Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke


Review by John for 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke

John’s quick take: Continuing the story told in the classic science fiction movie and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, this chronicles what happens when an international team is sent to Jupiter to investigate the fate of the 2001 mission.

John’s description:  In 2001 the crew of the spaceship Discovery found a mysterious monolith orbiting Jupiter; it’s clearly an alien artifact. The spaceship’s computer (known as HAL) had started to act oddly and caused the death of all but one of the crew. David Bowman, the lone survivor, manages to disable HAL and then continues on with the mission. When he leaves Discovery and starts to explore the monolith he disappears, with his last words sent back to Earth being “My God, it’s full of stars!” But there is now a newly created version of Bowman, unobtrusively watching over Earth and humans, unsure of what his next steps should be.

Nine years later a joint Soviet-American team travels to Jupiter on a Soviet spaceship. The objectives are to find out all they possibly can about the 2001 mission from Discovery’s records, and to further investigate the monolith. A key to unlocking some of the mysteries surrounding the 2001 mission is to resuscitate Discovery and to delve into HAL’s memory banks – so a vital member of the 2010 mission is the scientist who created HAL. There are another two Americans aboard who are deemed necessary, but the rest of the crew is Soviet. There are ongoing political tensions between the two countries and neither is happy about having to partner with the other, but there are some necessarily tight deadlines that have to be met, and only the Soviets have a ship that is ready in time. Inevitably the relationships between the crew factions are strained as the mission starts out.

As the ship gets nearer to Jupiter there are some big surprises in store; there is also the horrendously dangerous braking maneuver which entails circling Jupiter and using its gravity to help slow the ship down. Finally they rendezvous with the dead US ship, Discovery, and then start the arduous task of trying to bring it back to life. They also have to carefully bring the powerful HAL back online, unsure of what they will find and how it might react to the newcomers. Meanwhile the huge monolith seems to be inert and unperturbed by their presence. But by far the biggest shock is yet to come. And “Bowman” continues his watch and starts to flex some of his newfound powers.

John’s thoughts:    2001: A Space Odyssey was such a classic movie, which was groundbreaking in all sorts of ways. The ending left some audience members scratching their heads a bit, though the resulting novel did clear things up at least somewhat (the movie was a result of collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, while Clarke followed up with the novel). In many ways it cried out for a sequel, but more than twenty years passed before Clarke released this novel.

It was a tough act to follow, but employing his usual gifts of huge imagination, technical credibility, and first-rate storytelling, Clarke did a terrific job. In common with most Clarke books, this is a really fine read. The futurism and science don’t get in the way at all, but rather add to what is a really cool story. This is an easy read – which is not to diminish the depth and complexity of the plot. And of course there are plenty of surprises to keep you turning the pages.

It is not unusual in many science fiction books to find that characters are rather thin and under-developed, taking a back seat to “gee whiz” plots and grand visions, but that is not a problem that I have found with Clarke – the characters in this novel are interesting and have some depth, as are those in most of his books. (Though I must admit that this is my first Clark read in a long time and it was in my student days when I voraciously read his books, so maybe my memory is playing little tricks with me).

All in all, this is a great read that I’d recommend to any and all science fiction fans; though of course it has been out for a long time now so perhaps most have read it already. You don’t have to have read 2001 first as the key elements are recounted in 2010 - but it will help to provide a little added background and color. I’d also say that for non-science fiction fans who want to test the water, Arthur C. Clarke is a great place to start. I’d rate this book 4 stars.

P.S. It only just occurred to me how apt it is to rate science fiction novels using a system of stars!

First published by Granada Publishing UK in 1982.

This is our first post for 2014 and it is a bit later than planned since my blogging computer is currently being repaired. (They said it was something to do with Windows being corrupted. Not fun). However in the meantime and with a slight learning curve I’ve managed to figure out how to use John’s work laptop to publish this. I also have my fingers crossed that I don’t loose any data (i.e. already completed reviews and other posts) while they are repairing my desk top.

Beyond the computer drama, we both hope you had a great holiday season and are enjoying this new year!


Carl V. Anderson said...

Really enjoyable review. I've read several Clarke short stories but have yet to give any of his novels a try, though I do have a growing collection in my basement library.

It has been SOOOO long since I've seen the original film, I barely even remember the story line.

John D said...

Hi Carl,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

I thought the film was ok and well worth watching - though I gather quite a few critics and commentators did not share my view. However, the book is so much better. It has more details, more nuances and better developed characters.

You should jump into your Clarke collection again - I'm sure you won't be disappointed!


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