Science fiction is often described as having three masters in the genre: Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke has often been named the greatest among them all and 2001: A Space Odyssey has been deemed his most notable work. Clarke wrote this novel with noteworthy director Stanley Kubrick, who would go on to direct the film version of this novel. The film was actually released first, but the novel came out soon after, but only credited Clarke. While most individuals know about the film more than they do the book, there is so much that can be taken after reading Clarke's impression on the world around him.
I will be reviewing the book, but since I have been looking to engage in some more collaborations in the form of casual discussions, I will be doing just that for this. Everyone I collaborated with before was from my home state of New Jersey and I have met them in person before collaborating. Today, I am collaborating with someone I met on Booktube. Since launching Literary Gladiators last year, I have had the great pleasure to interact with people from the Booktube community and I have nothing but nice things to say about all of them. One of my favorite channels is one that I was introduced to as On The Read, featuring two intelligent girls named Kathryn and Shannon from Great Britain. They film reviews, book hauls, wrap-ups, and anything else you could think of. This summer, due to conflicting schedules, they had to split the channel and Shannon took over. Nevertheless, it continues to be a great watch!
Today, though, I have one of my favorite people that I met from the Booktube community to talk about 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kathryn, it is a pleasure and an honor to be able to discuss this novel with you today!
Thanks Josh! Your introduction induced a twinge of sadness at my not being an active Booktuber any more - who knows, maybe this discussion will get me inspired again!
It's great to have the opportunity to discuss literature with someone who wants to say more than 'I liked it', and I think 2001 is a perfect novel for digging into the literary depths. It's an honor for me to be featured on Caponomics too, and I hope your readers enjoy what we come up with.
I, too, miss watching you on Booktube and feel a bit of sadness. However, I am sure that you will be back in no time as either a blogger or on a new channel! I hope my followers and others enjoy our discussion and I am sure that I will saying more than "I liked it." I can promise you that!
Would you like to provide us with a brief summary of the novel?
For the readers who haven't come across 2001: A Space Odyssey yet, you will most likely already know this is a sci-fi novel. So, let me get straight into a plot summary.
We start on Earth, but not as we would recognize it today. Post-dinosaur extinction, the beginnings of mankind are going about the process of evolving into the modern homo sapiens. Through Moon-Watcher's eyes (a 'man-ape'), we see a mysterious rectangular object - a monolith - interrupt the monotonous life on Earth.
Fast forward to the age of space exploration, and another mysterious discovery is made - this time on the moon. I certainly don't want to spoil the novel completely for new readers, so I won't reveal too much. What I can say, however, is that the narrative soon jumps to life onboard the spaceship 'Discovery', captained and operated by David Bowman, Frank Poole, and their omnipresent AI companion, Hal, a HAL 9000 computer. Their mission: Saturn.
When unusual, sinister happenings begin to occur onboard 'Discovery', Bowman begins to question the role and motives of the AI that is responsible for the lives of him and his crew, eventually leading him to make discoveries about the universe that no scientist back on Earth could ever have predicted. One of mankind's most pondered questions is brought to the fore: are we alone in the universe?
I really think that Clarke does an outstanding job describing the universe around him, because we have difficulty realizing... or more so just accepting... that all we really are is a grain of substance in a universe that is so greater and, if you are listening to Clarke's argument, more naturalistic. I took an Astronomy class during college and my instructor brought up some interesting points, including humanity making up such a short period of time in the "calendar year of time" and what living organisms really are.
It is just so fitting to begin with life before the Common Era, but after the reign of the dinosaurs. In Primeval Night, the first part of the novel, he comes to the conclusion that it is our "genius" that leads to our extinction. This "road to extinction" featured on the first page begins with the realization that man has the opportunity to advance by taking its resources to use in their favor. This is shown clearest when Moon-Watcher took pride in killing the leopard.
