I’ve just got off the phone with NPR’s Morning Edition. I suppose I’ll find out tomorrow if I made any sense.
Things I tried to say:
He was the last, really the last, of the heroic age of twentieth-century science fiction writers. Everyone knows the trinity: Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke.
Despite polio, and post-polio syndrome, and an increasing number of infirmities late in his very long life, he seems to have managed to live very much on his own terms. He had a reputation for self-regard—his nickname in 1930s and ’40s London-area SF fandom was “Ego” Clarke—and on the one occasion when I met him, his method of making conversation was to take Tom Doherty and me on a tour of his file of recent press clips. But good grief. He was Arthur C. Clarke. He invented the geosynchronous satellite and wrote Against the Fall of Night. He wrote 2001 in the Chelsea Hotel and co-broadcasted moon landings with Walter Cronkite. A tenth of his achievements would justify a healthy pride.
Like Heinlein, and unlike Asimov, in Clarke a practical science-and-engineering outlook coexisted with a mystical streak a mile wide. Indeed, much of his work establishes the basic template for one of modern science fiction’s most evergreen effects: the numinous explosion of mystical awe that’s carefully built up to, step by rational step. So much of Clarke’s best work is about that moment when the universe reveals its true vastness to human observers. And unlike many other writers who’ve wrestled with that wrenching frame shift, for Clarke it was rarely terrifying, rarely an engine of alienation and despair. He was all about the transformational reframe, the cosmic perspective, that step off into the great shining dark. He believed it would improve us. He rejoiced to live in a gigantic universe of unencompassable scale, and he thought the rest of us should rejoice, too.
UPDATE: NPR has the Morning Edition segment here. It’s at the top of the page, above the big boxed All Things Considered segment.