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2001 and All the Years After: Reviews
"The Sentinel," Arthur C. Clarke, originally published in 1951 and innumerable anthologies since then
Clarke's "The Sentinel" is a perfectly straightforward story, telling of an explorer named Wilson travelling on the moon. He spots a strange glitter on a mountainside, and being a mountain climber, ascends carefully to investigate. What does Wilson find? Why, a monolith of course, although in this original version of the story, the artifact is pyramidal. Wilson ponders, the end. His thoughts form the conclusion of the story, the conclusion as epiphany, where endless possibilities are invoked. Humanity has triggered the attention of some kind of advanced civilization, and Clarke is more interested in the form of this next step in humanity's evolution than its content. At least in this short story -- clearly, he suggested "The Sentinel" to Kubrick because of its amenability as a starting point for filling in the details.
2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1968, 140 min.
Perhaps the word is audacity. Kubrick gives us an anti-movie, one that subverts every kind of narrative expectation. 2001 functions as a whole only on the intellectual connections between the diverse elements as triggered by the closing shot. And so the overriding problem faced by Kubrick can be stated simply: how can he make us trust him enough to pay close attention for two hours and twenty minutes? Watching 2001 is hard work, too much for some, and its enduring popularity and fame is part of what I'd like to analyse in this review. Certainly, 2001 was entirely unique for its day and has never been matched by anything in the genre, or outside of it for that matter, since then (and the debate on whether Kubrick himself has lost his edge since 2001 will have interesting new arenas in the upcoming Eyes Wide Shut).
The movie opens with a section entitled "Dawn of Man." A group of man-apes lives on the veldt three million years ago, dealing with two threats, rivalry with another group of man-apes, and depredations of a local predator. As befits their place in evolution, the man-apes do not speak. Nor do they use tools, but that changes one day when a gleaming black monolith appears outside their cave. This monolith creates an idea in the rudimentary mind of Moon-Watcher (I am using the name from Clarke's novel version for the sake of convenience), and Moon-Watcher begins puttering about with a simple bone. Kubrick orchestrates the results brilliantly, from the gorgeous, slo-mo skull-smashing sequence to the first murder. The link between intelligence and tools/weapons is also crucial to the themes developed later in the movie. However, as much as the "Dawn of Man" may be important to the time scale of the movie with regards to the process of evolution, I always find it giggle-inducing -- a bunch of guys dressed up in ape-suits does that to me. Nothing about the stunning cinematography or the conceptual depth can erase this reaction. This section ends in a famous flash-forward of three million years that brings us into the year 1999.
Heywood Floyd makes his way to the moon, first stopping at a space station. The space travel proceeds with a meditative calm that is far more impressive and, not coincidentally, far more plausible than any kind of hectic maneuvering (see the silly opening sequence of the movie Lost In Space to see what I mean). The choice of Strauss' Blue Danube as accompanying music could not be more perfect -- with this stately yet exciting waltz, Kubrick attends to space travel with a meticulous charm that puts every other science fiction movie of the pre-space flight era (and most since) to shame. Of course, he had the advantage of living in the mid-60s, when we were on the cusp of real spaceflight, but he began making the film in 1964, when Apollo 11 was still somewhat of a distant dream. Spaceflight here in 1999 is nothing like what we see in 2001, but that does not detract from the grandeur of Kubrick's vision.
Floyd arrives at the moonbase, and only then do we discover what is happening. Or at least, that Floyd is part of an effort to create "absolute secrecy" for "your discovery." The group of scientists takes Floyd out to see their discovery and... surprise, surprise... it's a monolith identical to one we saw three million years ago. In a lovely parallel to the man-apes' reaction to their own local monolith, Floyd reaches out to touch the gleaming black surface of TMA-1 (the second monolith). Floyd and friends pose for a group shot, but celestial events intervene. At syzygy (the lining up of three celestial bodies, in this case the sun, the Earth, and the moon), the monolith emits an intense signal. Clarke's "The Sentinel" portrayed this same seed of a scene, but 2001 takes us to the next step, the destination of the signal.
