Most sci-fi makes the universe feel... well, mundane. Few authors of science fiction actually convey the haunting wonder of the cosmos, and the mysteries that we may never grasp.
But Arthur C. Clarke clearly did not have that problem, as evidenced by his legendary "2001: a Space Odyssey." Written concurrently with the famously artistic (and glacially-paced) Stanley Kubrick movie, this is a hauntingly expansive, mysterious story that looks toward the strange, almost mystical expanses of the universe, from computers gone mad to mysterious aliens of almost godlike power. And yes, it's full of stars. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
The story begins millions of years ago, when a tribe of starving hominids encounters a mysterious black monolith. This strange object somehow affects their development, allowing them to develop tools and start killing for food and dominance. Fast forward to 1999: Dr. Heywood Floyd travels to the moon colonies for a meeting, and learns of a magnetic disturbance on the crater of Tycho. A strange black slab of mathematically-precise proportions has been unearthed there, designated TMA-1, and upon being found sends a signal towards Saturn's moon Iapetus.
Then we switch to the Discovery One mission, a sleeper ship that has been launched towards Jupiter; three crewmen are in suspended animation, while Frank Poole, Dave Bowman and the AI computer HAL 9000 run the ship. At first, all is well. But when HAL begins exhibiting strange behavior, Frank and Dave begin to suspect that something is seriously wrong with him -- and Dave's seemingly mundane exploration mission turns out to be just the beginning of a far stranger experience, which will take him past the edges of human existence.
"2001: A Space Odyssey" is rightfully considered one of the greatest, most compelling works of science fiction of the twentieth century, which is even more impressive when one considers that it is still overshadowed by Kubrick's movie. Admittedly a few facets of it are a bit dated (the rather adorably zeerust depiction of typewriters on the moon, an all-male astronaut crew). But the heart and backbone of the book is exquisitely timeless; knowledge of scientific phenomena (the physics of low gravity) mingles beautifully with the transcendent quality of the universe's mysteries.
Part of this is that Clarke was a masterful writer. While "2001: A Space Odyssey" has a fairly straightforward plot, the elements of cosmic mystery keep it from ever being dull or predictable. The monoliths, the mysterious creators of them, the signals sent towards the stars, the transformations -- Clarke doesn't overexplain anything, instead allowing the strange, almost mystical aspects of the story to link together organically.
And he had a writing style that could exposit at length about the futuristic society (including a paragraph on how they eat in zero-G), then switch over to luminously beautiful descriptions of space travel ("A ghostly, glimmering rectangle had formed in the empty air. It solidified into a crystal tablet, lost its transparency, and became suffused with a pale, milky luminescence"). In fact, the last quarter of the book is dominated by the lonely Dave Bowman zooming through space, seeing the wondrous beauty of the planets and moons around him. It's basically astronomy porn.
Speaking of which, Dave is probably the closest the story has to a main character -- while he's emphasized to be specially trained and highly intelligent, Clarke writes him as a fairly ordinary guy who quickly finds himself in a strange situation that no human being could be prepared for. And while everyone remembers HAL 9000, he's actually only in the book for a relatively brief time, but he is a childlike yet chilly presence who acts in an oddly logical manner, despite going a bit nuts.
Few science fiction books have the majesty and mystery of "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- and it's even more impressive when you realize it was just the first part of Arthur C. Clarke's four-part series. Spellbinding, gripping and beautifully written.
on July 1, 2016
It starts off on earth with the monolith then we're on the moon and then a spaceship forever and then I have no idea what happened it was like I was reading a book where every other word was in a language I don't understand. I have no clue what happened.
on May 17, 2014
2001: A Space Odyssey was written essentially alongside the script for the film of the same name. Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick worked very closely together on the two projects, and Clarke considered Kubrick as a co-author of the novel in everything but name.
The major plot points are nearly identical between the film and the novel: monoliths from some mysterious extraterrestrial civilization seem to be influencing human evolution at key points in its development. The film and the novel differ on small details such as the destination of the manned space mission to investigate the obelisks (Jupiter and Saturn, respectively.)
That said, the novel often reveals far more detail than the film; this was especially appreciated for the famous, trippy, kaleidoscope of colours scene. As a result the film seems to make a bit more sense now, especially given that the novel provides some insight into the nature of the monoliths and their makers.
Standing on its own, the novel contains an interesting story that manages to stay coherent across millions of years and millions of lightyears. The tension Clarke creates in the scenes with HAL approaches that in the film, although seems a bit too short. The ending, of course, is still a bit weird, but does its job in tying together the whole novel. I probably won't read any of the sequels, but 2001 gets four stars.
