite capable of it.
George heard the heavy wooden door slam in the wind as Chuck came out onto the parapet beside him. As usual, Chuck was smoking one of the cigars that made him so popular with the monks — who, it seemed, were quite willing to embrace all the minor and most of the major pleasures of life. That was one thing in their favor: they might be crazy, but they werent bluenoses. Those frequent trips they took down to the village, for instance . . .” “Listen, George,” said Chuck urgently. “Ive learned something that means trouble.”
“Whats wrong? Isnt the machine behaving?” That was the worst contingency George could imagine. It might delay his return, than which nothing could be more horrible. The way he felt now, even the sight of a TV commercial would seem like manna from heaven. At least it would be some link from home.
“No — its nothing like that.” Chuck settled himself on the parapet, which was unusual, because normally he was scared of the drop.
“Ive just found out what all this is about.”
“What dya mean — I thought we knew.”
“Sure — we know what the monks are trying to do. But we didnt know why. Its the craziest thing –”
“Tell me something new,” growled George.
” . . . but old Sams just come clean with me. You know the way he drops in every afternoon to watch the sheets roll out. Well, this time he seemed rather excited, or at least as near as hell ever get to it. When I told him we were on the last cycle he asked me, in that cute English accent of his, if Id ever wondered what they were trying to do. I said, Sure — and he told me.”
“Go on, Ill buy it.”
“Well, they believe that when they have listed all His names — and they reckon that there are about nine billion of them — Gods purpose will have been achieved. The human race will have finished what it was created to do, and there wont be any point in carrying on. Indeed, the very idea is something like blasphemy.”
“Then what do they expect us to do? Commit suicide?”
“Theres no need for that. When the lists completed, God steps in and simply winds things up . . . bingo!”
“Oh, I get it. When we finish our job, it will be the end of the world.”
Chuck gave a nervous little laugh.
“Thats just what
I said to Sam. And do you know what happened? He looked at me in a very queer way, like Id been stupid in class, and said, Its nothing as trivial as that.”
George thought this over for a moment.
“Thats what I call taking the Wide View,” he said presently.
“But what dya suppose we should do about it? I dont see that it makes the slightest difference to us. After all, we already knew that they were crazy.”
“Yes — but dont you see what may happen? When the lists complete and the Last Trump doesnt blow — or whatever it is that they expect — we may get the blame. Its our machine theyve been using. I dont like the situation one little bit.”
“I see,” said George slowly. “Youve got a point there. But this sort of things happened here before, you know. When I was a kid down in Louisiana we had a crackpot preacher who said the world was going to end next Sunday. Hundreds of people believed him– even sold their homes. Yet nothing happened; they didnt turn nasty, as youd expect. They just decided that hed made a mistake in his calculations and went right on believing. I guess some of them still do.”
“Well, this isnt Louisiana, in case you hadnt noticed. There are just two of us and hundreds of these monks. I like them, and Ill be sorry for old Sam when his lifework backfires on him. But all the same, I wish I was somewhere else.”
“Ive been wishing that for weeks. But theres nothing we can do until the contracts finished and the transport arrives to fly us out.”
“Of course,” said Chuck thoughtfully, “we could always try a bit of sabotage.”
“Like hell we could! That would make things worse.”
“Not the way I meant. Look at it like this. The machine will finish its run four days from now, on the present twenty-hours-a-day basis. The transport calls in a week. O.K., then all we need to do is to find something that wants replacing during one of the overhaul periods — something that will hold up the works for a couple of days. Well fix it, of course, but not too quickly. If we time matters properly, we can be down at the airfield when the last name pops out of the register. They wont be able to catch us then.”
“I dont like it,” said George. “It will be the first time I ever walked out on a job. Besides, it would make them suspicious. No, Ill sit tight and take what comes.”
“I still dont like it,” he said seven days later, as the tough little mountain ponies carried them down the winding road. “And dont you think Im running away because Im afraid. Im just sorry for those poor old guys up there, and I dont want to be around when they find what suckers theyve been. Wonder how Sam will take it?”
“Its funny,” replied Chuck, “but when I said goodbye I got the idea he knew we were walking out on him — and that he didnt care because he knew the machine was running smoothly and that the job would soon be finished. After that — well, of course, for him there just isnt any After That . . .”