"Jupiter Mission -- 18 Months Later" the next title says, and for the third time, 2001 drops us into a completely new situation. We are onboard the Discovery with crew members Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, along with HAL, the self-aware computer who does most of the work. After an interview with the BBC and some background on the ship itself -- none of which reveals the reason for this "Jupiter Mission" -- HAL tells Frank and Dave that the AE-35 unit is going to fail. As this unit controls the antenna which keeps the ship in contact with Earth, everyone gets worried. Dave goes EVA to replace it, but when he checks the supposedly defective unit upon return, it tests out ok. In a rather ghastly disregard for HAL's feelings, the crew and Earth talk about disconnecting HAL if further problems ensue. HAL says another AE-35 unit will fail, and when Frank goes out to replace it, HAL decides to act murderously (or is it self-defence? or something else entirely?). The rest of this section progresses like the worst kind of fever dream, and to my mind, remains one of the most ingenious bits of cinema ever filmed. The "Jupiter Mission" has always been my favourite segment of 2001, and for two reasons -- HAL's monologue after Dave's re-entry into the Discovery and the bitter irony of the recorded message from Floyd. We finally find out, along with Dave, the real reason for the Jupiter mission, which lies in ruin around poor old Dave.
But the movie does not stop there... Kubrick has a theme to chase after. The next section is entitled "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" and here Dave takes the pod out of the Discovery and into the monolith. Yes, there is a monolith near Jupiter and it provides Bowman, and us, with quite a trip. A light show, or travelling across an alien landscape, or some hallucination of Dave's -- the viewer is not quite sure. 2001 gets even more bizarre when Dave suddenly arrives in an ornate hotel suite, and becomes older in a series of stages. As a man of ninety or a hundred, he looks up from his bed to see the monolith (a smaller one) and stretches out his hand... And then we have the Star Child looking down on Earth.
That's the final frame to which I referred at the beginning of this review. How does this tie the entire film together? To put it simply, evolution. A monolith causes the birth of the human race and a monolith causes the birth of the first homo superior (a phrase used by John Clute). What will the Star Child do next? That will be as incomprehensible to us as the use of tools by Moon-Watcher was to the rival gang of man-apes. Does that mean that the Star Child will destroy us normal humans? Not necessarily, and this is where Kubrick begins to complicate matters. The bone thrown into the air becomes a spaceship, and Kubrick has created with that one match-cut a spectacular thematic junction between intelligence, tools/weapons, and a certain stage of evolution. We needed a certain amount of aggressiveness (read intelligence) to get to space, and therefore trigger the signal from TMA-1. But that quality, as personified by HAL (bone/spaceship), represents a dead end. Why must HAL die? As part of the birth throes of the Star Child.
Of course, all of this is only my conjecture and part of the fun of watching 2001. How many movies actually encourage thought? Provide fuel for arguments and counter-arguments? An example would be my reaction to a common criticism of 2001, namely that the characters are flat and not very human, except for HAL. While this seems contrary to my earlier assertion about HAL, I would have to agree. But I can fit it all together easily by saying a few things about Kubrick's view of humanity and the way he uses characters in 2001. Heywood Floyd is the master of PR and cover-up -- that is, after all, his job and why he is sent to the moon -- and he is too professional to let anyone glimpse behind the smooth mask. Frank Poole is a background character, the expendable crew member, which leaves us with Dave Bowman and HAL. Dave is always a cipher, keeping his own counsel and keeping calm, whereas HAL is, by turns, curious, angry, pensive, and dies an exceedingly tragic death. Are the humans becoming machine-like, and the opposite for HAL? Perhaps, and this ironic undercurrent seems like a thing Kubrick would do. How then does Bowman deserve to become the Star Child? Is he already becoming something other than human? Or is this inhumanity something that the monolith redeems him of? This conjectural territory is difficult to resolve, and it illustrates again the power of 2001 -- the "flat" humans are not perceived as a flaw in the script or bad acting but rather some kind of profound postulate about human nature and the universe.
