2001: A Space Odyssey (novel)

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2001: A Space Odyssey
2001 NAL.jpg
First US edition
Author Arthur C. Clarke
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Space Odyssey
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Hutchinson (UK)
New American Library (US)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 221 pp (US)
224 pp (UK)
ISBN 0-453-00269-2
Followed by 2010: Odyssey Two

2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. It was developed concurrently with Stanley Kubrick's film version and published after the release of the film. Clarke and Kubrick worked on the book together, but eventually only Clarke ended up as the official author. The story is based in part on various short stories by Clarke, most notably "The Sentinel" (written in 1948 for a BBC competition, but first published in 1951 under the title "Sentinel of Eternity"). By 1992, the novel had sold 3 million copies worldwide.[1] For an elaboration of Clarke and Kubrick's collaborative work on this project, see The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke, Signet, 1972.

The first part of the novel (in which aliens influence the primitive human ancestors) is similar to the plot of an earlier Clarke story, "Encounter in the Dawn".

Plot summary[edit]

In the background to the story in the book, an ancient and unseen alien race uses a device with the appearance of a large crystalline monolith to investigate worlds all across the galaxy and, if possible, to encourage the development of intelligent life. The book shows one such monolith appearing in ancient Africa, 3 million years B.C. (in the movie, this was altered to 4 million years), where it inspires a starving group of the hominid ancestors of human beings to develop tools. The ape-men use their tools to kill animals and eat meat, ending their starvation. They then use the tools to kill a leopard that had been preying on them; the next day, the main ape character, Moon-Watcher, uses a club to kill the leader of a rival tribe. Moon-Watcher reflects that though he is now master of the world, he is unsure of what to do next—but he will think of something. The book suggests that the monolith was instrumental in awakening intelligence, and enabling the transition of the ape-men to a higher order, with the ability to fashion crude tools and thereby be able to hunt and forage for food in a much more efficient fashion.

The book then leaps ahead a few million years to the year CE 1999, detailing Dr. Heywood Floyd's travel to Clavius Base on the Moon. Upon his arrival, Floyd attends a meeting. A lead scientist explains that they have found a magnetic disturbance in Tycho, one of the Moon's craters, designated Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One, or TMA-1. An excavation of the area has revealed a large black slab; it is precisely fashioned to a ratio of exactly 1:4:9, or 1²:2²:3² — that is to say, the thickness of the slab is exactly 1/4 of its width and 1/9 of its height. Such a construction rules out any naturally-occurring phenomena, and at three million years of age, it was not crafted by human hands. It is the first evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent life. Floyd and a team of scientists travel across the Moon to actually view TMA-1. They arrive just as sunlight falls upon it for the first time in three million years. It then sends a piercing radio transmission to the far reaches of the solar system. The signal is tracked to one of the moons of Saturn, Japetus (Iapetus),[2] where an expedition is then planned to investigate.

The book leaps forward 18 months to 2001, to the Discovery One mission to Saturn. Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Francis Poole are the only conscious human beings aboard Discovery One spaceship. Their three other colleagues are in a state of suspended animation, to be awakened when they near Saturn. The HAL 9000, an artificially intelligent computer addressed as "HAL," maintains the ship and is a vital part of life aboard.

While Poole is receiving a birthday message from his family on Earth, HAL tells Bowman that the AE-35 unit of the ship is going to malfunction. The AE-35 unit is responsible for keeping their parabolic communication antenna aimed at Earth; without it, receiving support would be impossible. Poole takes one of the extra-vehicular pods and swaps the AE-35 unit, but when Bowman conducts tests on the removed AE-35 unit, he determines that there was never anything wrong with it. Poole and Bowman become suspicious at HAL's refusal to admit that there could be something wrong with his failure detection sensors. HAL then claims that the replacement AE-35 unit will fail. Poole and Bowman radio back to Earth; they are told that there is most definitely something wrong with HAL, and are directed to disconnect him for analysis. These instructions are interrupted as the signal is broken. HAL informs them that the AE-35 unit has malfunctioned.

Poole takes a pod outside the ship to bring in the failed AE-35 unit. As he is removing the unit, the pod, which he had left parked close by, on the ship's hull, begins moving toward him. He is powerless to move out of the way in time and is killed when his spacesuit is torn, exposing him to the vacuum of space. Bowman is shocked by Poole's death and is deeply distressed. He is unsure whether HAL, a machine, really could have killed Poole. He decides that he will need to wake up the other three astronauts. He has an argument with HAL, with HAL refusing to obey his orders to switch the hibernation pods to manual operation, insisting that Bowman is incapacitated. Bowman threatens to disconnect him if his orders are not obeyed, and HAL relents, giving him manual control to wake the sleeping scientists.

