Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
Articles and Excerpts:You're Not A Wave
Arthur C. Clarke: Visionary
March 18, 2008, at the age of 90, renowned writer and futurologist Arthur C. Clarke passed away. His death made national news in America—of course. His name, arguably, has been one of the most recognizable in the world, if only as creator (with Stanley Kubrick) of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was a leader in consciousness evolution, an expert on space science, and author of over a hundred books.
What won’t be mentioned in most of the news stories, though, is that he was gay. Of course, that’s using the term inaccurately. He wasn’t a gay man like the post-Stonewall generation in the U.S., but he was certainly one of us.
Speaking personally, let me report that Clarke had a tremendous influence on me as a young man. I read all his books, emulated his writing style, and even to some extent adopted his post-religious “spiritual” vision of human consciousness. So in the late 1990s, when I learned my friend Kerry O’Quinn, a gay Austinite and also a science fiction writer, told me he’d met Clarke and carried on a correspondence with him, I jumped at the opportunity to be introduced by mail. (Kerry also wrote a lovely remembrance of A.C.C.; I have included it below.)
I corresponded with Clarke for several years. I wrote about his post-religious spirituality in a couple of my books and cleared my acknowledgement of his sexual identity with him. So I have no qualms about my including him in the pantheon of homosexual seers.
An ex-patriate Englishman, Clarke lived most of his adult life as what English society might call a “confirmed bachelor” in an intentional, extended family in the Theravada Buddhist land of Sri Lanka (in fable, the mystical island of Serendip where good fortune and lucky coincidence reign). Though married for a time as a young man, Clarke offered a marvelous example of the contributing, participating life, lived free of the conventions of marriage and childrearing.
He demurred about coming out publicly as gay, he wrote, because he felt this fact would be used to discredit his ideas. He was 61 at the time of Stonewall, already past the sexual prime in which it’s meaningful to identify oneself as gay. And, indeed, in 1997, a British tabloid, The Sunday Mirror, ran a story accusing him of having moved to Sri Lanka in order to buy sex from underaged boys, something he found offensive and the accusation distressing. He thought the accusation was really aimed at Prince Charles who was scheduled to knight him—as Sir Arthur—that same year. (At the same time as Sir Elton John, by the way.)
He had a cute quip about not being gay: "At my age now,” he said, “I'm just a little bit cheerful."
He wrote that he was quite fascinated with the role homosexuals have played down through time as revolutionary thinkers. (In our correspondence, he expressed great interest in C.A. Tripp’s book about Abraham Lincoln as gay.) He kept a private collection of writing which is not to be published until 50 years after his death. I’d wager the world is going to receive the open acknowledgement of his homosexuality and of his theory about gay consciousness as revolutionary come 2058.
Science fiction is one of the ways in which the mythmaking function of human consciousness appears today. 2001, with its final psychedelic imagery and apotheosis of astronaut David Bowman into the Star Child, described human consciousness transcending individuality and merging into some sort of greater consciousness, all explained in scientific sounding terms.
In his renowned novel, Childhood’s End, as scientific prophet, Clarke described a planetary progression to a collective mind (in the novel called “the Overmind”) that is foreshadowed by “psychic powers”: telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and memory of collective, cosmic events. In that sense, one might say he hypothesized such paranormal powers, long elements of religion and mysticism, to be forerunners and hints at humankind’s future evolution. (Read Toby Johnson's essay Karellen was a homosexual)
Even in the 1950s, when Childhood’s End appeared, he called himself an “agnostic Buddhist,” so he probably didn’t believe in a personal afterlife. Still we might imagine that in his dying, Sir Arthur experienced rising into the Overmind.
In his modern/futuristic way, he has surely been a visionary and “Enlightened Being,” a scientifically-minded prophet who had foreseen, and helped bring about, the modern transformation of consciousness. He was surely an incarnation of the archetype of the homosexual seer.
Clarke was one of the great influences on Toby Johnson. His soft sci-fi novel Secret Matter is a sort of honorific to Clarke, and written in something of the same expository, easy to read, style of Clarke.
Science Fiction is one of the ways in which the mythmaking function of human consciousness appears today.
For an encyclopedic article about Sir Arthur
For an article about Sir Arthur's discretion about his personal life (and political reasons for such discretion) along with an explanation of his cute quip about not being gay, "At my age, now I'm just a little bit cheerful."
For a VERY interesting and illuminating article on the "mystical" aspects of Clarke's world vision at Hannah's Deep Field Space by Hannak Pok.
~ ~ ~
The accumulation of all human experience is one of the insights about spiritual / human experience Toby learned from Arthur C. Clarke. He's written about this by recounting one of Clarke's most famous short stories.
The role of humankind, Alan Watts said, is to be God’s “sense organs,” to experience all that it is possible to experience. I’ve already cited science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke as a spokesman of mythological wisdom. This idea too can be found in the metaphor of one of his best known stories, “The Nine Billion Names of God.”
Sir Arthur C. Clarke
16 Dec 1917 – 18 Mar 2008
by Kerry O'Quinn
19 March 2008
I arrived at my Hollywood apartment late yesterday, after a magical weekend in San Francisco with my friend Howard Roffman, who now runs practically everything at LucasFilm.
