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.