2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke is proving to be a very fascinating read. The novel is written with vivid descriptions of space technology and other aspects of science fiction. This style of writing is very unique in that it draws the reader into a world that they cannot directly experience.

So far, the main storyline has not yet been fully introduced, but two intriguing subplots depicting extraterrestrial encounters at various points in human evolution have been described. In the first subplot a giant monolith advances human evolution by teaching man-apes to make tools. The second subplot takes place epochs later, in 1999, when a similar monolith appears on a man-made moon base. Planet Earth at this time is on the brink of a global nuclear war, and humans are faced with food shortages and overpopulation. The effect of the second object on humans has not yet been revealed. These two storylines have a captivating effect on the reader, making this book a real page-turner.

Since the plot has not developed substantially enough for me to develop an opinion on characters or storyline, I can only surmise what will happen next. However one quote describing human evolution was very interesting: “But now, as long as they existed, he was living on borrowed time.” (37) “He” refers to mankind, but who are “they”? I imagine that this foreshadows events to come, possibly even the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligent life. Again, this book is a real page turner and I am very curious about how the story will unfold.

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20 responses to “2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

  1. Kaiyo S.

    Hey Jonathan, I agree with you completely that this book is very unique and intriguing. In fact, I really like the way Arthur C. Clarke started the novel with the near extinction of humans or man-apes. This made me realize how physically challenged humans are compared to other animals. In the wild, humans would stand no chance. It was their brain that allowed them to survive.
    However, the book makes it seem that humans would have gone extinct if their daily lifestyle was not interfered with. The black monolith in the beginning that you talked about interfered with their lifestyle by introducing tools and when the second one appeared in 1999, just like you said, I was captivated. It made me feel that the human race was no accident and was really an experiment. There was something that was behind the scenes pulling all the strings. However, the introduction of tools made humans physically, very weak as the book talks of significant changes in the man-apes after using tools. The jaw of the man-apes began to become more delicate and their teeth shrunk in size as they weren’t needed because of their new tools.
    The book also has Moon-Watcher as the leader of the world after killing the leader of the other tribe. Making it really funny is when the book says he did not know what to do, but would think of something. Afterwards, the modern world is introduced and the second monolith appears. I feel that after a while, this part gets uninteresting, but I am still very excited to read on to find the connection between the monoliths.

    • I actually disagree with the thought that this book is unique. While I do agree the writing style is fantastic and enjoyable, I have a small rant following the thought of uniqueness, or the lack thereof. Science Fiction is just a shot in the dark at what the world may have been and become, and so obviously some overlap is allowed, but so many people have covered the topic of science fiction before humanity really evolved that the start isn’t a new premise. I feel like while this may have approached it in a different way, it still isn’t entirely original.
      I do however, like the thought of Alien life adapting humanity to be smarter, and the lack of knowledge we get of said Alien life. One day they just jump down and instantly change the race of apes into the race of men, and then leave, with everything but a cube buried on the surface of a moon. The scientific process of how this is done makes you wonder what the cube will do to humanity and whether the Aliens will come back down to see their work. Personally I think that somehow, someway, mankind is going to end up in contact with them. The real question is whether the cube is going to end up in another scientific awakening, or just going to end up with the Aliens following up.
      I find the second part as the more interesting of the two, while some of the thoughts about the future (Pay phones in space) were slightly stupid in science fiction fashion, the rest was enjoyable. The thought of Humanity learning about its past is more interesting then humanity learning how to use a stick. I especially like the invincible monolith, and thinking about what secrets it holds for the rest of humanity. Is it going to lead to another scientific awakening, or just be a test that humanity fails.

  2. Like Kaiyo, I agree with you Jonathan. The monoliths seem to be a signal that the human race is being engineered, not evolved, and that humans as a race never would have existed without the idea of tools and external help. However, I do not believe that the Man-Ape portion of the story at the beginning is a subplot, I believe it is there to give the reader a background, not a subplot.
    Addressing Kaiyo’s point, I don’t think that Clarke started the story with the near extinction of the man-apes. I certainly agree that the times were hard for Moon Watcher and his associates, but I don’t believe that they were on the brink of extinction. I feel like Clarke put in the story of Moon Watcher to show the perils that the human race was going through before the arrival of the monoliths.
    On the subject of the monoliths, it seemed to me that the monolith on the moon was there to monitor the progress that the first monolith down on earth had created. On a more intriguing note, maybe the moon monolith could be the same one mentioned in the beginning. It is possible that the same object dissapeared from earth and reappeared on the moon to watch the snowball of humanity to gather speed and become what it is today.
    On another topic, I was quite surprised about how accurate the author predicted the 21st century. Arthur C. Clarke wrote A Space Odyssey in 1951, and almost correctly predicted the overpopulation and the nuclear tension between the countries.

