So, I’ve been going on a classic literature binge, and I found this book. 2001: A Space Odyssey was written by Arthur C. Clarke.
Two astronauts, three hibernating passengers, and an AI named HAL are headed for Saturn on an exploratory mission. Strange discoveries on the moon change the mission plan a little. And if being the only three sentient beings awake for millions of miles wasn’t enough danger, something is systematically sabotaging their ship.
The plot has probably been copied by about a thousand people because it’s just. that. good. The suspense grows with every chapter until you can’t look away.
Clarke’s word choice is absolutely stellar. (Yes, I meant to do that.) The images he conjures are loaded with detail and stick with you for hours.
Clarke even (spoiler, highlight to read) and I wasn’t even a little mad. That in itself should tell you this author is fantastic.
My only major problem was with the exposition. A full third of the book is irrelevant to the plot. The first fourth or so could have been compressed into a few pages. Some of the descriptions later on in the exposition section are gorgeous and give the reader a much better idea of society and technological advancement on Earth, but the rest of it… nah.
Blocks of indigestible scientific gibberish are randomly shoehorned throughout the main plot-relevant section. I could understand it, and the reasoning behind the technology was pretty cool, but it was jammed into the middle of a perfectly good plot-driven chapter. Scientific information only propels a plot when there’s real in-universe importance attached to that information.
Another pet peeve of mine was the characters. Actually, the non-characters. They were pretty flat. Granted, 2001 is a short book and there isn’t much room for character development in the middle of the plot. Clarke did make an effort in several spots to paint his main characters’ lives, but they’re still cardboard with a bit of throwaway character development to make them look 3-D. This book is all about the story, so the characters are pretty much window dressing anyway, but I was slightly annoyed by the lack of backstory.
Okay, it’s fair to say this isn’t the 2001 I was born into. In the words of someone else: “God bless you, old sci-fi, you had such high hopes for us.” We obviously aren’t sending manned missions to Saturn, or putting humans in cryosleep until we need them. But no matter what year it is set in, (2001, 2023, 2323…) this book is timeless.
Yes, I know a full two-thirds of this review so far was my quibbles with this book. Well, READ THE BOOK ANYWAY. Even if you don’t like the ‘drops exposition on you like a ton of bricks’ aspect, this book is well worth reading despite that. It brings up deep questions logically, within the boundaries of the story. The suspense is masterfully written. The settings are vivid, and the plot is amazingly original (keeping in mind the publication date of 1968, it’s likely that anything written later with a similar plot drew at least some inspiration from 2001). There’s an ending that hits you like a ton of bricks and leaves you thinking about it days later. Basically, all the ingredients of a book that lingers. 2001 stays in your mind. You remember HAL every time you hear the letters AI. You hear the words “My God, it’s full of stars!” in the back of your mind, and stare blankly at the nearest wall as you struggle to comprehend the vastness and implacability of the universe.
(Well, 2001 might not do that to you, but that’s what it did to me.)
This book fully deserves its place as a classic of science fiction. I have no regrets about reading it, and the problems with the writing are vastly outweighed by its good points. 4 and 1/2 stars.