The Literary Universe of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Famed science fiction (and hard science) author Arthur C. Clarke began writing 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1964 in collaboration with Stanley Kubrick’s moviemaking effort, and it was published shortly after the movie premiered in 1968.  Movie and book were created simultaneously; in an Epilogue written for the 1982 reissue of the book (pictured), told how he had to make revisions after viewing the daily rushes: it was “a stimulating but rather expensive way of writing a novel.”  Because of this, this movie novelization is in many ways closer to the film than some movie-based books, most of which are created from first draft scripts.  As Clarke himself points out, though, there are significant differences as well.

Clarke goes into much greater detail in each segment of the story than the movie is able to; unlike a film, where story and plot is developed only through actions and the spoken word, a book allows the writer to delve into the very thoughts and motivations of his characters.  The downside to this is the need to explain the visual component via the written word as well; the quality of many movie novelizations rise and fall on the ability of the author to convey the visual aspect.  Clarke has his work cut out for him since the film is such a strikingly visual experience, but he succeeds more often than he fails.

As with the movie, the book opens in the dim time of human history.  The story centers on Moonwatcher, the leader and one of the elders of his small tribe at the advanced age of about 25.  It is a struggle to survive, with predators all around, the food to be scavenged scarce on the unforgiving African plain. One day, though, Moonwatcher and his tribe encountered something new.  A large object sat next to the trail to the river, as if it had grown there overnight.  A smooth, crystalline rock had sprung up.  Initially curious, the primitive man-apes quickly became accustomed to the presence of the strange object.

But one evening, on the walk back up the trail after foraging for scarce food all day, the tribe stopped, mesmerized by a hum that came from the strange monolith which quickly became a mind-numbing scream.  They began to move, limbs jerking as if not under their own control.  They saw things in their minds they did not understand.  Then the sound ceased and they resumed their journey to their caves.  By morning the memory of this event had faded away.  But it was to be repeated, and as quickly forgotten each time.  Then, one morning, the strange monolith was gone.  They gave it no more thought – all their limited brainpower was directed entirely on survival.  But there was a spark of something in Moonwatcher that had not been there before.  He spied one of the small pig-like animals that were plentiful on the savannah who were in direct competition with the man-apes for food.  They had left each other alone; neither was a threat to the other.  Moonwatcher’s hand closed on a broken stone, finding it fit his palm well, and it had a sharp, jagged edge where it had broken.  Moonwatcher was hungry – he was always hungry – so he sidled up to the small pig and struck it, over and over, with his broken stone.

He had made the first crude tool; he and his tribe would never hunger again.

The second section of the book begins with the discovery of the monolith buried beneath the surface of the moon.  Dr. Heywood Floyd is flown on a “chartered” flight – the first ever special flight from Earth’s surface to the orbiting space station, and from there to the moon – due to an emergency that is undisclosed to even America’s allies (or treaty partners).  Rumor has it that an epidemic has broken out and there is a complete news blackout.  We learn of the discovery of the monolith and its excavation; we experience the events of the lunar sunrise. 

Eighteen months after the newly exposed monolith lets out its radio shriek, Discovery is on it’s lengthy mission.  In this section, the book very closely follows the movie and is the most interesting reading.  The degeneration of HAL is as harrowing as the movie depicts it, although there are additional conversations and scenes in the book it does not detract from the computer’s slow descent into madness. 

The biggest change is that, unlike the movie, Jupiter is not the Discovery’s destination, Saturn is.  Jupiter’s gravity well is used to give Discovery additional acceleration; the ultimate destination is the Saturn moon Japetus.  However, this turns out to actually be a minor difference as the story’s events work well either way.  The more glaring differences are actually contained in scenes played out prior to Bowman’s lobotomizing of HAL: Bowman does not go chasing after Poole’s body after HAL kills him; instead, HAL tries to murder Bowman by evacuating the air from the ship.  Bowman is able to suit up, and proceeds then to remove HAL’s higher brain functions.  He also learns of the real nature of the mission through a series of communications with Mission Control, since now all of Bowman’s companions are dead.

