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Arthur C Clarke's House, Colombo, February 2024

Arthur C Clarke is a bit of a legend locally. Although he was born in the UK, he lived most of his life in Sri Lanka - first moving to Unawatuna for scuba diving, and then later to Colombo. All of his famous books were written here (e.g., 2001: A Space Odyssey; Rendezvous with Rama; Fountains of Paradise). He used his winnings from the Marconi Award (for the idea of geostationary satellites) to start what is now the largest government research lab here, the Arthur C Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies. A lot of the scientists from Sri Lanka were inspired by him, and many worked with him.

His house is few blocks away from ours, and I walked over there yesterday. The security guard rang the bell, and introduced me to the home's two caretakers, Punchibanda and Sumana.

The house is not technically a museum, but (like many things in Sri Lanka) it's been preserved essentially untouched, in this case since ACC died in 2008. The housekeepers walked me through a tour right up to his office, filled with books, VHS tapes, signed photos, and space trinkets. Of the 1000-odd books, Clarke wrote about half himself - certainly some kind of record. Downstairs is a cemetery where his dogs are buried (8 chihuahuas!); his two turtles currently roam in the grass, and a now-huge fish swims laps inside a modest tank.

And of course I loved seeing the cheap Dialog satellite dish bolted onto his roof pointed at the sky. Clarke invented the concept of the geostationary satellite in a JBIS paper in 1945 at age 27... and there it is, exactly as he imagined, the fixed dish not only on his house, but billions of others across the globe.

One personal anecdote: I never met ACC, but I did participate once in a group call with him. It was October 2002, and he was the featured 'remote guest' at a public event at the annual Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. The intent of the evening was to have a discussion of 'SciFi vs. Reality,' on how the actual 2001 compared to the one in the book. That was the idea. But in truth... the call was 50 minutes of "Sir Arthur, can you hear us? Can you -- what was that? Repeat? You're breaking up..." With the technology of the time, not only were humans not exploring the monolith on Europa, but we could barely place a long-distance call to Sri Lanka.

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Henry Throop

Last modified 03 Mar 2024