The oldest of four children, Clarke was born in Minehead, England, on Dec. 16, 1917, and grew up on a farm in Somerset.
He saw his first science-fiction magazine -- the November 1928 issue of Amazing Stories -- when he was 11. But it wasn't until he read a copy of the March 1930 issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science that, he later told biographer Neil McAleer, "My life was irrevocably changed."
"Young readers of today, born into a world in which science-fiction magazines, books and movies are part of everyday life, cannot possibly imagine the impact such garish pulps as that old Amazing and its colleagues Astounding and Wonder" had, Clarke wrote in a 1983 article in the New York Times Book Review. "Of course, the literary standards were usually abysmal -- but the stories brimmed with ideas and amply evoked that sense of wonder that is, or should be, one of the goals of the best fiction."
He began devouring books by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Olaf Stapledon and other authors and started writing short stories as a teenager for his school magazine.
Unable to afford college, Clarke took a civil service job as an auditor. In his off hours, he hung out with fellow science-fiction fans and members of the British Interplanetary Society, an organization devoted to supporting and promoting the exploration of space. Clarke later became the group's treasurer and wrote its brochures.
Volunteering for the Royal Air Force during World War II, Clarke became a technical officer and was stationed at a radar installation.
While in the military, Clarke continued to write mostly nonfiction. He made his first professional fiction sale -- for $180 -- to Astounding Science Fiction, which in 1946 published "Recue Party," a short story he had written while in the service.
After the war, Clarke studied physics and pure and applied mathematics at King's College in London. He then spent two years as assistant editor for the journal Physics Abstracts and published many short science-fiction stories and scientific articles -- as well as a 1950 nonfiction book, "Interplanetary Flight," which led to British television appearances to promote science and space exploration.
With the great success of his breakthrough 1951 popular science book "The Exploration of Space," which earned him a sizable sum when it sold to the Book of the Month Club, Clarke began writing full time.
While on a research trip for a nonfiction book about Australia's Great Barrier Reef in 1954, Clarke discovered the tropical island of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India. He made it his home two years later.
In 1962, Clarke found himself paralyzed, according to McAleer's 1992 book "Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography." He spent six weeks in a hospital and eventually recovered. But in 1988, after finding it difficult to walk and tiring easily, Clarke was diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome.
He sometimes used a wheelchair but was still able to continue one of his lifelong passions: scuba diving, which first drew him to Sri Lanka, once noting that he was "perfectly operational underwater."
In Sri Lanka, Clarke was isolated but not out of touch. He had half a dozen computers and remained in contact with friends, colleagues and fans via daily e-mails. And he dealt with a steady stream of journalists.
Clarke is said to have often ignored his own one-question rule and answered questions on a variety of topics, including extraterrestrials and UFOs.
"One thing is certain -- if extraterrestrial beings do visit our planet, they won't be little green men," he told the Sydney Daily Telegraph in 1997. "In fact, they won't be human at all. So when someone says they've seen, let alone been kidnapped by, beings with a head, eyes, limbs and a body, I know they are deceiving themselves.
"They may believe it's happening, but they are wrong. Look at the incredible variety of life forms on this planet -- yet all these extraterrestrials look like refugees from Central Casting."
On his 90th birthday in December, he listed three wishes for the world, the Associated Press reported: to embrace cleaner energy resources, for a lasting peace in his homeland of Sri Lanka, which has been beset by civil strife for decades, and for evidence of extraterrestrial beings.
"Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered," Clarke said. "I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these I would like to be remembered as a writer."
Clarke regretted never having made it to the moon, he once told the Associated Press, "but I feel I've gone into space so many times now." With a shrug and a grin, he added: "You know -- been there, done that."
Clarke's 1953 marriage to Marilyn Torgerson, a divorced American with a young son, lasted about six months -- although it was not legally dissolved until 1964. He had no children.