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….)