Does 2001 deserve this scrutiny? And why is it popular? That's almost the exact same question as asking why Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove was such a success. Dr. Strangelove is filled with the blackest humour at our expense -- humanity's folly will be its own utter destruction, and how could we possibly laugh at that? However, it was the laughter that was part of the cure. Similarly, in 2001, the thoughts of normal homo sapiens, as provoked by this movie and however pitiful they may be in relation to the capabilities of the Star Child, are what make the movie so deep. In interviews after the movie was released, Clarke and Kubrick repeatedly stated that 2001 succeeded if it had elevated your consciousness (an exact quote of Kubrick's, as on the back cover of The Making of Kubrick's 2001: "If 2001 has stirred your emotions, your subconscious, your mythological yearnings, then it has succeeded"). From our perspective on the verge of 2001, that seems like a stereotypically 60s thing to say. And that still does not answer the question of popularity or scrutiny. All I can say in the end is word of mouth. Those who have engaged with the themes of 2001, however they are perceived, change the viewing habits of even the naysayers. This is an uncertain process, and some of the first critical reviews on 2001's release were baffled, unkind, or worse. 2001 represents one extreme of the spectrum of film-making, and as I stated earlier, not everyone will want to do the hard work of watching it. That so many have is certainly a testament to Kubrick and Clarke's achievement.
Finally, the subtitle of the movie, A Space Odyssey -- I see it mostly as a bit of apologetics for the episodic nature of the movie. If anyone has other theories, please let me know!
2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke (based on the screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick), NAL, 1968, 222 pp.
The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke, Signet, 1972, 240 pp.
Clarke found himself in an odd situation during the writing of this book. Revisions going both ways... from screen to book and book to screen. And despite the speed of his writing, the book version was published after the movie was released. I put the review of this book after the review of the movie because I consider the book a much lesser creation than the movie. The collaboration between Clarke and Kubrick produced an astonishing screenplay, but the movie Kubrick made from it seems much superior than the book Clarke composed.
First of all, the sequences after the midway point are much less effective than the movie. Did Clarke just ignore what was happening with the movie or were those sequences filmed after he had finished writing? In any case, the Jupiter Mission here is quite lacking in dramatic effect. Of course, that judgement is based on my own favouritism towards Kubrick's version. But here are the deficiencies of the book version. No lip-reading sequence. When Frank dies, Dave sits around for a while, then ambles over to unplug HAL. That's it! No EVA for Frank's body, no "Open the pod bay doors, HAL!" and no re-entry into the Discovery without a helmet. HAL vents all of the air in the Discovery but Dave finds an emergency suit and continues on his way without too much trouble.
Second of all, Clarke's writing removes much of the sense of wonder from the story (and the problem of over-explanation plagues the sequels that Clarke was to write in the years to follow). That's the opposite criticism of the one generally levelled against movies -- that they do not say enough. Here, in the book adaptation of a screenplay, I think Clarke says too much. Interestingly, Clarke himself quotes some criticism from Kubrick in The Lost Worlds of 2001, where Kubrick was giving his reaction to Clarke's written version of the "Dawn of Man" section. Kubrick specifically objected to Clarke's lengthy explication of the monolith teaching the ape-men how to use tools. Kubrick's mastery of technical details along with his conceptual insights allowed him to create a brilliant montage -- skull smashing and a tapir crashing to the ground -- that effortlessly does everything Clarke tries so hard to do. Compared to any other movie from any other director, Clarke's book might not have the same problem. And the way that Clarke writes the Star Child ending (in 2001, and to much worse effect when he recycles it 2010) reminds me of nothing so much as the scene in Mars Attacks! where a Martian sucks up a nuclear explosion. The conclusion of 2001 the film is completely ambiguous, and rightfully so. Some of the details that Clarke gives us are indeed nice to know, like the exact 1 to 4 to 9 ratio of the dimensions of the monoliths. And the book does function as a helpful companion piece if the movie is persisting in obscurity for a viewer. Otherwise, my comments about the primacy of the movie can stand.
In The Lost Worlds of 2001, Clarke supplies a great deal of fascinating background to the making of 2001. If you have heard that Clarke and Kubrick spent two or three years writing the script and ever wondered why it took them so long, then this book is for you. The Lost Worlds of 2001 illustrates quite clearly why Clarke and Kubrick made their various choices, and an interesting evolution as a result. The book shows us the background work, and to me, this background is about equivalent to the standard science fiction film or an average science fiction book. Taking the next step (or call it a leap if you wish) past that standard or stereotypical speculation catapulted 2001 into its place of lasting fame. That makes the material contained in The Lost Worlds of 2001 intrinsically of less interest than as a comparison with what it was to become.
