Sunday, January 2, 2011

2001: A space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke
Roc, 1968 (my copy is from 2000)
Size: Average (my copy has 297 pages)
Theme: Space exploration
Narrative: Third-person
Main character: David Bowman (Heywood Floyd in the first third of the book)
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

The 2001 series is one of the most renowned in sci-fi. It also inspired the movie by the same name which became a landmark in sci-fi movie history. And this is one of those cases where the movie is (arguably) as good as the book, in its own way. “2001 – A space Odyssey” is book 1 of 4, all with analogous names, namely, “2010”, “2061”, “3001”. As is usual for Clarke, the books are written with scientific rigor and with considerable technical detail, which creates a very realistic setting. Every equipment and piece of technology which exists in reality, and any phenomena for which there is a definite scientific explanation, have been accurately portrayed. And when imagining future technologies and celestial events, Clarke either provides good arguments, or does not even attempt a half-concocted tale, which sometimes is the downfall of other authors.

In “2001” a device found on the moon provides definite proof that an alien race has visited our solar system once (about 3 million years ago). Heywood Floyd is one of the advisors recruited to study it and provide suggestions for action. However, the device reacts when it is probed, and subsequently, that occurrence makes it necessary to dispatch a spaceship to the vicinity of Saturn. At one third of the book, action changes to the spaceship trip, and the focus shifts from the events witnessed by Heywood Floyd to those surrounding David Bowman, one of the astronauts, and a key character in the story. During the trip, the onboard computer, HAL, an emblematic figure in computer history along the last several decades, creates havoc. Questions arise regarding the future of the Discovery mission, the purpose of the alien devices, and how events will shape the future of humanity. Interestingly, Heywood Floyd will feature prominently in the other 3 books of the series. And, in a different way, so will David Bowman and HAL.

This story showcases the iconic and visionary imagination of Clarke, acclaimed as one of the greatest sci-fi writers in history. Still today, the plot is intriguing, exciting, and compelling. The book is easy to read, and is definitely a worthwhile addition to any sci-fi library. This first book does not reveal anything about the mysterious alien devices and the purpose behind them. However, all that will be explained in the other books of the series. Curiously, I read this book before watching the movie, but I saw the movie “2010” before I read the second book of the series. Nevertheless, I have to say I enjoyed all of them tremendously.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
At the end of the book, David Bowman is able to circumvent HAL’s attempt to sabotage the mission (or better, to kill the crew), and takes an exploration module to meet the gigantic alien device in the space near Saturn, and disappearing into it. Descriptions follow of what happens to David Bowman as he is changed to become a Child of the Stars, and an avatar for the alien intelligences behind these events.

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