Geek Trivia: Action-pact science fiction

What did the Clarke-Asimov Treaty stipulate between the two iconic sci-fi writers?

Ask someone what the Big Three refers to, and you'll get an interesting variety of answers. In 20th-century history, you're likely referring to the three heads of the World War II Allies: Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. In U.S. automotive circles, the term clearly means Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler.

In the realm of video game consoles, you're talking about Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo (insert PlayStation 3 joke here). Among science-fiction geeks, however, the Big Three can mean only one trio: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein.

Collectively, these authors have won 18 Hugo Awards. Clarke has four, Heinlein sports six, and Asimov boasts eight—counting his two specially commissioned Hugo awards for Best All-Time Science Fiction Series (Foundation) and an award for his series of science articles in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. If the Hugos don't impress you, consider this: All three authors have science-fiction awards named in their honor.

From the early '60s to the mid '80s, this trio dominated literary science fiction, effectively defining an entire generation of the genre. The staying power of their collected works have helped Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein remain three of the best-selling authors in the field—despite the fact that Heinlein passed away in 1988 and Asimov in 1992.

As is often the case, science fiction appeals to future scientists, who in turn honor their literary idols with scientific anecdotes. Clarke and Asimov both have asteroid namesakes, and Heinlein has his own crater on Mars. Clarke also gets special bragging rights for having his own species of dinosaur: Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei.

With so much in common, it should come as no surprise that two of these three sci-fi giants were personal friends. Clarke and Asimov notably crossed paths several times during the heydays of their careers. As such, the two developed an amiable rivalry that became somewhat legendary within science-fiction fandom—so much so that it eventually led to the tongue-in-cheek Clarke-Asimov Treaty.


What did the Clarke-Asimov Treaty stipulate between the two science-fiction icons—a tongue-in-cheek nod to the amiable rivalry they cultivated within sci-fi fandom?

The Clarke-Asimov Treaty—sometimes called the Asimov-Clarke Treaty or the Asimov-Clarke Treaty of Park Avenue—stated that each author would refer to the other as the world's greatest writer in his specialty—and refer to himself as merely second-best. Under these terms, Asimov would crown Clarke as the best science-fiction scribe ever, while Clarke would anoint Asimov as the greatest science writer. Of course, both could publicly crown himself a close second to the other.

The two reputedly created the pact during a shared cab ride that deposited the pair on New York City's Park Avenue—thus the extended title. The only major print acknowledgement that either Clarke or Asimov made of this treaty was in Clarke's dedication of his book Report on Planet Three, first published in 1972. In it, Clarke snarkily wrote:

"In accordance with the terms of the Clarke-Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer."

Beyond fiction, it's difficult to say which of the two was the better author of fact. Clarke gets serious points for helping dream up both the geostationary telecommunications satellite via a 1945 technical article and the much-anticipated concept of a space elevator, which Clarke popularized in his 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise.

Meanwhile, Asimov brought general science to the masses with nearly 400 pop-science articles in the aforementioned Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, as well as several science books, earning him a reputation as the "Great Explainer." While that probably doesn't settle the rivalry, it certain makes for some knowledgeable Geek Trivia.

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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the October 11 edition of Geek Trivia, "Skunk Works of art." TechRepublic member tyler.poland called me out for shaving a few years off the SR-71 Blackbird's service record.

"If the first flight occurred in 1966, this would suggest that the design of the SR-71 exceeds 40 years [as you claim] since presumably the design would be complete well in advance of the first flight. According to Wikipedia, the first flight was actually Dec. 22, 1964. In addition, preflight testing was completed July 30, 1962—suggesting that the design is 44+ years of age."

While I intended the age statement to be more general than specific, this member countered with additional trivia, so he earns the quibble space. Thanks for the info, and keep those quibbles coming.

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.