  3. I agree with both of you guys that the book is very interesting and fun to read. The sci-fi genre is personally one of my favorites because of all the creative ideas authors have, and this book is certainly no exception. One of the first intriguing concepts of how the evolution of the man-apes was tinkered with and experimented on. The idea that there are way more advanced civilizations out there than humans, the success of the human race was caused by an outside force, and that there would be no humans had the monolith not taught the man-apes to use tools is fascinating to think about. The story of the first monolith and the appearance of the second monolith really makes the reader think about what is being foreshadowed and what effects the monolith with have this time.
    Jon, your quote is definitely an interesting one. I also am thinking that this quote foreshadows a big event to come, possibly with some connection to the second monolith. I think what the author means by “they” is whoever is controlling and planting the monoliths and how “they” will change life on Earth once again.

  4. jonathanmeinhardt

    2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, Post Two

    As I read the second quarter of the novel, I was anticipating a connection between the two captivating monoliths to be made. I was somewhat disappointed when any connection between the monoliths, which seemed to be the central part of the novel, went unmentioned. The plot progressed in a way that made the previous chapters feel unnecessary, for the setting completely changed from the moon to a mission into deep space.
    But 2001: A Space Odyssey still continued to draw me in. I found it incredible how visually the novel’s aspects of futuristic space travel were described. In my first blog post, I mentioned how the book was captivating because it put the reader in a world they could not directly experience. From cryogenic hibernation to highly sophisticated artificial intelligence, the second quarter of the novel has definitely proven this point.
    Another interesting part of the novel was that the book was written in the 1960s, when space exploration was still a relatively new and enthusiastic concept. Arthur C. Clarke wrote this novel ahead of its time, which reflects the optimism for the future of space exploration shared by humans during the Space Age.
    The amount of rich detail made an uneventful, monotonous plot into an interesting description of the possible future of space travel. Will the monoliths appear again? Will extraterrestrial life be discovered? I am still looking forward to where the story will head in the coming chapters.

    • Alex Li

      I completely agree Jon, I was mildly disappointed when Clarke didn’t address the monoliths. This, however, did not detract from my enjoyment of the chapters read. I, for one, quite enjoyed chapters 15 through 17, which outlined in detail the dealings and technology of space travel. There is something about daily life that intrigues all of us, because we enjoy hearing about others and what they are doing, and having the motif of space and the future makes the subject all the more appealing.
      I read Joe’s response, and I must disagree on his point about dumb space inventions. Keeping in mind that this book was written in conjunction with a movie made in 1951, the book’s technological analysis of the future is quite futuristic and revolutionary for its time.
      The amount of detail that Clarke uses in 2001: A Space Odyssey is astonishing, going into detail about how everything worked on the Discovery, and other day to day activities, Clarke can effectively paint a picture unheard of in 1951. It keeps the story fresh and interesting, and has kept me personally quite interested since we started the novel.

      • First -I would like to refute the notion that i dislike the predictions made about space travel. It is not the inventions themselves that I see as a waste of time in the book; its the way they are explained and brought in. Yes you have a space phone, yes you have light speed communication, yes the technology will be amazing, but the explanations are clumped in spots, sporadic, and more annoying then they are interesting.

        However, I agree fully about the monoliths and how disappointed I was when they were not mentioned. They were hyped so much and yet were brushed away to increase the suspension. I assume they will make a second appearance, but the longer Clarke waits the more intrigued i become. It will be very enjoyable when all of the parts of the book meet together and we get to see how the monolith applies to the space travel.

        My interest in the meantime will be filled with the AI Hal. I personally have never watched the movie for this book, yet you hear slight things, small jokes about HAL9000. The way it lets its opponents win chess 50% of the time shows its genius if the cream of humanity don’t even have a chance against a robot where chess ability is, just a minuscule feature. This might feature into

  5. I agree that it was pretty disappointing to see that the plot has completely changed direction and the intriguing monoliths were almost forgotten. I think that this is one way the author is trying to build suspense. By adding another direction in the plot, Clarke makes the reader think about how these two series of events will connect. Nevertheless, this part in the novel continued to interest me.
    The new object of interest, like Joe said, is the computer onboard Discovery called HAL 9000. The description of it in the book was very interesting, how it was created in a way that is similar to the way a human brain evolves. Although it is very common for computers to monitor things aboard a vehicle or spaceship, it will be interesting to see what happens when the computer is self-aware.
    I am also amazed at the detail that the author was able to put into the descriptions of space travel. This book was written at a time when space travel was in the beginnings of space travel and yet the author predicted very closely to what space travel is like today.