The most fascinating thing about this novel, in my mind, is not necessarily the universal discoveries, but that of human nature and the flaws that make up what is often seen as the greatest creature. It is just so spectacular that man does what he can to inflict his power onto the computer. Little does man know that with all of the good traits that come with a computer that can think for itself come those other traits that make it hungry for power. At the same time, they do not possess the physical incentives that humans desire most.
I totally agree. It can be scary if you truly start to think about the so-called insignificance of humanity and our lifespans in particular. But I have always found it oddly comforting to know that this universe we belong to is capable of so much more; it always has been, and will be, for a length of time that we cannot comprehend. In my reading, I felt that this sentiment is what Clarke was trying to express in 2001. The ending of the novel, and the transcendence of human reality, captures this in a way that truly pushes the reader's imagination.
I actually found Moon-Watcher's delight in the discovery of a carnivorous diet somewhat repulsive! Maybe that is because I personally am vegan, but on a deeper level, it was the discovery of killing that haunted me. When Moon-Watcher realizes his physical power, and sees how he can assert it over the other tribe of man-apes, the social commentary really stands out. Clarke's ability to write on these themes without overtly passing judgment is great; he highlights them enough for the reader to form their own opinions, without authorial intention dominating their interpretation.
Artificial Intelligence is certainly a hot topic at the moment. With some scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, warning that AI has the potential to overtake humanity, it's amazing to reflect upon the fact this novel was first published in 1968. Hal certainly isn't posited as an 'enemy' to begin with; in fact, the respect and friendliness exchanged between human and computer borders on eerie unnaturalness.
There are three more books that make up this series, beginning with one that is set in 2010. Either way, though, I felt there was a statement that was being made with how the novel ended.
I believe the leopard was seen as a resource, which is unfortunate, but it demonstrated that humanity would begin advancing himself into a more carnivorous diet and that it would begin to eliminate its many resources... or the lives in general. Several species of leopards have since been placed on the endangered species list, which is a very eerie prediction made by Clarke through his choice of animal. I am not a vegan, but the idea of hunting to obtain food was painted quite boldly. It is just incredible how this can be traced as the beginning to a species and its pursuit for power and dominance.
Artificial Intelligence is clearly taking over. It starts off as an object of desire, progresses into something so spectacular, and is turning into and will become something that human's will be dependent on. Without it, humanity will be unable to function. The only mode of prevention is to find alternate activities and ways of life without the use of electronics (contradictory given our discussion, but we still engage in non-electronic activities). Back to this story, Hal is meant to serve humanity by engaging in human tasks and thinking like a human. As a servant, computers can overtake humans, because they do not fancy income. On the other hand, if they think like a human and do not need the human resources to function, they can come together with the needs to overtake them and have nothing to lose. It is really creepy!
As for what I thought of this novel, the futuristic world that Arthur C. Clarke puts together is brilliant. I really got a lot out of his commentary on human nature, where he believed human extinction began, and some of the results to a world dominated by Artificial Intelligence. My criticism lies in the basic substance that makes up the novel. I do not feel there is much character development and I only felt the humans were there to serve the purpose as being a species in pursuit of something greater. We know what they are leaving behind, but do not feel a lot of their emotion. I may also sound like a tough customer when I say that I wish Hal got some more time in the book.
I hadn't thought about the leopard in that respect - another example of Clarke's creepy accuracy!
Whilst I had 2001 on the go, I decided to watch the film 'Ex Machina', released just this year, which also focuses on AI's place amongst humans. I was intrigued because of the similar themes with 2001, and although they are obviously very different in terms of plot and characterization, it was interesting to see an up-to-the-minute take on the issues Clarke addressed. As you have pointed out, Josh, our growing dependency on technology is already alarming.
Bowman's courage in the face of pure, open space is admirable, but I would agree that his emotional responses are somewhat limited. He dismisses his own hopes that he is not too far from home as 'childish'; I see this as an instinctual response. After all, the man-apes of the first section of the novel return each night to their cave dwellings, and Clarke has already demonstrated that, relatively speaking in the grand schemes of the universe, the human species has not moved so far from those times. Bowman becomes almost as (supposedly) passive as Hal!