This easy-to-read book (first published in 1968, a year before the first Moon landing) by Sir Arthur C. Clarke is the first installment of his "Odyssey" series of science fiction novels. It is divided into six parts: (1) Primeval Night: six chapters (2) TMA-1: eight chapters (3) Between Planets: six chapters (4) Abyss: ten chapters (5) The Moons of Saturn: ten chapters (6) Through the Star Gate: seven chapters.
This novel is classified as science fiction but is so much more. It also has other elements such as the evolution of man, science, astronomy, computer science, extraterrestrial (ET) intelligence, and suspense.
Evolution of man is the subject matter of part one of the novel. Here you'll be introduced to ape-men and how they adapt to their environment. Two major ape-men introduced are "Moon-Watcher" and "One-Ear."
Science is presented throughout the novel. For example, "A man who weighed one hundred eighty pounds on Earth might be delighted to discover that he weighed only thirty pounds on the Moon. As long as he moved in a straight line at a uniform speed, he felt a wonderful sense of buoyancy."
Astronomy is introduced throughout parts two to six. Overall, Clarke gives good descriptions of our solar system, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, and Saturn. All these are presented with a sense of wonder.
Computer science is represented by the supercomputer HAL (which stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer). HAL was "the nervous system" of the Earth-built spacecraft 'Discovery' (which was piloted by astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole). "Without [HAL's] supervision, 'Discovery' would be a mechanical corpse."
Extraterrestrial (ET) intelligence is represented by the monoliths. A monolith is first encountered by the ape-men. Later, another monolith is encountered on the Moon (where it is called "Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-One" or TMA-1). It is described as a "vertical slab of jet-black material, about ten feet high and five feet wide: it [resembled]...a giant tombstone. Perfectly sharp-edged and symmetrical, it was so black it seemed to have swallowed up the light falling upon it; there was no surface detail at all. It was impossible to tell whether it was made of stone or metal or plastic--or some material altogether unknown to man." A monolith occurs at two more critical times in the novel.
Suspense is created when the astronauts have to go up against space, their own computer, and powers beyond human comprehension (presented in part six of the novel).
Numerous examples of nature imitating the art in this book can be found. For example, consider the saga of Apollo 13 in 1970. The Command Module, which houses the crew, was called 'Odyssey.' Just after the explosion that caused the mission to be aborted, one of the astronauts radioed back to Mission Control: "Houston, we've had a problem." The words that HAL said to the novel's astronaut Frank Poole regarding a similar event were: "Sorry to interrupt the festivities, but we have a problem."
Finally, this novel was written at the same time as the 1968 movie (which has the same title as the novel) was being made. As a result, there is a close parallel between the book and the movie but there are some major differences. In my opinion, a major difference is that the movie leaves out many of the explanatory details found in the novel. Thus, the movie can be difficult to understand. Therefore, I recommend the following: watch the movie first (to get an idea of its sheer wonder and don't worry about the details), then read the novel (to understand the finer details of the movie), and then watch the movie again (to get a greater understanding of what it is attempting to convey).
In conclusion, this novel will present you with a unique, mind-bending experience. Don't miss this incredible journey!!
on February 21, 2004
For most sci-fi fans, it is impossible to read Clarke's novelization of "2001" without calling up scenes from Kubrick's movie. Unlike nearly all books inspired by movies, however, many readers will find that Clarke's fiction enriches, rather than retreads, familiar ground. In particular, the novel more fully explains the purpose of the monoliths and the movie's ambiguous--and to many, bizarre--ending.
Those who complain about the book's datedness win the argument on purely literal grounds. The year 2001 has come and gone, and many of the "advances" in the book (and the movie) seem quaint, while humanity's adventures in space have, for the most part, stalled.
Nevertheless, what is remarkable about Clarke's book is not the technology, which was doomed to obsolescence within a decade, but rather the science. Reading "2001" reminds us that, while our industrial innovations may have departed from the expectations of the late 1960s, the principles on which our technology is based and the astrophysics that informs our worldview have altered relatively little. Indeed, the novel in many spots reads like a science book, and this impression is underscored by Clarke's journalese, which ranges from informative to didactic. ("It was true that the Special Theory of Relativity had proved to be remarkably durable." "That pinpoint of incandescence must be a White Dwarf--one of those strange, fierce little stars, no larger than the Earth, yet containing millions of times its mass.")