I found that to be especially the case with the last fifty or so pages. Here Clarke gives the various versions of what the astronauts (plural in the first version, and then Bowman by himself in the second two) find when they go through the Star Gate. These passages seemed tedious to me, because of repetition as well as the poor speculation. When Bowman goes through the Star Gate onscreen, no one can really say what is going on. And when he is travelling across the "alien landscape" (as I think of it in my mind, but that is not necessarily true), there are no recognizable features that have been constructed by the monolith-makers or other aliens. In the three versions provided in The Lost Worlds of 2001, Clarke continually falls into the trap of letting a three-million year old civilization (a minimum of three million years mind you -- the monolith seemed advanced enough when Moon-Watcher first started using tools at its behest three million years in our past) create things like buildings and transportation systems that are recognizable to the mind of the twenty-first century human. The gap would simply be too large for any kind of credible comprehension on the part of Bowman, and Clarke certainly recognizes this -- that is why these excerpts didn't make it to the final cut. As Clarke rather cogently states the problem: "Our ultimate solution now seems to me the only possible one, but before arriving at it we spent months imagining strange worlds and creatures and cities, in the hope of finding something that would the produce the right shock of recognition. All of this material was abandoned, but I would not say that any of it was unnecessary. It contained the alternatives that had to be eliminated, and therefore first had to be created" (189).
Many sections of the book show a three step transition, from the roughest drafts to the book version as written by Clarke to the movie version as directed by Kubrick. For example, here we have the story of the alien named Clindar who teaches Moon-Watcher how to use tools. Clarke's book version has the monolith teaching Moon-Watcher, while the movie compresses the scene yet further. Clarke gives a few details about the process of these changes, and about the impingement of reality on their speculation. 2001 was being developed during the heated space race of the mid-60s. Clarke justifies the flashforward of three million years directly into space by saying: "We did not have to educate the public, as the headlong rush of astronautical events did it for us" (77). In that sense, everything worked out for 2001 as perfectly as could be imagined.
2010: Odyssey Two, Arthur C. Clarke, Del Rey, 1982, 244 pp.
Clarke waited more than a dozen years to write this sequel, and in the intervening time, 2001: A Space Odyssey only gained in fame and critical repute. As Clarke states in the Author's Note, 2010: Odyssey Two was partly inspired by the Voyager flyby of Jupiter in 1979. Clarke mentions a number of eerie coincidences between reality and what he and Kubrick envisioned in the mid 60s, which might explain why 2010 feels much the same in tone and atmosphere to 2001 even though one book is based on extrapolation and the other on fact. By the early 80s, 2001 had become part of the mythology of space travel, and Clarke supplies a few amusing stories in the Author's Note about astronauts wanting to report mysterious black monoliths. With all this in mind, 2010 makes perfect sense -- the book had a ready-made market, some new material, and generous goodwill among astronauts and scientists (who indeed did contribute expertise). But one quick look at 2001 will demonstrate clearly why it concluded when it did: the Star Child is a giant leap forward in evolution. Its motives, ambitions, and actions would be, by definition, incomprehensible to normal humans. Did Kubrick and Clarke cheat us when the final frame of the movie showed the Star Child looking down on Earth? No, they gave us the best possible ending imaginable (imaginable to us poor humans).
Which is why a sequel may not have been in the best idea in terms of the vision of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And as I read 2010, I felt that the sections describing Dave's life and modus operandi backed down conceptually from the ending of 2001. Allow me to say a few words about the plot. Heywood Floyd lost his position due to the Discovery debacle -- the deaths of four crew members, and apparent disappearance of the fifth, Dave Bowman. The Discovery is still in orbit around Jupiter, and as the book opens, Floyd receives word that the orbit is decaying rapidly. This deadline necessitates a joint American-Soviet mission, onboard the Russian ship, Leonov (which is ready to go years ahead of the Discovery II). Along with a Russian crew and Floyd, two other Americans come along, Curnow the space mechanic and Dr. Chandra, HAL's inventor. The Leonov aerobrakes in Jupiter's atmosphere, and meets up with the Discovery. Meanwhile, a Chinese ship lands on Europa and is destroyed (accidentally) by indigenous life-forms. Curnow and Chandra get the Discovery powered up and HAL online once again. And that's when Bowman comes into the picture.
