Book Review: The Odyssey Series: 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001, by Arthur C. Clarke – National Space Society

“The Greatest Science Fiction Novel of All Times and Our Time – ‘Dazzling’ — Time.” This statement appears on the cover of 2001. I won’t argue with Time magazine.

If you are a member of the National Space Society and have never read a science fiction book, this is the one science fiction book you should read. And you have to watch the movie which I consider to be one of the best ten movies ever made. Clarke wrote in the edition I reviewed [the ROC 1993 edition] that 2001 “has been called one of the most influential movies ever made and almost invariably turns up in the list of the all-time top ten” [p. viii]. It made my top ten.

This book is odd because of the way it was written. In the beginning section of this book, Clarke writes that in 1964 Stanley Kubrick, a movie producer and director, asked Clarke for an idea to make the “proverbial good science fiction movie” [p. vii]. The screenplay for the movie was a cooperative effort between Clarke and Kubrick, and when the movie was in production, the two of them were changing the screenplay as the film was being shot. Clarke writes that “toward the end [of the movie, the] novel and screenplay were being written simultaneously, with feedback in both directions” [p. xi]. The way movies are made, normally the novel is written first and separately, then a screenplay is developed from the novel. For 2001, the novel and screenplay were produced at the same time, therefore “odd.”

The movie has four distinct parts, whereas the novel has a discrete beginning, a middle and an ending, all blending into a single story. There are differences between the movie and the novel, but I would consider them to be minor.

The novel begins with man-apes fighting with each other. These man-apes discover a smooth black monolith but they have no interaction with this monolith.

Moving to 2001, Dr. Floyd is sent to the moon to investigate a smooth black monolith found there. This is a solid rectangular object with 1:4:9 dimensions, the squares of the first three integers. The geologists learn that the monolith is three million years old. Then the monolith sends a powerful signal aimed at Saturn (changed to Jupiter in the movie).

Discovery, a manned spacecraft, is sent on a mission to Saturn to see if the signal to Saturn would reveal something about the monolith. The active crew of this spaceship consists of two men, Frank Poole and David Bowman, as well as three others who are in hibernation. The astronauts in hibernation are expected to be brought to life when the spacecraft reaches the vicinity of Saturn. The entire mission is under the direction of a human-like computer, HAL 9000.

HAL 9000 has secret information about the mission that Frank and David do not have. HAL discovers a plot between Frank and David to reduce HAL’s capability and HAL, fearing for the mission, is able to dispatch Frank into space. David, in his attempt to save Frank, is shut out of Discovery by HAL. But David is able to return to the ship and disables HAL.

Frank then goes on a short space journey in his attempt to learn more about the monolith and becomes part of the monolith. Frank’s statement as he enters the monolith is, “it’s full of stars.” The last twenty-eight pages describe Frank’s journey through space and time. It seems that Frank becomes a “Star-Child” without a physical body.

Arthur Clarke at first thought that this would be the end of his effort with the black monolith, and his characters. He writes in the introductory material that “I indignantly denied that any sequel was possible or that I had the slightest intention of writing one” [p. xii]. However, the scientific and photographic results from spacecraft of the solar system bodies led Clarke to change his mind.

2001 ended up being the first in a series of four books. Each book describes some aspect of space flight into the solar system and a meeting with the monolith.

This first in the series describes the adventures of astronauts as they venture to Saturn in search of the identity of the black monolith.

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