Even the attempts at characterization are reportorial: "Like all his colleagues, Bowman was unmarried; it was not fair to send family men on a mission of such duration." Heywood Floyd, David Bowman, and even Hal (the mutinous computer) are inarguably one-dimensional. Yet, none of this seems inappropriate, since Clarke--and Kubrick--clearly decided to forego traditional features of storytelling (character, plot, etc.) in favor of pure, extravagant speculation. Instead, Clarke has fully developed his true protagonists: science as a discipline and human progress as a whole.
on February 4, 2004
There is not much that can be said about 2001 that hasn't been said already. It is, of course, a classic among classics, a story that begins three million years in the past and ends in what was, at the time Clarke and Kubrick developed the story, the near future. The background is well known: Stanley Kubrick wanted to make the proverbial "good science fiction movie," and to achieve this goal, he and Clarke collaborated to develop a screenplay based partly on some of Clarke's earlier short stories (The Sentinel, among others). Clarke then wrote the novel from the screenplay.
I must admit that I've never really liked 2001 all that much, to be honest. The "problem" with the movie is that you cannot today avoid knowing that you're watching something that was made in the 1960s. Most of the movie is set in the future, but it feels like the past. In the book, the annoying thing is that Clarke's style of writing (which usually works so well) is too brief and abrupt, and the ending doesn't satisfy. On the other hand, I do like the beginning, with Moon-Watcher and the early hominids struggling for survival, and I also like the idea of mankind being essentially the creation of an unknown alien intelligence. But I can't escape the feeling that the story should have been more "fleshed out." And, like I said, the ending, when Bowman is transformed into Star-Child, is not satisfying and even a bit disturbing, even if the story in this way does come full-circle at the very end. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing idea, but somehow it just doesn't "feel" right. As an explanation to why there doesn't seem to be any intelligent life on other worlds in the universe (why have we not been visited?), it's certainly a breath-taking concept. But the idea of transcendence is a little bit too much mystical and "religious" for my taste. But who's really to say, after all? Maybe our weak and frail physical bodies, that age and decay all too quickly, are only a momentary stage in the chain of evolution. And maybe humanity is the last remaining race in the universe that still have not achieved the next stage.
This will forever remain the science fiction novel that Clarke is best remembered for. But that is perhaps a bit unfair, since both the book and the movie (that is, the writing of the screenplay) was a collaboration between Clarke and Kubrick. Clarke wrote the book, of course, but so many of the ideas and so much of the material was developed together with Kubrick. Still, 2001 was epoch-making, and no one can deny that as a movie, 2001 was the most influential science fiction movie ever made. It helped to clear the way for things to come, like Star Wars and the other great science fiction movies of the late -70s and early -80s. And that's one more thing that we can, at least in part, thank the genius of Sir Arthur C. Clarke for.
The millennium edition has a new foreword and an "In Memoriam" for Stanley Kubrick, who died in 1999. As Clarke says, "One of my deepest regrets now is that we shall not be able to welcome the year 2001 together."
on December 18, 2003
When Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick sat down together and simultaneously developed this book, and the visually stunning movie by the same name, you have to wonder if they imagined that they were creating something timeless as they have.
While this book would fall under the genre Sci-Fi, the perhaps ficional elements about the evolution of man provide an entertaining backdrop for a story about where man has come from and where we are going. Have we learned from our mistakes? At the time this book was written, Clarke would indicate that we have not. Will we reach what scientific philosophers like Clarke believe are going to be our future evolutionary states?
The way you begin to think as you read this book will remind you of any and all the nights you may have stared at the stars as a child and wondered what our role in the universe is. This book is as artistic a piece as the film for that reason, and it is far less confusing on the first read as compared to the first film viewing.
on October 21, 2003
Arthur C Clarke has returned to his favorite theme - that of the proverbial First Encounter. We've had them in the RAMA series and in CHILDHOOD'S END. But this time we meet them by proxy. Everyone is quite familiar with the story but the originality and suprises (aided by an extraordinarily perceptive cinematic translation) just keep coming. It's like the author is drinking from a well of originality and talent that won't run dry.
I loved the man-machine/man-monolith/man-Jupiter interactions. Clarke has ventured into the metaphysical here and the movie perfectly suggests to the viewer what we, the readers, can only imagine from the text.
The idea of an extraterrestrial boost to Earthly intelligence has been suggested before (along with the idea that life itself arrived from outer space via meteorite). One still has to ask the question: OK, so where did THAT life come from? Clarke simply assumes that "it is" without questions.