As Bowman begins to awaken his colleagues, he hears HAL open both airlock doors into space, venting the ship's internal atmosphere. The air on board is lost to the vacuum of space. Bowman makes his way into a sealed emergency shelter, which has an isolated oxygen supply and spare spacesuit. He then puts on the spacesuit and re-enters the ship, knowing HAL to be a murderer. Bowman then laboriously shuts down HAL's consciousness, leaving intact only his autonomic functions, needed for power and life support. With the ship back in order, he manually re-establishes contact with Earth. He then learns that the true purpose of the mission is to explore Iapetus,[2] the third-largest moon of Saturn, in the hope of contacting the society that buried the monolith on the Moon.

Bowman learns that HAL had begun to feel guilty and conflicted about keeping the purpose of the mission from him and Poole, which ran contrary to his stated mission of gathering information and reporting it fully. This conflict had started to manifest itself in little errors. Given time, HAL might have been able to resolve this crisis peacefully, but when he was threatened with disconnection, he panicked and defended himself out of a belief that his very existence was at stake, having no concept of the state of sleep.

Bowman spends months on the ship, alone, slowly approaching Iapetus. A return to Earth is now out of the question, as HAL's sudden decompression of Discovery severely damaged the ship's air filtration system, leaving Bowman with far less breathable air than either returning to Earth or waiting for a rescue ship would require, and hibernation is impossible without HAL to monitor it. During his long approach, he gradually notices a small black spot on the surface of Iapetus. When he gets closer, he realizes that this is an immense black monolith, identical in shape to TMA-1, only much larger. The scientists back on Earth name this monolith "TMA-2," which Bowman points out is a double misnomer because it is not in the Tycho moon crater and gives off no magnetic anomaly whatsoever.

He decides to go out in one of the extra-vehicular pods to make a closer inspection of the monolith. Programmed for just such an occurrence, the monolith reveals its true purpose as a star gate when it opens and pulls in Bowman's pod. Before he vanishes, Mission Control hears him proclaim: "The thing's hollow — it goes on forever — and — oh my God! — it's full of stars!"[3]

Bowman is transported via the monolith to an unknown star system. During this journey, he goes through a large interstellar switching station, and sees other species' spaceships going on other routes; he dubs it the "Grand Central Station" of the galaxy. Bowman is given a wide variety of sights, from the wreckage of ancient civilizations to what appear to be life-forms, living on the surfaces of a binary star system's planet.

He is brought to what appears to be a pleasant hotel suite, carefully constructed from monitored television transmissions, and designed to make him feel at ease. Bowman goes to sleep. As he sleeps, his mind and memories are drained from his body, and he is made into a new immortal entity, a Star Child, that can live and travel in space. The Star Child then returns to our Solar System and to Earth. Once there, he detonates an orbiting nuclear warhead. The narrative seems to imply that military radar systems around the planet have detected the Star Child and are preparing to respond to it as a threat. This is not further discussed, though, and sequels to this novel do not further explain this aspect of this scene. Like Moon-Watcher three million years before, the Star Child is now master of the world and uncertain what to do next, but like Moon-Watcher, the Star Child, too, will think of something.

Major themes[edit]

Perils of technology

2001: A Space Odyssey explores technological advancement: its promise and its danger. The HAL 9000 computer puts forward the troubles that can crop up when man builds machines, the inner workings of which he does not fully comprehend and therefore cannot fully control.

Perils of nuclear war

The book explores the perils related to the atomic age. In this novel, the Cold War is apparently still on, and at the end of the book one side has apparently launched nuclear weapons at the other. It is only through the Star Child's intervention that humanity is saved. Roger Ebert notes that Kubrick originally intended for the first spaceship seen in the film to be an orbiting bomb platform, but in the end he decided to leave the ship's meaning more ambiguous. Clarke, however, retained and clearly stated this fact in the novel.[4]


The novel takes a panoramic overview of progress, human and otherwise. The story follows the growth of human civilisation from primitive man-ape. Distinctively, Space Odyssey is concerned about not only the evolution that has led to the development of humanity, but also the evolution that humanity might undergo in the future. Hence, we follow Bowman as he is turned into a Star Child. The novel acknowledges that evolutionary theory entails that humanity is not the end, but only a step in the process. One way this process might continue, the book imagines, is that humans will learn to move to robot bodies and eventually rid themselves of a physical form altogether.