Howard arranged a tour for me (and my pals Zach, Brian, Noah and Hunter) of the new Presidio offices -- replete with spaceship and dinosaur models, light sabers, trophies and awards, magnificent matte paintings, and vintage movie posters – inside, beyond the Yoda fountain.
Within minutes after returning from this wondrous adventure my phone rang, and my lifelong friend David Houston (first editor of STARLOG) brought tears to my happy face with news that Arthur C. Clarke died yesterday morning.
I want to share a few personal memories.
* * *
Arthur C. Clarke entered my life in June 1973 (three years before the first issue of STARLOG) aboard a Cunard Atlantic cruise to rendezvous with a solar eclipse. I had been hired as Program Director and was responsible for scientific classes and lectures in rooms normally devoted to drinking and gambling on the good ship Adventurer.
I was warned that of all the celebrities on board (including scientists and astronauts) Clarke would be my biggest problem. He had become world famous as Stanley Kubrick’s collaborator on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the trailblazing MGM movie. Passengers on the ship were aware that Clarke had conceived the communications satellite system in a technical paper published in 1945 (before the space program made such concepts plausible) and was author of dozens of books, both science fiction and science fact.
I was told that Clarke was a genius with a colossal ego – and my personal responsibility for 14 days at sea.
I slipped quietly into his first shipboard lecture, "Life in the Year 2001." We had not met, so I stood at the back of the room (packed with eager souls listening to his crisp British accent) accessing my "biggest problem."
His manner was casual, but his words were carefully selected. He was not trying to overwhelm us with dramatic ideas or emotional descriptions – he was just talking about changes that science would bring to our planet, how people in the future would be healthier, happier, and less afraid of each other. It was simple, and it was inspiring.
By the time he finished, I was wiping tears of joyous optimism from my eyes. The man who was going to be my biggest problem had become my greatest excitement. I introduced myself, told him how profoundly he had moved me, and from that moment on he was Arthur – my friend.
During the remainder of our voyage to darkness I enjoyed watching him hold court in the ship’s theater as he introduced screenings of 2001. I chuckled at each meal, listening to Arthur’s table (which included astronauts Wally Schirra) – loud groans followed by raucous laughter as a parade of bad intellectual puns were exchanged.
On the day of totality Arthur and I watched the spectacular celestial event from the Captain’s bridge. An eclipse is a bonding experience, uniting total strangers with an event that used to terrify people in ancient times. Arthur always called me his "shipmate" – a title I accepted proudly.
Over the years, we’ve seen each other in New York City – at the STARLOG offices, at my Manhattan apartment, at the premiere of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and at the Chelsea Hotel (where, years earlier, he wrote the screenplay for 2001). We spent time together in Los Angeles when he was working with Peter Hyams on 2010: Odyssey Two, and he gave me a tour of the incredible sets. We’ve kept in touch by postal letters, by FAX, by telephone and by email.
In 2001, at a time when we had not been in touch for a few months, I emailed "I miss the nasty little bits of humor you used to send my way. Surely there must be something absurd and off-color in the news you get." Arthur replied with several wonderfully naughty jokes.
In 2004 my friend Jon and I visited Arthur on his chosen turf – Sri Lanka. When I arrived at his home, his secretary ushered me into the office, and there – sitting behind his desk, surrounded by framed photos of him with presidents and celebrities -- he greeted me wearing an ape mask.
"Good grief!" I exclaimed, "I came half-way round the world to see a great visionary mind...will you every grow up?" Eyes twinkled behind rubber: "I’m not planning on it."
As a welcome gesture, he had written a naughty limerick that started "There once was a chap named O’Quinn, Ceaselessly searching for new kinds of sin..." He knew me way too well.
Yes, Arthur was gay – although in his era that wasn’t the term. As Isaac Asimov once told me, "I think he simply found he preferred men." Arthur didn’t publicize his sexuality – that wasn’t the focus of his life – but if asked, he was open and honest.
I remember on board the ship, a total stranger approached him one day, apparently having heard a homosexual rumor, and offered Arthur a silver Lambda pin. "Are you willing to wear this?" the fellow asked. "Delighted," was Arthur’s response. He put it on and wore it the remainder of the voyage.
Recently I sent Arthur a proposal for "Space Station," a television series I created – with him as Space Sciences Advisor. He replied, "Yes, of course I am interested. Your outline’s certainly promising and has already given me several ideas." He urged me to visit and discuss in person. Sadly, we will not work together on that project.
I launched STARLOG in 1976 and wrote my "From The Bridge" column for more than 275 issues. Over the years I featured pieces on Arthur more than any other human, but, as Mr. Spock would say, "that’s only logical." Arthur was so rich with activities and accomplishments that he was perpetually newsworthy, and his wit and brilliance constantly challenged me, surprised me, and delighted me. For more than 40 years he added excitement to my life.
In a recent "Egogram" (his term for the email newsletter of his activities) Arthur wrote "...completing 90 orbits around the sun was a suitable occasion to reflect on how I would like to be remembered. I’ve had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer – one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well."
He definitely stretched my imagination. Sir Arthur C. Clarke was one of a kind, a dear friend, a planetary treasure and a prime example of carbon-based bipeds.
I am so fortunate to have accepted that strange job as Program Director on an eclipse cruise. My rendezvous with Arthur was more dazzling than seeing stars and planets overhead in the middle of the day.
Hollywood, CA, Earth
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000.
His Lammy-nominated book GAY
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003.