In the final story sequence, Clarke is far more literally descriptive and definite than Kubrick’s strictly visual film experience.  Clarke calls the monolith on the face of Japetus a “Star Gate”, which transports Bowman to some stellar system far from our own, perhaps one near the galactic center.  Clarke details the sights Bowman sees, many incomprehensible to him, all something man has never before seen.  A few of Clarke’s descriptions correspond with the visual effects in the film, but again there are definite and profound differences.  Unlike the movie, for example, the reader is quickly made aware that there is a definite intelligence guiding Bowman, protecting him, imparting great knowledge to him at the same time taking Bowman’s life experiences.  At the end of the book, Bowman is left as the infant seen at the end of the movie: the master of the Earth still unsure of his abilities.

In 1982, the writer who never does sequels published the sequel to 2001 A Space Odyssey, entitled 2010: odyssey two.  However, it was not, strictly speaking, a sequel to the book; rather, it was a sequel to the film.  Rather than Saturn, the destination of Discovery in the first book, the bulk of the story takes place in orbit of Jupiter, where the events of the film took place. 

The core of the story in this book is the same as the film 2010: the trip to Jupiter undertaken by a joint US-Soviet crew, the reactivation of HAL, the discovery of life on Europa, the narrow escape as Jupiter becomes a sun.

But, in this case, the film is an adaptation of Clarke’s book, not a collaboration between author and filmmaker.  Liberties were taken by the filmmaker to streamline the story for the movie audience.

In the beginning, both the United States and Soviet Union are building ships to make the journey to Jupiter, the perturbation of Discovery’s orbit is noted, and it is ultimately decided to take the three Americans on the Soviet ship.  However, the Chinese have been building what they said was a space station; it turns out, however, that it was a ship designed to make the trip to Jupiter sooner than either the Russian or American ships.  The Leonov, with it’s joint crew, must satisfy itself with following the Chinese.

Dr. Floyd is awakened before his companions, however, when the Leonov detects the Chinese vessel ahead of them.  It appears the Chinese will beat them to Discovery.  They will follow the Tsien, some hours behind, into the upper reaches of the Jovian atmosphere in a braking maneuver, and are surprised when Tsien’s exit course takes them in the direction of Europa rather than Io, where Discovery is orbiting.  Then it comes to them that it makes perfect sense, since Europa is covered with ice: using the propulsion system they do, water makes for a perfectly good, if less efficient, fuel.  They would have a virtually unlimited fuel supply to explore the Jovian mini-system and make their way home.

But as they approach Jupiter to perform their own braking, the automatic beacon from the Tsien, now landed on Europa, goes silent.  A short time later, they are astounded to hear a transmission for Dr. Floyd from one of the Chinese scientists.  It appears there is life on Europa that has crushed the Tsien; he described it as a kelp-like tentacled creature that arose from the warmer depths, under the ice, attracted by the Tsien’s bright lights.  Bits of it froze off as it crept across the ice and overwhelmed the Chinese ship.  The scientist, the last survivor, broadcast his message in the hope Dr. Floyd would hear.  The weak signal was cut off as they went behind Jupiter; they never heard another word.

Their braking maneuver was successful, and the Leonov came to a stop near the wildly rotating Discovery, which was covered with sulfur from the volcanically super-active moon Io.  They were able to stabilize Discovery’s tumble and move it to a safer orbit, then linking the two ships with an airtight tube.

Then it fell to Dr. Chandra (short for Dr. Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai) to reactivate HAL and see if there was any permanent damage.  Dr. Chandra is Indian and apparently a rather devout Hindu (although there is little discussion of religion in the book).  As in the film, it is a tedious process, but Dr. Chandra is more comfortable with his computers than he is with most humans; he does not find it a strain to spend entire days locked away with HAL.

