Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Remembering Sir Arthur C. Clarke

A dear friend from back East called on Monday night to say he was in town and to find out if we were available for dinner. Len was busy, but I jumped at the opportunity. Although Len may have given him one of his first professional assignments way back when (I've seen the Marvel magazine), Michael Whelan and his lovely wife Audrey Price became close friends of mine long before I had ever heard of Len Wein. It's a very small world, after all.

Michael was in California to look for a gallery to represent his fine art painting. I own several original Whelan illustrations which grace our walls and I have a number of framed prints in storage because there is simply no room for them on the few walls that don't support book shelves. I find this to be a crying shame. Michael has a beautiful website where you can see examples of his work and purchase prints or originals. Audrey has handled that aspect of the business for as long as I've known them, which is approaching 28 years (How time flies.)

One of the prints I own is of Michael's cover to Sir Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010, the first of three sequels to 2001. It was nice to spend Tuesday evening with people who wanted to talk about Sir Arthur, and who were saddened by his passing. Rather like having a mini-wake.

Now to that story I couldn't write yesterday.

I was the outside general counsel for the Science Fiction Writers of America for about six years. The most fun I had during that time was volunteering to chair the 2001 Nebula (R) Awards Ceremony. I know how to throw a good party and that one came out pretty well.

2001 is one of those landmark years in the science fiction world (1984 is another), and nothing would have made me happier than to get Sir Arthur to Los Angeles to be my guest of honor. That wasn't going to happen, unfortunately, because he was no longer leaving Sri Lanka. If I had the budget, I might have gotten a satellite appearance, but the weekend operates on a very tight budget. So, not long before the actual event, I realized my solution was to make Sir Arthur my Guest of Honor in Absentia.

Then I figured it might be nice if Sir Arthur had a greeting for his fellow SFWAns and I sent off a fax to him (I had a fax number, but not an e-mail. Go figure.) I happened to work late that night--it was in the middle of the Ellison lawsuit against AOL--and the phone rang about 7:30. At first I thought it was an automatic sales call. I said hello several times into what seemed like dead air. Then I heard a voice say "Miss Valada?"

I responded "yes" and the answer went into what seemed like an abyss. After the second time I was asked "Miss Valada?" I started to get a little irritated. Then I heard:

"Ms. Valada, this is Arthur Clarke."

To say that knocked the wind out of my sails is no understatement. I nearly fell off my chair.

"OH MY GOD," I responded before I could gather up my thoughts for an intelligent conversation. One of my very favorite writers was on the other end of the phone, calling from Sri Lanka. The abyss was due to satellite delay on each end of the call. I was, as I've heard friends say, gobsmacked. (This does not happen very often. A professional photographer doesn't have the luxury of being flummoxed by celebrity.)

He was utterly charming. He had just awakened to find my fax and wanted to let me know that after he was finished with a satellite hook-up to the University of Illinois, home of the Hal 9000, he would write a greeting to send to SFWA. He was utterly charming and I treasure the memory.

The short remarks arrived the next morning and they were read by my master of ceremonies, Neil Gaiman. (Neil relates his own encounter with Sir Arthur on his March 19, 2008 journal entry linked to here.) At the event, I had a table and place setting for Sir Arthur next to the podium, on the stage. When Neil finished reading the letter, I even poured some champagne in the glass at the setting. It made a nice touch.

My opening exclamation had not gone unnoticed. At the end of the letter, Sir Arthur had added a post script. "The next time someone greets me as a god," he wrote, "I shall have to decline divinity."

He may not be a god, but he is truly one of the immortals.


Rising Rainbow said...

I just found your blog, as one baby boomer to another following horse dreams, it's nice to meet you. I think not getting horses until I was older has made me all the more passionate about them.

M. C. Valada said...

Welcome. I've seen your post at Victoria's and checked out your blog as well.