2010: Odyssey Two

2010: Odyssey Two

If what you liked most in 2001: A Space Odyssey was all the nitty-gritty of being aboard a space ship and the exploration, then you might love the second book 2010: Odyssey Two in Arthur C Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. It has been nine years since the fatal trip to Jupiter to explore the alien monolith when HAL 9000 killed the astronauts and David Bowman became a star child. The spaceship Discovery is still stranded around Jupiter near the monolith. So, the Americans and Soviets embark on a joint trip to explore the monolith again, check out Discovery and possibly also use the trip to examine some of Jupiter’s moons. While a lot of the story is the same as before, there is a lot more of crew dynamics on long space journeys, interesting space problems, more mysterious behavior of the monolith, life forms discovered in our Solar System, more analysis of HAL’s behavior, more hand-wavy star-child happenings and a final escape from catastrophe for our protagonists.

This book is an excellent sequel. If you liked the first one, you will most probably love this one. The weakest part is, yet again, the David Bowman star-child, who is used to transition some of the story, which he does by communicating with Floyd (the main character) and HAL. Also not quite satisfying, is the behavior of the alien monolith, which in the end gobbles up Jupiter, creating a new star. Clarke wants to push the idea that these monoliths are left as beacons by superior alien forms to discover intelligent life, test it and aid it to higher intelligence. If so, its behavior in the novel is quite a bit of hand waving. But as always, Clarke is on strong footing with actual space travel. It is engrossing to be a part of his spaceship and observe the daily life on it and the many personal, social and relationship problems that can occur. Whether he can keep the magic going for the third book or not, his masterful story telling made this second one a delightful read.

Rating: 4/4

ISBN: 0345303059

Excerpts:

You think the Agile daily standup meeting is a new concept? Here it is, aboard the spaceship Leonov, on its journey to Jupiter:

Every day at 1800 GMT the crew of seven plus one passenger gathered in the tiny common room that separated the flight deck from the galley and sleeping quarters. The circular table at its centre was just big enough for eight people to squeeze around; when Chandra and Curnow were revived, it would be unable to accommodate everyone, and two extra seats would have to be fitted in somewhere else. Though the Six O’Clock Soviet, as the daily round-table conference was called, seldom lasted more than ten minutes, it played a vital role in maintaining morale. Complaints, suggestions, criticisms, progress reports – anything could be raised, subject only to the captain’s overriding veto, which was very seldom exercised.

An interesting note by Clarke, on how the book was written:

This book was written on an Archives III microcomputer with Word Star software and sent from Colombo to New York on one five-inch diskette. Last-minute corrections were transmitted through the Padukka Earth Station and the Indian Ocean Intelsat V.

Against the Fall of Night

Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke

Against the Fall of Night is the most boringly titled, but refreshing, first novel of Arthur C. Clarke. Many millions of centuries of human history have passed, Earth is covered with deserts and a lone city remains named Diaspar. Technology and robotics have far exceeded imagination, humans are virtually immortal, but surprisingly they are meek and have no desire to explore new planets or Suns. Alvin, the youngest human born of Diaspar starts to get inquisitive about what lies outside the city. With the help of the Keeper of Records he goes on to discover relics of a thriving human past and how they came to be relegated to this miserable existence.

Originally written in 1948, this novella remains surprisingly imaginative and readable today. Despite its short length, the story touches upon a lot of interesting aspects: race, history, robots, computers, extra terrestrial intelligence and space exploration. Using a young Alvin as a plucky implacable explorer, the story is simply a lot of fun as seen from his eyes. I was constantly reminded of the original Star Wars movie and young Skywalker. Much like that movie, there are some entertaining instances of robot-human interactions. Against the Fall of Night is a short and lively page-turner.

Rating: 4/4

ISBN: 1596871229

Excerpt:

“The trouble is,” said Rorden, “that there are no longer any engineers left in the world.”

Alvin looked puzzled: although contact with the Keeper of the Records had greatly enlarged his vocabulary, there were thousands of archaic words he did not understand.

“An engineer,” explained Rorden, “was a man who designed and built machines. It’s impossible for us to imagine an age without robots—but every machine in the world had to be invented at one time or other, and until the Master Robots were built they needed men to look after them. Once the machines could care for themselves, human engineers were no longer required. I think that’s a fairly accurate account, though of course it’s mostly guesswork. Every machine we possess existed at the beginning of our history, and many had disappeared long before it started.”

“Such as flyers and spaceships,” interjected Alvin.

“Yes,” agreed Rorden, “as well as the great communicators that could reach the stars. All these things vanished when they were no longer needed.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (Novel)

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.

Rating: 4/4

ISBN: 9780451457998

2001: A Space Odyssey

Why is the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey such an epic? I found out today. The movie is directed by Stanley Kubrick and is based on science fiction stories by Arthur C Clarke. The movie transcends evolution, time and space. There are 4 distinct parts in the movie. In the first one (The Dawn Of Man), primitive apes develop tool wielding cognition after a black monolith appears near their home. The second part is set in 2001, where humans have already moved so ahead in technology that space travel and computers are common. A researcher visits Moon to investigate a black monolith. The third (Jupiter Mission) is 18 months later when a manned mission is sent to Jupiter. In the futuristic spacecraft, some of the humans have been put into hibernation to conserve resources. The spacecraft has a 2 member human crew and is run by a computer named HAL 9000 which can talk and listen to humans. During the mission, a computer error causes a strange problem. In the end (Beyond The Infinite), the last survivor of the mission makes it to Jupiter to experience something unseen and unimaginable.

2001 is a very silent movie. Dialogues are extremely minimal. The special effects are mind blowing. The design of the spacecrafts, rotating gravity simulator (this is my favorite!), spacesuits, space travel, computers, I could go on and on. Even in 2006, I’m amazed at Kubrick’s efforts to make these possible way back in the 60s. The background score (which is now very famous) is what primarily communicates emotions to the viewer, replacing dialogue. The technical details are impeccable. For example, whenever outer space is shown, it is silent ’cause there is no sound in space. The ending is psychedelic and its interpretation is left to the viewer. This movie is no doubt the work of a perfectionist. A must watch! Just be aware that is not your average popcorn movie, but a poetry for the senses and demands a bit of patience.