He wrote the book and the screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He came up with the idea of geostationary satellites, which revolutionised communication, television broadcasting and weather forecasting across the world. He has a type of orbit named after him. He has a species of dinosaur named after him. He has an asteroid named after him. And he was responsible for a disastrous misunderstanding in 1983 which resulted in me standing in front of my entire class at school and crying like a girl. And I’m not a girl.
By far my favourite book in those days was Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, not a single word of which I understood. But it had pictures of crystal skulls and real actual ghosts and monsters, which was good enough for me. And what’s more, because it was a book for adults rather than 8-year-old children, and it had been on TV, it was Definitely All True.
As with so many other things in my life back then, I wasn’t content keeping this to myself. The world had to know. So I took my tattered copy of the book in to school one day and told Mrs Paisley the deal – ghosts and monsters and stuff are real and it’s Definitely All True and it’s in this book and everyone should know. To my absolute delight, she agreed, and arranged an impromptu reading in the library. I remember my excitement at the prospect of having my book leant the unquestionable authority of being read to us by Mrs Paisley.
But then disaster struck. As everyone was getting settled on the floor around Mrs Paisley’s chair, she gave me back my book and said “here you go, remember to read it loud enough that Samantha and Suzanne at the back can hear”. Then, turning to my classmates “now everyone, Andrew has brought in a book that he would like to read to you all, so be nice and quiet and when I come back we can talk about what you all thought”. The blood drained from my face and my ears started ringing.
“Me read it out to them? What the hell are you talking about? I can’t do that, I don’t even know what any of these words mean and the sentences go on forever! Are you insane?”
...was what I wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead I turned slowly to the sea of expectant faces, looked down at what was now my least favourite book in the world, and tried to read some of the stuff that wasn’t the pictures.
I remember very clearly that it had fallen open at the chapter about sea monsters, and I gave the first sentence my best shot. On the third attempt, however, I caught sight of my friend Geoff, who was sitting in the front row and pulling faces at me. So I decided the best course of action would be to set the book aside for the time being, tell Geoff that he was in Big Trouble when Mrs Paisley got back, and then burst into tears.
I still have the book somewhere, and I still haven’t read it. It has caused enough trouble already.