Bowman was always a bit of a cipher, as I talked about in my review of 2001. But now Clarke chooses to humanize him! As the Star Child, he is somewhat under the control of the monolith-makers, and they send him on a tour of the emotional moments of his past on Earth (or at least what's left of them). For the purposes of studying humans... but Bowman is no longer human! Bowman goes against the wishes of the monolith-makers to warn the crew of the Leonov that they have fifteen days to get out of the Jovian system. Perhaps his action is not strictly against their edicts, but it is not something they would have considered (166-167). A Star Child is possible only as the climax of a story -- here Clarke has cut him down to the size required to be a plot element fathomable to us. There's no other way Clarke could have proceeded, granting the fact of a sequel, but this Star Child is not the Star Child of 2001.
The other characters are also presented with much less of the same ironic perspective injected by Kubrick in 2001. Instead of an officious bureaucrat, Floyd becomes the viewpoint character, believable, sympathetic, and a little bland. The Russian crew is a quirky ensemble, and Clarke does an efficient job at differentiating them, even though they don't have much to do plot-wise. Captain Orlova is extremely competent, Dr. Rudenko is "the prototype of Mother Russia" (29), Brailovsky the engineer welcomes Floyd onboard, Orlov and Kovalev are scientists, and Zenia is a last minute replacement who has her own psychological problems. Floyd, Curnow, and Chandra are far more important to the storyline and have active roles as the events unfold. Chandra is pathologically obsessed with HAL, as may be expected, and he discounts the typical explanation for HAL's breakdown (probably because he thinks so similarly!). As for HAL himself, 2010 does little of interest with the famous computer. Of course, HAL only functioned in two ways in 2001 -- unobtrusively doing his job or going mad in high style. Clarke builds some suspense out of the general distrust of the reawakened HAL, and then from the meeting between Bowman (as Star Child) and HAL. What will Bowman say to HAL? Their conversation is quite satisfying, and I cheered HAL's fate.
Clarke chooses to end 2010 with another intervention on the part of the monoliths, this time on a somewhat grander scale. I thought the conclusion was entirely appropriate, and might even justify this book as a sequel. Moon-Watcher and the life on Europa have similar kinds of debts to the monoliths, and the story of 2010 could be equated with the opening section of 2001, "The Dawn of Man." Unfortunately, this leaves the Star Child largely out of the picture, and gives 2010 a much smaller canvas. Those two attributes are not necessarily bad on their own, but the book can only suffer in comparison with its predecessor. 2010 is the adventure and 2001 the singular thought experiment.
2010: The Year We Make Contact, written by Peter Hyams from the novel 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke, directed by Peter Hyams, 1984, 120 min.
2010 is an excellent movie, insofar as it streamlines the best aspects of Clarke's novel into a smooth, flashy narrative. All of the limitations of 2010: Odyssey Two are present in 2010: The Year We Make Contact, but Hyams worked hard and conscientiously to make the movie the best it could be. To put it bluntly: 2010 is no 2001, but rather more of a workaday science fiction movie, compelling and credible enough on its own terms. 2010 is well-cast, with Roy Scheider standing in as Heywood Floyd with a solid cast behind him. 2010 is also visually stunning, with some scenes in space that match 2001's effects (not in terms of impact however: this is only what we have come to expect from science fiction onscreen). 2010 cleverly stakes out its own ground, in terms of visual design, with its setting onboard the Soviet spaceship Leonov, with its clutter and warm lighting (in contrast with the clean, cold interiors of the Discovery). Furthermore, Hyams tries his best to help the audience along at each step, which is a philosophy of film-making diametrically opposed to Kubrick's in 2001. I will discuss this particular difference in a moment.
A quick recap. Scientists on Earth find out that the Discovery's orbit around Jupiter is decaying, and a joint American-Soviet mission is arranged, despite the tensions between the two countries. The Leonov aerobrakes around Jupiter and makes a rendezvous with the Discovery. Dr. Chandra awakens HAL, Max tries to investigate the monolith, and Dave Bowman comes through to visit Earth. Meanwhile, a state of near-war exists between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and Floyd and Orlova break orders to get out of Jupiter's orbit together, at Bowman's warning. The ending proceeds as in the book, cue Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra."