He discovers the conflicting orders that originally drove HAL mad; he erased the memories of what happened and slowly brought HAL back to full consciousness.

All the while, studies continue on “Big Brother”, the immense monolith in orbit with them.  It defies analysis; robot probes, radars, nothing returns the least information on the material or purpose of the huge slab, just like it’s smaller counterpart found on the Moon.  They decide to use more destructive methods; but, out of caution, they decide to wait until they are ready to return home before trying them on the monolith, unsure of what its reaction might be.

Dr. Floyd is in the command center when HAL relays a message to him: they must leave within 15 days, well before the more fuel efficient launch window in four weeks.  Of course, the message came from what used to be Dave Bowman; in order to prove the message genuine, a ghostly Bowman appears, momentarily, to Floyd.

The others are, understandably, skeptical of Floyd’s revelation but agree to put together contingency plans for departing sooner than planned.  It is not long, however, before those plans are being made in earnest; Big Brother has vanished.

Mission Control is fully apprised of the circumstances and helps with the preparations to leave Jupiter early.  The ships are bound together with carbon fiber tape and Discovery fires its engines, propelling the linked ships toward Jupiter, whose gravitation will impart greater acceleration so that they can achieve escape velocity.

At this time they see what is immediately christened The Great Black Spot on the surface of Jupiter.  Analysis eventually reveals that the spot is created by thousands upon thousands of Big Brothers; Floyd is convinced that “this is it,” although he has no idea what “it” is.

Discovery exhausts its fuel, everyone is back aboard Leonov, and the two ships are separated, Leonov to continue its course around Jupiter under full thrust to achieve escape velocity along the proper course.

On course for Earth, they study the growing black stain on the surface of Jupiter, noting the vibrant colors are beginning to fade.  At the same time, the author takes us into the mind of what had once been Dave Bowman, observing the system around Jupiter, seeing primitive life swimming in the atmosphere of the gas giant, aware of the intelligence guiding and using him.  Nor is it an entirely one-way condition, for he has exerted his will to deliver the warning to his former colleagues to leave early.  He had one more desire, one more ‘mission’ he wanted to see if he could fulfill.

As Leonov accelerates toward Earth, Bowman contacts HAL and, providing the proper overrides, has HAL beam a message to Earth as Jupiter detonates and becomes a sun:

Published in January, 1988, this third book in the series takes place 41 years after Jupiter is transformed into the small sun dubbed “Lucifer.”  Dr. Heywood Floyd is, by the calendar, 103 years old, but due to the time he spent in space, and particularly in hibernation, his physical age is actually closer to 70, and he has the body of a man a half-decade younger, at least; that is, if it weren’t for the fact he was confined to the Pasteur Hospital in Earth orbit, in permanent one-sixth gravity.  A week after his heroic return from the Jovian mini-system, during yet another celebration, Dr. Floyd fell off of a third-floor balcony and suffered multiple fractures.  He was immediately transferred to the orbiting medical center and was successfully treated, but a trip to the surface after he healed proved he could not tolerate full gravity.  For the past 40 years he has been a resident of the living section of the Pasteur hospital complex.

He is also the last survivor of the mission of 2010.

He has not had a good relationship with either his ex-wife or son, whose formative years Floyd missed while on the mission.  He hasn’t seen his grandson since he was a small boy; he’s now an adult himself, and is the new 2nd officer on the Tsung Shipping Lines spaceliner Galaxy.

But Dr. Floyd has been offered an opportunity to participate in yet another scientific first.  Halley’s Comet is again making its regular appearance in the inner part of the solar system, and the new spaceliner Universe, the posher sister ship of the Galaxy, would take its maiden voyage to that venerable, periodic visitor – and land on the comet’s nucleus. 

