Mon Dieu, c’est rempli d’étoiles

Saturday, 22 March 2008 — 8:50pm | Literature

The final debating competition of my undergraduate career ended much the same way as the previous National Championship I’d attended: with a cosmic phenomenon for sad and lucky eyes. This time, it happened at the end of a stroll along the perimeter of the Halifax Citadel with an entourage of my fellow prairie kids, bellies full of seafood one and all. And while it wasn’t a festival of colours like that aurora from above, consider this: posing for a dockside photograph with Theodore Tugboat was not the highlight of the evening.

We had set out on a pilgrimage to a tree of legend. Not a tree of life or knowledge, mind you: just the sort of nondescript roadside outgrowth from which they tend to hang banners of public interest with captivating messages like “Children Act Fast… So Do Poisons!”, or whatever fits the awareness week of the week. We embarked on our quest to pay tribute to a former adventurer of our company, now departed. (No, he’s not dead, but he’s a lawyer these days, and if you’re Shakespeare’s Henry VI it’s all the same to you.)

There was no banner that night; doubtless, the hundreds of passing Nova Scotian motorists had nary a clue as to what they had to be aware of for the next seven days. Still, I think we found the right tree. It was lonely, attached to a faint and banner-friendly cable, and just waiting to be climbed. But that’s not how we knew.

We knew because, as we circled the tree and sang an anthem to the stars, the moon wrapped itself in a ghostly halo. Yes, said Artemis herself, you’re in the right place. The word, as it were, is paraselene: like a parhelion, but by night. I hear they call it a moondog, but I don’t like dogs. Half the fun of science is the Latin.

I mention this encounter because, loath as I am to employ this space for obituaries (except in very special circumstances), I can’t ignore that Arthur C. Clarke has died. They buried him irreligiously to the clarion call of Strauss’s “Zarathustra”, as we always knew they would, though I personally always imagined they would shoot him into space.

So passes the last elder statesman of the cohort of authors that predicted and defined the Future of Humanity. It’s strange to think of a world where Mr. Clarke is no longer at his Colombo redoubt, gazing at the celestial mystery theatre with the rest of us stranded, earthbound denizens. Aside from that, I don’t have much to add to the tributes of those more learned and eloquent than myself. The moon glowed at me the other night. That’s the extent of my story.

I’m not the Clarke specialist in the family. That would be my father, steward of an extensive basement library of space odysseys, rendezvous with Rama and childhood’s ends. But in recognition of Clarke’s Third Law, perhaps I can offer this simple paraphrase: any sufficiently advanced science fiction author is indistinguishable from a magician.

It’s the twenty-first century, and we’re still up to his old tricks.

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