Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Genre: Hard Science Fiction
Series: 2001 Series
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Ambitious in scope and with its message, 2001 A Space Odyssey has captivated audiences since its 1968 debut. Stanley Kubrick’s film which was released just before the novel was the first visual stunning pure science fiction film. It cemented the legacies of both the director and the author, and solidified the genre of science fiction’s place in film, and added to its growing legacy in literature.
3,000,000 years ago on the continent of Africa a mysterious alien race uses a crystal monolith to encourage the development of intelligent life. The beneficiaries on Earth are homo sapiens. With the help of the monolith primitive humans soon begin forming basic tools which enable them to quickly dominate their habitat, and eventually each other. Fast-forward to 1999 and Dr. Heywood Floyd is traveling to the Clavius Base on the Moon. The discovery of a mysterious black slab there sends Floyd, close friend Francis Poole, and a few other astronauts further in the solar system than man has ever gone before.
The opening is largely based off a short story called The Sentinel that Clarke wrote early in his career. It’s a great intro that bares shades of William Goldings The Inheritors. From there the story launches to 1999, or what Clarke thought the future would be like around 1999. Man has colonized the moon, he’s been to Mars, and he’s invented an Artificial Intelligence that’s powerful enough to completely pilot and run a spaceship.
While a lot of Clarke’s futuristic predictions are too far ahead of our time, the really represent humanities potential to explore space. After all man had never been to the moon when this was first published, but we made it there shortly after. The accuracy of predicting the future shouldn’t deter anyone from reading this. The greatest futuristic device created by Clarke is HAL9000, simply called HAL by the other characters. This is the artificial intelligence that runs Floyd and Poole’s spaceship. Able to communicate and think entirely on its own, HAL really serves as a reminder about the perils of technological advances.
Clarke’s character development is fairly limited. I get a slight feel for Floyd, but overall there really isn’t a whole lot there. His family life is barely mentioned, and there’s a brief mention of a past friendship, but otherwise that’s really it. Poole suffers even more, and he’s literally the only other human character that gets enough page time to warrant any sort of development. HAL’s the only character that makes it out pretty well. Unfortunately the AI enters the story fairly late, and has some pretty limited page time. As far as the book’s concerned, HAL doesn’t make the same kind of impact it did in the movie. The point being there’s a lack of character development – at least on the human end of things – and because of this when it comes to emotional climaxes they end up coming short.
It’s the all encompassing nature of this story that really makes it interesting. From the beginning of man all the way to the future, it’s not only about human evolution, but it’s about meeting your maker.
How did we get here? Where does it end?
It’s a question that’s occupied many a person’s mind, and Clarke’s story provides an interesting, albeit mostly speculative answer to that question. That is if you could even call it an answer.