Book Review: 2061 Odyssey Three

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Book Review 2061 Oddyssy ThreeArthur C. Clarke
Del Rey
1987

Only Time is universal; Night and Day are merely quaint local customs found on those planets that tidal forces have not yet robbed of their rotation.

Arthur C. Clarke, creator of one of the world’s best-loved science fiction tales, revisits the most famous future ever imagined in this NEW YORK TIMES bestseller, as two expeditions into space become inextricably tangled. Heywood Floyd, survivor of two previous encounters with the mysterious monoliths, must again confront Dave Bowman, HAL, and an alien race that has decided that Mankind is to play a part in the evolution of the galaxy whether it wishes to or not.

It’s fascinating how generally recent the later books in the whole Space Odyssey series were produced. Usually, when I think of Arthur C. Clarke, I think of classic sci-fi produced in the 1950s and 60s, along with the other masters of the genre at the time. But, the fact is he kept busy throughout his life, with this third entry in the Space Odyssey series being published in 1987, back when I was in Middle School. As a matter of fact, I was gifted a mass paperback copy of 2061: Odyssey Three in 1988, and I recall reading the first few pages, getting bored, and moving on to something a bit more my speed at the time. As a matter of fact, I remember eventually donating it to my high school library without even continuing reading it. I just wasn’t much into science fiction at the time.

It wasn’t until much later, when I bought all four of the books from Half Price Books, that I began reading them all back-to-back. Eh, better than waiting ten or so years for a sequel for catch-up. You can finish one, and start on the next one while it’s still fresh in your plump, succulent brain.

Anyway, the story of 2061: Odyssey Three is set fifty-one years after the events of Odyssey Two, as well as sixty years after the events in the original book. Since then, Jupiter has become a mini-sun that was named Lucifer (because of course), and the moons have been transformed because of this. Specifically, Io has become a violently volcanic lump of magma, while Europa is an ocean world shrouded by clouds, and Ganymede is a temperate world that humans are beginning to colonize. Commercial travel in space between planets is now a thing, and a period of relative peace has been in place on Earth, with bits of civil unrest in South Africa. So, hooray for peace, I guess. Anyway, Dr. Heywood Floyd from the previous novels is now a permanent resident of a space hospital due to an accident that makes regular Earth-bound gravity rather bad for him, and has lived to be a bit over 100 years of age. He’s chosen to be one of the few to be part of a landing party on Halley’s Comet, which is making its way back ’round to our solar system again. Meanwhile, Dr. Floyd’s grandson is piloting a ship that’s going to do a fly-by of Europa (despite the constant alien warning of not doing so…kind of the intergalactic version of Keep Off The Grass), but then the ship is hijacked by a stewardess, forcing it to crash land into Europa’s ocean, stranding the surviving crew. So, now the ship that’s sight-seeing on Halley’s Comet is going in to rescue them; while they’re doing that, a few crew members on Europa decide to do a bit of sight-seeing for themselves, and come across not only a giant diamond mountain, but also another monolith lying on its side…and also the curious indigenous life forms of the planet that have evolved rather quickly since Jupiter became a mini-sun. The ship Dr. Floyd is on finally shows up and rescues them, while the giant diamond mountain sinks into the depths of Europa forever, and everyone lives happily ever after. Oh, and Dr. Heywood Floyd’s consciousness was duplicated by the monolith and lives inside it along with the consciousness of both Dr. Bowman and HAL from the other books, only with the real Dr. Floyd unaware of this. Then we get a glimpse of the year 3001. The end.

This third trip into the world that started with 2001 is…interesting. I mean, so far, with most of the rest of the series, this isn’t exactly the kind of science fiction that would make for edge-of-the-seat action; but, that was to be expected. There isn’t so much “conflict” as there are periods of inconveniences to the characters that give them time to further the hard science-y parts of the novel. Reading 2061 was a lot like watching a Discovery Channel space documentary program that happened to have characters and a subplot story, set in the near-ish future. With very vague alien implications. Overall, this third oddyssey poked my imagination a bit, but didn’t blow my mind as much as the first book did.

