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]