Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Spring - Summer 2007


Asia Emerging by Gregory and Elisabeth Benford illos by Charles Williams

We left February 17, 2007 on a considerable, month-long trip, starting with Hong Kong, where we caught the Lunar New Year Celebration (Chinese New Year). Then on to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to visit Arthur Clarke. Arthur has post polio syndrome and thus very little memory or energy. He turns 90 this December and wants to keep in touch with the outer world, mostly through the Internet. He has few friends left in Colombo.

Arthur took us to the Swimming Club for lunch, a sunny ocean club left over from the British days (commonly called the Raj). Members swam in the pool and enjoyed buffet lunch. It felt somehow right to watch the Indian Ocean curl in, breaking on the rocks, and speak of space: the last, greatest ocean.

Our hotel with a similar ocean view, the Galle Face, is the oldest grand Raj hotel east of the Suez Canal, dating from before the Civil War, and reeks of atmosphere. On the verandah we daily dug into a good Lankan breakfast: string hoppers of woven rice, rich curry of meat and potatoes, idli (small steamed rice cakes), dosas (rice crepes) with various fillings, pappadums – cause for lascivious hunger. The full English breakfast was also available. We mixed and matched.

Sri Lanka sits a few degrees from the equator and was named Serendip long ago by the Arabs, for its fortunate circumstances. Not all is fortunate now, though. The civil war between the Sinhalese government and the fascist Tamil Tigers (much less than 1% of the population; Tamils are 18%) has now run 23 years, killing hundreds of thousands. Since the Galle Face is next to the British High Command compound, and just down the street from the presidential residence and various embassies, not-so-subtle security lurks everywhere. Armed guards carefully inspect entering people and vehicles at all the government compounds. A heavy machine gun on a nearby tower peered over us as we swam in the pool. Elisabeth didn’t dare take a photo of them.

Arthur mused, “All this effort, all this death, when we could be building the staging area for a seaborne space elevator.” In The Fountains of Paradise he had moved the island five degrees south so it could sit on the equator to facilitate the enterprise.

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