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Book Review: 2010 Odyssey Two

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Book Review 2010 Oddyssy TwoArthur C. Clarke
Granada Publishing Ltd.
1982

And because, in all the Galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped. And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed.

Nine years after the disastrous Discovery mission to Jupiter in 2001, a joint U.S.-Soviet expedition sets out to rendezvous with the derelict spacecraft–to search the memory banks of the mutinous computer HAL 9000 for clues to what went wrong…and what became of Commander Dave Bowman. Without warning, a Chinese expedition targets the same objective, turning the recovery mission into a frenzied race for the precious information Discovery may hold about the enigmatic monolith that orbits Jupiter. Meanwhile, the being that was once Dave Bowman–the only human to unlock the mystery of the monolith–streaks toward Earth on a vital mission of its own…

The second book in what was to become the Space Odyssey series, this one finally being published in 1982, a good fourteen years after the original novel was published. This time around, it was written independently of any kind of film being made in conjunction, like with 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2010 was eventually made into a film a couple of years later, however; for all intents and purposes, Clarke wrote 2010: Odyssey Two as a stand-alone sequel to Kubrick’s original movie. If that last part seems confusing, it actually makes sense if you check out the reasoning behind it. Anyway, the book…

The story takes up nine years after the failed mission to Saturn Jupiter to check out the mysterious Monolith. A joint venture by America and Soviet Russia* head out to Jupiter’s orbit to investigate both the Monolith and the derelict Discovery One to see what may have gone wrong, and also account for the whereabouts of David Bowman from the previous book. And in case you were out of the loop, Boman isn’t dead, he just got upgraded to a higher-level intelligence that’s floating around and helping the aliens responsible for the Monolith out with some evolution upgrades to the critters on the moon Europa. Which is why it’s been deemed OFF LIMITS to the humans on Earth…which didn’t stop China from launching an exploration of the place. The Chinese Europa landing ends in disaster (think Mutant Kelp Monster), the Soviet spaceship Alexei Leonov arrives with American scientist Heywood Floyd from the first novel, and the creator of the HAL computer decides to switch the HAL 9000 to figure out why the AI flipped out and tried to kill everyone. Yeah, always a good idea, there. The Monolith then goes back to Stargate Mode, and chucks out David Bowman…who appears to Floyd to tell him to get everyone away from Jupiter in 15 days. Something big is going down, it seems. It takes a bit to convince the others on board that a space ghost of his missing colleague gave him that warning, but after the Monolith disappears and a growing black spot consisting of a bunch of self-replicating Monoliths start growing over the gaseous surface of Jupiter, they decided to listen to crazy American, and manage to get out of the way before Jupiter turned into a mini star. Oh, and HAL gets absolved for his murderous spree and gets absorbed into the Monolith along with Bowman. Then we’re given a glimpse of life on the moon Europa several thousands of years in the future. The end.

Having never watched the movie adaptation of this book (bits and pieces, actually…I would come across a scene or two while flipping through channels on the telly and spend two minutes trying to sus things out before moving on), nevertheless I do recall having a friend trying to describe this book to me in middle school, basically stating that Clarke wrote 2010 to make sense of 2001. Decades later, I’m still hard pressed to find any evidence that this was the case; however, the novel does go a bit deeper into the origin of the Monoliths, as well as what’s been going on with Bowman, and does explain why HAL went the cold, mechanical equivalent of psycho on the original trip.

Overall, as a continuation of the story started in 2001, 2010 was an interesting tale, if not a bit dry at parts. Clarke does come from the old school of Science Fiction writing, going into a lot of detail about the workings of certain science theories at work. There’s a few moments of tenseness, and there’s that overall metaphysical sheen that comes with advanced science that the humans encounter. It’s very much worth reading, yes; just don’t go in expecting space opera.

