Book Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

I thoroughly enjoyed reading 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke, who by the way is one of the kings of science fiction. He is written countless novels and short stories of various topics on space, aliens, technology, etc. I know I may be late to the game in reading 2001, but I had to read it sometime, and since I had a copy lying around, I thought what the hell? So, here it is!

Many people know that the book has a movie too (of the same name), which was directed by the famous Stanley Kubrick. Seems like I’ve been reading a lot of books that he’s been involved with bring to film. Anyway, I found out that 2001 was actually written while the film was being made, and that the film/book were actually based various short stories of Clarke’s, mostly on one specific one, called The Sentinel. A cool bit of info.

I must say that this book was great! It ultimately sheds the human race in a very different light than we think today. It takes place over 3 major, but different time frames. The first portion of the book centres around the man-ape named moon-watcher. This ape has some shred of intelligence, but still very primitive. He leads his tribe of other man-apes around the desert-like valley just trying to live. Every day is a struggle, and it’s unclear whether his tribe is doing well or assuredly doomed. Perhaps somewhere in the middle. But one night a small probe comes down from space and leaves a semi-stone structure in the valley. The man-apes notice it. It’s translucent, but useless, they dismiss it as some odd type of rock. But one night the stone becomes active, glowing brightly and captures the attention of the man-apes who gather around. The apes become temporarily paralyzed as the stone takes control of their bodes. The stone is actually some alien intelligence that is seeing what they are capable of and giving them new skills. They are unknowingly taught how to use their bodies different, use rocks and bones of dead animals different. A species who’s future was uncertain has now been given an edge. Although it’s a slight edge, it helps them grow, and is the beginning of what will eventually be known as the human race.

Fast forward 3 million years and humans, who now have a permanent presence on the moon, have found a similar stone buried deep under the lunar surface. Upon being unearthed, the structure releases a powerful radio signal out to the position of Saturn. Although you don’t know it at the time (and neither does the crew of the space ship discovery one), this has sparked a huge exploratory mission out to saturn to find out just what this lunar stone was sending a signal to. This begins the story of the David Bowman and HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer). HAL is a computer that runs the ship, and ensures its safety, while Bowman is the commander. Bowman believes he is on a mission to explore the outer reaches of the Saturn system, while he has actually been sent to study the radio signals. During the voyage out to saturn HAL becomes problematic and eventually begins taking control of the ship. He kills the entire crew save Bowman under the directive of protecting the mission. Eventually HAL is taken offline and Bowman continues the mission, which he now knows the truth. This portion of the book was my favorite. The voyage out to Saturn was described beautifully by Clarke. The day-to-day operations, the solitude, the PR campaigns, the immensity of the mission. All of the details were well thought out.

Eventually Bowman makes it to the moon of Saturn which the radio signal is sent, where he finds an even LARGER version of the stone slab that was once on earth, and now on mars. Bowman discovers that this actually a portal to a place thousands of light years across the galaxy, the home of the alien intelligence that millions of years ago began this interstellar science experiment known as the human race. Bowman finds no sign of life, but sees the remains when he arrives. He crosses an interstellar hub that has man different portals, but noone is using them. The things that built this place no longer use it that’s for sure. Bowman is then somehow brought to a room that looks like a hotel room, made especially for him, by his makers. Bowman finds himself asleep and his brain being analyzed. His entire life is flashed before his eyes as he’s transformed to a baby. The intelligence that made humans so many years ago are now starting the next leg of their experiment. The baby Bowman is tweaked and changed and updated. He’s sent back far across the galaxy to earth, where it’s insinuated that he will be the ruler of earth. His power is shown by his ability to destroy all the satellites orbiting the planet. A new era has begun on earth.

Again, this book was amazing in its imagination. Clarke described the advanced space age intelligently, and wove a very simple yet complicated tale of alien intelligence. It is a somewhat humbling idea that we could be only the science experiment of some other alien intelligence from eons ago! Go ahead and give it a read! I don’t do it justice in the least. Maybe i’ll check out the movie!