Hyams makes the most of several rather excellent bits of tension in the book, like aerobraking around Jupiter, and the mistrust of HAL's motives as HAL doubts the necessity of leaving the Jovian system. Hyams also did several things to improve Clarke's narrative. He removed the story of the Chinese spacecraft landing on Europa, which makes the moon and its supposed inhabitants much more mysterious. As well, Hyams omits the break-up of Floyd and his wife, which lets Floyd's character become much less contrived. The final major change: Hyams amplifies the tensions between the two superpowers, which helps him write some excellent dialogue set-pieces between Floyd and the Russians. Unfortunately, the ending can't bear the weight of this change. The superpowers backed down from the brink of war because they looked up in the sky and saw what the monoliths had wrought... Not likely. It seems to me that humans are too good at sticking their collective head in the sand for this sudden change of heart to be plausible.
Characterization is heavily abbreviated and much improved. The Russian crew, with a few exceptions, is mainly the background of the film. However, I approve of Hyams' choice to leave their dialogue in Russian untranslated. Their chatter as they go about their business added authenticity, as well as a generous helping of anti-Yankocentrism. Captain Orlova is possibly the most fully characterized, with a good job by Helen Mirren in that role. I liked the conversation between Floyd and Orlova as they exchange a few memories, then get down to business. Of the other Russians, Max was the most likeable at first acquaintance (adding poignancy to his fate later on), and the friendship between Curnow and Max is given good grounds in the first spacewalk to the Discovery. Hyams did well to include the scene with Floyd and Zenia during aerobraking, but I found it odd that the other Russian woman in the book, Dr. Rudenko, becomes a man here. What could be the reason for that? Both Curnow and Chandra are well-portrayed, with good introductions to their quirks. I particularly liked Chandra's moment of truth with HAL at a tense juncture.
2010 opens with a quick summary of the events of 2001, set up mostly as a series of unknowns. As it turns out, the Russians are reading Floyd's report of the whole affair. I felt that was a nice way to begin the film, but unfortunately Hyams lets voice-overs do the narrative work for him later on in the story. They are situated smartly in the context by letting us overhear Floyd's messages back to his wife, as Floyd explains what is happening. Too bad that Floyd is quite condescending. The voice-overs do not give away any narrative secrets, and Hyams lets the visuals speak for themselves for the majority of the film. But Kubrick succeeds at creating an anti-spoonfeeding film with 2001 and Hyams does not even try such a feat, and this fact separates the two film-makers in my mind. 2010: The Year We Make Contact is a tightly-constructed story with many impressive visuals, and remains a film that Hyams should look back at with pride. But it is simply not in the same league.
And the subtitle remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Contact with whom? And if it's the monolith/Dave Bowman, didn't that happen already in 2001?
Also see the review of The Odyssey File by Arthur C. Clarke and Peter Hyams, an account of the making of 2010.
2061: Odyssey Three, Arthur C. Clarke, Del Rey, 1987, 206 pp.
The Further Adventures of Heywood Floyd, Man About Town. Or rather, Man About the Solar System. Clarke's sequel to a sequel is remarkably lacklustre, with very little to keep the interest of fans of 2001. Even considered on its own, 2061 is quite anemic, with almost no tension and even less in the way of character development. This book does not really belong in the Odyssey series, and we get glimpses of Bowman and the monoliths only for the briefest moments near the end. And it is in those glimpses that Clarke first begins to write the monoliths as evil, or at least untrustworthy and inimical to the future of normal humans, a trend that would become quite pronounced in 3001: The Final Odyssey. Gone is the ambiguity of 2001, or even 2010, where the role of the monoliths was simultaneously menacing and the greatest news possible for humans (does this remind anyone else of Childhood's End?). But as the series developed, Clarke decided to have only one Star Child and make him a lackey of the monoliths, effectively transforming that giant leap in evolution into a dead end. I will say more about this topic in my review of 3001 -- what about 2061 itself?
Halley's Comet returns in the year 2061, which is the excuse for this book. Heywood Floyd has been living in orbit around Earth, in the Pasteur Space Hospital, conveniently explaining his longevity. As the book opens, Floyd is preparing for a journey onboard the Universe, a spaceship destined for rendezvous with Halley's Comet. The ship gathers its crew and passengers -- the Famous Five includes Floyd and four other celebrities (all rather bland and lifeless as a matter of fact) -- and duly makes its way to meet the comet. The Universe lands, does a few experiments and so forth, then receives a distress call from its sister ship, the Galaxy. The Galaxy has crashed on Europa, the moon of Jupiter where humans are prohibited from meddling by the monoliths. Chris Floyd, Heywood's grandson, is a member of the Galaxy's crew, and gets involved in the other subplot of the novel. The diamond monopolies on Earth are a little worried about the hypothesis concerning the core of Jupiter... and that it might be a massive diamond. Of course, Jupiter is now Lucifer, the miniature sun, and that transformation spit out a mountain-size hunk of diamond which proceeded to impact Europa. A diamond as big as Mount Everest might not be the best for the price of diamonds back on Earth...
