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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.
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on November 11, 2016
I saw the movie when I was quite young, and I remember being very confused by the entire storyline. Not long ago, I decided to re-watch it with my own son - and we both were confused (me again). A colleague of mine heartily recommended I read Clarke's novel in order to gain clarity, and that's exactly what happened. If you've never seen the movie, this is a very good SF novel. If you've seen the movie and are awash in confusion, read the book and life will become better for you. All things come together.
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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.
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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.
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on May 25, 2014
After I'd read the book I was researching it was discovered that is was written while the film was being filmed and was worked on by both Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. The book takes some of the ideas in the movie further but still doesn't necessarily explain them. I liked this because the mystery of the Monolith from the movie could too easily be destroyed from an unsatisfying explanation in the book, but the book doesn't to this. Instead I found the book added more mystery to those created in the movie by explaining the ideas some more, but not outwardly solving these mysteries for the reader.

For those that loved the movie this book is a fantastic extension of it. On its own it's everything a good sci-fi novel should be.
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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 if 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.
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on June 6, 2002
Everybody has at least heard of this work or has seen the movie, and that's the crutch of the whole idea. In the early 1960's Stanley Kubrick (the movie's director) ask Mr. Clarke to work with him on a screenplay for a new-style science fiction movie. Something about this issue that is interesting is that Kubrick kept the publication of Clarke's book from the public until after the movie had been introduced and was already a huge success for the director. The already famous author offered an idea based on a story that he wrote back in the 40's called "The Sentinel". But this story was only the seed on which the movie/book was based. If I read the book 2001... without any knowledge of the movie (which I have seen about 100 times), the story would have stood on its own and the book would have been one of my favorites. The only problem is that I have seen the movie many times and the visual ideas were constantly in my mind as I read the book. The two stoies are somewhat distinct. In the movie version, the Discovery's mission is to Jupiter but in the book the final destination is Saturn. Sometimes the visual images I received from the reading were vague and I found myself relying on my memory of the film to try and paint the correct picture in my mind. Anyway, it is a fine piece of literature and is without a doubt, the most famous science fiction story of all time. Other fantastic compilations of a similar nature include Asimov's "Foundation" series, Herbert's "Dune" series, Robinson's "Mars" series, and Card's "Enders" series. I hope this helped!
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on August 5, 2001
First, if you're aurally inclined, i.e., you understand and remember better a text that you've heard than you do when it was merely read, this is the route to go. I've read the book a number of times before (though, admittedly, not as many times as I've seen the fine motion picture!) and heard things I just never noted before. "He would think of something" isn't only the closing line of the book!
Next, this text is unique to both the printed word and the film medium in that I find the book complements the film. Yeah, of course there are great differences. The most obvious is that in the book they went to Saturn not merely Jupiter as in the film. (For a more thorough analysis of that whole process, I recommend "The Lost Worlds of 2001," a journal of how the text was produced while the film was also being produced.) It turned out that the special effects people were having problems putting together a Saturn background so they settled on Jupiter. Then there are many other differences.
(As Clarke points out in the introduction, that choice to use Jupiter was providential. A few years later one of the space probes cruised by Saturn. Kubrick, et al, couldn't have imagined the complexities of Saturn's rings. Their speculations may have made the film an anachronism by now had they attempted them.)
Clarke describes the obvious: that far more detail is needed in a text than in a film. In the case of "Odyssey," I find the film to be an almost transcendent experience. And, like any such experience, I cannot describe WHY I feel that way. The book puts the film in context. It brings it back to earth--and to "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" in ways that I can relate with on a more, yes, earthly level.
There are, of course, portions of the book that are dated, particularly the existence of a Soviet Union and our intelligence squabbles with them. (Though that's not as much an impedance as in, say, "2010," the book or the film.) There is also some speculation. For instance, how does a child who was born on a moon base grow? Will she live longer? There are, however, Clarkian prophesies which balance the speculation, e.g., reference to electronic newspapers, and subtle reference to what has become fact: e-mail. There are also items less pronounced in the film than in the text best described as "tongue in cheek," especially details of a zero gravity toilet.
