Space Odyssey

3001: The Final Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

3001And because, in all the Galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere.  They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped.
And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed.
-On the Firstborn

3001:  The Final Odyssey, continues and concludes the Odyssey saga.  Unlike the other three, this is very much a character driven book, as opposed to plot driven.  While there are events occurring, it’s really a book on where humanity may be a thousand years from now.  (I guess Clarke didn’t want to have history roll over his speculations this time!)

The story opens with the recovery of an astronaut frozen in space (possibly just beyond the solar system); amazingly enough, it is the body of Frank Poole (lost in space since the first book)!  Poole is revived, and begins the long process of becoming acclimated to the many changes in both Earth and the rest of the solar system, including the fact that there’s a new sun out there!  But eventually, he discovers a desire to complete a mission started a thousand years ago, and return to Jupiter (well, Lucifer now).  Of course, ever present in these books are the monoliths, and the mysterious purpose behind them.

Clarke spends a good deal of time exploring Earth in this book, or at least some of what must have been many changes in the past one thousand years.  Clarke’s Law certainly applies here, where any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Poole finds himself frequently surprised by the changes in both technology and society in general-and for the most part, all are positive developments, even though the path to get here has not always been smooth.

It’s in space, though, that the real fun begins.  Poole’s return to this region of space begins a race against time, as he encounters-beyond expectations-a pair of old friends (?), and discovers that a long delayed message is about to arrive, one with potential terrifying consequences….

In many ways, I liked this book.  It’s not action oriented at all, though, so folks who want that better look elsewhere.  I enjoyed reading about the advances in technology and the way that technology changed humanity for the better (although some of the advances aren’t my cup of tea, but then, I’m a thousand years behind).  The finale almost disappointed me, although I won’t spoil anything here-it seemed almost prosaic, and it soured me on the book…until I read the last page of the story.  Pointlessly cruel to toss that page in there on the Final Odyssey!  (heheh)

All in all, though, it’s a good wrap up to the Space Odyssey books, and closes the book on the story of the monoliths.  Much thanks to Arthur C. Clarke for writing these books!  They were good reads, especially for someone who was once very interested in astronomy and what might be out there in the stars.

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2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke

2061Tsung agrees to take me to Halley and back, give me food, water, air, and a room with a view.
And in return?
When I get back I’ll do my best to promote future voyages, make some video appearances, write a few articles-all very reasonable, for the chance of a lifetime.  Oh yes-I’ll also entertain my fellow passengers-and vice versa.
How?  Song and dance?
Well, I hope to inflict selected portions of my memoirs on a captive audience.
-Heywood Floyd and friend

The third book of Clarke’s Odyssey series is a very different one than the previous two.  While the first two were mostly mysteries of the universe (or at least the solar system), 2063‘s element of mystery is really centered on the actions of humanity.  While there is the element of the ever-enigmatic monolith, it doesn’t have as great a role in this novel as the other books.

The book opens with Heywood Floyd getting ready to hop on the passenger spaceship Universe-one of the first of its kind.  Its goal is to land on Halley’s Comet, finally making its return after its decades-long orbit.  Heywood’s getting pretty old-after all, he’s been around since the original novel-but he’s had some help by medical technology and an unforeseen side effect of hibernation on his trip in the last book.

However, the trip gets interrupted when the sister ship of the Universe crashes in what may be the worst possible place in the solar system-and among the crew is Heywood’s grandson, Chris.  The reasons for that crash involve secrets kept by a passenger, and believe me, it’s a whopper.

As far as plot goes, this is a pretty simple one.  What makes this book a good read is the events that surround all of this.  While once again, some of the events in the book have been completely invalidated by time (I’m sure I would have noticed if long distance rates were abolished on 12/1/2000), it does have a marvelous look at how humanity may change in the not-too-distant future.  There’s a great deal of geopolitical changes, as well as the indication that humanity might actually put aside war (for the most part), and mankind’s resources are primarily channeled to the exploration of space, and rebuilding the damage done to Earth.