George turned in his saddle and stared back up the mountain road. This was the last place from which one could get a clear view of the lamasery. The squat, angular buildings were silhouetted against the afterglow of the sunset; here and there lights gleamed like portholes in the sides of an ocean liner. Electric lights, of course, sharing the same circuit as the Mark V. How much longer would they share it? wondered George. Would the monks smash up the computer in their rage and disappointment? Or would they just sit down quietly and begin their calculations all over again?
He knew exactly what was happening up on the mountain at this very moment. The High Lama and his assistants would be sitting in their silk robes, inspecting the sheets as the junior monks carried them away from the typewriters and pasted them into the great volumes. No one would be saying anything. The only sound would be the incessant patter, the never-ending rainstorm, of the keys hitting the paper, for the Mark V itself was utterly silent as it flashed through its thousands of calculations a second. Three months of this, thought George, was enough to start anyone climbing up the wall.
“There she is!” called Chuck, pointing down into the valley. “Aint she beautiful!”
She certainly was, thought George. The battered old DC-3 lay at the end of the runway like a tiny silver cross. In two hours she would be bearing them away to freedom and sanity. It was a thought worth savoring like a fine liqueur. George let it roll around in his mind as the pony trudged patiently down the slope.
The swift night of the high Himalayas was now almost upon them. Fortunately the road was very good, as roads went in this region, and they were both carrying torches. There was not the slightest danger, only a certain discomfort from the bitter cold. The sky overhead was perfectly clear and ablaze with the familiar, friendly stars. At least there would be no risk, thought George, of the pilot being unable to take off because of weather conditions. That had been his only remaining worry.
He began to sing but gave it up after a while. This vast arena of mountains, gleaming like whitely hooded ghosts on every side, did not encourage such ebullience. Presently George glanced at his watch.
“Should be there in an hour,” he called back over his shoulder to Chuck. Then he added, in an afterthought, “Wonder if the computers finished its run? It was due about now.”
Chuck didnt reply, so George swung round in his saddle. He could just see Chucks face, a white oval turned toward the sky.
“Look,” whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.)
Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.
Rumi: On Death…
you mustn’t be afraid of death
you’re a deathless soul
you can’t be kept in a dark grave
you’re filled with God’s glow
be happy with your beloved
you can’t find any better
the world will shimmer
because of the diamond you hold
when your heart is immersed
in this blissful love
you can easily endure
any bitter face around
in the absence of malice
there is nothing but
happiness and good times
don’t dwell in sorrow my friend
On the Death bed
Go, rest your head on a pillow, leave me alone;
leave me ruined, exhausted from the journey of this night,
writhing in a wave of passion till the dawn.
Either stay and be forgiving,
or, if you like, be cruel and leave.
Flee from me, away from trouble;
take the path of safety, far from this danger.
We have crept into this corner of grief,
turning the water wheel with a flow of tears.
While a tyrant with a heart of flint slays,
and no one says, “Prepare to pay the blood money.”
Faith in the king comes easily in lovely times,
but be faithful now and endure, pale lover.
No cure exists for this pain but to die,
So why should I say, “Cure this pain”?
In a dream last night I saw
an ancient one in the garden of love,
beckoning with his hand, saying, “Come here.”
On this path, Love is the emerald,
the beautiful green that wards off dragonsnough, I am losing myself.
If you are a man of learning,
read something classic,
a history of the human struggle
and don’t settle for mediocre verse.
Our death is our wedding with eternity.
What is the secret? “God is One.”
The sunlight splits when entering the windows of the house.
This multiplicity exists in the cluster of grapes;
It is not in the juice made from the grapes.
For he who is living in the Light of God,
The death of the carnal soul is a blessing.
Regarding him, say neither bad nor good,
For he is gone beyond the good and the bad.
Fix your eyes on God and do not talk about what is invisible,
So that he may place another look in your eyes.
It is in the vision of the physical eyes
That no invisible or secret thing exists.
But when the eye is turned toward the Light of God
What thing could remain hidden under such a Light?
Although all lights emanate from the Divine Light
Don’t call all these lights “the Light of God”;
It is the eternal light which is the Light of God,
The ephemeral light is an attribute of the body and the flesh.
…Oh God who gives the grace of vision!
The bird of vision is flying towards You with the wings of desire.
SPACE ODYSSEY : TRIP
Goodbye Arthur! Thank you for the dreams of the future!
(Sri Lanka, his home…)