One of the things that struck after reading this sci-fi novel is the scope of Clarke's imagination. Hey, 2001: A Space Odyssey began thousands of years ago, when humanity's ape-like ancestors still roamed the planet.
The novel posits a very interesting premise: that extraterrestrial forms were responsible for teaching our ancestors how to use tools, thus speeding up humanity's evolution. Then it cuts to the present (the year 2001) when astronomers discover an extraterrestrial structure buried in the moon. A lunar expedition then ensues. Of course, we readers know that this is probably the same structure that our ape-like ancestors encountered.
The last part of the novel focuses on a voyage to Saturn. And it becomes clear toward the latter end the ultimate purpose of this travel. Astronomers have found out that the lunar structure they discovered sent out signals to Saturn, and the voyage was done to find out where exactly in Saturn was this signal transmitted and possibly make first contact with these alien life-forms.
Now normally, this bigger-than-life premise would be really hard to swallow. I'm assuming that a lot of people found Clarke's story groundbreaking when it was first published in the late 1960s. And I agree. 2001: A Space Odyssey was ahead of its time. It featured artificial intelligence in HAL, the controller of the spacecraft on its way to Saturn. The novel had interplanetary travel. We're 11 years past 2001 and we still haven't figured out the mechanism for bringing humans alive to Venus, our closest planetary neighbor.
A lot of people feel that this is the greatest science fiction novel. I'm not sure about it. I'm partial to Frank Herbert's Dune. And I think that Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels are topnotch. But 2001: A Space Odyssey is one fine sci-fi. Clarke's science is grounded and the pace is very controlled.
What stands out though is Clarke's amazing talent in describing place. The prehistoric scenes were very cinematic. And outer space, as depicted by Clarke, can make anyone feel claustrophobic despite its vastness.
Read this book if:
- You love classic sci-fi.
- You've enjoyed the movie adaptation.
- You'll read anything by the ABCs of science fiction literature: Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke.