2010: Odyssey Two: Answers some questions

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Reposting to include Jason’s new review:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke science fiction book reviews2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke

Please note that this review will include spoilers of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, we learn that mysterious forces have guided humanity’s evolution. We don’t meet these forces, but we do see their monoliths. The first monolith appears before a group of struggling chimpanzees. When they touch the monolith, they are inspired to use tools. The novel shifts to the twenty-first century, when another monolith is found on the moon. A third and final monolith is found near Jupiter (Saturn in Arthur C. Clarke’s first novel, but the location is ret-conned here). Humanity sends several people — two conscious humans, three humans in suspended animation, and one computer known as HAL — aboard Discovery to inspect the final monolith. As everyone now knows, HAL proves treacherous and kills all but one member of the crew, Dave Bowman. At the end of the novel, Bowman leaves Discovery and attains the next step in human evolution.

2010: Odyssey Two is less ambitious, though mostly more realistic. Clarke returns the narrative to Hawaii, where Heywood Floyd has settled with his wife and child. The president asks him to leave them behind and join a Soviet expedition to Discovery. Perhaps the expedition will explain what the monolith is and what happened to Bowman.

So, for the most part, 2010: Odyssey Two is just an expedition to learn what happened in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsStill, there’s much to be said for what Clarke is attempting in 2010: Odyssey Two. It’s clear throughout the novel that Clarke admires space exploration and it is implied that a cosmic perspective would do much to mitigate humanity’s problems, particularly those encapsulated in the Cold War. Originally written in 1982, 2010: Odyssey Two devotes a great deal of its plot to showing how well Americans and the Soviet Union could work together if they adopted a perspective, as the astronauts apparently do, that extends beyond the quest for global dominance. At one point, Floyd reflects that “all astronauts, irrespective of their national origins, regarded themselves as citizens of space and felt a common bond, sharing each other’s triumphs and tragedies.” Of course, the astronauts do sometimes get on one another’s nerves, but they do not build nuclear arsenals capable of destroying the planet many times over.

Peace, cooperation, and a healthy sense of awe at the nature of the universe are admirable themes, but they are nevertheless disappointing here. In this sequel, Clarke seems intent on helping people to overcome limitations that stem from their nationality, but in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bowman transcends material limitations and becomes something entirely new. While Clarke’s perspective within this novel and the cultural context of the Cold War is radically peaceful, his perspective within this series is frustratingly passé.

But what about the monoliths, HAL, and Bowman? All appear here, and more information is shared about each of them. However, I was not satisfied by the revelations Clarke provided, perhaps because, unlike astronomical discoveries, these revelations detract from our awe. Bowman appears as a being of pure energy, but I found him more interesting as a suggested idea represented by the image of the star child. As a character whose perspective we follow, Bowman has become ironically mundane. And I’m afraid the pattern holds for HAL and the monoliths, too.

2010: Odyssey Two is a good novel for readers looking for an interesting hard science fiction space voyage to Jupiter. However, it’s a disappointing sequel. This series began as something inspired by more than NASA and hard science fiction, which is why 2010: Odyssey Two would probably impress more if it did not follow 2001: A Space Odyssey.

~Ryan Skardal


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews2010: Oyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke science fiction book reviews2010: Odyssey Two is a strong sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s renowned 2001: A Space Odyssey. The story is well-crafted and the plot moves briskly, which makes for an enjoyable read. It’s not deep on character development, and the action is infrequent, but delivered smartly and purposefully to provide the fuel for an interesting plot, expansive exposition of space, and exploration of Clarke’s key themes.

Like the first novel, Clarke crafts his story and writing very deliberately to create a heavy and epic atmosphere. His primary theme revolves around evolution, and builds upon the mythology he created in 2001 by expanding on the role played by the unseen aliens who’ve planted and encouraged life throughout the universe, including Earth and elsewhere within our solar system.

He spends just enough time on back story in 2010 to refresh readers on the salient points from the first book, but more importantly, provide a legend, within one of two foreword’s/author’s notes in this specific edition, to where Clarke followed storylines from his original novel, or from the famous movie which contained slight modifications. And yes, Clarke provides satisfying answers to many of the questions left without conclusion in the first book and movie.

Clarke returns to Dr. Heywood Floyd in this space-traveling saga, but this time in the lead role. He and two other Americans join a Russian crew aboard a starship headed for Jupiter to connect with the presumably abandoned and derelict ship Discovery, obtain information about the Monolith, and find out what happened to lost crewman Dave Bowman. 

Dr. Floyd is a strong lead and the most three-dimensional of all characters in the novel, and Clarke establishes his motivation for leaving his family on the very long journey:

Four men had died, and one had disappeared, out there among the moons of Jupiter. There was blood on his hands, and he did not know how to wash them clean.

The trademark of great storytelling is the ability to convey ideas and themes through demonstration rather than outright telling. As a reader, I’d rather come to understand a characters’ nature and motivations through the demonstration of certain behaviors and back story, than be spoon-fed and literally told of one’s characteristics. Clarke does a nice job of layering on the flesh of Dr. Floyd early in the story, and continuing to build as the plot progresses. None of the other characters on board the Russian craft are more than two-dimensional, which increases the focus of the novel on Floyd, Star-Child/Post-Human Dave Bowman, and perhaps the story’s central character: Jupiter and its moons.

Among the Americans is Dr. Chandra, the parent/inventor of HAL9000, the Discovery‘s near-sentient ship-computer that killed its original crew, which led Bowman to decommission its cognizance. Chandra plays a key role as he works to restart HAL with the hope that he can help guide the ship back to earth, but also to shed light on why it developed the compu-psychoses that led to its violent behavior in 2001. Chandra is written as the lovingly patient and near-obsessed parent focused on nurturing his lost child. The relationship between Chandra and HAL generates some terrific scenes throughout the book as HAL’s personality reemerges, including the first time it awakens from its 9-year-long sleep:

Good morning, Dr. Chandra. This is Hal. I am ready for my first lesson.

Dr. Floyd notices and comments on Dr. Chandra’s work:

… to watch the steady regrowth of Hal’s personality, from brain-damaged child to puzzled adolescent and at length to slightly condescending adult.

The Chandra-HAL relationship creates tension within the plot of 2010 as the crew can never fully trust HAL following his behavior in 2001.

2001 concluded with the Monolith’s aliens shedding Bowman of his human form and ‘raising’ him up to a being that needs no real form, but exists as pure energy. This evolved Bowman returns in 2010 and acts as the reader’s guide to Jupiter and its moons. Clarke uses Bowman’s exploration as a means to delve into the physical nature of those celestial bodies and postulation on what life could exist in those extreme environments. The exposition is detailed and written with a poetic flourish.

Bowman is the evolutionary result of the experiments performed on the pre human man-apes by the Monolith millions of years ago, and famously portrayed in the original movie. In 2010: Odyssey Two, he becomes aware of how the alien beings introduced life and evolution throughout the universe, and monitor their progression over millions of years. These aliens are, for all intents and purposes, God. 

Clarke writes of the aliens:

 …in all the galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped.

More ominously, he continues,

And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed.

~Jason Golomb


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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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3 comments

  1. That’s an interesting take, Ryan!

  2. Nice review, Ryan. I agree 2001 is a hard act to follow, and in many ways it’s better that its mysteries remain unexplained. Devoting a whole book to adding incremental details just detracts from the magic. And the US-Soviet stuff is dated, though well intentioned.

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