Sifting Through Arthur C. Clarke’s DVD Collection in Colombo

Yes, when this story gets to where it’s going, I end up in Arthur C. Clarke’s armchair. I promise.

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I started this morning with a strong cup of coffee, an egg hopper doused in fish curry, and the sci-fi classic Childhood’s End. And then a thought occurred to me: Didn’t Arthur C. Clarke live here once?

We’re in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and it’s the last day of our trip. It’s our last week in Asia. It’s actually, in a way, the end of AsiaObscura. We move back to America on Saturday.

So I did some quick searches, and not only did he live in Sri Lanka, but he lived just a few blocks away.

Every now and then, this happens. In Nevers this summer, while reading a Simenon novel, I wondered if the prolific Belgian author had ever lived in Nevers. He’s my favorite author, and he loved canals, one of which ran through the town. Turned out he had lived there, and — while his house was hidden behind a massive gate — standing outside the gate was magical.

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All the moreso because the current inhabitant is, like Simenon, a gynecologist. Well, in a way.

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But I’m not in Nevers, reading Simenon. This morning I was in Colombo, reading Clarke. And I knew this was a message. I needed to find it. Although it would probably be hidden behind a massive wall.

Sure enough, it was.

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“Private,” said a security guard, rushing over. He gestured to the barricade that blocked the private road.

“Did Arthur C Clarke live here,” I asked, and while he nodded, he spoke almost no English. We stood on our tiptoes, and took another picture of the rooftop.

“Private house,” he said again.

But when we turned to leave, he stopped us. He grabbed us. He wouldn’t let us leave. He pushed us down the alleyway, rang the doorbell, and guided us inside what was called “Leslie’s House.”

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And it turns out, to get inside, all it takes is a small bribe tip. And Arthur C. Clarke’s house hasn’t been touched since he died five years ago.

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There was no mistaking who lived here. His entranceway will haunt my dreams forever. Cracking moonscape wallpaper was pasted up behind garish Doris Day-ekko cushions on wicker chairs.

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This wasn’t my teenage fantasy bedroom — it was Arthur C. Clarke’s foyer!

Old Kaypro, NASA, HAL (!!!) stickers…

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Notes scrawled on windows (by him? by an employee? by who?)…

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I felt like we were intruding on Mr C. As if we’d interrupt him at work on a new manuscript. The housekeeper spoke not a word of English, but led us into his office….

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…and then left. Michelle and I were there, alone. This was no museum. This was no shrine. This was Arthur C. Fucking Clarke’s office.

His office with everything.

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I felt strange, a little breathless, and a lot excited.

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Family photos (?) and pictures of him with astronauts and celebrities. Stacks of knick-knacks…

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Dusty old awards…

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Two dinosaurs stand guard over a bookshelf.

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Oh, the bookshelves.

You know the way you might study the bookshelf of a girl you’ve just met? Sure, he’s five years dead, but I started doing that with Clarke.

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Sagan, Dawkins, Gregory Benford, Buckminster Fuller…

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Several shelves of 2001: A Space Odyssey…

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His DVDs and videos ran from the sci-fi — Alien, Aliens, Blade Runner, The Right Stuff — to the awesome — a 3-VHS set of Back to the Future, and The Naked Civil Servant — and the incredibly mundane: Catch Me If You Can.

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A yellow typewritten label on a tape showed it was filled with space awesomeness, and wind generateors…

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The case for an Ali G collection on VHS was cracked open, and another tape, Fame, sat beside the TV. Were these the last two tapes he watched?

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What on earth did Arthur C. Clarke make of Ali G?

An old photo of a handsome young Sri Lankan, a dapper gent, hung on one wall.

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Was this man important? Was he a lover? Was I intruding on a dead man’s space? Yes, I was. And it was wonderful.

As a good interloper, I left nothing (but a bribe tip), and I took nothing (but so many photos). But on my way out, I had to do one thing. I sat down in one of the two wicker chairs, and smiled.

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A few blocks away, in the old Borella General Cemetery, a gravedigger showed us the way to where Clarke is now.

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He pulled fallen branches away, tossing them onto another grave, and dusted the headstone off.

“He never grew up,” it reads, “but he never stopped growing.”

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It’s a shared spot. At Clarke’s side lies a young man, who’d died decades before. He was the same young man from the photo on the wall. His name, Leslie Ekanayake, as in “Leslie’s House.” Clarke’s house was named for this man.

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How terribly romantic.

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23 Responses to Sifting Through Arthur C. Clarke’s DVD Collection in Colombo

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    How fantastic
    A wonderful tour
    Clarke is one of my favorite too — and I’ve only read one of his books: Childhood’s End

    Thanx for the tour
    Welcome back to America — I hope you keep blogging in some capacity.

  2. kodabar says:

    I submitted this to reddit where it’s been received rather well. I hope you don’t mind.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/scifi/comments/1q0rli/sifting_through_arthur_c_clarkes_dvd_collection/

    • M Pinn says:

      If you liked “Childhood’s End”, I can recommend Clarke’s “The City and The Stars”, expanded from the earlier version “Against the Fall of Night”. Also “Rendevous with Rama”.

  3. spinn says:

    What a tough call not taking anything. It’s respectful, but in the end they’re just things…and if they’re just letting people in without supervision, surely it happens occasionally.

    Not sure I would’ve shown the same restraint. I don’t steal by nature, but…Arthur C. Friggin’ Clarke, man.

  4. What a fascinating piece. So strange to see it all as it was left. As you imply, you could almost imagine that he’s just about to step into the room to greet you.

