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Tuesday, March 19, 2002

A rendezvous with the master

Special to The Japan Times

During a recent interview at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Arthur C. Clarke displayed a youthful enthusiasm that belied his 84 years. Clad in a batik sarong and pastel shirt with a dolphin motif, the wheelchair-bound author of "2001: A Space Odyssey" was short of breath and complained that he was tired from meeting "too many Australians at a large party." But he was obviously in high spirits, cracking jokes and showing off memorabilia and a "power wall" of signed photos from a slew of celebrities.

Do you see any signs that the primordial inclinations that led to such devastation and destruction in the 20th century are abating in the 21st?

Well, we can't expect an idyllic world, can we? Looking around us I don't see many hopeful signs of improvement, and technology seems to increase the impact of violence. Given what's going on, I give humanity only a 51 percent chance of surviving this century.

Given that Sept. 11 is the day of global catastrophe in your 1973 novel "Rendezvous with Rama," do you think Osama bin Laden might be one of your fans?

It hardly seems likely, but it is an eerie coincidence. But maybe you should entitle your interview "Dr. Frankenstein, I presume?"

What do you think of President Bush's response to the attacks?

I think he is doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but the problem is what happens down the road. It will not be so easy.

What are your thoughts about President Bush's decision to abandon the ABM Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol?

Just awful. He can't possibly be as stupid as he seems. Clearly he is a captive of the military-industrial complex, just like Eisenhower warned back in the 1950s. Abandoning the ABM Treaty makes no sense at all and it's one of the reasons I am so pessimistic about civilization's chances of surviving this century. As for Kyoto, the science is in and global warming is happening. I mean, what does he think he is up to: trying to please voters in Greenland? I can tell you it won't go down well in the Maldives! Well, he is an oil man, isn't he?

You are famous for your accurate predictions about the future, but what has surprised you most in the past 50 years?

I never imagined the speed and ubiquity of the PC revolution. PCs are now as common as wristwatches, and who would have guessed that it would all happen in a matter of years, changing so much for so many. We had computers, but they were massive things and now we have better ones we can just stick on our desks.

As someone who is edging toward old age, in what ways do you think technology can improve the quality of life of the elderly?

Look at me -- I can't get around very well, but I have so much right at my fingertips. The PC has made it easier to do all sorts of things, especially if you are a writer. Technology also keeps us alive a lot longer -- that's why I have survived to have post-polio syndrome.

In your long and illustrious career, what are you most proud of?

Being known as the godfather of the Internet -- the inventor says he got the idea from my writing about telecommunications networks and it's nice to be credited as the inspiration.

How about you -- who has had the most influence on your writing?

In terms of science fiction, H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapleton, especially his "Last and First Men": a truly superb book way ahead of its time.

Which of your own novels do you admire most?

Well, it is hard to choose but I suppose it's "The Songs of Distant Earth."

What do you think your legacy is?

That's up to others; probably "2001." Perhaps making people more comfortable with technology.

What do you do these days?

I'm terribly busy and enjoy it. My latest project, "Mars Brats," was just on NHK early in 2002. It focuses on a colony of teenagers sent to Mars. Morgan Freeman has completed shooting "Rendezvous with Rama," and I still write, answer more than 30 e-mails a day and enjoy Pepsi's (his pet Chihuahua) company.

Can I get your e-mail address?

It's top secret -- I don't give it out because I would get a flood of e-mails and get nothing done.

Do you keep up with the Web sites devoted to you by your fans?

Never -- they probably have it all wrong anyway.

Which Japanese people have impressed you most?

Hiroshi Hayakawa, because he is the first Japanese I met who could speak English in real-time! His publishing company has translated my books and we have become close friends. He is a wonderful man.

What are your thoughts about death?

It doesn't seem nearly as interesting as the alternative! You know, I have been asked to publish a book of witticisms, but nobody's interested until after your death. But when I do I will hold out for extraterrestrial rights.

Would you autograph this book for me?

Of course. You know, this is strange for me -- I mean signing a book and inscribing the year 2002. I never really expected to get here, and poor Stanley (Kubrick) didn't.

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