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Book Review:  The Space Odyssey Series of Arthur C. Clarke

Reviewed by: Masse Bloomfield
Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Publisher: ROC
Date: 2002 (originally 1968)
Retail Price: $7.99
ISBN: 0451457994
Reviewed by: Masse Bloomfield
Title: 2010: Odyssey Two
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Publisher: Del Rey Ballantine
Date: 1997 (originally 1982)
Retail Price: $14.95
ISBN: 0345413970
Reviewed by: Masse Bloomfield
Title: 2061: Odyssey Three
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Publisher: Del Rey Ballantine
Date: 1997 (originally 1985)
Retail Price: $14.95
ISBN: 0345413989
Reviewed by: Masse Bloomfield
Title: 3001: The Final Odyssey
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Publisher: Del Rey
Date: 1999 (originally 1996)
Retail Price: $19.00
ISBN: 0345438205

2001

"The Greatest Science Fiction Novel of All Times and Our Time – 'Dazzling' — Time." This statement appears on the cover of 2001. I won't argue with Time magazine. 

If you are a member of the National Space Society and have never read a science fiction book, this is the one science fiction book you should read. And you have to watch the movie which I consider to be one of the best ten movies ever made. Clarke wrote in the edition I reviewed [the ROC 1993 edition] that 2001 "has been called one of the most influential movies ever made and almost invariably turns up in the list of the all-time top ten" [p. viii]. It made my top ten.

This book is odd because of the way it was written. In the beginning section of this book, Clarke writes that in 1964 Stanley Kubrick, a movie producer and director, asked Clarke for an idea to make the "proverbial good science fiction movie" [p. vii]. The screenplay for the movie was a cooperative effort between Clarke and Kubrick, and when the movie was in production, the two of them were changing the screenplay as the film was being shot. Clarke writes that "toward the end [of the movie, the] novel and screenplay were being written simultaneously, with feedback in both directions" [p. xi]. The way movies are made, normally the novel is written first and separately, then a screenplay is developed from the novel. For 2001, the novel and screenplay were produced at the same time, therefore "odd."

The movie has four distinct parts, whereas the novel has a discrete beginning, a middle and an ending, all blending into a single story. There are differences between the movie and the novel, but I would consider them to be minor.

The novel begins with man-apes fighting with each other. These man-apes discover a smooth black monolith but they have no interaction with this monolith. 

Moving to 2001, Dr. Floyd is sent to the moon to investigate a smooth black monolith found there. This is a solid rectangular object with 1:4:9 dimensions, the squares of the first three integers. The geologists learn that the monolith is three million years old. Then the monolith sends a powerful signal aimed at Saturn (changed to Jupiter in the movie).

Discovery, a manned spacecraft, is sent on a mission to Saturn to see if the signal to Saturn would reveal something about the monolith. The active crew of this spaceship consists of  two men, Frank Poole and David Bowman, as well as three others who are in hibernation. The astronauts in hibernation are expected to be brought to life when the spacecraft reaches the vicinity of Saturn. The entire mission is under the direction of a human-like computer, HAL 9000. 

HAL 9000 has secret information about the mission that Frank and David do not have. HAL discovers a plot between Frank and David to reduce HAL's capability and HAL, fearing for the mission, is able to dispatch Frank into space. David, in his attempt to save Frank, is shut out of Discovery by HAL. But David is able to return to the ship and disables HAL. 

Frank then goes on a short space journey in his attempt to learn more about the monolith and becomes part of the monolith. Frank's statement as he enters the monolith is, "it's full of stars." The last twenty-eight pages describe Frank's journey through space and time. It seems that Frank becomes a "Star-Child" without a physical body.

Arthur Clarke at first thought that this would be the end of his effort with the black monolith, and his characters. He writes in the introductory material that "I indignantly denied that any sequel was possible or that I had the slightest intention of writing one" [p. xii].  However, the scientific and photographic results from spacecraft of the solar system bodies led Clarke to change his mind.

