Friday, April 27, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey

So apparently I forgot to review 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. No idea how that happened; I thought it was an amazing book. Nothing else I've ever read managed to convey the sheer sense of awe and longing that fills me when I contemplate the vast potentiality of the universe, nor the sense of impotent horror when confronted with the unforgiving void of space. The story starts on our own planet, but in a time so distant in the past that a human finding herself there would effectively feel an alien. We meet the ancestors of present humans and see an alien presence interact with them and give the primitive beings a push towards evolving. And then, millions of years later we're in modern times, excited and curious to learn more about some strange happenings on the moon, where there's now a colony. A strange monolith has been discovered, and an expedition is launched. That's where HAL 9000 comes in. Having only known about 2001 through pop cultural osmosis before this point, I had thought the entire book would be about the strangely doomed space expedition, but that's just one facet of the story. And I actually enjoyed the description of life aboard the Discovery One and the part about Jupiter more than the stuff with Hal, although I enjoyed the entire book. I used to be incredibly fascinated by space exploration when I was younger, and I still am. Thinking about it, Jupiter was the highlight of the book for me. But the book continues from there, with events with Hal coming to a head, and then onward to the final destination of Japetus and what's discovered there. Although I think any sort of definite ending would have been a slight let-down (human imagination is limited, and whatever an author speculates, however creative, can't quite compare to the sense of mystery and hidden wonders), what Clarke came up with grips the imagination as well as could be possible, giving an achingly vast sense of scale and emptiness of the universe, of strange wonders that we'll never experience but which could, possibly even must be out there.

I still need to watch the Kubrick flick, but if it's even half as good as the novel, it will be well worth it.

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