Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
Published: Ballantine Books, 1968
Series: Space Odyssey Book 1

The Book:

“After the discovery of a mysterious alien artifact on the moon, a manned mission is sent out deep into the solar system.  Their mission is so secret that not even the astronauts themselves know their true purpose. The ship carries danger with it into the void, and no one knows what the astronauts might encounter at their journey’s end.” ~Allie

I meant for this to be a part of my Sci-Fi Month participation, but November ended up being extremely busy this year (especially near the end).  Hopefully, I can be a bit more active next year!  On to 2001, I was surprised that HAL didn’t play a larger role in the story, since that was mostly what I remember from a long-ago movie viewing. Also, just a note on Clarke adaptations, Childhood’s End will be airing on Syfy in just a few weeks!

My Thoughts:

I find it kind of hard to talk at length about Arthur C. Clarke’s older works, because they are generally such pure and simple expressions of scientific and/or extraterrestrial wonder.  2001: A Space Odyssey is no different in this regard, a story of first contact and the value of sentience in a wide universe.  This novel in particular has had a massive impact on science fiction culture, partially due to Kubrick’s film adaptation.  I barely remember the movie, and I’d never read the book, and still much of the story felt familiar.  I remembered the monolith and its uplift of proto-humans, the space journey in the ship with the dangerous AI, and the astronaut’s eventual destination.  All of the journey is carefully told in Clarke’s usual dry, meticulous style, which I have always enjoyed. HAL provided some conflict and excitement along the way, but I was also drawn in by the awe in the descriptions of approaching massive planets.  

Also usual of my experience with Clarke’s writing, the characters are secondary to the story’s ideas, which are what stay with you after the closing scene.  On top of the first contact and uplift ideas, the future Clarke imagines deviates from our own recent history and present in some interesting ways.  In particular, I was very intrigued by his solutions for the difficulties of space travel--including eating and eliminating in microgravity--and how they differ from the solutions used by today’s space agencies.  However, he also seems to have missed a lot of social progress in his extrapolation to the future.  Given how the story ends, I was surprised to read that Clarke originally intended 2001 as a standalone work.  It seems perfectly set up to show more of humanity’s future, though the sequel didn’t follow until over a decade later.  Clarke seems to have had a way of writing novels that leave people eager to know what might happen next in the universe he has imagined.

My Rating: 4 /5  

2001: A Space Odyssey is another classic by Arthur C. Clarke that deserves its enduring popularity.  As a fan of science fiction and Arthur C. Clarke, it was high time I finally got around to reading it.  2001: A Space Odyssey covers the wonder of space travel and first contact with an alien species, and it has a fair amount of conflict with the untrustworthy ship AI.  The novel also provided a view from 1968 of an imagined future of space travel.  We’re clearly far behind Clarke’s imagined manned space program, but it was really interesting to compare his dreams of the future to our recent past.

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