Universe was designed from the outset to do more than just haul the necessary freight between the inner and outer planets of the solar system, it was to be the first real passenger liner in space, taking sightseers to as far away as the scientific colony on Ganymede, and explore the Jovian system, including the prohibited planet Europa.

As the Universe is being prepared, Galaxy is on a run in that mini-solar system.  Earth scientists have not been idle in the past 40 years; there is an outpost on Ganymede, there to study Europa.  Naturally, the strange proscription against landings on the small planet is followed to the letter; but only to the letter.  Robot probes are dropped into the new Europan atmosphere on a regular basis, each shooting back a few nanoseconds of data before it is destroyed.  Ideas are constantly being toyed with to gather more information on the strange new world.

One of the scientists, originally from the United States of South Africa, has been studying an anomaly on the surface of Europa, dubbed “Mount Zeus”, a rather abruptly pyramid-shaped mountain where a mountain had no business being.  Rolf van der Berg was a geologist, and he knew that Europa had no business having any mountains at all.  Yet here, on the surface of that very planet, sat a mountain that rivaled Everest.  How it came to be no one knew, but it was obvious the creation of Mt. Zeus was traumatic to Europa; the ice fracture pattern on the cold side of the planet had dramatically changed from the pre-Lucifer pattern.  He focused high-powered telescopes, ran what tests he could; but it was one day, during one of the frequent eclipses of Lucifer caused when Europa came between them, that the conjunction was unique and the light glinted strangely off of Mt. Zeus.  Van der Berg ran his spectrographic analyses and his other tests, could not believe the results, so ran them again.  He sent a message to an uncle on Earth, privately, including the data he had compiled, and then tucked his data away where no one would find it.

Now, van der Berg was part of a scientific team aboard Galaxy that would orbit Europa, dropping instruments to see just what Mt. Zeus was; to see if his incredible, secret conclusions were right.

At the same time, Universe has embarked on its maiden voyage with a number of luminaries aboard, including Dr. Floyd, along with other scientists, a popular commentator, and a famous, reclusive actress.  Their accommodations are luxurious for space travel, and the drive produces just enough gravity that the water tanks – water being the best, most economical fuel – could be used as a swimming pool.

The trip out to greet Halley was smooth and uneventful.  They actually land on the comet’s core; it is gritty, dirty, and in the microgravity contains fascinating shapes and caverns that would have crumbled away to dust had there been any real gravitational forces at play here.  The core also rotates slowly, presenting one side to the sun to heat as the other cools.  It is the sunward side that emits the matter, mostly water vapor, that makes up the comet’s incredible tail.  They find one outlet they quickly dub “Old Faithful”, because it spews a lot of water per minute out of the rapidly heating rocky interior. All of the passengers are able to take excursions “outside” as the scientific observations continue.

The plan is for Universe to return to Earth after the leisurely cruise, but, naturally, the plan is interrupted by an emergency.  Something is wrong with Galaxy – it appears to be crash landing on Europa, and Universe is the only vessel capable of mounting a rescue attempt.

We learn that Dr. van der Berg’s data, sent to his uncle, probably fell into the wrong hands.  Galaxy has been hijacked and forced down; unable to properly land, it crashes into the ocean, where it floats in reasonable safety; they discover, however, that they are completely incompatible with the environment.  While the atmosphere is not corrosive it will not sustain human life, nor does it appear they can interact on any level with flora and fauna of Europa: the hijacker commits suicide, her body jettisoned and suddenly eaten by a large, shark-like creature.  A very short time later the remains are regurgitated and the shark-like creature rolls over, dead.

In the meantime, a radical plan to shorten the trip time for Universe is put into motion; to recharge the fuel tanks, rather than return to the Moon for reprovisioning, water being ejected from the comet by “Old Faithful” will be collected, filtered, and loaded into the tanks.  This will literally cut weeks off of their travel time.