2001 ended up being the first in a series of four books.  Each book describes some aspect of space flight into the solar system and a meeting with the monolith.

This first in the series describes the adventures of astronauts as they venture to Saturn in search of the identity of the black monolith.

 

2010

Arthur Clarke has written another excellent science fiction novel in 2010, the second part of the four-volume Odyssey series. Each book offers another view of the monolith, which is a surrogate for an alien civilization. The thrilling adventures of 2001 are carried on in this sequel. This novel describes an intelligent species emerging on Europa and how their evolution and chances for survival seem to be advanced by an unknown alien intelligence contained in the monolith.

2010: Odyssey Two describes the attempt to rescue the spacecraft Discovery. In the novel 2001, Discovery is abandoned when David Bowman enters the monolith at its destination, the planet Saturn. At the end of the novel 2001, Discovery is left in orbit around the Saturn moon, Iapetus.                        

As a note, in 2001, the black monolith on the Moon sends a signal in the direction of Saturn. In the following series and in the movies, Saturn is replaced by Jupiter. This change was made because the movie director, Stanley Kubrick, felt it was much simpler to use special effects for Jupiter than for Saturn with its many rings. Once Kubrick made this decision for the movie 2001, the book sequels and the movies changed the location from Saturn to Jupiter. Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, becomes a main location.

The action in 2010 begins nine years after the disastrous Discovery mission to Jupiter in 2001. A joint U.S.-Soviet crew on the Russian spaceship Leonov is sent to rendezvous with the Discovery spaceship drifting in the vicinity of Europa. Dr. Heywood Floyd, who was sent to the Moon to investigate the monolith in 2001, is part of the Leonov crew, providing continuity in characters between the two stories.

The mission is designed to recover HAL 9000, the human-like computer, in order to determine what happened to the spaceship and the two astronauts on board at the time the Discovery became disabled. A Chinese spaceship, Tsien, gets a head start to Jupiter ahead of Leonov, whose crew felt it would be upstaged by the Tsien. The Tsien finds a monolith in the space close to Europa. The Tsien lands on Europa in order to resupply its fuel tanks with water. While on Europa, the Tsien is attacked and destroyed.

The Leonov does find the Discovery and sends its computer expert aboard in order to get HAL 9000 back to its original state. As the crew of the Leonov prepares to return to Earth with Discovery, a mysterious message appears on their screens. The message tells them that must leave within a couple of weeks, but does not give a reason nor does the message give any indication of what will happen if they do not leave. David Bowman, who was lost in the monolith in 2001, appears as sort of a ghost to Dr. Floyd and repeats the message.

By using the fuel from Discovery, the Leonov is able to leave Europa within the time limit and begins its journey home. As it leaves the vicinity of Jupiter, Leonov is struck by a shock wave. When the Leonov crew recovers from the shock wave, they find that Jupiter has been reformatted into a shining star which Clarke calls Lucifer. Jupiter had been ignited by a proliferating mass of monoliths. When the Leonov returns to Earth, there are two suns in the sky. The monolith in orbit over Europa disappears, but reappears on the surface of Europa.

2010 is an exciting space adventure following the spacecraft Leonov to Europa, and is an excellent addition to the Odyssey series. Clarke is an award winning science fiction writer and this novel is up to his standard.


2061

Arthur Clarke has written another excellent science fiction novel in 2061, the third in the four- volume Odyssey series. This odyssey begins with a flight on the spaceship Universe for a visit to Halley's comet on its return visit during the year 2061. Dr. Floyd is one of  the passengers on this trip. There are a few others, but they have little impact on the adventure. A third of the book is devoted to the exploration of the comet.

The Universe then receives a message that there has been a problem on Europa. The spaceship Galaxy has crash landed on Europa and needs help, and the Universe is the only ship available that can go to the rescue. And one of the crew of the Galaxy is Chris Floyd, Dr. Floyd's grandson.

