2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke. Review by Andrea Johnson
2001: A Space Odyssey is a quick history of the first age of man. The book starts with nothing more than a tribe of apes—apes who will have to become more than they are one day to be men. The apes receive a message from space. They do not, of course, understand the message, but the message itself appears to be the catalyst for evolution.
Fast forward a few thousand millennia to the era of modern man. Dr. Heywood Floyd, a renowned scientist has been called to the moon to help investigate a strange monolith that was found buried under the lunar surface. The monolith is built in perfect proportions, has an unmarkable surface, allows no reflection of light, and when the sun rises, the monolith reacts with a radio scream. Why would someone bury a solar sensitive item under thousands of tons of lunar dirt?
Meanwhile, the Discovery is only a few months into her scientific mission to Saturn. She is manned by five humans (three in hibernation) and one omnipotent, omnipresent computer, the Hal 9000. Crewmen Bowman and Poole spend their days inspecting the areas of the ship and reading, as Hal 9000 pretty much takes care of everything else. Only Hal 9000 knows the true goal of their mission, and he will not compromise that goal, even when the crew of the Discovery are put at risk.
What has the lunar monolith got to do with the Discovery's mission and her anxiety ridden computer? Is the buried lunar monolith nothing more than a cosmic trail of breadcrumbs? At the end of this trail of breadcrumbs is the beginning of the second age of man.
This novel and the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey were written in the same period of time. Clarke worked on the novel, and Kubrick worked on the screenplay. The novel is both better and worse than the movie. It's better because the characters are much more fleshed out. We actually get some background on Dr. Floyd and Bowman. The climax of the story is explained better and we're given a quick explanation of what is happening. The novel is worse than the movie in that, except for the climax, there is a severe lack of physical descriptions. I caught myself remembering scenes from the movie, and then realized I was doing that because Clarke wasn't offering anymore for a physical description.
Regardless of the minor annoyances, for philosophy and theory of where we came from, where we are, and where we are going, I have to give 2001: A Space Odyssey a high recommendation.
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.