Monday, January 3, 2011

3001: The Final Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke
Del Rey, 1997 (my copy is from 1998)
Size: Short (my copy has 246 pages)
Theme: Space exploration
Narrative: Third-person
Main character: Frank Poole
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This is the fourth (and final) book of the “2001” saga. Written about 10 years after “2061”, and about 30 years after “2001”, it continues to follow the events surrounding the alien monolith devices and its role in the evolution of sentient life in our solar system. However, as the title surmises, time has passed and it is now almost a thousand years after the events described in the previous book.
In “3001”, we witness as Frank Poole, who had drifted off into to space in the first book of the series, is rescued a thousand years later. Having spent that time frozen to near absolute zero, his body was sufficiently preserved for resurrection to be performed with the present technological capabilities. We will follow Poole as he is reintegrated in this future society, and his role in dealing with new actions undertaken by the monolithic devices, which this time threaten humanity.

Although this is a good novel, in my opinion it did not match the previous three books. The end also felt less than innovative, particularly since I had huge expectations, and as soon as information was revealed about what would be attempted by Poole and his colleagues, I immediately knew that everything would deploy as expected. Still, it was sufficiently complex and enticing to keep me entertained while reading the details of those events. At least a third of the book is a very bland narration of Poole’s time adjusting to a future society, something he copes with very easily. The description of the future is, as expected from Clarke, very interesting and imaginative, but the time shift is so large that we bond less with the story and characters than we had in the previous 3 books. Still, this is a good book which provides an end to an excellent series.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
Poole convinces the Bowman/HAL personae to prevent the monolith from taking action against humanity. For this, they employ very old computer viruses, against which the monolith is expected not to have appropriate defenses. The ruse works and, even if the alien intelligences behind the monolith decide to send more devices to our solar system, it is expected it will take another millennium for the information regarding recent events to reach them and for something to travel back. Why this assumption is made by Clarke, after having described Bowman’s personae travel through the Universe clearly faster than light, I will never understand. It seems clear to me that the technology available to the monolith builders enables different mechanisms for interstellar travel, and this assumption of humanity having a thousand years to prepare for the next encounter just didn’t seem necessary or even reasonable.

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