Tribute to Science Fiction author Arthur C. Clarke

2001British science fiction author, inventor Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS, Sri Lankabhimanya, was born 16 December 1917. He was famous for his short stories and novels, among them 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Profiles of the Future, Rendezvous with Rama and The Fountains of Paradise. He was also a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Clarke were known as the “Big Three” of science fiction.
Clarke served in the Royal Air Force as a radar instructor and technician from 1941 to 1946. In 1945, he proposed a satellite communication system—an idea that, in 1963, won him the Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Gold Medal. He was the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1947–1950 and again in 1953.

Between 1937 and 1945, Clarke had a few stories published in fanzines, his first professional sale appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946: “Loophole” was published in April, while “Rescue Party”, his first sale, was published in May. Along with his writing Clarke briefly worked as Assistant Editor of Science Abstracts (1949) before devoting himself to writing full-time from 1951 onward. Clarke also contributed to the Dan Dare series published in Eagle, and his first three published novels were written for children.Clarke corresponded with C. S. Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s and they once met in an Oxford pub, The Eastgate, to discuss science fiction and space travel. Clarke, after Lewis’s death, voiced great praise for him, saying the Ransom Trilogy was one of the few works of science fiction that could be considered literature. In 1948 he wrote “The Sentinel” for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected, it changed the course of Clarke’s career. Not only was it the basis for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but “The Sentinel” also introduced a more cosmic element to Clarke’s work. Many of Clarke’s later works feature a technologically advanced but still-prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. In the cases of The City and the Stars (and its original version, Against the Fall of Night), Childhood’s End, and the 2001 series, this encounter produces a conceptual breakthrough that accelerates humanity into the next stage of its evolution. In Clarke’s authorised biography, Neil McAleer writes that: “many readers and critics still consider Childhood’s End Arthur C. Clarke’s best novel.”

Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death, having emigrated there when it was still called Ceylon, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo. The Sri Lankan government offered Clarke resident guest status in 1975. He was an avid scuba diver and a member of the Underwater Explorers Club. In addition to writing, Clarke set up several diving-related ventures with his business partner Mike Wilson. In 1956, while scuba diving in Trincomalee, Wilson and Clarke uncovered ruined masonry, architecture and idol images of the sunken original Koneswaram temple — including carved columns with flower insignias, and stones in the form of elephant heads — spread on the shallow surrounding seabed. Other discoveries included Chola bronzes from the original shrine, and these discoveries were described in Clarke’s 1957 book The Reefs of Taprobane. In 1961, while filming off Great Basses Reef, Wilson found a wreck and retrieved silver coins. Plans to dive on the wreck the following year were stopped when Clarke developed paralysis, ultimately diagnosed as polio. A year later, Clarke observed the salvage from the shore and the surface. The ship, ultimately identified as belonging to the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, yielded fused bags of silver rupees, cannons, and other artefacts, carefully documented, became the basis for The Treasure of the Great Reef. Living in Sri Lanka and learning its history also inspired the backdrop for his novel The Fountains of Paradise in which he described a space elevator. This, he believed, would make rocket based access to space obsolete and, more than geostationary satellites, would ultimately be his scientific legacy.

His many predictions culminated in 1958 when he began a series of magazine essays that eventually became Profiles of the Future, published in book form in 1962. A timetable up to the year 2100 describes inventions and ideas including such things as a “global library” for 2005. The same work also contained “Clarke’s First Law” and text that became Clarke’s three laws in later editions. Clarke Sadly passed away on 19th March 2008 in Sri Lanka. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 & was awarded Sri Lanka’s highest civil honour, Sri Lankabhimanya, in 2005.

Tribute to science-ficton novelist Philip K Dick

American novelist, short story writer and essayist Philip K Dick was born December 16, 1928. His published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states. In his later works Dick’s thematic focus strongly reflected his personal interest in metaphysics and theology. He often drew upon his own life experiences in addressing the nature of drug abuse, paranoia, schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in novels such as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS.

The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning Dick a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, a novel about a celebrity who awakens in a parallel universe where he is unknown, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel in 1975. “I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards,” Dick wrote of these stories. “In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real.”

In addition to 44 published novels, Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, ten popular films based on his works have been produced, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series. Sadly he passed away on March 2, 1982, but he has left a rich legacy of Science Fiction novels.

Happy Birthday Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)

Billy Gibbons, the splendidly hirsute guitarist with ZZ Top was born 16th December 1949. Formed in 1969 in Houston, Texas , the group consists of Billy Gibbons (guitar and vocals), Dusty Hill (bass and vocals), and Frank Beard (drums and percussion). ZZ Top’s early sound was rooted in blues but eventually grew to exhibit contemporary influences. Throughout their career they have maintained a sound based on Hill’s and Beard’s rhythm section support, accentuated by Gibbons’ guitar and vocal style. Their lyrics often gave evidence of band’s humor and thematically focus on personal experiences and sexual innuendos.

ZZ Top formed its initial lineup in 1969, consisting of Anthony Barajas (bass and keyboards) and Peter Perez (drums and percussion). After several incarnations, Hill and Beard joined within the following year. Molded into a professional act by manager Bill Ham, they were subsequently signed to London Records and released their debut album. They were successful as live performers, becoming known to fans as “that little ol’ band from Texas”, and their 1973 album Tres Hombres, according to Allmusic, propelled the band to national attention and “made them stars”. In 1979, after returning from a one-and-a-half year break of touring, the group reinvented themselves with their 1983 hit album Eliminator and the accompanying tour. ZZ Top incorporated New Wave and punk influences into their sound and performances, and embraced a more iconic image, with Gibbons and Hill sporting chest-length beards and sunglasses. Similar experimentation continued for the remainder of the 1980s and 1990s with varying levels of success. On ZZ Top’s 2003 album Mescalero, they adopted a more contemporary sound while maintaining their influences from their earlier musical pursuits.