[* = keep in mind, this was written when the Cold War was still going on; if it helps, think of this as an “alternate universe”…because Clarke certainly did]

Book Review: 2001 A Space Odyssey

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Book Review_ 2001 A Space OddyssyArthur C. Clarke
New American Library
1968

“The thing’s hollow, it goes on forever…oh my God! It’s full of stars!”

In the year 2001 an alien artifact is found on the moon. Tracking its radio signal in outer space, an expedition is launched with mysterious, haunting results.

Well, here’s a rather daunting task. Try and tie down my thoughts on the classic Sci-Fi novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can see my dilemma, I’m sure: Much has been written about the book, as well as the even more famous Stanley Kubrick movie of the same name that was the result of both him and Clarke creating both the movie and the book together in tandem. Thesis papers, analytical books that make up several volumes, entire web pages have dedicated millions of words expounding on the nature of a book that, for all intents and purposes, was only a couple hundred pages or so. So, what does some pseudo-journalist wannabe like myself have to add to this mountain dedicated to one of the greatest yarns in Science Fiction to come out of the 20th Century?

Eh, nothing important. Or interesting, I would presume. Only that I recently got around to reading this, and now I must share my thoughts on the whole matter. Because that’s what I do. It’s my gift, it’s my curse.

So, my introduction to 2001: A Space Odyssey was probably like how hundreds if not thousands before me had experienced it: by watching the movie. In my case, it was a late night showing on a local PBS station. I was all of 13, and had heard of the movie by way of my Junior High English teacher talking about the general plot of it in class. That’s also how I got into Stephen King, if you recall. I remember watching it, feeling two things: confusion and boredom. Of course, this was also my first exposure to the cinematic stylings of Stanley Kubrick, so that reaction from my young self is to be expected. Unfortunately, because of that, it took me a very long time to finally look into the classics in science fiction literature, mostly because I was afraid I wouldn’t understand or get a lot of it. Of course, now is a different story. But, I digress.

I happened to purchase the first book in what would eventually become the Space Odyssey series of four, along with the three sequels at the same time, at the local 1/2 Price Books in Omaha. I figured, why not get all in one shot, read them in tandem, and see what happens. And so I did. And I’m just now getting around to sweep my brain droppings into manageable piles about these. So, on to the first one, shall we?

To start, I have to say that, while I’m not a fan of having to do homework to really enjoy a movie, having finally read 2001: A Space Odyssey, a lot of questions that I had despite multiple viewings of the movie since that night in Grandma’s basement were given an explanation. For instance, the whole Primate section shed a bit of depth into the inner thoughts and fears of the primates, and goes a bit further into the actual function of the mysterious monoliths in a way that was kind of lost in the movie. And that is about the only time I’m going to do that comparison between the two mediums, I promise.

So, essentially the story of 2001: A Space Odyssey deals with questions of the history of modern man, where we came from, how we came about, life, the universe and everything. And it looks like the answer can be boiled down to one word: Aliens. Or, in this case, the mechanisms of aliens. Or something like that. Anyway, after an extended look at the primates and how they got all smart and stuff, we flash forward a few million years, to “modern” times, and another monolith was found on the moon, which lead to an expedition to Saturn, where another monolith was found floating around.

Yeah, I should point out that Clarke was working with a version of the movie script idea that had Saturn as the planet, instead of Jupiter. It was fixed in the future books without any explanation as to why, beyond “the stories take place in parallel realities”. And this is the very, very last time I’m going to compare the two mediums. I pinkey swear.

While taking readings on the floaty black rectangle thingie, the ship’s AI begins to have a crisis of sorts due to contradictory programming, starts killing off the crew, leaving one alive to shut down the computer, and in the final moments of the book decides to take a shuttle pod directly into the monolith. It’s here where he discovers one of the functions of this monolith, and is ultimately transformed into an immortal Star Child that, disappointingly doesn’t look at all like David Bowie.