Unfortunately, nothing in this book provides any suspense or tension, and the sense of wonder is also quite slim. The diamond monopoly does almost nothing to prevent the knowledge from escaping. A mutiny happens on the Universe, but it lasts for a few hours, and the exchange of arguments gets as heated as a threat of resignation on the part of the Captain! Floyd is only a passenger, and his trips to Halley's Comet and across the solar system to Europa proceed in untroubled serenity. Is there any compensation for this lack of narrative intensity? Life on Halley's Comet hardly qualifies, and the only sense of wonder I felt during this section happened at lift-off. The Captain bathes the ship in a geyser of steam, cleansing it of soot accumulated while anchored to the comet. This "Car Wash" (as the title of Chapter 34 calls it) turns out to be crucial later on in the journey, which I thought was a nice plot twist. The situation on Europa is similarly lacklustre... a spaceship floating in water is obviously not going to leak, and the crew of the Galaxy have supplies for quite some time. Europan life is ignored almost completely. And Clarke had already referred to the diamond core theory in 2010. Once all of the humans have returned to Earth, Dave Bowman and Hal have a little chat with a recorded simulacrum of Heywood Floyd, a completely static and dramatically inert recap of what has gone before.
Interestingly, none of the changes that Hyams made to the story of 2010 have been incorporated in 2061, the opposite case of what happened between Clarke's book version of 2001 and his own 2010. So Heywood still has a broken marriage in his past. The wreck of a Chinese spaceship can still be found on the surface of Europa. The two superpowers did not come near to pushing all of the red buttons. Clarke writes 2061 as a fairly strict sequel to the book version of 2010, although he does cover the small niggling changes by this disclaimer in the Author's Note: "They must all be considered as variations on the same theme, involving many of the same characters and situations, but not necessarily happening in the same universe." Clarke does have solid reasons for the breaks in continuity, and I have no complaints about that aspect of the series. I only wish that he could have written a more interesting book or simply ended the series 41 years earlier in 2010.
3001: The Final Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, Del Rey, 1997, 197 pp.
The subtitle should read: The Final Repudiation. In 3001, Clarke ends the series with a retrenchment -- the monoliths are no longer ambiguous, they are simply mistaken, broken, or plain evil. The main action of 3001 tells the story of human attempts to destroy the local monolith. How could Clarke arrive at such a conceptual reverse of where the series started, with the Dawn of Man, Zarathustra, the Star Child, and all that? The incremental, self-guided evolution of humanity in the intervening millennium has given us enough wisdom to see that the monoliths are unnecessary, and perhaps even too zealous. And how do we find out that lack of aggression and lack of religion have improved the human race? From Frank Poole...
As 3001 begins, the spaceship Goliath, working beyond Neptune's orbit, picks up a small object floating in space -- the frozen body of Frank Poole. Modern health science revives him from a thousand years of death, and he becomes quite a curiosity in the society of the day. He makes friends with the captain of the Goliath, Chandler, and also a twentieth century researcher named Indra Wallace, who is assigned to help him adjust to his new life. Later in the book, he accompanies Chandler out to visit Ganymede, and they hatch a scheme for Poole to surreptitiously land on Europa, still forbidden for humans. The powers that be allow him to land, and Poole is contacted by Halman (the personas of Bowman and HAL have merged during the preceding 940 years). Then Poole leaves and waits another 30 years for contact. Halman deciphers more of the monolith's plans, and guesses at some kind of threat to humanity or the Europans. Poole mobilizes a response among humans and Halman helps out as well.