Another theme present in almost all his works is that we on this planet are still children of the universe, we are in the learning stage and must and will learn from the more "advanced" races. Whether this happens or not - my personal opinion is that it won't - it is still a good concept to bandy about.
Arthur C. Clarke's monumental novel 2001: A Space Odyssey is top-notch science fiction that more than earns its spot among the greatest works published in the genre. Reading the novel is quite a different experience from watching Stanley Kubrick's wildly famous movie adaptation of the story. The movie is far too abstract and vague for my tastes, concentrating more on visual wonders than sound plot development. Many of the questions left unanswered in the movie (along with some questions and answers the movie never even addressed) can be found in the novel, and this made for a much more rewarding and satisfying 2001 experience for me. Moviegoers had to wait sixteen years to learn the real story of Hal's failure, but Clarke explains it (and in more detail) in the pages of his original 2001 novel. There are actually a surprising number of differences between the novel and the film, which strikes me as somewhat strange given the fact that the book was inspired by the idea of the film; as a matter of fact, much of the writing took place during the film's production, and Clarke has said that some movie shots led him to make changes to the novel as he was writing it.
The story begins in the ancient past, providing much more detail about the appearance of a huge black monolith on earth and its deliberative interference with the man-apes of the area. The film fails to convey the overwhelming impact of the alien monolith on the evolution of life on earth, and that is one important reason why I find the film too vague. The events of Clarke's first few chapters are of great importance in one's understanding of the story, and all the facts become clear in this book. One will also find some major differences between the novel and the movie in terms of the setting of the final events. In the novel, the crucial mission goes to Saturn, whereas the movie takes us no farther than Jupiter; this doesn't change anything really, but Clarke has said that Kubrick made the right decision and saved him some embarrassment from making a visual representation of Saturn that later failed to hold up to more recent scientific discoveries about the ringed planet.
Many of the crucial events onboard the Saturn-bound spaceship Discovery also differ significantly between book and movie. Clarke's exposition of the growing doubts expressed by Captains Poole and Bowman over the performance of the onboard supercomputer Hal works much better than Kubrick's lip reading explication, and there is a lot more information provided here about the whys and wherefores of Hal's troubling and duplicitous actions. The pivotal events of Hal's takeover of the ship play much better in the book as well, and the events as described here are actually much more exciting and convincing than the events you see in the film. The novel concludes with a much more revealing look at Bowman's journey beyond Saturn into infinity. Here, Clarke even goes into some detail about the creators of the monoliths, which is a topic the movie never really addresses at all.
In the end, the novel is just much more compelling than the film, and for that reason I would recommend watching the movie before reading the book. Kubrick intentionally left his film rather vague and open-ended, and a reading of the much more compelling and informative novel may well rob you of whatever small joys you might otherwise find in the film. In the same vein, the paucity of answers in the movie does little to detract from one's enjoyment of and fascination with the novel.
on July 1, 2003
After 30 plus years this book says more in its 200 pages than much of the 600 page TOR opuses that pass as current sci-fi and which are grossly in vogue today. Unlike much of current sci-fi it speculates on mans past as well as his future. It also has something intelligent to say within the action as opposed to the hack and slash of some of the contemporary sci-fi dreck being shilled out these days. Many people are more familiar with the classic movie than the equally classic book. "2001" the book is just as great as the movie and certainly less ambiguous. It is not just a movie adaptation.
I think Hal is remembered too much. Maybe it's the movie's fault. He isn't the first threatening machine in sci-fi there was Robby the Robot from "Forbidden Planet" and that giant robot from "The Day The Earth Stood Still". And like those movies we remember the machine more. This is unfortunate for HAL has become this ingrained pop icon for malfunctioning computers that he overshadows the hero, Bowman. Bowman is one of the classic sci-fi heroes. He is on par with Rand's Roark, Heinlein's Valentine Michael Smith and Tolkien's Aragorn. He is Clarke's Ideal Man and an inspiration for our real lives. He has a lust for life that is unafraid, committed and with a thirst for knowledge. He takes control of his own destiny despite the deepening circumstances that surround him. He literally descends into the unknown without blinking. Like Bowman don't sit idly by depending on computers to do you're thinking take control of your own destiny. Hmm...sounds like something out of the "Matrix". Some people think Clarke wrote uninteresting and underdeveloped characters, I disagree, at least with Bowman. If you think sci-fi is for teenage boys this book will change your mind.