Space exploration

When 2001: A Space Odyssey was written, mankind had not yet set foot on the moon. The space exploration programs in the United States and the Soviet Union were only in the early stages. Much room was left to imagine the future of the space program. Space Odyssey offers one such vision, offering a glimpse at what space exploration might one day become. Lengthy journeys, such as manned flights to Saturn, and advanced technologies, such as suspended animation, are described in the novel.

Artificial intelligence

The book raises questions about consciousness, sentience, and human interactions with machines. HAL's helpful disposition contrasts with his malevolent behaviour. Through much of the movie he seems to have malfunctioned. At the end of the novel we learn that HAL's odd behaviour stems from an improper conflict in his orders. Having been instructed not to reveal the nature of the mission to his crew, he reasons that their presence is a threat to the mission, which is his prime concern. HAL's reversion to a childlike state as Dave shuts him down mirrors aspects of human death, and his expressed fear of being shut down causes Dave to hesitate.

Accoutrements of space travel

The novel is deliberately written so as to give the reader an almost kinesthetic familiarity with the experience of space travel and the technologies encountered. Large sections of the novel are devoted to detailed descriptions of these. The novel discusses orbital mechanics and the manoeuvres associated with space travel with great scientific accuracy. The daily lives of Bowman and Poole on board the Discovery One are discussed in detail and give the impression of a busy yet mundane lifestyle with few surprises until the malfunction of HAL. Dr. Floyd's journey to Space Station One is depicted with awareness of fine points such as the experience of a Space Shuttle launch, the adhesive sauces used to keep food firmly in place on one's plate, and even the zero gravity toilet.


A sequel to the book, entitled 2010: Odyssey Two, was published in 1982 and adapted as a motion picture in 1984 (though without Kubrick's involvement). Clarke went on to write two more sequel novels: 2061: Odyssey Three (1987) and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997). To date, the last two novels have yet to be adapted as films.

Differences from the film[edit]

Although the novel and film were developed simultaneously, the novel follows early drafts of the film, from which the final version deviated.[5] These changes were often for practical reasons relating to what could be filmed economically, and a few were due to differences of opinion between Kubrick and Clarke. The most notable differences are a change in the destination planet from Saturn to Jupiter, and the nature of the sequence of events leading to HAL's demise. Stylistic differences may be more important than content differences. Of lesser importance are the appearance of the monolith, the age of HAL, and the novel giving names to various spacecraft, prehistoric apes, and HAL's inventor.

Stylistically, the novel generally fleshes out and makes concrete many events left somewhat enigmatic in the film, as has been noted by many observers. Vincent LeBrutto has noted that the novel has "strong narrative structure" which fleshes out the story, while the film is a mainly visual experience where much remains "symbolic".[6] Randy Rasmussen has noted that the personality of Heywood Floyd is different; in Clarke's novel, he finds space travel thrilling, acting almost as a "spokesman for Clarke," whereas in the film, he experiences space travel as "routine" and "tedious."[7]

In the film, Discovery's mission is to Jupiter, not Saturn. Kubrick used Jupiter because he and special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull could not decide on what they considered to be a convincing model of Saturn's rings for the film.[8] Clarke went on to replace Saturn with Jupiter in the novel's sequel 2010: Odyssey Two. Trumbull later developed a more convincing image of Saturn for his own directorial debut Silent Running.

The general sequence of the showdown with HAL is different in the film than in the book. HAL's initial assertion that the AE-35 unit will fail comes in the film after an extended conversation with David Bowman about the odd and "melodramatic" "mysteries" and "secrecy" surrounding the mission, motivated because HAL is required to draw up and send to Earth a crew psychology report. In the novel it is during the birthday message to Frank Poole.

In the film, Bowman and Poole decide on their own to disconnect HAL in context of a plan to restore the allegedly failing antenna unit. If it does not fail, HAL will be shown to be malfunctioning. HAL discovers the plan by reading their lips through the EVA pod window. In Clarke's novel, ground control orders Bowman and Poole to disconnect HAL, should he prove to be malfunctioning a second time by predicting that the second unit is going to go bad.[9]

However, in Clarke's novel, after Poole's death, Bowman tries waking up the other crew members, whereupon HAL opens both the internal and external airlock doors, suffocating these three and almost killing Bowman. The film has Bowman, after Poole's murder, go out to rescue him. HAL denies him reentry and kills the hibernating crew members by turning off their life-support. In the sequel 2010: Odyssey Two, however, the recounting of the Discovery One mission is changed to the film version.[10]

The film is generally far more enigmatic about the reason for HAL's failure, while the novel spells out that HAL is caught up in an internal conflict because he is ordered to lie about the purpose of the mission.[11]

Because of what photographed well, the appearance of the monolith that guided Moon-watcher and the other 'man-apes' at the beginning of the story was changed from novel to film. In the novel, this monolith is a transparent crystal;[12] In the film, it is solid black. The TMA1 and TMA2 monoliths were unchanged.

