2001: A Space Odyssey Review

I finally tackled the first book on my list of 50 classics. For this, I chose 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. I had already seen the movie, and Cam owns it. When comparing the two, the book is far superior. While the film is visually beautiful, so much emotion is missing as compared to the novel. I can’t believe I hadn’t read it until now.
While I was reading, I learned a few things about the creation of the novel. I didn’t realize the novel and the movie were born in tandem from a short story of Clarke’s called The Sentinel. I had always presumed that the movie was based on the novel, but it was actually published after the film was released.
The themes of the novel are masterful and continue to be ubiquitous in science fiction even today. The novel begins with a group of ape-men struggling for food. While you cannot feel the hunger pangs from watching the scene in the film, you feel the desperation of the search for food while reading the novel. The ape-men are introduced to a bizarre extraterrestrial stone that alters them. I never thought a book predominantly about a mission into space would make me think so much about intelligent design or intervention. While I don’t support the theory, it is an interesting exercise to think about. What would the purpose be? If extraterrestrial life deliberately designed intelligent life on earth, as the book suggests, why have any clues of their existence been hidden away? The artifact that propels the mission is later found buried our own moon, and modern man desperately seek the answers. Clarke brilliantly offers no answers, only enough information for the reader to wonder about them.
The story of the book centralizes around a mission to one of Saturn’s moons. The mission is manned by Dave and Frank. This is where another brilliant theme that has become so common in modern sci-fi unfolds. HAL, probably one the most well-known artificial life-forms in fiction, becomes self-aware. He is designed by humans, and ultimately develops human behaviors. He is hiding that he knows the true mission—to fly to a moon of Saturn, where the a radio signal was sent after unearthing the extraterrestrials’ stone. It seems laughable that a machine could harbor guilt or have feelings at all. Since the publication of this book, there have been several other fiction stories written with this as the central theme.
The main reason I continued to read was Clarke’s beautiful and knowledgeable descriptions of space travel. This novel was published before we landed on the moon, but it still holds up well with continuing discoveries of our solar system. His descriptions of of even the most basic needs make the mission seem real. He may have left the big questions up in the air, but he left no detail unturned aboard the ship, right down to cooking without getting scalding hot coffee on you. I could even imagine the buoyancy of walking across our own moon.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were a few slower parts in it, but it was a short read, so it didn’t affect my pace much. I would highly recommend this to anyone curious about where humanity has been and where it is going. You won’t find answers or the destination, but you will enjoy the stunningly written journey.