Speaking of Hal, would you have liked to have felt his presence a little more directly in the narrative? Or just to have seen him engage more with the human characters?
I believe that if anything, I would have liked to have seen him engage more with the human characters. I believe we really get a good idea of who he is and how he possesses human traits. One example is that he is programmed to lose fifty percent of the games that he participates, so that his thought-process is a bit more reasonable. Going into the novel, I thought we were going to get a greater idea about how Artificial Intelligence was beginning to dominate humanity. Hal leaves his mark, but I thought he could have been more ferocious with what he wanted and all humanity would be able to blame is themselves. It makes sense that Bowman and Hal held similar emotions of denial, because they were meant to have the same development, but these flaws would allow the rest of this expedition to head forward.
I agree with your idea about instinct. Every animal has a strength and a weakness. For Homo sapiens, we really only pay attention to our strengths. We most certainly have our weaknesses, one of which being our instinctual response and the need to return home. Of course, we have the power to move from point A to point B, but there is this sense of what is "home" planted in our minds and we are willing to do what can be done to ease the pain that comes from distance. Even if it means stretching the truth.
I still felt that 2001: A Space Odyssey was a good book and one that I can recommend. I would rate it 8/10, because it could have been better developed with the dimension of the characters and the impact of Artificial Intelligence, but it excels at presenting what the world may very well become and how it was brought about by the humans themselves. It really does address an area that we tend to think about, but will now really think about after reading.
Hal's reticence was a little unexpected. I thought his 'enthusiasm for the mission' was a little vague as his motivation to mutiny. I too would have liked to see him engage with Bowman and Poole a little more. From what I can remember of Kubrick's version, Hal is more present and developed as a character, and certainly more sinister.
Bowman definitely lets go of his sense of 'home' fairly quickly, which I did not find entirely convincing. Maybe this was inspired by the hopelessness of the situation Clarke placed him in, but I suppose the answer lies with Clarke's authorial intention, which, if my degree in English has taught me anything, we cannot be sure of.
I think I'll be generous and give this novel a 9/10, largely for the fact it really blew me away in terms of the extent to which it made me think about those 'big questions' concerning humanity, the universe, etc. However I'm not well-read in the sci-fi genre, so I can't make comparisons; perhaps relative to other sci-fi novels I might not score this so highly - who knows? All in all though, I did thoroughly enjoy this read, and on a final literary note: Clarke's prose is eerily beautiful, and I found the structure of the novel to be expertly precise and readable. I would definitely recommend.
I suppose that it was Hal's presence in the movie that made me expect him to play a larger role in this novel. It is quite something how we bring authorial intent into the picture, for the authorial intent can be changed at any point in time. Being a writer, I have not even considered confirming certain details, for my intent was to leave it up to the reader to decide. Perhaps Clarke is doing the same here.
I think that I will agree with your final note regarding the beauty and how strangely beautiful Clarke's prose happens to be. This is exactly why he walks away as the legend that he is to science fiction. If you can make it through the many details, you should definitely get something out of this!
Kathryn, I want to thank you once again for taking time to participate in this discussion. I truly enjoy discussing books and literature with you and I really hope that your upcoming year at uni is a good one. I would definitely love to have you back on Caponomics and I really hope you make your way to blogging or back to vlogging as well.
I'm definitely going to re-watch the film just to compare. I may even pick up the next in Clarke's series, just to see where he takes the ideas of 2001.
It really has been fun to talk literature with you Josh, I'm glad you enjoyed it too. I would always be happy to take part in more discussions! I suppose on this occasion we can thank our technology for allowing us to connect and share our thoughts with not only each other, but your readers too. All the best with your Booktube channel and blog.
That is true. We have technology to thank for this spectacular discussion. Thank you so much for your kinds wishes as well!
You can find Kathryn's videos made with Shannon on the channel now known as Shannon Rose Reads. I encourage you to check all of these out, for everything that comes from this channel is so good! : Shannon Rose Reads Channel