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In recent months the science fiction and fantasy genres have begun to change their long tradition of ignoring uncomfortable truths. For example, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer was recently renamed the Astounding Award after 2019 winner Jeannette Ng pointed out the many issues surrounding Campbell’s beliefs and actions. And the renaming of the James Tiptree Jr. Award is also being considered because of actions taken by Alice Sheldon.
But missing from these discussions has been any concerns about the name of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, one of our genre’s biggest honors.
I began writing about this after hearing the award named for Clarke was sponsoring a national science fiction competition for young people. The problem? Clarke appears to have been a pedophile.
Before I go into all this, let me first say I take no joy in writing on this topic. I was one of Clarke's biggest fans for many decades. I even wrote this loving essay printed in The New York Review of Science Fiction and reprinted on SF Signal. But I refuse to ignore what has come out about Clarke in recent years.
First, some history. Clarke was known for being gay but was also very in the closet during a time when people often smeared gay people as pedophiles. This article goes into details about his personal life as a gay man.
Clarke lived most of the last half of his life in Sri Lanka. In 1998 Clarke was going to be knighted by the queen. In advance of this, the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror sent reporters to Sri Lanka to interview him. The resulting article went into great detail about Clarke having sex with young boys and even quoted him to this effect. The article also quoted three Sri Lankan men who claimed to have had sex with Clarke when they were young boys.
In response, Clarke threatened to sue. He claimed he’d said “nothing that I would've regretted if they'd quoted it accurately” and denied all of the accusations. Clarke also had many high-power defenders, including Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Mirror’s rival UK tabloid The Sun. In a personal letter sent to Clarke, Murdoch reportedly threatened the reporters involved in the Clarke story, promising they’d never work in Fleet Street again.
Eventually the Mirror apologized, although I can’t tell whether or not they actually retracted the article and interview. Sri Lankan police investigated Clarke and said they didn’t find anything. And the Mirror, already known for sometimes unreliable journalism, didn’t gain any credibility when they failed to turn over the Clarke interview tapes to Interpol.
Clarke was knighted and, like many people, I assumed he’d been smeared as a pedophile because he was a closeted gay man. Again, this had happened to many gay men over the years.
But when Clarke died in 2008, the allegations were again mentioned. In an Agence France-Presse article, Clarke was quoted as saying that when all this came out in 1998 he was "disturbed to discover that there has been a long-standing conspiracy here in Sri Lanka to discredit [him] ... involving activists associated with child welfare organizations."
I can’t tell whether this quote from Clarke came from original reporting circa 1998 or was something Clarke said to Sri Lankan investigators back then which was then reported by Agence France-Presse in 2008, but either way it really stands out. Why would Sri Lankan child welfare organizations have gone after Clarke as he described? Unless they knew something others were ignoring.
And then in 2012 it came out that the Mirror had sent their reporters to Sri Lanka because they learned Murdoch’s paper The News of the World had “spiked an exclusive story exposing the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke as a paedophile.” When the Mirror learned Murdoch’s paper wouldn’t publish the story because of his friendship with Clarke, they decided to go investigate it on their own.
Still, it was difficult to say all of this was proof that Clarke was indeed a pedophile. Yes, we have an article in a tabloid newspaper (which the paper later apologized for), plus lots of strange circumstances and disturbing rumors. But hardly proof.
But then I read Peter Troyer's very disturbing Vice essay, which came out in 2017 (second story at link).
By the time I finished Troyer's extremely personal account I was like, "Oh crap, it’s all true."
While Troyer doesn't name Clarke, it's obvious that's who he is describing. And the details in Troyer's account all match with aspects of Clarke’s life, not only in where it happened but also the time frame and how it happened.
So did Clarke admit in that original Mirror interview to being a pedophile? Without hearing the original tapes, it's hard to say. If that was the only evidence I'd likely go back to assuming all that was a smear against Clarke.
But then we return to Peter Troyer's own words about what Clarke did to him. When combined with all that was reported before, it's impossible to ignore that the original reporting on Clarke being a pedophile may have been correct.
Now that we're finally examining the issues around people like John W. Campbell, James Tiptree Jr., and Marion Zimmer Bradley, we should do the same for Clarke. Especially since a major genre award is named for him.
None of this changes how important Clarke’s stories were to my development as a writer or his impact on the field of science fiction. This doesn’t mean you can’t still love his books.
But the SF/F genre simply can’t ignore this issue any longer.