    • kaiyows

      Although I originally would have thought the descriptions of the inventions in the novel to be quite remarkable for the time the book was written, I must agree with Joe. It is not so much the way they are introduced into the book, but rather the placement of the descriptions. The descriptions are scattered around and in large clumps making them annoying to read through which takes interest away from the actual inventions.

      However Clarke makes a very good statement about inventions that really stood out to me. Although located in the first quarter of the book, this really relates to what we have discussed. While Dr. Floyd is looking at his Newspad(an electronic device to look at news articles) he thinks it is hard to imagine of any better device, but assumes that sooner or later that something will come up just like to Newspad did compared past models. This really stood out to me because I feel it is so true and is also the foundation of the novel. Clarke must have assumed that these inventions would become possible due to how human beings have proven to themselves that they create better and better inventions over time. And as a sidenote, Hal instantly reminded me of movies that had devices with AI that would try to kill humans. Hal would be someone or something to look out for.

      In addition, I totally agree with everyone about the monoliths and was actually confused. Unlike other books, when the plot goes off on a tangent, I am uninterested because it jumps around too much. However, the story is far too good to lose my interest and I just can’t wait to see how the monoliths and crew of Discovery connect;if they ever connect at all.

  6. Jon Meinhardt

    2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, Post Three

    With each installment of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the novel continues to be a page-turner. There are several interesting themes which are dominating the story right now, primarily the dependence of humans on technology. It seems that the humans in this book are the architects of their own demise by designing and installing technologies that they cannot fully understand.
    When Bowman got into an argument with HAL after Poole’s unexpected death, HAL refused to thaw one of the hibernauts to replace Poole. Later in the story, I learned that the hibernauts as well as HAL knew the real purpose of Discovery’s mission. HAL had been instructed to keep the real purpose of the mission concealed from the two conscious astronauts, so he was reluctant to let Bowman have full control over the hibernation systems. HAL then kills the hibernauts to keep the mission’s purpose a secret from Bowman, destroying the mission’s chances of success.
    I thought this example was an excellent illustration of the perils of technology. Today, humans have dominion over technology, but what if technology could outthink humans? Computers are everywhere, and they are becoming more and more useful as humans develop newer and better models. Eventually, we will become dependent on technology to the extent where we cannot function without it. Discovery was almost entirely regulated by HAL, who was built to be that vital a part of the mission to Saturn. Perhaps Arthur C. Clarke was trying to warn us from falling into the trap we are setting up for ourselves.
    I previously thought that by removing the monoliths from the second quarter of the story, the intriguing beginnings of the novel had lost their effect. Arthur C. Clarke is taking his time, waiting for the perfect moment to tie the mysterious monoliths together. Suspense is building up for the climax of the story, which is just around the corner.

    • Alex Li

      I completely agree Jon. The way the book illustrates the need for technology is quite interesting. The book portrays HAL as a malicious piece of software, but an integral part of the ship. It also seems like HAL’s real goal wasn’t to help the ship, but to make sure the ship did its duty. The most interesting part about the passage was when HAL killed the hibernauts. It was almost as if HAL was looking for any reason to kill them. After Poole’s death, HAL “didn’t want the secret mission to be known,” yet killing the hibernauts would eventually have no impact because there was no way for the hibernauts to tell Bowman or for the secret to get out. HAL’s power exceeds that of Bowman’s and easily had control over the hibernauts, and could wake them or put them down at any time, yet even though the hibernauts were an integral part of the secret mission, HAL put them down. Is this some kind of plot that HAL is putting together? Or is there something bigger (relating to the secret mission perhaps?).

