Death and the Senator

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"Death and the Senator"
AuthorArthur C. Clarke
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Publication dateMay 1961

"Death and the Senator" is a science fiction short story by British writer Arthur C. Clarke. It was originally published in 1961[1] and has since been included in several collections of Clarke's writings.

Plot summary[edit]

Set in an unspecified year, but a few years before 1976, the story tells of Martin Steelman, an American Senator and potential Presidential candidate. As a member of a Senate committee, he has used his influence and rhetoric to refuse funding for an astrobiology project.

Some years later, he learns that he has a potentially fatal cardiac condition. Thereupon, he hears from one of the space scientists, whose project he helped to kill, that the USSR is experimenting with medical treatment under zero gravity conditions in a space station in Earth orbit. Although Steelman is offered a place on the treatment programme, which is highly experimental, he gives it up on seeing a young couple also waiting to be treated.

Back in Washington, D.C., he spends a few last quiet months with his family members, for which he had always been too busy with politics, and finds happiness in the role of a loving grandfather. While sitting on a bench and contemplating his fate, death comes quietly to him.

The title "Death and the Senator", like the more well known "Death and the Maiden" and various other "Death and the..." titles is ultimately derived from the Medieval "Dance of Death". In this context, Medieval depictions of "Death and the Emperor" or "Death and the Pope" were meant to make people reflect on the fact that however powerful and highly placed, all are mortal and all must reflect on what they do with their life. Obviously, Clarke intended much the same message in a modern context.


The story is widely understood to be a rebuke of U.S. Senator William Proxmire's criticism of space exploration. [2]


  • Clarke, Arthur C. The Best of Arthur C Clarke; 1956 - 1972. Published 1973
  1. ^ Short Stories., 2007-2011, retrieved June 22, 2011
  2. ^

External links[edit]