  5. Pingback: Adventurous Andy Deemer Talks His Way Into Arthur C. Clarke’s Office | Suvudu

  6. In case you weren’t aware of the charming synchronicity involving Dr. Michele Lagrange’s office & Arthur C Clarke, in the novel 2001 & 2010, the giant monolith was located in which is known as the Lagrange point between Jupiter & Europa. Clarke also used a Lagrangian point between the Earth & the Moon for his 1961 novel A Fall of Moondust.

    Thanks for this wonderful post. It’s a shame Mr. Clarke’s last earthly abode hasn’t been turned into a proper museum yet. It pains me to think of all the clandestine visitors who will not be as honest & respectful as you were.

    Saludos,

    RPJ

  7. Jed Rothwell says:

    Thanks for that.

    Here is a photo of Clarke with his pet Tyrannosaurus rex, in the backyard of his house:

    http://lenr-canr.org/wordpress/?p=837

    Regarding the handwriting on the mirror, it does not look like his. I can send you a sample of that if you want.

  8. Steve says:

    Thanks for telling the world how easy it is to loot Clarke’s home.

  9. wolfi says:

    As a long time SF fan and book collector I’m flabbergasted and shocked – this place should be turned into a museum for one of the greatest SF writers!
    And regarding this a little gem from wikipedia:
    The feelings of friendship and respect between Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were demonstrated by the so-called “Clarke-Asimov Treaty of Park Avenue”, put together as they shared a cab ride in New York. This stated that Asimov was required to insist that Clarke was the best science fiction writer in the world (reserving second-best for himself), while Clarke was required to insist that Asimov was the best science writer in the world (reserving second-best for himself).[47] Thus the dedication in Clarke’s book Report on Planet Three (1972) reads: “In accordance with the terms of the Clarke-Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov

  10. Debbie(aussie) says:

    I think I have read almost all his work (short works at least). wonderful author, interesting man. Surely someone could protect/take care of this, his final home. The admission (tip/bribe), aught to cover expenses. Just make it a little more official than now.
    Thanks for this :)

  11. John says:

    Wow! That was so interesting. Thanks for sharing. I grew up reading a lot of his work, and loved it all. I would have thought his house would have been turned into some kind of museum or something, and I guess in a way it has.
    P.S I hear Childhood’s End is being made into a Big screen movie for 2014 or 15.

  12. Kate Jones says:

    Clarke’s Imperial Earth led me to make a career of pentominoes, and our address is still in his Ascent to Orbit, in the chapter, “Help! I’m a Pentomino Addict.” I treasure the few pieces of personal correspondence with Sir Arthur through the years, signed with his incomparable galactic verve. We have an eternal flame for him in our history. And The Clarke Foundation lives on with a panoply of associated institutions. Their mission:

    The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation regards Sir Arthur’s work as an unparalleled synthesis of science, literature, and social concern. History will list him among the few whose insights ranged most broadly in our comprehension of the universe we live in, the way we live in it, and the responsibility we have to improve our world.

    May that be an inspiration for all of humanity.

  13. Pingback: Black Gate » Blog Archive » Magic: Let’s Ditch Clarke’s 3rd Law!

  14. Mark Duffett says:

    Anyone noticed what the gravestone resembles? I bet the dimensions are 1:4:9

  15. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Culture – or functional equivalent – should be apprised of this situation – although Clarke’s work is done, and is continued by others as it reverberates through the noösphere, archivists and historians would want this stuff to be put under lock and key RIGHT AWAY. I think I’ll send a letter about it to the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S. (my location) – it might make a difference.

  16. Peter Miller says:

    Hello Jed Rothwell, thank you so much sharing the link to Sir Arthur’s paper/address on Cold Fusion. I read it with ever increasing wonderment, being also, “Cold/new” to the physics, but stirred by Sir Arthur’s passion. Best wishes, Peter Miller

  17. Pingback: Friday Links | Exposed DC

  18. Ron Obvious says:

    fascinating photos! any clues about his alleged habits with underage boys?

  19. Dang says:

    Hey! Is that a copy of Moon Fetus on his bookshelf?

  20. Zimriel says:

    Ron Obvious is referring to this from The Independent: The Mysterious Sri Lankan World of Arthur C. Clarke.

    That portrait of the Sri Lankan gentleman looks like the guy was 18ish when it was taken. So there’s definitely hints here he liked ‘em young – like Alan Turing liked ‘em young. No evidence he liked ‘em Marion Zimmer Bradley young though.

  21. gottacook says:

    A few oddities I noticed on the shelves:
    Gene Roddenberry’s paperback novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (with memorably excessive use of italics for emphasis throughout)
    Hand-labeled VHS tape evidently of the making of The Shining, by “V. Kubrick” (isn’t this the Kubrick daughter who appeared as the child in the Picturephone conversation in 2001?)
    Clarke’s own The Lost Worlds of 2001, a Signet paperback I also own; not a commonly known book, but includes much fascinating detail about unused story elements, with large chunks of early drafts of sections of his 2001 novel

  22. I visited Arthur in February of 1999. The study looks unchanged from that time.
    The photo of Arthur is of him and his adopted Sri Lankan/Australian family with whom he ran a scuba diving service out of the house.
    Inside the main entrance (by the parked black car) was a personal elevator, of which Arthur was immensely proud (“One of only two private elevators in Colombo!”).
    In addition to Elizabeth Taylor (whose signed picture is in one of the article’s photos), Arthur had a special guest book. I didn’t flip through all of it, but in addition to Taylor, Prince Charles was in there, and Steven Spielberg.
    The Galaxy Award (shown in one shot) was short-lived, but the trophies were very impressive. Heavy marble, with a star sapphire in the center of the galaxy. I have the other one for the same year (1979), for Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Weighs a ton.

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