Monday, December 31, 2007

The Reefs of Taprobane

The Reefs of Taprobane, Arthur C. Clarke (with photographs by Mike Wilson) (Harper Brothers, 1957).

Now how's this for alternative history? In 2007, world famous ocean explorer and promoter of ecological tourism Sir Arthur C. Clarke celebrates his 90th birthday. Clarke is cheered by hotel owners and cruise line operators as a pioneer who helped to bring about several generations of undersea exploration by the common folk (tourists). At one point Clarke had been almost as well known for publishing several science fiction novels and science fact novels, but fate brought him to a much more profitable line of work.

How far-fetched is the above scenario? Not so much. While Clarke likes to joke that he should have patented the communications satellite, another career that he was on the cusp of was underwater exploration and exploitation by ordinary people. In the late fifties and early sixties, Clarke, along with business partner and photographer Mike Wilson, produced a series of films and illustrated non-fiction books showing the undersea wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, the waters of Ceylon (later known as Sri Lanka) and other areas.

The Reefs of Taprobane is one of those earliest voyages of testing (trying to produce decent photographs underwater) and exploration. Clarke eventually fell in love with Ceylon and lived there permanently. While he kept his hand in underwater exploration, a small-budget production named 2001: A Space Odyssey and involvement in the Time-Life science book series entry on space travel sealed his fate. What might have been...

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