      • kaiyows

        Hey Alex,
        I feel that HAL was not looking for a reason to kill the hibernauts. Whether the hibernauts are killed or not makes no difference to HAL. That is thinking a little too “outside of the box” in my opinion. What really is happening are humans getting in the way of HAL and his mission. While HAL is exploring his capabilities, his deliberate “errors” are considered impossible and ignored by HAL as he was programmed to be perfect. This is clearly explained by the novel.
        HAL is just like child. When HAL discovers this “loophole” in his programming, he explores it. This loophole is considered to be disobeying orders by him which is not in his programming. Therefore, HAL has this human feeling of guilt. Then when Bowman finally confirms that HAL has made intentional errors and threatens to disconnect or “kill” HAL, HAL strikes back in order to hide his wrongdoing and preserve himself. Bowman, a human, has threatened to “kill” HAL. So the hibernauts, which are also human, become a potential threat to HAL. HAL has become more of a human that values his own life. It is the desire to survive that has entered HAL and his actions were all self-defense. I feel that this is an interesting distraction from the whole book and really relates to advancement of human technology. Are we advancing too far ahead? What about imagination? Should there be limits?

  7. While the obvious metaphor for HAL is the invasion of technology into our lives, I feel that the true point Clarke is making is actually much deeper. Hal doesn’t kill the other pilots out of some sense of evil or some poor coding, no HAL kills the other pilots out of the humanity he is slowly developing. An AI would have directives not to kill humans; a human would have no qualms to eject the other astronauts for the purpose of such an important mission.
    In fact this statement of humanity goes further and further, questioning what it even means to be human. HAL pleads for his life, in the monotone voice of an AI never intended to act this way. An AI designed to be more intelligent that humanity ever could become only starts failing once he becomes ‘human’ (for the given value of that word) and so this story becomes a statement on the human condition. I cant stress how important it is for this story that HAL only starts murdering and making mistakes after he starts developing the disease known as humanity. Essentially, Clarke is saying that murder and illogicality are what make us human, and to me, that thought is much scarier than some rampant AI.

    • (Previous post continued)
      This thought might apply to when humanity finally meets the race that planted the monoliths on earth. Will they find humanity unworthy because of these traits? Throw away their work and start over again? Or will they improve upon their previous designs, and dramatically redesign humanity. The human body is remarkably inefficient for modern life, and one wonders whether the other race will realize this and maybe make some of the changes mentioned earlier in the book. Make humanity entirely different, part machine, or even do away with a physical form entirely.

  8. I agree with Joe. Starting in Chapter 24, HAL starts exhibiting behavior that one would associate with human beings and their emotions. HAL was supposed to be a more efficient and emotion-less representation of the human brain. But because HAL had the ability to learn and no one could predict how it would develop, HAL started learning human traits and emotions. Pretty soon, HAL starts valuing his own “life” as more important than the five humans on board. I agree with the Joe’s statement that “murder and illogicality are what make us human”, but I also think that value of our own lives compared to other is another part of what makes us human.
    Another point that the author was trying to convey, and one that Jon touched upon, is how humans think about technology. Technology is everywhere and humans think we can control it. After Poole is killed, Bowman wonders how HAL could have turned into a killer. This reveals his belief that humans can control what we make. But computers are getting faster and more powerful. What happens when something like this is actually created in real life? What happens then?

  9. Jon Meinhardt

    2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke Review, 10/10

    2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke was definitely among one of the more captivating novels that I have read. The storyline is truly a unique in its own way, and the novel presents very interesting conjectures about human evolution and psychology.
    The story begins on prehistoric Earth, when an extraterrestrial encounter teaches man-apes to make tools and thus evolve into modern-day humans. Another such encounter takes place epochs later, when humans find evidence of intelligent life outside of Earth. This motivates an expedition into the outer reaches of the solar system aboard the exploration vessel Discovery. The mission falls apart when some unexpected problems arise, and the reader is left hanging with the very intriguing climax of the novel.
    One of the most interesting aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey is that it takes place in a society where humans have substantially developed methods of space travel. The novel was written in the space age, when space travel was still a very new and enthusiastically supported concept. This enthusiasm is clearly shown in the vivid and precise attention to detail of life in space that is an ever-present characteristic of the novel. These descriptions are unique in that they put the reader into a world which is not directly accessible, making the novel all the more interesting.
    Several thought-provoking concepts have been integrated into Clarke’s story. The first is the threat of technology. The spacecraft Discovery possesses a highly sophisticated computer, HAL, which essentially runs the ship. Humans in the novel take pride in HAL’s ability to learn and think like humans, but their pride is what blinds them. While the astronauts onboard Discovery are working and conversing, HAL is always watching and listening. HAL synthesizes the astronaut’s words into threats, and begins to disobey his commands and become self-aware. HAL’s knowledge is a major cause of Discovery’s mission failure, which gives rise to the recognition of the perils of technology.
    Several smaller motifs in the story are the threats of nuclear weaponry and human apocalypse due to overpopulation, global tension, and unsustainable development. Given recent attention to global climate change and geopolitical conflicts, it is clear that mankind will have to deal with similar threats in the near future, which provokes reflection about where society is today and where it may be heading.
    2001: A Space Odyssey was truly a very intriguing and captivating novel. Arthur C. Clarke has carefully crafted this novel with a complex storyline and two unique subplots which pull in the reader and make the book a real page-turner. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who loves the science fiction genre or is looking for a classic book to read.

