2010: odyssey two
Cover by Michael Whelan
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
2010: Odyssey Two is a hybrid book. In it, Arthur C. Clarke attempts to link his novel, 2001 and Stanley Kubrick's movie together. Clarke chose to base the book more on the film than on the novel, probably because the film reached a larger audience than any novel ever could. Instead of Discovery's voyage to Saturn, the spaceship was in orbit around Jupiter. Instead of the monlith being located on one of the gas giant's moons, it was in orbit around Io.
By moving the action to Jupiter's orbit instead of Saturn's, Clarke was also able to take advantage of the much greater knowledge astronomers have of Jupiter than of Saturn. His focus, however, was not on Jupiter itself. As Clarke points out, his space travelers had "come all the way to Jupiter, greatest of planets--and then ignore it." Rather than focus on the gas giant, Clarke provides a tour of the Galilean moons, focusing on Europa and Io, both more interesting than their primary.
His characterization is not particularly deep, but the portraits he paints make the characters likeable. Heywood Floyd presents a reasonable voice, as well as a link to the earlier novel. Max Brailovsky and Walter Curnow inject humor into the proceedings. The cold Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai (Dr. Chandra) is, perhaps, the only caricature Clarke provides in the book. This scientist, the creator of the HAL 9000 computer, has a character in direct counterpoint to the computer. HAL is perhaps the most interesting character of the novel. Like Floyd & astronaut David Bowman, HAL provides a link to the earlier work. Unlike Floyd, who must deal with his feelings of guilt for the lost astronauts, or Bowman, who has moved beyond human emotion, HAL remains constant, concerned about the well-being of the mission and the astronauts who were in his care.
Exactly half way through the novel, Clarke turns his attention from Heywood Floyd's mission to Jupiter to David Bowman, the only surviving astronaut from Discovery's original mission. Clarke uses this core section of 2010 to re-examine the final chapters of 2001. However, whereas the earlier book contained a mystical and confusing description of the events which happened to Bowman, by the time this novel takes place, the creature which was once David Bowman has begun to assimilate new concepts and understand his new place in the universe. Clarke's descriptions, therefore, are more concrete and we begin to understand what happened to Bowman and why it occured. Clarke does not give an entirely coherent explanation, but he answers many of the questions left open at the end of 2001.
For some reason, I find that I can't think really discuss 2010 the book without comparing it to Peter Hyams's film version. While Hyams increased the tension between the Soviets and the Americans, Clarke's tension is between the Chinese and the Soviet/American team on the Alexei Leonov. Since the Chinese do not figure in the majority of the book, it is clear that his interest was more in the scientific, rather than political, extrapolation of the book. Hyams also did a major disservice to the novel by incorporating such an obvious and disingenious plea for peace, both in the USSR/US dialogue and the message sent by the HAL 9000 at the end of the film, similar to, but different from, Clarke's message at the end of the novel.
Lacking much of the mysticism inherent in 2001, the sequel is a much more straight-forward, traditional SF novel. If compared to other books in its genre, it stands head and shoulders above many of them. Even compared to 2001, it remains a very good novel. Where it falls down is when it is compared, as it always will be, to the aura which surrounds 2001.
If you haven't read 2010, I urge you to. 2001 is not required to enjoy this novel. Although it is a sequel of sorts, there are several differences between the books, partly because Clarke was writing a sequel to the film more than to the novel and partly because he was incorporating an additional sixteen years of scientific research and astronautics in its writing.
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Go to Review of 2001: A Space Odyssey
Go to Review of 2061: Odyssey Three
Go to Review of 3001: The Final Odyssey