As Universe streaks towards Europa, setting certain velocity records in the process, Galaxy is grounded on a large island.  Because they are in reasonable proximity to Mt. Zeus, 2nd officer Floyd and Dr. van der Berg take the pod to go exploring that anomalous feature.  Dr. van der Berg confirms his hypothesis, and the ultimate reason Galaxy was hijacked; Mt. Zeus, the mountain at least as large as Earth’s Everest, is a single, immense diamond.

It is also sinking into Europa.

After setting up monitoring equipment, Floyd and van der Berg take off for the return trip to Galaxy.  They have sufficient fuel to do two additional, quick chores: lay a wreath at the wreck of the Tsien, and check out one other anomaly they have found: a straight wall almost a kilometer high and extending for a distance that precludes it being a natural formation.

What they find is a monolith, lying on its side.

They also find what appear to be igloos, built against the monolith to take advantage of the protection from the elements it offers.  It is apparent that whatever is living in the igloos is amphibious, and they have built a solar furnace for generating heat.

Floyd lands, using up precious fuel, because he sees a man standing by one of the structures, without breathing gear, and recognizes him as his grandfather, Heywood Floyd.  Naturally, van der Berg sees nothing and fears for the younger Floyd’s sanity.  It is, of course, contact through the monolith, although Floyd doesn’t realize this at first.  The figure of Heywood Floyd reassures his grandson that all will be well once they leave, that Universe is on its way and the survivors of the crash will be rescued.  Floyd realizes that the only way his grandfather could appear to him is through the same mechanism that Dave Bowman appeared to his grandfather forty-some years earlier, through the monolith, and so his grandfather must have died.

He is pleasantly surprised to find out otherwise when Universe contacts them prior to rescue.

Mt. Zeus continues to sink at an increasing rate into the crust of Europa until it disappears in an immense lake of lava, sinking deep into the planet.  It is determined, though, that Mt. Zeus was not a product of Europa, rather it was a fragment of Jupiter’s core that was ejected when that planet imploded 40 years earlier and impacted on Europa’s surface; they soon find other fragments in various orbits around Lucifer.

As they streaked to the rescue on Europa, Heywood Floyd sent a message ahead asking permission to land and rescue the trapped humans.  As if in answer, he was awakened – he thought – by the presence of a monolith in his stateroom; he was never sure if he was dreaming or not.  At the end of the book, we are made privy to a conversation between what was Dave Bowman, HAL, and Dr. Floyd, who has been “mirrored” within the monolith (his flesh-and-blood counterpart will never know and will live his appointed years, then pass away).  Something has gone wrong with the monolith on Europa; the collision between Europa and the chunk of Jovian core was unplanned and did significant damage to the developing ecosystem and might have damaged the internal workings of the monolith.  The three of them need to become the guardians of that planet and see what can be done before that world again becomes an ice-bound wasteland; they have precious little time.

This book ends with a quick look into the year 3001.  The United Nations building, rich with history, is preserved (as are all historical monuments) with a microthin layer of diamond.  There are “elevators” placed along the equator that rise to a “ring” built in Earth orbit.  And Lucifer is going out.

Published in March, 1997, this final installment in the 2001 universe is also the shortest of the four books.  Nor does it start slowly:

They have found the thousand-year-old body of Frank Poole.

In the first few pages, a small ship used to collect massive chunks of ice from the outer reaches of the solar system and push them into the inner planets (there is ongoing work to terraform Venus, and many many millions of tons of water are needed) is performing its function when there is a radar contact they are ordered to investigate.  As they approach they realize what they have found; they gather up Poole’s body and transport it to Ganymede.

Where they proceed to revive him.

Oh, there’s genetic and cellular damage, but nothing they are not able to repair.  He is transferred to the Africa Tower – part of the geostationary ring constructed above the equator of Earth, the kilometers-wide “Towers” being the link between the ring (spaceports, etc.) and the surface.  Most of the planet’s population lives at various levels (and gravitation) inside the four Towers, and in the ring – and despite the millions (indeed, billions) living within the towers and ring, much was still in an unfinished state.  Living there for some time, he is educated about the society he finds himself part of.

