Genre : Science Fiction
Publisher : Orbit
Length : 258 pages
Format : Paperback
Rating : 4 stars
Publication Date: April 28th 1968
On the Moon, an enigma is uncovered.
So great are the implications of this discovery that for the first time men are sent out deep into our solar system.
But long before their destination is reached, things begin to go horribly, inexplicably wrong…
A buried black monolith has been detected on the Moon by a team of scientists and, once uncovered, it sends a signal to an unknown location in space. This discovery leads to humans questioning their place in the universe, it seems that they are in fact, not alone in space. They must find out where the monolith has signaled and meet the aliens – or their remnants.
I watched the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was eleven or twelve years old (my mother is fan of Stanley Kubrick and made me watch a ton of his movies – even A Clockwork Orange, a movie that still gives me nightmare ten years later). I vividly remember a number of scenes in the movie yet, it left me utterly confused. I was expecting the book to give me the same feeling, it did not.
The movie and the book are quite different, I didn’t know that Clarke wrote the novel at the same time when Kubrick produced the film. Apparently, even if Kubrick gave his input when Clarke was writing it, both stories have differences. I can see why some people would prefer the movie but, personally the book worked better for me.
I had heard mixed things about Clarke’s writing and I was expecting the novel to be dry, confusing and a bit boring. However, it wasn’t the case at all, I flew through the book in a few days and I was hooked.
The novel has an interesting structure, it’s a sort of collection of short stories where each part is centered around a particular theme and moment in humanity’s journey towards what they believe might be their creator. This structure worked well for me, maybe because I read a lot of short fiction and I like the short and concise format. I thought each part had different things to offer while still being interconnected enough that it didn’t feel disjointed. My least favorite part of the story probably was the first one – Primeval Night – because it’s told from the perspective of an ape and reading about the daily life of apes is not necessarily captivating. However, it wasn’t particularly long and it showed how important black monoliths were in the story so it wasn’t completely pointless. My favorite part (or story) was without a doubt Abyss because it was exactly the right amount of creepy and fascinating. It’s probably the part that has the most similarities with the movie (I’m forever creeped out by AIs in spaceships thanks to HAL). The last part was the most confusing yet, again, it worked well as a part of the larger story.
2001 is a fascinating novel about the origin of humanity, the motivation behind space travel and the fear of being the only intelligent creatures in a vast universe. It brings up very interesting conversation about artificial intelligence, faith and God.
As I often mention with classic SF, some parts haven’t aged well and 2001 is not an exception. For some reasons, Clarke decides that decades in the future, in a world where robots are used everywhere, women still work as flight attendants in shuttle crafts between the Moon and Earth to serve men their glasses of whiskey while they read the newspaper. If women work as astronauts, it’s not mentioned anywhere (that I can recall at least) and the male astronauts often think that they are glad to escape from women chasing after them back on Earth because they are rich and that they would make the perfect husbands (because apparently women love rich husbands that are never there). It’s not terribly offensive but still, I did roll my eyes.
However, I ended up enjoying 2001 quite a bit and it gave me hope that I might also like Clarke’s other novels and short stories. I didn’t find the writing dry, on the contrary, some sentences were in fact quite funny. This is one of my favorite quotes for example:
“Now I’m a scientific expert; that means I know nothing about absolutely everything.”2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
I also loved the atmosphere and the escalation of tension throughout the book. Sure, the characters were kind of flat but the fascinating ideas and themes were there and it wasn’t full of techno babble that I have come to dislike quite a bit in older science fiction titles.
If you enjoyed the movie but would like to have some answers, I would definitely recommend 2001. If you have no interest in the movie but would like to read an exciting book about humans earching for their creator or you just like creepy human/AI interactions, I would also recommend.
Vintage Science Fiction Month is a month-long event celebrating science fiction works published/produced before 1979. The event was created by Andrea from the blog The Little Red Reviewer and it is co-hosted by Jacob from the blog RedStarReviews. You can find more about the event by following the Twitter account @VintageSciFi_.