On page 107, Poole relates the argument that the monolith made us too aggressive four million years ago with its "evolutionary kick in the pants." The society of 3001 has controlled aggression and crime (77), mainly with the use of the Braincap. In a correlative (and quite overt) theme, religion is gone, linked as it is, obviously, exclusively, to fear, cruelty, torture, irrationality, and evil (98-101). Religion is also linked back to the monolith when an anthropologist finds the original monolith, somewhere in Olduvai, Africa, surrounded by evidence of worship -- the monolith as the first god of humanity (38-9). Now that humanity has controlled such sinister influences with the Braincap, the monolith and the possible leap in evolution represented by the Star Child are part of the past. Clarke blithely ignores almost all of the implications of the use of the Braincap, letting Poole make one throwaway comment: "Yet there had been a loss; there were very few memorable characters in this society" (155). If that was the extent of it, that would be a small price to pay. But I had a nagging feeling that Clarke spent insufficient time thinking about the implications.
Clarke certainly has a small amount of space to consider such things -- 3001 is essentially a short story. The end material takes up twenty pages. Of the forty chapters that make up the 180 pages of fiction, five are cursory rewrites of material taken from earlier books in the series. Subtract another twenty or so pages for the blank section and chapter divisions. This would not particularly bother me if what's left was densely written, jam packed with speculation, or represented a significant addition to the series. In 3001, Clarke is extremely lazy. For one, his backdrop of a thousand years feels more like a few decades. When I look back at last thousand years from the vantage point of 1999, the changes are vast and astonishing. Poole even mentions this to Indra, saying that he is glad he made a thousand year jump from 2001 and not 1001. He goes on: "I hope, Poole said to himself, that confidence is justified. Someone once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Will I meet magic in this new world -- and be able to handle it?" (24). The answers are, respectively, no and no problem. Lem's Return from the Stars, for all its problems, provides a better example of how to write a plausible case of an astronaut's future-shock. Clarke does not even bother to let Poole encounter any of the language of the future. The debate on the issue of pronunciation (will it be frozen now that we are in the age of recorded speech?) is irrelevant here -- just think of all the new jargon we have invented even in the last decade. The people living in the year 3001 have no clever new witticisms or tired clichés of their own, and receive Poole's twentieth century sayings as if they were the epitome of linguistic piquancy.
The story of 3001 is similarly lacking in noticeable effort. I am referring specifically to the ending, which caused the greatest disappointment for me. Poole and his friends give a computer virus to Halman to upload into the monolith. In the section Sources and Acknowledgements, Clarke claims that he came up with the idea before Independence Day was released. To that I say, so what? It's just as silly both times out.
Clarke quotes his own disclaimer from 2061, and the same reasons for possible breaks in continuity are applicable for 3001 as well. Unfortunately, two mistakes exist in this book, both of which are difficult to ignore. On page 147 we find out that Poole was born in 1996. And so he went on the Discovery when he was five? On page 152, Poole is relating some news from Halman, and we discover that the local monolith's superior is 450 light years away, and that signals take 450 years to get there and another 450 to return. To that I ask, whatever happened to the Star Gate? The internal logic of the story indicates that it must still exist -- Bowman went through the Star Gate to someplace near the centre of a galaxy in 2001, and he had returned by 2010 to rescue HAL from Lucifer and later merge into the one personality of Halman.
To close, I would like to take issue with the fatuous blurbs on the back cover, specifically the one from Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin says: "3001: The Final Odyssey is a tour de force that finally answers the questions that sparked the imaginations of an entire generation." To my mind, Aldrin has explained the exact problem of 3001 -- as Clarke answers the questions and as humanity chases the monoliths away, no new generation is getting their imaginations sparked. The urge to explain often ruins everything. For example, in 2001 the crew members of the Discovery act in a muted manner (and much less "human-like" than HAL) and I had some fun in my review positing explanations. But Clarke's explanation here in 3001 wrecks my speculation -- as we find out on page 57, the crew were given an anaphrodisiac. I think Clarke's new view of the monoliths -- they are no longer of use to humanity -- is interesting, and more of his own way of thinking about the universe and less of Kubrick's vision mixed in. But Clarke spoils the exercise by shutting down all the loose ends. I find that extremely frustrating, especially in comparison to where the series started.
James Schellenberg lives in southern Ontario on a dairy farm, which, along with writing, keeps him quite busy. Recently, he has discovered, quite astonishingly, that his brother is not only nine feet tall, but four feet wide and exactly one foot thick.
First posted: January 3, 1999; Last modified: March 2, 2005
Copyright © 1999-2005 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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