Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Clarke, slander, and gross epistemological errors

with 6 comments

Sir Arthur C. Clarke has passed away, but this mostly won’t be about that.

Yes, I read his books when I was in high school, and very occasionally thereafter. I liked them for the long view that they took, seeing sometimes to the end of time. I didn’t like the coldness, and sometimes brutality, of them, but that was part and parcel of the long view that he took.

I learned in a university science fiction course that he was probably a “confirmed bachelor” (homosexual, but not public about it).

Today, I told a friend and fellow SF fan about Clarke’s passing, and he made a face, saying that Clarke lived in Sri Lanka for one reason — “the age of consent”. He further claimed that he had seen a video an interview in which Clarke admitted being a pedophile. I was good: I didn’t say “horseshit” to his face. I refused to concede the point, politely, because I actually know what underlies that urban legend.

Arthur C. Clarke was to be knighted in 1998. On 1 February 1998, the Sunday Mirror of London printed a contemptible story titled “Child Sex Shame of Arthur C. Clarke” containing supposed direct quotes:

Clarke’s interest in boys stretches back over the 40 years he has lived in Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean island. He meets poverty- stricken lads who are easily persuaded by men to become partners for 1,000 rupees, just pounds 10.

Clarke has written more than 80 books about space travel and science fiction, and has been hailed as the 20th Century’s prophet and is consulted by world leaders.

But at his luxury beach house in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, he said: “I’m trying to think of the youngest boy I have ever had because of course you can’t tell here. It is very difficult here.” Clarke said boys are ready to have homosexual sex as long as they have virtually reached puberty.

But asked what was the youngest boy he ever had a liaison with, Clarke said: “Most of them had reached the age of puberty.”

He insisted: “I mean I have never had the slightest interest in children – boys or girls. They should be treated in the same way but once they have reached the age of puberty then it is OK.

“I think most of the damage is done by the fuss made by hysterical parents. If the kids enjoy it and don’t mind it doesn’t do any harm…there is a hysteria about the whole thing in the West. I don’t think anyone should have a relationship unless it is entirely free and open and the boy will know what he is doing.”

Asked if he had had sexual relationships with them he said simply: “Yes”.

He added: “I know once many many years ago when I first came here I did and the going rate was about two rupees. Money has never been part of a relationship. But of course when you are fond of them you give them money or a watch or something, whatever.”

The article itself gave some very good reason to doubt its own veracity:

In Sri Lanka homosexuality is against the law and punishable with a prison sentence of up to 10 years’ jail AND a flogging.

I mean, seriously, why would anyone go on the record under such a circumstance. Sir Arthur was many things, but never a fool.

Anyhow, there was a brouhaha that, in the end, came to exactly nothing.

The Sunday Mirror, after Clarke vehemently denied the charges, claimed that it had tapes of an interview with him.

But they were full of shit.

Sri Lankan police and Interpol both investigated the charges. Both agencies repeatedly requested copies of the tapes. The Sunday Mirror claimed they sent them once, but that Interpol “apparently” did not receive them (the dog ate their evidence, “apparently”), and never did give the evidence to, well, anybody at all.

Clarke was cleared of the charges.

There was no evidence on which to proceed.

The Sunday Mirror was the only paper to make the claims. No charges were ever brought, no evidence — apart from that tabloid’s supposed transcript — ever has surfaced. Other interviewers dealt with the matter directly, and Sir Arthur treated the charges with the (humorous) contempt they deserved.

Oh, and the Telegraph obituary says that the Sunday Mirror later printed an apology, though I can’t find that online (of course).

Naturally, this cannot prevent people who want to believe it from believing it. There are people who remain convinced that the moon landings were fake. But all the evidence says otherwise.

(I was going to go on about the lazy thinking, even evasion, necessary to maintain such a belief, but I’m tired and this is depressing. Enough, I say. The onus of proof is on those making the positive claim, so if anyone wants to serve up, say, a YouTube video of an interview or something, let them. Otherwise, my initial judgement remains: the charges are completely unsubstantiated horseshit.)


Written by [IMH]

18 March 2008 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses

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  1. I don’t know who he is, but even if he was a pedophile, his immorality wouldn’t have hindered him from producing great SF novels, and it wouldn’t stop you from reading his works either, right? Although I can imagine how disappointing it would be if you found out that an author you like did one of your most hated things in the world.


    19 March 2008 at 1:23 am

  2. I’m actually really mixed on Clarke as a writer. He did some things really, really well, and other things (like good characters) rather poorly. But on the basis of a few of his books, I think he’ll always be remembered.

    You do know who he was, in a sense — he wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I think just about everyone knows that, or at least knows of it.

    Others of his works that will remain influential include The Fountains of Paradise, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End, and the short story “The Nine Billion Names Of God”, which has one of the most chilling closing lines ever.

    (BTW, nice pic! 🙂 )


    19 March 2008 at 7:38 am

  3. Oh, I think one of the books you left me is 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ll check later.

    (Thanks, it’s an old pic taken just before my graduation ceremony. This one’s nicer. :p)


    19 March 2008 at 9:10 am

  4. […] effort here at Troppo is as good as any of them, while Ian Hamet addresses and dismisses old allegations of pedophilia against the dead sci-fi icon.  I’m more interested in what goes on his tombstone.  Spike […]

  5. Ian, I never claimed to have seen a video interview; I said I’d seen an interview. It was, in fact, a print interview I saw on-line. From what you’ve posted, it was most almost certainly the interview you quote above; and until you mentioned it I hadn’t seen anything about the lawsuit or its outcome.

    Frankly, I’d much rather think better of Clarke than worse; and if he denied it and was vindicated, very well then.

    Will Duquette

    19 March 2008 at 3:38 pm

  6. Will, I misinterpreted you, I’m sorry. To me, seeing an interview means witnessing it in some form (I presumed video), whereas if it’s in print, I would think of that as reading the interview.

    There was, in fact, no lawsuit, as at least one of the links makes clear. When asked why he didn’t sue, Clarke responds “Time and money. It would have cost a fortune and dragged on for years. These things always do. I’d have won, then they’d have appealed. It would still be going on now. I’m an old man. It wasn’t worth it. My conscience is clear.”

    In any event, what I wrote here was not directed at you, per se, but at how people often accept rumor or suspect reports as fact without examining them properly. If the charge had simply been that he was homosexual, accepting as fitting in with other facts about his life would be understandable. But to say he was a pedophile is a whole different thing.

    A charge of pedophilia is, to me, one of the most repugnant possible. In such a case, a single article in a single newspaper, even if it weren’t a notorious London tabloid, is insufficient to support such a heinous charge.


    19 March 2008 at 4:09 pm

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