Clarke continues to impress me with his descriptions of a future that could be.  Even though the timing is off, especially as seen by today’s eyes, almost everything described in the book felt to me like they could happen.  This is a far more believable variety of science fiction than many other books I review, and while I can’t say that any sort of science fiction is better than another, I have to say that this style very much appealed to me.  Who wouldn’t want to see humanity working towards better things than killing each other off?  Of course, the crash does highlight the fact that there are some elements of humanity that still see violence as a nice way to achieve its goals….

To be honest, I much preferred the exploration of Halley’s Comet to the later events of the book-although I’m not taking away anything from the events of the crash and afterwards.  The big secret, as I said, is a biggie, and explains a great deal of the activity following the crash.  And of course, because this a book in the Odyssey series, it wouldn’t be complete without some input by the being once known as David Bowman.

2063 had the advantage of being completely Clarke’s own-no movie screenplay based on it, or vice versa.  It stands well on its own, though.  To anyone who prefers their sci-fi without the lasers and spaceship battles, and more on the human achievement-this one’s for you.  You won’t be disappointed.

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2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke

2010Good morning, Dr. Chandra.  This is Hal.  I am ready for my first lesson.
-Hal 9000 computer, upon reactivation

I am going to make a very basic assumption in this review:  that those reading this will have either read 2001:  A Space Odyssey, or seen the movie.  As far as 2010:  Odyssey Two goes, either one will be suitable background for this book.  Arthur Clarke admits that there are some inconsistencies between the movie 2001 and his novel, and he tries to work more with the movie; to be honest, anyone who gets offended by that is missing out on a pretty good book-and in my opinion, better than its predecessor.

The book opens with Dr. Heywood Floyd, who was the main man behind the events (well, most of the events) of 2001, being informed by a former counterpart (as the good doctor left his former job after the Discovery disaster) that the Soviets are nearly ready to send their own expedition to Jupiter, to examine the massive monolith there and to salvage the derelict Discovery.  Equally unsettling is the revelation that Discovery‘s orbit is unstable, and that Discovery 2 will not be completed in time to get to Jupiter before bad things happen to Discovery, not to mention before the Soviets.  Floyd is, however, made the offer to accompany the Russians on their ship Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov with Dr. Chandra (a shortening of his name, because I’m not up to copying it right now) who designed the Hal 9000 computer that ran Discovery, and Walter Curnow, who is the engineer who will bring Discovery back to life.

The journey is not an easy one:  not only will Leonov have to perform an unprecedented act of astronomical mechanics to get to Discovery, but they also have to deal with a surprise complication-one that leads to a revelation that will rock the scientific world.  And all that is before they reach Discovery…and the monolith some of the crew take to calling “Big Brother” (referring to its comparison with the original monolith in the Tycho Crater on the moon).

Like 2001, 2010 is not for impatient readers.  Unlike 2001, however, this book has considerably more action…well, perhaps action isn’t the right word.  Perhaps dramatic tension may be a better phrase.  While there are many quiet moments (well, these are scientists!  They study things!), there are considerably more tense moments than in the previous book.  Clarke also expands the role of the monolith-it altered human evolution on Earth…what could it be doing in Jupiter orbit?  We are also treated to a pretty good look at the being that was once David Bowman, after his own encounter with the monolith.

Needless to say, as with the previous book, this book was written well in advance of the actual year 2010.  There are some relics here, most notably the existence of the Soviet Union; written almost twenty years ago (!), it built on the information of 2001; it was impossible to predict where technology would be.  Of course, at that point, it was probably obvious we wouldn’t be sending spaceships to Jupiter.  Then again, this is a science fiction novel; don’t get hung up on time.

In spite of the out-of-date nature of some of the more true-to-life info, there are still a number of things that still hold true (for example, some newspapers a couple of years ago trumpeted news about the moon Europa that Clarke postulated in this book; I couldn’t figure out why they thought it was news, as I’d been under the impression it was already known).  And while I don’t recall if the movie 2010 is based on the book, or the book is based on the movie, I do think that people who enjoyed 2001 will enjoy this novel.  For that matter, I also think if 2001 bored people to death, they should give 2010 a try; it’s fairly self contained, and will keep the attention far longer from beginning to end.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check to see the gray hairs on my head…can’t believe it’s been almost 20 years…!

(2013 note:  been even longer than that now….)

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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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