While it is stated in the book that the ratio of the dimensions of the monolith are supposed to be 1:4:9, or the first 3 dimensions squared, the shape of the actual monolith seen in the movie does not conform to this ratio. 1:4:9 would produce an object that appears thick, wide, and squat. Kubrick wanted something taller and thinner, which he felt would be more imposing. It is unfortunate that Clarke didn't choose the cubes of the first 3 dimensions, as that would have produced a ratio of 1:8:27, which is much closer to the shape of the monoliths seen in the film.

In the book, HAL became operational on 12 January 1997, but in the movie the year is given as 1992.[13] It has been thought that Kubrick wanted HAL to be the same age as a young bright child, nine years old.[citation needed]

The famous quote that opens the film sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact – "My God—it's full of stars!" – is actually not in the 2001 film, although it is in the 2001 book.

Iapetus versus Japetus[edit]

The name of the Saturnian moon Iapetus is spelled Japetus in the book. This is an alternative rendering of the name, which derives from the fact that "consonantal I" often stands for "J" in the Latin language (see modern spelling of Latin).

In his exhaustive book on the film, The Making of Kubrick's 2001 (Signet Press, 1970, p. 290), author Jerome Agel discusses the point that Iapetus is the most common rendering of the name, according to many sources, including the Oxford English Dictionary. He goes on to say that "Clarke, the perfectionist", spells it Japetus. Agel then cites the dictionary that defines jape as, "To jest; to joke; to mock or make fun of." He then asks the reader, "Is Clarke trying to tell us something?"

Clarke himself directly addressed the spelling issue in chapter 19 of The Lost Worlds of 2001 (Signet, 1972, p. 127), explaining that he simply (and unconsciously) used the spelling he was familiar with from The Conquest of Space (1949) by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell, presuming that the "J" form is the German rendering of the Greek.

Release details[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Popular Contemporary Writers
  2. ^ a b See #Iapetus_vs._Japetus in this article
  3. ^ See p. 254 of paperback edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey
  4. ^ Ebert 2004, p. 4.
  5. ^ McLellan, Dennis (19 March 2008). "Arthur C. Clarke, 90; scientific visionary, acclaimed writer of '2001: A Space Odyssey'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  6. ^ LoBrutto 1999, p. 310.
  7. ^ Rasmussen 2005, p. 51.
  8. ^ See Arthur C. Clarke's forward to 2010: Odyssey Two
  9. ^ See p. 174 of paperback edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey
  10. ^ p. 185 of paperback edition
  11. ^ Chapter 27 of novel
  12. ^ pp. 11–21 of novel
  13. ^ DeMet, George D. (2001). "Meanings: The Search for Meaning in 2001 – HAL’s "Birthday"". 2001: A Space Odyssey Internet Resource Archive. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c Locke 1974, p. 24.
  • Ebert, Roger (2004). The Great Movies. Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-1038-9. 
  • Hagerty, Jack; Jon C. Rogers (2001). Spaceship Handbook: Rocket and Spacecraft Designs of the 20th Century, Fictional, Factual, and Fantasy. ARA Press. pp. 322–351. ISBN 0-9707604-0-X. 
  • LoBrutto, Vincent (1999). Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80906-4. 
  • Locke, George (1978). Science Fiction First Editions: a select bibliography and notes for the collector.. London: Ferret Fantasy. 
  • Ordway III, Frederick Ira (March 1970). "2001: A Space Odyssey". Spaceflight (The British Interplanetary Society) 12 (3): 110–117. 
  • Ordway III, Frederick Ira (1982). "2001: A Space Odyssey in Retrospect". In Eugene M. Emme. American Astronautical Society History. Science Fiction and Space Futures: Past and Present 5. pp. 47–105. ISBN 0-87703-172-X. Archived from the original on 26 April 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2011.  A detailed account of development and filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey by its technical adviser.
  • Rasmussen, Randy (2005). Stanley Kubrick: Seven Films Analyzed. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2152-5. 
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 102. ISBN 0-911682-20-1. 
  • Williams, Craig H.; with Leonard A. Dudzinski; Stanley K. Borowski and Albert J. Juhasz. (March 2005). Realizing "2001: A Space Odyssey": Piloted Spherical Torus Nuclear Fusion Propulsion. Cleveland, Ohio: John H. Glenn Research Center. Retrieved 19 September 2013. 

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