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.

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