Frank actually finds it fairly easy to adjust to being 1000 years into his own future; most of the technology in use is natural extension of the technologies of his own time.

Nor is Clarke stingy in his explorations of that technology.  Braincaps, multi-terabyte memory tablets (capable of storing a century of living memory – as well as the information necessary to recreate the physical person), “Zero-Point Field” (aka “quantum fluctuations” or “vacuum energy”), and more.

The main thrust of the story kicks in after Frank returns to Ganymede: he has a dream where he has a conversation with Dave Bowman.  Naturally, it is not a dream.  Something is very, very wrong; the monolith is receiving an increasing number of messages from far away, and Bowman feels uneasy.  Based on his reasoning, and an incomplete understanding of what the messages are about, he believes all does not bode well for our solar system.

So, he arranges to fly alone to Europa and land, something no other human in a thousand years has been allowed to do (of course, he must do so surreptitiously).  There he spends several days in direct mental contact with “Halman”, the amalgam of what was both Dave Bowman and HAL that now resides in the Europan monolith.  This contact was made possible by the Braincap Frank now wore, so information could be exchanged at a rate far faster than with earlier technology.  “Halman” passes on to Frank, and through Frank the human scientific community, information about the African monolith’s influence on human evolution, confirmation that TMA-1, the monolith on the moon, was set up as a sentinel to alert its makers that humans have ‘left the cradle’, and that there was life in the Jovian atmosphere that was destroyed when Jupiter became Lucifer.  They also learn more about how “Halman” functions within the monolith’s systems.

Frank leaves Europa, and spends the next thirty years doing what people do – he marries, has children, and, basically, lives his life – until Dave contacts him with dire news.  The messages and instructions the monolith has been receiving are indicating the potential of destruction of one of the suns – either Sol or Lucifer, as the monolith’s creators had done once before in another solar system – the nova has been visible from Earth for centuries – that apparently did not meet their expectations.

By now, of course, they have recognized that the monolith is nothing more than a tool – a multifunctional, super-sophisticated “Swiss Army Knife”; a supercomputer well beyond current understanding, but a supercomputer nonetheless.  Frank becomes part of a committee charged with dealing with the coming threat.  And the decision in dealing with a threat from a computer is to again utilize the bane of computers since their beginnings: the computer virus.  The worst examples of computer viruses over the centuries are stored together with the worst examples of biological agents that had been gathered over the years (together with antidotes, if antidotes exist): the Mt. Pico storage area, a heavily secured vault tunneled deep under that low mountain on the surface of the Moon.  That vault is “raided” by the committee, the resulting viruses packaged and sent to Europa, where Dave and Hal will try to “infect” the monolith at the appropriate time.  They also provide them a terabyte storage tablet to download themselves into, should they be able to before the monolith is eliminated.

From Ganymede, events unfold with startling rapidity.  An opaque, light-absorbing disk suddenly appears between them and Lucifer – they quickly determine that this disk is hundreds of thousands of monoliths.  There is just enough time for fear to begin to percolate through Anubis City when Lucifer’s light begins to shine through; not along the edge as one might expect as a normal eclipse wanes, but in a burst through the center as the monoliths come apart, then vanish.  The monolith on Europa also vanishes, as do the monoliths that had been discovered in Africa and on the Moon.

The monoliths are gone; they cannot harm either sun, or influence again the development of life within our solar system.

The terabyte storage tablet is retrieved from Europa and placed in permanent storage at Mt. Pico.  Whether it contains an uncorrupted copy of Dave Bowman and Hal is unknown and unknowable; they can’t access it without risking contamination by the horrific computer viruses they had unleashed against the monoliths, viruses that could not be contained even by the technology of the day.

– written by John Pickard