Then the same mysterious message in the book 2010 is repeated: "All these worlds are yours - except Europa. Attempt no landings there." The Galaxy has crash landed on Europa in violation of this mysterious edict

The Galaxy had been hijacked and crash landed on Europa so the hijacker could investigate a mountain made of diamonds, expecting to make a fortune. However, as the survivors of the Galaxy are being rescued, the diamond mountain sinks into the watery portion of Europa.

The book ends more or less with the crews of both the Universe and the Galaxy back on Earth.  And the diamond mountain is gone.  The creatures of Europa, untouched by humans, are able to continue their evolution.

This book continues the Odyssey journey beginning with 2001. It is my opinion that Clarke was expanding his view of the future in this novel. One where space flight, exploration and evolution are at work in the Solar System. 

2061 is a good read and equal to the ability of Clarke to work action, excitement, plot, and human emotions into plausible descriptions of space flight and exploration in the solar system. Continuity is also maintained by using the black monoliths as a thread in the series, as well as by using characters from the previous two novels. However, where 2001 is a must, 2061 is seen more as just a pleasant journey through the world of Arthur C. Clarke.

 

3001

3001 is the final volume in the four-book Odyssey series.  It was written about thirty years after the first book in the series, 2001. 3001 features the black monolith as do all the books and movies in this series. This book takes place a thousand years in the future from the initial venture of the spaceship Discovery to the planet Jupiter. Clarke has again been able to produce an action and suspense novel which I feel is equal to the earlier three volumes.

In this novel the space tug Goliath, while orbiting Neptune, gets an order that it is to rendezvous with an unusual object detected by radar and floating in space not far from the Goliath. The object turned out to be a thousand-year-old astronaut — Frank Poole, the astronaut that HAL 9000 had sent into space from the Discovery in 2001. Frank was in a freeze-dried state and was able to be revived.

This provides the Odyssey series continuity of characters. The book now has a character from the first book and the movie, Frank Poole. As David Bowman became what I call a ghost for lack of a better word, it becomes possible for Bowman to be a character in this novel as well.  Poole and Bowman can now meet a thousand years after their failed mission to investigate the black monolith at Jupiter.

When Frank Poole is revived, he is fitted with a "Braincap" which allows him to learn more about "the world in the Third Millennium as well as acquire in minutes new skills that would otherwise take years to master." The Braincap comes with a "Brainbox" that plays instant knowledge tablets, each tablet equal to the information needed for a college degree. Frank becomes a celebrity in an age of peace and plenty with space elevators and inertia-less space drives . He has Danil as a robot companion and helper. 

Frank travels to Jupiter, which since 2010 has been the second sun in the solar system called Lucifer. One of Jupiter's moons, Ganymede, is man's farthest colony from Earth (although I personally would think that in a thousand years, mankind would have had colonies around other stars). Europa, another one of Jupiter's moons, is where the black monolith is attempting to develop intelligent life. Even with the monolith assisting evolution, the life forms on Europa were still on an animal level.

There, Frank meets the "ghost" of Dave Bowman, who seems to be composed of Dave and HAL 9000, which Frank dubs as Halman. Halman warns Frank that the monolith intelligence has decided to destroy mankind. The alien direction comes from 450 light years away. Frank thinks that this alien direction can do little harm because it will take 450 years for it to direct the black monoliths to take anti-human action. Frank is able to use Halman as a way to infect the black monoliths with computer viruses. Once infected with the viruses, the black monoliths disappear, thus saving human life in the solar system. Since it will take about a thousand years for any action from the alien intelligence once they learn of the computer virus, mankind should have nothing to fear from the monoliths for a long time to come.

Odysseyseries is an interesting, exciting romp through time and the solar system, and I certainly recommend them. They represent one of the few books on space written by a person whose descriptions of spaceships and solar system exploration keeps fairly closely to the reality of physics. I had not read any of the books or seen the movie 2010 until recently. In addition to being entertained, I was rewarded with the pleasure of an imaginative view of what the future can hold.

© 2008 Masse Bloomfield

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Updated Sun, Apr 24, 2011 at 02:56:50
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