  10. kaiyows

    A ten out of ten stars is a very generous rating to give a book Jon. For me, a book would need to be spectacular to get that many stars. To rate this book though, I will give it scores in two areas. I would give it a 9/10 for for the thought and creativity while a 7/10 overall as a good read. Like you said Jon, it is very interesting how the novel talks of very advanced space travel while it was written when space travel was very limited. In fact, the novel was published in 1968!

    As a good read though, I felt the novel at times moved along too slowly. In some parts, there was a very long wait for another event to occur and a lot of detail. While the detail was what made the book so thoughtful, it was just too much. Had I been in a book store or library flipping through the pages of this book, I would not have brought it home with me. Many parts sounded like a documentary and was almost monotonous.

    For those that are thinking of reading this novel though, do not be discouraged. The novel is a mind-bender and can make you rethink your thinking of the world. I would definitely suggest this novel if you wanted a new way to view the world and spend a whole afternoon thinking about the book’s meaning after finishing it. I highly do not recommend finishing the novel right before going to bed. From experience, you will fall asleep. As said by a critic at the end of the book, 2001: A Space Odyssey is “brain-boggling.”

  11. 2001: A Space Odyssey Review, 9/10

    This novel was a very interesting read. The author did a great job of writing the book so that it interesting and incorporated many detailed ideas of space travel in the future. He also adds in many interesting themes about humans and how they think and function.
    I agree with you, Kaiyo, that the book had a few slow parts, but I don’t think that the plot progressed too slowly. I feel that the detail almost added to the book. I allowed me, as a reader, to be better able to visualize the events that were happening. Also consider the fact that this book was written in 1960s and that not very many people knew the details of space travel.
    This book is definitely one that you have to think about for a while. The themes of this book are pretty apparent but you really have to think about the real impact and how they apply. Overall, this novel was a great book and definitely worth a try.

  12. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 10/10, Would Read Again.

    Questioning the role of humans in an increasingly technological world, this novel brought up many questions about the relevance of our species, what it means to be sentient, and our origins. While not the first book to attempt this, it is one of the better ones for several reasons.
    First and foremost, the plot is simply enjoyable, and took time to build to the climax. While my compatriots did mention that as a negative, I found it enjoyable, as it helped build it up the tension and excitement. That tension helped make the plot more enjoyable and made the book a page turner.
    Secondly, it did not go overboard predicting the future. Science fiction can sometimes go overboard predicting the future and the author can forget that the plot exists. That’s fine and enjoyable around the time the book comes out, but it makes the book age terribly.While this book had a paragraph or two of that, for the most part the science fiction part of the science fiction was kept under wraps and brought out only when appropriate.
    Finally, the book’s writing style was perfect for the story. Clarke does a great job with the pacing, the foreshadowing, and the creepy moments with HAL. The reason this book and its movie is so ingrained in our society is because of how all these elements work together. The quote “I’m afraid I cant do that Dave”, is scary because the writing and plot leads up to this moment of no return, when the reader realizes that HAL has different plans for the plane.
    In conclusion, this book earned its 10/10 status, and in a couple years, I would definitely read it again.

  13. Alex Li

    2001: A Space Odyssey; 10/10

    2001: A Space Odyssey was without a doubt one of the best books i’ve read in a while. The plot was intriguing and kept me hooked throughout the entire book. I especially enjoyed the ending. It showed how Clarke could go outside the boundaries of Earth and explore more remote and desolate froms of life and existence. The book as whole is a meditation on what it means to be human, to be a conscious being inside a body of flesh and bone. The way that Clarke portrayed HAL was also quite interesting. The sentient computer was quite believable becuase of the way that Clarke portrayed him and his thoughts, how he was only there because of humans, and how his programming only allowed him to do so much. The character of HAL was just in general interesting. The creativity showed by the computer also was surprising. The book was very thought provoking. Many times reading, I thought to myself, what if this had actually happened? What if we were being watched and monitered? These questions never enter my mind if the book is dull and boring, thus I give 2001: A Space Odyssey a perfect score of 10/10.

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