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The Odyssey File, Arthur C. Clarke and Peter Hyams, Del Rey, 1984, 132 pp.

The Odyssey File gives us the correspondence between Clarke and Hyams as Hyams was developing the screenplay for 2010. Some interesting details can be learned from The Odyssey File, but frankly, the book is too slim and the content even slimmer. The back cover blurbs states: "Now, in The Odyssey File, we get a unique opportunity to tap into the creative process as two gifted writers work on a film of the future using the technology of tomorrow." What exactly does that mean? Well, see, it's this thing called "electronic mail." Or rather something might eventually be called that.

Once I describe the tortuous process that Clarke and Hyams were using, everyone living in 1999 will either be laughing or totally astounded at what they put up with. That was certainly my reaction, but I'm guessing that the differences between 2014 and 1999 will be far more extensive than those between 1999 and 1984. What will the people of 2014 find hilarious about our computers? Likely quite a lot.

Both Clarke and Hyams would have to leave their own modems active, and then try to find a line to Sri Lanka (where Clarke still lives) or a competent operator. Screw-ups happened all the time, along with incompetent operators, unruly files, and rather primitive computers (what navigator on the information superhighway has ever heard of Kaypro-II? Here in 2014 we've never even heard of a... whatsit... Pentium II...). Clarke admits in the prologue that he was rather happy with the new computer developments in his life, like word-processing and faster communication across half the world, although with a few qualms. Here is a long quotation: "One could easily become addicted to this new video vice... Some of my friends tried to introduce me to one of the many electronic noticeboards on which one can leave or read messages, but I soon decided that enough was enough. Even talking to a single terminal was lengthening my working day by at least an hour, and the prospect of becoming accessible to thousands of additional global villagers was simply too appalling to contemplate" (xxiv). I found some of Clarke's observations like this interesting, while reading the technical details of their correspondence somewhat tedious.

What about the correspondence itself? Some of the details are worth reading (like the bit on page 76, where Hyams is wondering about letting Chandra tell HAL the truth at the end -- which turned out to be a splendid scene), but the nature of the book works against itself. As we find out on pages xxi-xxii of the prologue, the "daily exchanges stopped abruptly" when Hyams began principal photography on 2010. And so reading The Odyssey File is like reading a making-of-this-movie book that stops at the most crucial point, or the story of a war that stops before the biggest battle. Thus, we do not know how Hyams managed to find a house with a dolphin pool. Or how Hyams managed to find a substitute for the Arecibo telescope array (which turned out to be unsuitable for filming). And so on. Hyams' last message indicates how thankful he was for Clarke's positive response to the screenplay. Then we get a rather pompous appendix, by someone named Steven Jongeward who is neither Clarke nor Hyams, explaining all the differences between the novel and the screenplay. That is not what is advertised on the cover.

The cover blurbs want us to believe that The Odyssey File provides some interesting, more "personal" correspondence between the two men. And yes, Clarke and Hyams joke around and tell some personal stories. I liked Hyams' story about his mother, who hung up on him after finding out someone else had corrected his spelling mistakes (11). And Clarke has some wit to share as well, like the following: "Nice timing, Peter -- the screenplay arrived this morning... I felt like playing a few tricks on you -- like a message from my secretary saying that I was last seen heading for the airport carrying a gun" (110). Unfortunately, the relationship between Clarke and Hyams is not that of equals. Hyams states several times how slavishly he wants to follow Clarke's ideas... which is normally something I would applaud in a person setting out to adapt a novel for the screen. Hyams also talks about his inferiority complex in comparison to Kubrick (page 56, for example). Which may or may not be justified, but I never got the sense that Hyams and Clarke were talking on the same playing field, as Kubrick and Clarke may have during the making of 2001. Granted, that was under entirely different circumstances, and Hyams ended up creating a fine film as I stated in my review of 2010. But a novel does not need to be slavishly imitated onscreen, and Hyams does not even try to add any conceptual depth to Clarke's somewhat thin story. That may have been inevitable.

A closing note. The photo section in The Odyssey File is pleasing -- giving a good sense of some of the splendid design choices -- if not very extensive. One of the still shots from the movie shows a cameo by Clarke himself, in the scene where Floyd and Milson are talking in front of the White House. Clarke is visible on the extreme left of the photo. When I was watching 2010, however, the non-letterboxing (I don't know if it was pan-and-scan or what) eliminated Clarke altogether. Digital TVs, with their superior aspect ratios, can't arrive fast enough for me.

Last modified: January 7, 1999

Copyright © 1999 by James Schellenberg (

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