From time to time I kept hearing about this book, but had never read it. There is a movie out there with the same name that is just as, if not more famous. In fact the movie is on the greatest 100 movies of all time list, or pretty much any greatest movies of all time list you can find. It was also directed by the legendary director Stanley Kubrick. I have not seen the movie but it is on my list because, it is almost impossible to pass up with all the hype that surrounds it. I knew that I needed to read this one if I was to consider myself a sifi fan, as sort of a right of passage.
Clark is one of the most famous sifi writers of all time. He was born in England and lived most of his life in Sri Lanka. In 2000 he was made a Knight Bachelor, and sadly he passed away in 2008. As I mentioned in my last review he is part of the Big Three in the sifi genre. This novel is part of the 2001 Series which includes 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey Two, and 2061: Odyssey Three, 3001: The Final Odyssey. I have not read the other books in the series, nor have I heard much about them, especially the last one. I have heard a few good things about the second book in the series, which was also made into a movie in 1984, so check them out if you are interested. This is without a doubt the most famous book by Clark. As I mentioned above it was made into a movie that was equally as famous.
The story opens up in the plains of Africa in 3 million BC, when hominids, human ancestors roam the continent. The story portrays an unseen alien civilization that places a large black monolith near the hominid population. It is understood that the monolith uses some sort of technology to help the hominids become more intelligent and thus leading to the dawn of mankind. Then the story jumps to the year 1999 where a group of scientist locates a monolith on the moon in the crater Tycho. Soon after investigating the monolith it sends a radio signal to a moon of Saturn. After that the book jumps to the Discovery One mission that is sent to investigate the signal that was sent to the Saturn moon Iapetus. During the mission an onboard artificially intelligent computer (HAL) begins to disobey orders and severs communication with earth. The captain (Bowman) struggles to shut down HAL and save the lives of his crew. After the battle communication is once again established with Earth and Bowman is told that his mission is to make contact with the civilization that built the monolith. While the ship is approaching the moon, Bowman notices a black spot on the surface. Soon he realizes that it is not a black spot but something that will forever change humanity. As always I don’t want to give away the ending, and I have purposefully been a little vague in the synopsis of the story.
Overall I liked this story and thought it was interesting from start to finish. At the opening of the story I seriously thought the cover was on the wrong book. Like someone had glued the 2001 cover on some random novel by accident. I had no idea how this book was going to start and really threw me for a loop. I laugh about it now, but I was seriously confused as to what story I was reading.
My favorite aspect of the book is finding the monolith on the moon. I love this idea that we could someday find an artifact or something of that nature that would completely rewrite not only our history but our place in the universe. I like when stores use plot lines of something from the ancient past that will affect our future, kind of reminds me of the circle of life or how time is cyclical, as was the belief of some ancient civilizations. To me the perfect story always blends the past and the future while the action is happening in the present. I think Clark did an awesome job building his story with all these different perimeters.
The only negative I can say about this one is the ending. I loved where it was going as there are a ton of interesting ideas explored toward the end. However, as the story finishes up I was a little disappointed in what happens. I felt it was very vague and just left the story hanging, but that is probably why there is a sequel. What I would like to know is if Clark intended to write one sequel not to mention three additional books in the series. Maybe one day in the future I will read the next one in the series to see if the ending in this one makes more sense.
As I mentioned there are tons of interesting ideas explored throughout this story from technology, to AI, to evolution, and also nuclear war. The thing I found most interesting is at the ending where a transformation occurs that I would have loved to have seen explored more. There was a great build up to the ending and then the story just kind of drops off leaving this idea out there. I really felt it left me hanging as to what was going to happened next. There are so many different avenues the story could have taken if it was just a bit longer. Perhaps that is the reason Clark ended it when he did, to let the audience make their own ending with what he gave them. If that is the case I like it, but still don’t like it. I am stuck in the middle.
Another big point that I felt the author was trying to make was how aliens could have influenced our past and future and what it would be like to actually make contact with them. I did read one review that stated something to the effect that an alien civilization may not be interested in us, but more so what we create. Basically if we create AI it is more than likely that it will outlive us, and a similar alien civilization’s AI would probably do the same. I did not get those ideas out of the story and I think whoever wrote that is reaching a little, although I do see a point that he was making, and nonetheless those are very interesting ideas that I am sure I will explore in my Random Thoughts blog some day.
There are some cool ideas that are talked about, but nothing overtly crazy. The AI super computer, HAL, is a very interesting idea that has often been talked about and debated ever since the story was published. To me I felt Clark did an excellent job of showing the perils of such a technology, which I am sure was his intent. As I am sure you know I go back and forth on AI, but Clark does show just how dangerous it could be.
One thing I found quite interesting is that Clark and Kubric both started writing the book. For whatever reason Kubrick eventually stopped and Clark was given credit for writing it, although as you can see on the title page it also mentions Kubrick’s name as a contributor to the story. I found this interesting as I did not know Kubrick helped during the writing. I had always thought Clark was the sole writer. You learn something new every day I suppose.
The more I think about this novel I think it is an average sifi read. There are some very fascinating ideas in the story but to me just didn’t get me over the hump of some other great stories in the same genre. I can see why it is famous, but just didn’t do it for me. To me didn’t have that WOW factor. I will also say that neither did Stranger in a Strange Land but for some reason I connected more with that one. I am by no means saying that 2001 was bad, but I do not think it necessarily deserved all the hype. As I have mentioned I also felt the ending was a big letdown. Clark did an excellent job building the plot and keeping everything flowing nicely right up till the end, and then the wheels fell off and the story came ot an abrupt halt in my opinion. I recommend reading this one as I could not tell you not to read this very famous sifi book. Do not let my review discourage you from checking this one out. The other nice thing is that it is a pretty short read, only about 230 pages in the mass market paperback. At the end of the day if you did not care for it at the very least you will not have a ton of time invested.