2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

My version: ISBN# 9780451452733

DISCLAIMER: I do my damnedest never to include spoilers, though I will reference some bits of the film to make my point regarding the book. So if you’ve seen it like half the world has, then you’ve already spoiled some of it for yourself (ha ha). Seriously, I will minimize the spoiler exposure for the rest of you, but that’s the curse of reviewing a pop culture staple–it can’t be helped.

For such an epic, critically acclaimed story (and film by Stanley Kubrick, let’s not forget), I found it interesting how short it was. Good thing, too–I think it would have lost some of its mystery and interest if it was too long. I will start out by saying I will be reading this one again–a shelf-keeper–but with reservations.

This is the first title I’ve read by Arthur C. Clarke, and I have no basis to compare this to his other works. I’ll leave that for others and other days. I will say that this book is a lot easier to understand than the film. I didn’t realize until I’d read the introduction that the movie and film were made roughly at the same time, though because of time crunches, rewrites, and shooting, the endings went in different directions. The biggest difference is the film goes to Jupiter’s moons, and the book to Saturn’s moons, so don’t get too confused in the reading.

It’s hard to speak of the book without factoring its more famous filmic cousin, and all I can say is I’m so glad I finally read the book. It took me several tries to watch the film–in pieces, not even in its entirety. When first exposed to it in 9th grade physical science (nothing else to watch when state testing ended), the entire class was asleep before the “monkey sequence” ended and the story picked up. It took several tries to see the rest. When I finally saw the end “Jupiter-and beyond” sequence, the only thing I could take from the film was you had to be on Acid to get anything out of it.

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Too bad Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” album was 5 years too late–Next time I’ll mute this sequence and play the “On the Run” track over it.

Since I never do drugs, I guess the mysteries will always elude me.

Anyhoo, back to the book. FAR easier to understand, if you let yourself flow with it and not get impatient. The pacing’s similar to the film, but because you have more insight into what’s going on, and can picture it in your head and review it, it’s easier to get a gist of the monolith’s influence on early man.

I’ve seen some reviews where readers are annoyed at the lack of character description when you get to the science teams and Discovery crew. Honestly, I don’t mind that so much, because it means you can put any image in their place in your head (hell, didn’t some awful pseudo-vampire book series make millions doing the same thing? Shudder…). But when it comes to the thoughts and feelings of the crew, the stoic nature of these men on this mission, their finer emotions are translated quite well on the page.

Especially when it comes to dealings with HAL, and the destructive spiral the book is famous for. Makes me wonder why we’re so damned gung-ho regarding artificial intelligence. Between this and “I, Robot,” we should be scratching our heads and thinking a little more.

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Seriously, do you humans learn ANYTHING?

In retrospect, though the HAL-9000 is a fantastic character, and the spiral makes for a fantastic , scary-as-hell part of the book… something bothers me about it. It feels like a distraction and departure from what the book was about up to that point. In sequence, the basic action of the story revolves around monolith, monolith, HAL-9000, monolith. I mean, if it was the catalyst to get to the ending, with Dave Bowman doing what he needed to do, then shouldn’t there have been another way?

I’ll be pondering that a while…maybe I’ll figure it out when I read 2010 later this week (hee hee).

I love that part of the book (it does liven things up a bit), but it almost felt like I was reading a different book. There’s just something about that that I can’t shake. I suppose this is why it’s a keeper–I’ll have to read it again to figure out what’s bugging me.

All in all, the technology and the action are all well-described without reading like a scientific journal or getting preachy. Some can take or leave the characterization, but this book seems to be mostly about the moments, the journey of humankind overall (and then Dave’s part in it), rather than a study of characters and what will happen to them.

I’d recommend a read, especially if there were things about the film that bugged you or you had trouble understanding (with or without Acid).

Happy reading.

P.S.–Is there anything more iconic than the photo of the red-lit sensor of HAL? You see the pic, you know exactly what it is. Well, if there was a visual sensor in a driver-less car that looked anything like HAL, I’d jump out of that thing so damned fast and never look back!

7 thoughts on “2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

  1. w1nt3l says:

    It’s ironic that I just watched this movie again over this past weekend. I’ve never read the book though, partly because I had a feeling was slower than the movie and partly because Stanley Kubrick almost certainly has some creative license with it. In regards to the monolith, I got that it affected HAL in a similar fashion as it did the proto-humans at the dawn of man, but to what end isn’t clear. Proto-humans learned how to use an object as a weapon, what HAL learned is anyone’s guess. Perhaps HAL murdered the humans (missed one) he now saw as his enemies like the proto-human murdered his rival at the water hole. Talk about a director with some weirdo crap going on in his head; Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining……

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    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      The movie “2010: The Year We Made Contact” gives an explanation for HAL’s behavior (which the book touches on before Bowman leaves Discovery for the monolith) in a discussion scene (and I’ve heard the book 2010 gives more detail…whether the monolith had any responsibility or not). Hmm…I’ll have to (gulp) try and watch the movie again and see where the overlaps are. I have a feeling I missed a few scenes, and it is “31 days of oscar” coming up on TCM–maybe I’ll catch it one of those days…but yeah, Kubrick’s a bit messed up. Still, Dr. Strangelove will always be in my top 20!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. FictionFan says:

    Great review! I really hope when you watch the film again it’ll have the same effect on you as it did on me. I’d never managed to get all the way through it before, but having read the book made such a huge difference! Definitely one occasion where it’s necessary to read the book and see the film to get the full effect. As to HAL, I think he was just a catalyst to make Dave do what he did, but I always love artificial intelligence stories anyway, so I didn’t mind. I still don’t think HAL’s as attractive as Commander Data, though… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      Yeah, “Red-Eye” near drunkenly singing “Daisy” vs. “Ol Yellow Eyes” who can do anything the theater can dish out? No contest!

      Oh, and the movie’s in the mail…as well as the rest of the sequels. I gotta rearrange my reading list…again…to compensate because there’s no way I’ll be able to read other fiction til I finish this series now.

      Liked by 1 person

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