2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

Review by Mario J. Otero

Edition read
Book title:
2001: A Space Odyssey
Clarke, A. C.
Kindle & Android version
RosettaBooks, LLC, New York
Date published:
N° of pages:

"Is there intelligent life on Earth?" A. C. C.

I will not attempt to write a review of this classic of science fiction but rather I will comment on several aspects and passages that called my attention as I read.

It's ironic that Clarke and Kubrick, pioneers of science fiction, with travel in space out of the solar system, with travel in space-time, were afraid and almost incapable of driving a car or of flying in an airplane, as Clarke says: "Throughout 1965 Stanley was involved in the incredibly complex post- production activities— made even more difficult by the fact that the film would be shot in England while he was still in New York, and under no circumstances would he travel by air. I am in no position to criticize: Stanley learned not to fly the hard way— while getting his pilot’s license. For similar reasons, I have never been behind a steering wheel since the day I (barely) passed my driving test in Sydney, Australia."


Quote: "the population of the world was now six billion— a third of them in the Chinese Empire" (Part 2, TMA-1).
Comment: He was somewhat deviated in his prediction. In 2001, the world population was about 6.18 billion with 1.27 billion in China, which is roughly one-fifth. But what he was not wrong about was in projecting China as a world power, a situation more visible today in the economy, commerce, technology, etc.

Quote: "even the United States had meatless days" (Special Flight, page 44).
Comment: There's a movement in many parts of the world called Meat Free Monday campaign, sponsored, among others, by Paul McCartney and his family (www.meatfreemondays.com).

Quote: "...the thirty-eight nuclear powers watched one another with belligerent anxiety. Among them, they possessed sufficient megatonnage to remove the entire surface crust of the planet. Although there had been -miraculously- no use of atomic weapons, this situation could hardly last forever."
Comment: I don't know how many countries may have sufficient nuclear power or weapons, but it's clear that that current developments confirm Clarke's vision. By 2015-16 middle east countries and North Korea pose real nuclear threats and there is some unstable equilibrium that has avoided serious confrontations amongst those countries.

Quote: "It was the mark of a barbarian to destroy something one could not understand; but perhaps men were barbarians, beside the creatures who had made this thing."
It comes immediately to my mind how nowadays man is destroying in 21st century Palmyra's most ancient monuments.

Quote: "Despite all electronic read-outs, there are times when good old-fashioned printed material was the most convenient form of record."
Comment: this comes handy to the current discussion about reading physical books or e-books. Again Clarke is ahead of his time.

Information Technology

Clearly one could mention most of the book in this area, but here are a few interesting things:

Quote: "... he would plug his foolscap-size Newspad into the ship's information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth."
Comment: This is nothing more, nothing less than a (flexible) tablet connected to a network to use a browser. If we think that this was written at least 15 years before the personal computer and the internet, not to speak of tablets, it is amazing this guy's vision. He uses the term "plug" which may imply a physical connection, but it does not discard that he may have thought of some wireless connection.

Notwithstanding the previous quote and comment, he later describes the rooms of the base like this: "Each room was attractively furnished and looked very much like a good motel suite, with convertible sofa, TV, small hi-fi set, and vision-phone." Which does not come near to have a computer or some type of terminal (except for the vision-phone) in the room, which is quite normal today with portable and mobile equipment.

Quote: "... they would amplify and record the signal, and add it to the thousands of miles of magnetic tape now stored..."
Comment: Magnetic tape! Here he missed too.

Quote: "Turing had pointed out that, if one could carry out a prolonged conversation with a machine -whether by typewriter or microphones was immaterial- without being able to distinguish between its replies and those that a man might give, then the machine was thinking, by any sensible definition of the word. Hal could pass the Turing test with ease."
Comment: The Turing test. I am afraid that we all can think of someone who'd fail it.

Quote: "... an automatic test set, no bigger than an ordinary desk computer."
Comment: This is odd, but this quote contradicts a couple of previous comments where he doesn't seem to have envisioned PC's in a time when computers needed a whole computer room. Here he predicts not just the computers on our desks, but also implies that they are of small size like the desktops or laptops we use today.

At the end of chapter 32, "Concerning E.T.'s", Clarke shows Bowman conducting a research where he finds that some thinkers believed that organic bodies might be replaced, when decaying or even before, by metal and plastic bodies controlled by the remaining organic brain; furthermore, that even the brain might go as the developments in electronic intelligence had proved. To my understanding, this is what we see in films like Robocop or Terminator, where the cyborgs exist, are improved, eventually go against old-fashioned humans and the discussion about humanity is presented to the viewer. However, note that just some pages before Hal had gone crazy, blinded by its own "ideas", and had to be shut down after he killed 80% of the (human) crew.


In conclusion, besides recommending the reading of 2001 to those who haven't, I'd say that more often than not Clarke proves himself right, the novel is consistent with current scientific developments and findings.

MJO. Bogotá, April 2016


Entradas populares