Wednesday, June 24, 2009

3001: Final Odyssey (Clarke, Arthur C)

Rating: 3
Year: 1997
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? Eh.

Frank Poole died in 2001, when HAL-9000 ran him over with a space pod.

Eh, not so much.

In 3001, Frank Poole's body is found by ice-wranglers in the outskirts of the solar system. He's brought out of his deep-frozen state and revived.

Frank's a mega-celebrity, a national treasure, a curiosity from a long-past age. He sees new wonders: a nearly-completed ring around the Earth; settlements on Mercury, the Moon, and Ganymede. A new sun named Lucifer where Jupiter once roamed. Genetically-engineered gorilla archaeology assistants. Velociraptor gardeners. Surgically-altered criminals become personal assistants for the duration of their sentence.

All the world's religions have been discredited!

But Frank soon becomes bored, even after learning to fly, so he hitches a ride to Ganymede to see to some unfinished business. The last time he was in the neighborhood, HAL tried to kill him. Frank gets involved with a philosophy professor who is convinced that Europa holds many secrets--and that Frank's the key to sorting them out.

This final book in the set is the least satisfying of them all, and marks the end of a trend toward more and more silliness in "light-hearted fun" drag. The original book was clean and serious, and more entertaining because of it. Gorilla archaeologists?! Dinosaur gardeners?!


I'm glad it's done, but I'm disappointed that Clarke took the story in such a direction.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2061: Odyssey Three (Clarke, Arthur C)

Rating: 4
Year: 1987
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? Yes

It's looking like I'm done with Mercedes Lackey; I've been thinking about re-reading Fleming's "James Bond" series or Butcher's "Dresden Files." But right now, I'm 3 down and 1 to go on Clarke's "2001" odyssey, with no good reason to scrub the mission.

Dr. Heywood Floyd is 103, one of only two people still alive who flew the Leonov's mission to Jupiter in 2010. Floyd's leaving aboard the space liner Universe with a small group of scientists and famous people to visit Halley's Comet.

Lucifer, the tiny sun that was once Jupiter, still burns brightly in the sky. Three of its former moons--now worlds in a miniature solar system--are freely accessible to human exploration. Ganymede sports a modest colony. But Europa is still off-limits.

Whatever powers that exist to enforce that prohibition don't seem to care about orbital probes or peeking via radar from Ganymede's radio telescope. A great mountain has appeared without warning, as large as Everest, but seemingly out of nowhere.

The exploration of Halley's Comet is cut short: a ship has gone down on Europa. Floyd's grandson Chris was aboard.

Can the Universe get there in time to rescue the survivors? Or will the ban on Europa be enforced?

Somewhat less satisfying than "2001," but shorter than "2010." The pacing could have been tightened up a little in places (a few draggy spots), but the story's entertaining and kept me wondering what was coming next.

Monday, June 15, 2009

2010: Odyssey 2 (Clarke, AC)

Rating: 4
Year: 1982
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? Yes

Go back to Lackey? Nope. I've got the remaining three "2001" books ready for launch.

This sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey" begins with a disclaimer; the first book and Stanley Kubrick's very long screenplay were written concurrently in the mid-1960's. Where the movie's events took us to Jupiter and its little system of moons, the novel took us to Saturn. The disclaimer for "2010" notes this difference, and that this novel will instead follow the lead of the movies and take us back to Jupiter. It makes for some annoying continuity problems, but then again the original book was begun in 1964.

That said, "2010" is a satisfying follow-up. Dr. Heywood Floyd is given a chance to ride to Jupiter to try to recover the Discovery. Dr. Chandra--the man who designed HAL 9000--will be coming, to assess the computer's mental state. They're going up aboard a Soviet spaceship, the Leonov, the only ship that can get them there in time: Discovery's orbit around Europa is decaying.

As they're making their approach, Dr. Floyd is brought out of Space Sleep ahead of his two compatriates: there's a problem. The Chinese have launched a ship of their own. It reaches Europa days ahead of the Leonov; everyone's concerned that they might be trying to do their own salvage operation on Discovery...yet the Chinese ship lands on Europa.

The ship is destroyed, its crew killed by something plant-like that snaked up from the depths below Europa's icy crust.

Leonov makes orbit in its own good time. The crew doesn't have time to investigate the Chinese ship's destruction. Discovery is brought back to life, then HAL is restored. The computer doesn't remember killing off his crew, let alone being shut down by Dave Bowman.

Meanwhile, the being formerly known as Dave Bowman comes back, with a warning: Leonov is in great danger and must leave soon.

Hard review to write--the book both drags and doesn't seem to drag, if that makes any sense. Clarke copies--well, quotes, actually--several pages' worth of stuff at length from "2001" to move us along, but I ended up just skipping ahead. Maybe a summary would have worked, but I won't second-guess him.

I'm still liking Clarke's style; he's straightforward, practical, like an old Chevy truck. There's no glitz or glamour, and maybe it's a little slow at times, but it'll get you where you need to go, and he never--NEVER--forgets that telling the story and keeping the reader in it is what it's all about.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2001: A Space Odyssey (Clark, Arthur C.)

Rating: 5
Year: 1968
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? Yes

Mercedes Lackey? I'm sorry, Dave; I can't let you do that.

After listening to a recent "Skeptics' Guide to the Universe" podcast, in which they discussed a few plot points from both the movie and book versions of "2001," I decided to make that my next book and escape into outer space to avoid the next Lackey book.

This was my first time, and I was very pleased. The book's very different from the movie in one very important way--namely, I stayed awake reading it. I've never made it through the entire movie without falling asleep.

Three million years ago, when humanity was ape-ity, these big slabs of crystal popped into existence and set to work changing the smarter ape-men's minds. Where before they'd been simple-minded (more primitive even than a right-wing yapper, but still smarter than the moon-landing deniers), they soon learned the use of simple tools. They learned to kill for food.

They learned to kill each other.

Cut to three million years later; Dr. Heywood Floyd leaves Earth on an urgent super-secret mission to the moon. A large slab of some dark, unknown material has been unearthed (unmooned?). It's taller than a man, and a perfectly-shaped rectangular solid. As soon as sunlight hits it, the monolith sends out a single pulse of energy that seems focused upon one of Saturn's moons.

Cut to a few months later, about 1/3 of the way into the book; David "Dave" Bowman and Frank Poole are riding aboard the Discovery, headed for Saturn via Jupiter. There are three men in Space-Sleep--but only those three men and the computer--HAL 9000--really know what the mission's about.

The well-known deactivation of HAL comes at about the 2/3 point. Bowman is left alone aboard Discovery, finally being let in on the Big Secret of the lunar monolith and the question of why a signal was sent towards Saturn's moon Japetus.

Clarke's style is clear and direct, something I really wish more writers would work on in their own styles. It's utterly refreshing to read a style that takes us from Point A to Point B without trying to hit the rest of the alphabet along the way.

He's descriptive without being overly wordy--and he's not fussy. He doesn't add weak little qualifiers. He simply tells the damn story. I'm both impressed and pleased.

Excellent story and story-telling.