Today one of my idols from childhood (and today) passed on to his next life. Arthur C. Clarke, along with Isaac Asimov, introduced me to intelligent science fiction literature in middle and high school. I distinctly remember reading Rendezvous with Rama in high school and being totally mesmerized by the sheer scope of the story and the intricacies of the future technology. It felt like it could be real, like it could actually happen in the near future. Unlike the usual Star Trek books and other campy sci-fi that I had been used to reading, where everything is explained away with some technobabble or crazy futuristic scenario, hard sci-fi didn't have easy outs.
I went through a phase where almost all I read was Asimov or Clarke. From I, Robot to Childhood's End to Foundation to 2001 to Nightfall to Dolphin Island. Every book was a new possible future. I was amazed at the worlds and new realities they created. Eventually I stumbled across other authors that wrote in the same realm, but for a while I thought that these two authors were the only people to write engaging hard sci-fi.
On my bookshelf at home, I still have a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey that was originally my dad's from the 70's. When he first gave it to me back in 5th or 6th grade, it was along with a bunch of his old books and I didn't initially take notice. Later in 6th grade or maybe 7th grade, I did try to read it and found myself way over my head, as well as a little bored. I couldn't grasp the concepts and chalked it up to being a terrible book. When you're at that age, you don't ever assume that there's something you can't understand if you put your mind to it. Instead you just think it's dumb.
Later on, however, after I'd read some Asimov short stories, I came back to 2001 partially because I felt like it had defeated me in the past and partially because I knew it was a book my dad had obviously enjoyed and, unlike the war novels he had given me, it was something right up my nerdy alley. By this time I was 16 or 17 and able to comprehend the story, maybe not on all levels, but enough to get the big ideas. And I was floored.
Despite how beat up this book has become over time and despite having hardcover copies of 2010, 2061, and 3001, I proudly keep my dad's copy of 2001 on my bookshelf to remind me of that somewhat life changing reading experience from a decade ago. Arthur C. Clarke was, and still is, an author I hold in the highest regard.