Maintaining the same members for over forty years, ZZ Top has released 14 studio albums and are among the most popular rock groups, having sold more than 25 million albums in the United States. They have won three VMAs and in 2004, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. VH1 ranked ZZ Top at number 44 in its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock”. They have performed at many charity events and raised $1 million for the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.I think ZZ Top should have been included in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movie, They all look the part and I can just imagine them getting their “Axes” out and doing a splendidly noisy cover version of Misty Mountain Hop 😀

cheek, chic, pose and poise- Tribute to Sir Noël Coward

English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, Sir Noël Coward was born in Teddington, on 16th December 1899. He attended a dance academy in London as a child, making his professional stage début at the age of eleven. As a teenager he was introduced into the high society in which most of his plays would be set. Coward became known for his wit, flamboyance and achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit, have remained in the regular theatre repertoire. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works (including the operetta Bitter Sweet and comic revues), poetry, several volumes of short stories, the novel Pomp and Circumstance, and a three-volume autobiography. Coward’s stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works.

At the outbreak of World War II, Coward volunteered for war work, running the British propaganda office in Paris. He also worked with the Secret Service, seeking to use his influence to persuade the American public and government to help Britain. Coward won an Academy Honorary Award in 1943 for his naval film drama, In Which We Serve, and was knighted in 1969. In the 1950s he achieved fresh success as a cabaret performer, performing his own songs, such as “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, “London Pride” and “I Went to a Marvellous Party”. His plays and songs achieved new popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, and his work and style continue to influence popular culture. Coward did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, but it was discussed candidly after his death by biographers including Graham Payn, his long-time partner, and in Coward’s diaries and letters, published posthumously. By the end of the 1960s, Coward suffered from arteriosclerosis and, during the run of Suite in Three Keys, he struggled with bouts of memory loss. This also affected his work in The Italian Job, and he retired from acting immediately afterwards. Coward was knighted in 1969 and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement.

He died at his home, Firefly Estate, in Jamaica on 26 March 1973 of heart failure and was buried three days later on the brow of Firefly Hill, overlooking the north coast of the island. A memorial service was held in St Martin-in-the-Fields in London on 29 May 1973, for which the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, wrote and delivered a poem in Coward’s honour,[98] John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier read verse and Yehudi Menuhin played Bach. On 28 March 1984 a memorial stone was unveiled by the Queen Mother in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. Thanked by Coward’s partner, Graham Payn, for attending, the Queen Mother replied, “I came because he was my friend.”The Noël Coward Theatre in St Martin’s Lane, originally opened in 1903 as the New Theatre and later called the Albery, was renamed in his honour after extensive refurbishment, re-opening on 1 June 2006. A statue of Coward by Angela Conner was unveiled by the Queen Mother in the foyer of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1998.There are also sculptures of Coward displayed in New York and Jamaica. In 2008 an exhibition devoted to Coward was mounted at the National Theatre in London.[102] The exhibition was later hosted by the Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California.

Tribute to Jane Austen

English novelist Jane Austen was born 16th December 1775. Austen’s works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years into her thirties. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but tragically died in 18th July 1817 before completing it.

Austen’s works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism.Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture.

Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”, according to one biographer. Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”. Scholars have unearthed little information since.

Lincoln v Django Unchained

There are two major new films being released, which concern a hugely contentious episode in US history, that of slavery. Firstly there is Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, which is an earnest, high-minded and well-crafted costume drama, and then Django Unchained which is an ultra-violent lurid and tongue-in-cheek Western with a black cowboy lead and is directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Django Unchained is set in 1858, as an escaped slave turned gunslinger (Jamie Foxx) and a European bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) try to rescue the gunslinger’s wife from a southern plantation, and is one of the few Westerns with a black hero (Jamie Foxx.) Tarantino has researched his subject matter extensively and has insisted that he wanted to show the ugliness, brutality and “surrealism” that went hand in hand with slavery, he also talks about the toxic legacy of slavery in one breath and his love of Sergio Corbucci’s Django films the next.

Tarantino also caused controvery with The use of the “n-word”, which is even more frequent in Django than it was in Jackie Brown. The light-hearted moments when Klan members can’t see out of their masks or Django leaps aboard his horse as if he is Roy Rogers on Trigger, the film is also powered along by trash talk and Tarantino’s familiar wisecracking, punning dialogue which sits uncomfortably next to the scenes of unrelenting violence there are whippings, slaves being tortured and abused, slaves wrestling one another to the death and dogs ripping slaves to pieces, and The sadistic nature of a system in which white Southern aristocrats treat their slaves as chattels is made very evident. In Django, justice is administered through guns in slow motion, Sergio Leone-style action sequences.

Lincoln on the other hand is directed by Steven SPielberg, The director of films like Schindler’s List, Amistad and Saving Private Ryan, and takes place in 1865 as the then President Abraham Lincoln fights a bitter political battle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution that would ban slavery. It is full of sententious, brilliantly written speeches about human rights, democracy and the legislative process and, although the film is set in the middle of the Civil War, the reality of slavery is kept in the background. We see the corpses of the dead Union soldiers. Lincoln is shown visiting wounded soldiers suffering horrible disfigurements. The real conflict, though, is in the debating chamber as white politicians land rhetorical blows on one another. In Lincoln, there is a wise, folksy, cunning President (brilliantly played by Daniel Day-Lewis) who uses his knowledge of human nature to push through political change.

‘Django Unchained’ is released on 18 January. ‘Lincoln’ is released on 25 January 2013 – I’ve changed my mind, I would much rather watch Lincoln