A Book Ian Likes: 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke

For many years, Arthur C. Clarke held the belief that a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey was not only unnecessary but also impossible. So it was a surprise for many when 2010: Odyssey Two was published. Certainly it was an unneeded sequel, but it manages to extend and explain many of the events of the original film/ book in a way that made sense to people who had been baffled by them (although if you read the book things were perfectly clear). It was also an interesting sequel because it took its cues from the film rather than the book to avoid confusion and it also took into account several advances in culture and science that had occurred since 1968. This retroactive editing of events was something that Clarke was going to do a lot of in the further sequels – so much so that by the fourth entry in this series the first novel actually took place ten years later than 2001!

The main character in this sequel is Heywood Floyd, who is asked to take part in a mission to Jupiter to recover data from the Discovery which has been floating dormant in space since Dave Bowman disappeared through the Monolith a decade earlier. Also on the mission is HAL 9000’s programmer who is tasked with bringing HAL back online. Of course, things don’t go as simply as they would hope…

A recent reread of this novel reminded me again of why Clarke was regarded as a giant in the field of speculative literature. The ideas illuminating it are breathtaking. His grasp on “the possible” and the implications of it are clever, insightful and wry. He also has a firm grasp of character and what drives people to succeed.

2010 is a great novel about space exploration. The crew of the Leonov (the ship sent to Jupiter) are a crew of individuals, all at the peak of their professions, but who each live complex inner lives and who all have their own personalities (I’d take them over the crew of any Enterprise any day). But for a lot of the story they only provide the backdrop for events happening elsewhere. However, when they are front and centre the book is a great read. In fact, I will make the controversial call that this is a better read than its parent volume. Possibly not a better novel, but a better all-round book.

Which leads to a confession: I love the first half of this book with the power of a thousand suns. I really like the second half a lot, too, but the first half with its great characters, premise, build-up and journey across the solar system is everything I love about Science Fiction. One of my favourite moments in this novel – hell, one of my favourite moments in all of literature! – is Chapter 11, wherein we hear the sole survivor of the doomed mission to Europa transmitting news of their astonishing find to the universe knowing that he will be dead before anyone even hears it. The second half begins with a look at what Dave Bowman gets up to when he returns through the Monolith. However, while it’s interesting and well-written – and very cleverly incorporates the end of the first book into its storyline – the jolt from “exciting space story” to “leisurely travelogue across 21st Century Earth from Dave Bowman’s perspective” is a blow that the story takes too long to recover from. It’s not badly done, but it lacks the “oomph” of the first sections.

Also slightly jarring are the divergences from the first book. These moments do not detract from the text but they do make you scratch your head a little. As stated above they exist only because of the relentless march of progress in the real world between the two books which render some details inaccurate or just wrong, but they really don’t distract you too much unless you are the sort of person that gets caught up in continuity porn (yeah, you got me).

However, I love this book: when I first read it back in 1984, it pressed all my buttons and was one of the first books that I’d read that was actually a current novel rather than being something that had been published in the (to me, distant) past. I was also starting to read reviews and was letting my reading of them guide my choices rather than stuff I found in bookshops that had a cool blurb on the back cover. Along with Asimov’s Foundation’s Edge this marked a point in my life when I was starting to engage with my book choices as a critical reader rather than a consumer.

It’s also a stonking good read: it interacts with its world far more than its predecessor did and engages with popular culture of the time far more also: there are several references to Star Wars as well as Star Trek, Alien and The Lord Of The Rings (book, not film) as well as the requisite classical references that every writer of the time needed to include to justify their membership in refined culture (I appear to sneer but I genuinely miss novels that reference “high” art as a way of throwing their own ideas into some sort of relief).

There are also reference to its previous incarnations: there are several passages lifted wholesale from 2001 that are used as exposition or to throw the reader back into the themes of that book/ film/ cultural artefact. It’s a neat trick, and a useful form of shorthand that reminds you of what Clarke is trying to achieve. It’s used sparingly here and doesn’t outstay its welcome like it does in future volumes.

In conclusion, this is not my favourite novel by Sir Arthur (that honour belongs to The Songs Of Distant Earth), but it’s the one that shows his gifts as a storyteller and explainer of ideas most brilliantly. And, like I said, it’s a cracking read.

You can buy 2010: Odyssey Two here: https://www.amazon.com/2010-Odyssey-Two-Novel-Space/dp/0345303067

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s