I'm not sure what the first Arthur C Clarke novel I read was. My suspicion is that it was the novel component to 2001: A Space Odyssey, since that was so very accessible and often on the reading lists used to get high school students into the habit of glazing briefly over the contents of a book during the summer. I wouldn't be surprised if I had read one of his books of science essays first, though, since I came to science fiction surprisingly late in the game for a fan and usually from the nonfiction side of things. I know he made a deep impression on me, even if I didn't always understand what he was getting at: in the unspeakably horrible science fiction novel I actually wrote, all the way to the end, when I was fifteen the resolution was imitative of Clarke. It was also a demonstration that Clarke's tone and control are such that a fifteen-year-old who honestly wasn't well-read in fiction could not imitate them.
Quite a few of his novels, particularly The Fountains of Paradise and Rendezvous With Rama and A Fall of Moondust, give off the feeling, to me anyway, of not being fictional constructs; they read more like the reconstructions of the stories of remarkable historical events. They have the peculiarities and small quirks and credible fumbles of reality. They satisfy the same part of my mind that wants to read how the transcontinental railroad was built, or the Erie Canal dug, or containerized cargo took over the world's shipping needs. I remember waking up one day thinking of the wonderful space elevator built in Taprobane and how lucky I was to live at a time things like that happened. It's easy to confuse reality and fiction while partially awake, but this was a very persistent feeling.
Another thing he did which always impressed me was that he could capture the feeling of deep time. Famously, The City And The Stars (rewritten as Against The Fall Of Night) posits a city in the distant future, a billion years from today. I've never known clearly whether that was the American billion or the former British billion, but either way it's a staggering time into the future, and somehow, he made me feel it. Who knows when we'll see that sort of ability again?
In memorial, I watched the ``Spider'' episode of HBO's From The Earth To The Moon miniseries. Clarke had nothing to do with the episode, the one where they build the Lunar Module, but there's really no reason he couldn't have composed it.
Trivia: Pan American Aviation's inaugural daily passenger service, beginning in 1927 with flights from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba, used two new Fokker F-10 Trimotors and charged passengers $100 round-trip. Source: Naked Airport, Alastair Gordon.
Currently Reading: The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee.