Space Odyssey

A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

I recently finished reading the last book of the Space Odyssey, a science fiction saga written by Arthur C. Clarke and formed by four novels, four odysseys. In these odysseys Arthur takes us from the discovery of a strange artifact on the moon to a possible intergalactic war, going over the discovery of alien life, the transformation of Jupiter into a star and the first millennial man.

Who is Clarke?

Arthur C. Clarke was an English author born in 1917 and who sadly passed away recently in 2008. He started writing science fiction after the war, but the story that literally launched his fame to the stars (no pun intended) was “2001: Space Odyssey”, which he wrote when he was contacted by Stanley Kubrick searching for a new idea for a movie and which is inspired in one of his previous stories (The Sentinel).

The Novels

The first book, although published later, was written at the same time as the movie, and was based on some of Clarke’s previous stories (for example The Sentinel) and one of the main differences between the novel and the movie is that in the novel the destination planet is Saturn while in the movie this was changed to Jupiter. Clarke decided to continue the movies version in the following novels. There are various other minor incoherences in all four novels, but I don’t want to dive into these because I don’t think they are of importance.

2001: A Space Odyssey

A mysterious monolith found on the moon sends a powerful radio signal in the direction of Iapetus, one of Saturn’s satellites, and a selected group of scientists, of which David Bowman and Frank Poole are also part, makes its way on board of the spaceship Discovery One in the first Space Odyssey to find out the destination of this signal. The voyage gets complicated when HAL, the on-board Artificial Intelligence, causes the death of Frank Pooled and other three scientists that were being held in artificial hibernation.

David Bowman, alone, manages to put the ship under his control, deactivate HAL and complete the missions objective: reach Iapetus. There, he unexpectedly finds another monolith, identical to the one on the moon but of a much bigger size. After doing some tests and observations, and with nothing more to learn, knowing that he will never make it back to earth, he decides to go out in a capsule to inspect the monolith from a closer distance. The last words ever received on earth are “The thing’s hollow — it goes on forever — and — oh my God! — it’s full of stars!

2010: Odyssey Two

Nine years have passed since the first Space Odyssey, David Bowman’s disappearance and the abandonment of the Discovery. Russia and the United Stated join together to start a second exploration and rescue mission, a second Space Odyssey, to Europa, Jupiter’s satellite. On board of the “Alexei Leonov” travel Heywood Floyd, accompanied by Dr. Chandra, the creator of HAL; Walter Curnow, the engineer who designed the Discovery, and the Russian crew.

During their journey, they are overtaken by the chinese spaceship “Tsien”, which ends up landing on Europa to use the planets ice and water to generate fuel and explore the other satellites of Jupiter. But when the Leonov passes near Europa, they receive a radio transmission announcing to the world the existence of life on the ice planet and the destruction of Tsien.

To the astonishment of everyone else, Heywood Floyd has a mysterious encounter with the disappeared David Bowman! He warns them about an imminent danger giving them enough time to escape from a scene which no one would ever have been able to imagine. During their escape, a mysterious message is transmitted to earth: “ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS – EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.”.

2061: Odyssey Three

51 years after the second Space Odyssey, Dr. Heywood Floyd is on board of the spaceship Universe, together with other important personalities of the time, making its way to the comet Halley to be part of the first human landing on its surface. In the meantime, his grandson Chris works aboard the spaceship Galaxy, which is on its way to Europa, and its nearby colony on Ganymede.

Explorations on Halley’s surface are are interrupted when the spaceship Universe receives a message stating that its sister ship, Galaxy, has crashed on Europa. This will cause a drastic change of plans for the passengers of the Universe, which will see themselves involved in a rescue mission they did not count with, and which will become the third Space Odyssey.

On Europa, while waiting to be rescued, Chris Floyd and Van der Berk use a small shuttle to move in direction to mount Zeus, and will have an unexpected encounter with what seems to be a city of Europa’s inhabitants. Once rescued, and save on Ganymede, they are witness of how mount Zeus slowly drowns under Europa’s surface to finally disappear completely.

3001: The Last Odyssey

Frank Pool is not dead! A thousand years after the first Space Odyssey, Frank Pool’s body is found in the Kupier Belt, conserved thanks to the vacuum and extreme low temperatures. He’s transferred to Earth were the new technologies are able to revive him.

After is recovery, and once adapted to his new environment, Frank Pool manages to establish contact to David Bowman and HAL, since he’s the only member of the first Odyssey that is still alive. These inform him about the actual purpose of the Monolith and the new instructions it has received.

Humanity has no option other than opening its “Pandora’s Box”, a highly secured safe built on the moon, filled with weapons, diseases and virus collected over the last thousand years, and ask David Bowman and HAL for help even if this means their sacrifice.

My opinion

I’ll start saying that I personally enjoyed all four book a lot. I wouldn’t be able to say which one I like most, but I think I’d incline for the first or the third. In general I like the scientific style the novels are written in, but still I want to remark that independently of how many scientific theories are used in them or how real the astrological descriptions are during the development of the story, they are still fictional novels.

The novels are very descriptive, something I love because it allows me to imagine every scene, every planet, control room or spaceship while I read. This keeps me hooked up to the book and makes me not want to stop reading, because I always want to know what is going to happen in the next chapter.

In general, we’re talking about 4 novels which I recommend to any science fiction lover. And I don’t think that anyone capable of dreaming of space journeys, landing on planets no other human has stepped on and extraterrestrial live will be disappointed.

Finally, as an extra, the movie is in my opinion a classic which HAS to be  watched!