2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

2001Oh my God!-It’s full of stars!
-Captain David Bowman, of the Discovery


In many ways, re-reading this book has been a pleasure.

It was inevitable that I’d review 2001:  A Space Odyssey this year; written over thirty years ago, it was a science fiction novel (based on a screenplay) that covered millions of years, although most of the book took place in what was then the not-too-distant future.  Obviously, we haven’t achieved the levels of technology shown in the novel, but it still holds as a strong novel without it.  If one simply ignores some of the time-dependent factors, you can easily imagine that the book could have been written in recent days.

This book spawned a number of sequels from the mind of Arthur C. Clarke, each more ambitious than this one, but with the common theme about Humanity, intelligent life out in space, and the processes of evolution (and whether or not certain objects might have had a bit of influence on them).  It’s easy to look at the movie and base a review on that, but I’m going to resist that and go straight to the novel.

2001 is a book that begins at the dawn of man, when-if you’re an evolutionist-he was little more than an animal; a man-ape, if you will.  Lacking the spark of imagination, or intelligence, or even short-term memory, the precursors of humanity simply exist until the strange arrival of a large near-transparent rectangular monolith.  It begins a subtle manipulations of the man-apes….

The second part takes place in the near-future (technically about 1999); Dr. Heywood Floyd travels to the Moon for secret purposes, in order to brief the scientists of Clavius Base about a discovery made in the Tycho Crater, concerning a magnetic anomaly….

The third part is in 2001 proper, on the starship Discovery, as David Bowman, Frank Poole, and the ship’s artificial intelligence (named HAL) travel towards Japetus, the eighth satellite of Saturn, for reasons known only to Hal and the three hibernating scientists aboard.  Unfortunately for Bowman and Poole, keeping secrets is not HAL’s strongest point….

When I was younger, I was bored by the first part of the book, mainly because I wasn’t all that interested in the evolution of man (no offense against the concept…it had more to do with my misconceptions about just what the book was about).  I appreciate it a bit more now, as it is a necessary setup for the remainder of the book (and of the series).  In many ways, the first two parts are merely setup for the third, where the meat of the book lies.  As Clarke was somewhat bound by the screenplay of the film (although differences did eventually crop up), he did a great job on showing more about the daily lives of Poole and Bowman on the Discovery, as well as more detail about the more astronomical concepts behind their journey.  At the same time, though, there is plenty of dated material:  the Soviet Union was still very much a force in the world, and it was easy to believe that it would still be around in this time period, and have a presence in space.

2001:  A Space Odyssey suffers a bit for being so old, but it still makes for a fascinating read for an evening (or two).  It appeals more to the more philosophical reader of Sci-Fi, as opposed to the action oriented or the tech oriented.  For all its activity in space, it is a story about humanity:  where it has been, and where it may go.  It’s a thinking person’s novel, and is well worth thinking about.

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