The description of Hal's psychosis is something that couldn't really be described in the film but was in the book. The immense lapses of time spent while Discovery, for example, travels through the orbits of Saturn's many moons would have made the film terribly boring, while Clarke did a wonderful job of describing them--briefly--in the book.
The symbiosis of the book and the film resembles that of the relationship between courtship and marriage. Details of the marriage are not anticipated while courting, indeed the marriage is quite different than what was expected during the courtship. But most of us still appreciate, even revel in the marriage. Even with the imperfections, it's better than the courtship!
In the final analysis, it's not only a superb book and an unsurpassed film, but the two are inadvertently an examination of both media, such as, again, details from a book that one can include at best symbolically in a film. This you'll find as well in something like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," another example in which the film and the book were significantly different, though both were excellent. Then there's the other stuff that goes on, technical, artistic, certainly budgetary (the film cost more time and money than Kubrick had anticipated) and even political, while the book and film are being constructed, especially when they're being produced simultaneously.
In short, I cannot recommend the book strongly enough. The text is of immeasurable value if you've seen the film, on which you WILL have questions. It's the nature of the wonderful film! And if you haven't seen the film, or didn't like it, the book is still superb. If, like me, you do better via the ear than you do via the eye, I recommend the recorded version. If you're more comfortable, or feel you process better by reading, then get the printed version. But don't let this one go by. You'll learn and reflect, and understand the universe just a little better. It will give you unforeseen power to do something which you've yet to ponder. But you'll think of something...
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on September 17, 2000
After reading Arthur C. Clarke's short story 'The Sentinal,' filmaker Stanely Kubrick enlisted the author's aide in creating what he deemed the 'perverbial good science-fiction movie.' The result of this great collaberation was '2001: A Space Odyssey.' The novel, which came out after the movie but was created at the same time, is a stirring tale of human evolution, exploration, and hope. The story begins with our ape-like progenitors and their discovery of a odd object- a black monolith, that boosts their IQ to a level that will promote thier evolution. Fast forward three million years: NASA discovers a strange object- a black monolith, buried beneath the lunar surface. When the sun hits it for the first time in three million years it sends a signal across the solar system. The expedition that follows is filled with hope, but will it succeed? The novel does have several minor differences from the 1968 film- for instance the planet of destination is Saturn, not Jupiter. But if you have seen the film and are a little confused as to what the monolith is and just what transformation the astronaut Bowman underwent, the book will answer you questions. A marvel of science-ficton!
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on May 29, 2002
I have seen the Stanley Kubrick film of the same title hundreds of times before I decided to read the book. As the opening credits in the film state, "Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke". Because the movie and the book were written simultaneously, I never thought the book would be much different. Once I began reading, however, I was stunned at how wrong I was, where in fact there was more than I dreamed of. What the movie could not convey, or maybe even did not want to convey was exposed in the writing. Clarke writes with clarity and passion; not just for writing, but also science as a means of expressing ones own existence. That existence being the ultimate question of man's relationship with the universe and the environment he has created for himself. The book is existential as well as mystical: scientific as well as theological: revaltory as well as inquisitive. The story follows the same track as the movie, yet with inner dialogue of the apes on Earth and their first meeting with the Black Monolith, describing how the impact of this clean, smooth, black mystery impacted their means of survival through the use of weaponry and tools. Following some 2001 years later into deep space towards Jupiter we meet H.A.L., another enigma that similarly impacts man and his ability to control his fate or destiny. For anyone who has seen the movie, the book will not surprise you as far as the generic structure of the story, yet Clarke's handling of the subject completely unknown at the time is simply startling.
Published in 1968 (a year before landing on the moon), Clarke dedicates this book to Stanley Kubrick. Likewise, Kubrick made a similar gesture with his film. This new edition includes some thoughts on the year 2001, as well as a small write-up on his relationship with Stanley. Highly reccomended.
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