Thursday, March 20, 2008

Arthur C Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama was great, 2001 wasn't remotely as confusing as advertised, I can't remember Childhood's End. But I couldn't bear Arthur C Clarke because of "2010 The Odyssey File".

It was a Making Of the film, and I've read a lot of these, I also liked the novel 2010 and at the time I bought all the hype about 2001 and the importance of its sequel. I also liked how this Making Of was predominantly an exchange of emails (very exciting back in the early 1980s) between Clarke and the 2010 film's writer/producer/director Peter Hyams.

Each person's messages were printed in a different typeface and after a few pages, I started skipping Clarke's and only reading Hyams's. Hyams was deep in production, the hugh machinery of making a big budget film, and Clarke was picking his nose in Sri Lanka. Hyams was fighting financial problems, juggling myriad production difficulties and managing to stay funny. Clarke was just back from the shops where he'd run into the President of NASA, hang on, there's the door, oh, another parcel from Queen Elizabeth, a request for an autograph from Jesus Christ, a party invitation from Anthony Minghella.

But he was easy enough to ignore and I had a good time with the other half of the conversation.


I can see this chapter clearly even now, 20-odd years later: the final chapter was a new piece of padding, written especially for the book by Clarke and was called "MITE for Morons". You don't even know what MITE is, do you? Clarke was an immensely patronising about this MITE and how all of us thickos that didn't use it would have learn how to do so eventually, we'd best take this opportunity to learn it from him right now.

MITE was some kind of email system and Clarke laboriously detailed precisely how to use it, down to which key to press when, what filenames you should use, which disk should go in which floppy drive.

He has this reputation for seeing the future but here he was blind about the present: I was already using email and my system bore no relation to his. I considered sending him instructions on how to use my particular toaster.

I think he always had this blindness. I remember years later a claim that he now said fax was better than email (sure, so long as you're not the poor sod at the publishers having to retype an entire book off one fuzzy roll) but I don't know, I don't want to believe that one.

Nor do I want to believe what I read directly in a novel of his. Um, can't remember which. But it was another with his far-sighted vision of the future, this time with him foreseeing that digital technology would let people remove cigarettes from old movies. Yes, he was right: it can be done, it is being done. But the ignorance in his example: he wrote about Bogart movies having it done. So, follow: picture Humphrey Bogart smoking, now picture the cigarette erased from the picture.

What are you left with?

Humphrey Bogart sticking two fingers up at us.


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