FUTURE WATCH : Right on the Money

From the man on the street to the experts in the halls of science, everyone laughed 50 years ago when Arthur C. Clarke wrote that some day people would communicate via satellites in stationary orbits 23,000 miles above the Earth.

Last month the author of "2001: A Space Odyssey" received an honorary degree from Liverpool University--beamed by satellite from the campus in England to a television station in Sri Lanka, where he lives. How fitting.

Now 77 and not in the best of health, Clarke has resided in the island nation formerly known as Ceylon for nearly 40 years. He moved there to indulge his interest in marine life, became an avid scuba diver and, happily, continued to write his science fiction. A prolific author, he is noted for blending scientific accuracy with optimism about the human condition.

Clarke pretends to be a curmudgeon, but those visiting his splendid home typically sit enthralled for hours as he offers explanations for predictions past, like the communications satellites, and hopes for accomplishments to come, like gardening on Mars.

In awarding the honorary doctorate of letters, a Liverpool University official correctly noted that "in the surrealist world of the half-real and the imaginary," Clarke had "the uncanny knack of demonstrating that the unreal can become real."

One of Clarke's seemingly unreal predictions, made long before the development of sophisticated rockets, was that humans would walk on the moon in the 20th Century. Everyone laughed that time, too.

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