So, overall, having finally read this novel, I do have to admit that it wasn’t nearly as confusing as I initially thought it was going to be way back when. I had no doubt about it now, being older and having a bit more sci-fi reading experience under my proverbial belt. This is maybe the second Arthur C. Clarke novel that I’ve read, and so far his style seems to be a good bridge between the classic Hard Science Fiction stories and the more fantastical style of sci-fi that everyone is used to nowadays.

Yeah, that last sentence didn’t sound condescending at all. Look, despite what your thoughts on the movie are, at least give the book itself a chance. You’ll be surprised. And those of you who already have (several times, I’m sure) and think this “review” of mine is way off base, well…I’m really not as smart as you are, I guess.

Book Review: CHILDHOOD’S END

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childhood's endArthur C. Clarke
Ballantine Books
1953

Man was, therefore, still a prisoner on his own planet. It was a much fairer, but a much smaller, planet than it had been a century before. When the Overlords had abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure.

Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. They are manned by the Overlords…mysterious creatures from an alien race who soon take over control of the world. Within fifty years, these brilliant masters have all but eliminated ignorance, disease, poverty and fear. Then suddenly this golden age ends…and the end of Mankind begins!

I first came to know about Arthur C. Clarke’s classic novel Childhood’s End in the same way I came about a bunch of literary classics back in the day: Having a late night discussion with my college roommate, we were somehow discussing the classics in science fiction literature, and he described for me the general story behind Childhood’s End. Which, of course, blew my mind. The idea of aliens conquering and wiping out humanity as we know it by way of bringing about peace and utopia was…well, not unheard of, but still rather intriguing in my over-active imagination. I immediately put it on my Must Read Before Death list.

The problem was, unlike some other better known works by Arthur C. Clarke–like, say, that other book about aliens meddling with human evolution like drunk kittens, Two-Thousand Something-Something or other, I can’t recall at the moment–it took me a while to locate a copy of Childhood’s End to read. Like, over twenty years, if you can fathom that. But, I recently managed to snag a good mass market paperback reprint from 1991 through the Del Rey imprint, apparently re-released in conjunction with the publication of Clarke’s sequel novel 2061: Odyssey Three. Which is the cover image we’re using here, natch.

Originally starting life as the short story “Guardian Angel” back in 1946, Clarke expanded this into the novel version as the first part of the overarching narrative, subtitled “Earth and the Overlords”. The story begin by the aliens showing up at the hight of the Cold War, right before we’re all about to wipe each other out by way of Mutually Assured Destruction (we all go “boom”), and bring about peace and stuff among us all. Only thing is, they’re a bit shy about showing their actual mugs to us humans, claiming it would be too much for us all to handle. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, even after they’ve set up a nice peaceful existence among us as our new overlords. They give us 50 years or so, before they show us what they actually look like. And when they do…well, let’s just say it was probably a good idea. But even decades after they all find out who these benevolent aliens are, the question still remains: Are they really benefiting humanity? Or is there some kind of underlying sinister motive behind everything? Which leads some guy to sneak aboard one of the supply ships and catch a ride to the home planet…only to be brought back to find–thanks to time relativity and and space travel and all that fun stuff–that the population of Earth was indeed depopulated with normal human beings after an entire generation became super-evolved beings no longer in need of Earth. The whole thing ends in a downer. The end.

So, Childhood’s End was, indeed, a rather interesting book to read. Even now, several weeks after having read it, I’m still chewing on the story, and the implications and such. What if we did achieve enlightened peace? How would we grow and enrich ourselves, not only physically and mentally, but also spiritually? What if that comes at the price of identity? Am I reading too much into this? Fine. Childhood’s End was also a rather good read, from a straight science fiction sense. Now that I’ve read this one, maybe I can talk myself into finally cracking into 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, not just yet. As far as Childhood’s End goes, I know I’ve been saying this a lot in my reviews, but I would recommend looking into this book, and owning it outright. And not only because it’s written by one of the Big Three of sci-fi literature’s early Modern Age, either.