I had been wowed by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey a few years ago. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest movie experiences and possibly the most accessible work of Stanley Kubrick. Not having read any science-fiction in recent months, I picked up the source of the movie, the novel of the same name written by Arthur C. Clarke. Both the movie and the novel are based off a few short stories of Clarke, written earlier. Both were created at the same time, with ideas being exchanged between Clarke and Kubrick to expand on those stories into a movie and a novel. To bring a sense of perspective, these works were created in 1968. Armstrong and Aldrin saw the movie and then stepped on the moon next year.
The novel follows the movie very closely, with four parts. In the first part, a black monolith appears in an African valley at the beginning of, what is now called, the Pleistocene age, the age of human evolution. It guides a tribe of man-apes in wielding tools to magnify their strength and thus making it easier to kill other dominant animals. In the second part, we take a journey to the Moon where a similar monolith has been discovered beneath a crater. When revealed and exposed to the Sun it emits a strong radio signal across the Solar System aimed at Japetus, a moon of Saturn. In the third part, five astronomers are on a long journey to Saturn with the complex controls of their ship being controlled by a computer named HAL 9000. One astronomer survives the perils of the journey and in part four he discovers the secret of the monolith.
I have read collections of short stories by Clarke before and here he is no different. His writing is easy and quick to read, though the worlds he creates are no less fantastic. He has a knack for creating plausible artifacts and experiences that seem just a few years away from our current time. The writing in the novel is beautiful, with some sections a pure joy to taste and linger. Though the HAL 9000 episode is thrilling to read, it is actually the section that is most unrelated to the main theme of the book. Much like the movie, the weakest section is the end which gets more nebulous the deeper you get into it. Needless to say that Kubrick though has recreated Clarke’s vision to perfection in the movie. It is hard not to recommend 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a mind-bending fantastic journey that is surprisingly easy and quick to make right from your armchair.