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Literature / The Space Odyssey Series

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The Space Odyssey Series is a series of novels written by Arthur C. Clarke, which takes a philosophical look at many Speculative Fiction Tropes, such as Precursors, Intelligent Computers, space travel and humankind's place in the universe.

  • The Sentinel (1951): It was originally written for a BBC competition and it failed, then got published in the Ten Story Fantasy magazine as Sentinel Of Eternity. It was used as a starting point for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Encounter In The Dawn (1953): Published in Amazing Stories. It was used as the basis for the first part of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Actually the byproduct of a collaboration between Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. The film 2001: A Space Odyssey and the novel were produced simultaneously and both released in 1968, which makes the book the Novelization of the film (Clarke himself said the book should have been credited to "Clarke and Kubrick", just like the movie was credited to "Kubrick and Clarke"). The book and the film both use Clarke's earlier short story "The Sentinel" as a basis, but, largely owing to the brevity of the story, only just.

    A strange black rectangular Monolith is discovered on the moon, apparently having been buried there thousands of years ago by extra-terrestrials. As it is being examined by Dr. Heywood Floyd the lunar dawn occurs and sunlight hits it for the first time since it was buried. It reacts to the sunlight by sending out a radio signal directed at Saturn (Jupiter in the film). About two years later, in 2001, a crew of five astronauts aboard the space ship Discovery are on their way to Saturn. The scientific team are all in hibernation to preserve resources while the ship's two-man crew, David Bowman and Frank Poole, are left awake to help the sixth crew member, a self-aware supercomputer by the name of HAL 9000, with monitoring the ship's day-to-day functions. The mission is boring routine, until HAL starts predicting faults in the ship that the human astronauts can't verify, not only jeopardizing the mission, but also the life of the crew.
  • 2010: Odyssey Two (1982): While not initially thought up by Clarke as a movie idea, the book was, in 1984, adapted, with his and Kubrick's blessing, into the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

    Nine years after the Discovery's mission to Jupiter (changed from Saturn to match the film), a joint Soviet-American crew including Dr. Floyd is heading for the mighty gas-planet to find out what happened to the Discovery and its crew. Meanwhile David Bowman, now reborn as an Energy Being, is helping the race that created the Monoliths with scouting Jupiter and its moons for primitive lifeforms, hopefully finding one that has the potential to develop sentience.
  • 2061: Odyssey Three (1987): Heywood Floyd, a veteran of the 2010 expedition to Jupiter, has been invited as a celebrity guest for the spaceliner Universe's landing on Halley's Comet, which is nearing perihelion. Meanwhile a militant anti-Afrikaner hijacks the Universe's sister-ship Galaxy and crashes it into Jupiter's forbidden moon Europa, leaving the Universe as the crew of the Galaxy's only hope of rescue.
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997): Discovery crew member Frank Poole, having been left adrift in space for a thousand years, is brought back to life through the wonders of future medical science, and begins to explore the Earth of 3001. Meanwhile, the creators of the Monoliths are making their final determination of whether humankind is a failed experiment. Because of the delays of lightspeed communication they are using the state of the human race at the end of the twentieth century to make their decision, and David Bowman is not optimistic.

This series of novels contain examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • HAL is probably the most famous example of all time. His erratic behavior in 2001 is explained in 2010 as the result of a programming conflict. Essentially, HAL was programmed to 'be truthful', then told to hide the actual goal of the mission from the astronauts that were awake; something of a lie by omission. HAL eventually decided that since it could largely run the ship through automation, and already knew everything anyway, getting rid of all of the astronauts meant no one to lie to. Not being clear on the idea that "being shut down to troubleshoot HAL's increasingly contradictory reports" doesn't equal death (and risking the mission) didn't help.
    • The Monoliths in 3001. Earlier books state that the Monoliths were ordered to continue observing humanity, but the prime Monolith on Europa in 3001 is stated by "Halman" to be on the verge of eradicating humanity. Halman also believes it may have been damaged and lost some of its original capabilities.
  • Amicably Divorced: Poole's marriage to and eventual divorce from Indra is a form of this. They are said to have managed to stay friends afterwards.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The narrator states that the creators of the Monoliths did this long ago. In story it happens to David Bowman, HAL 9000, and Heywood Floyd, after a fashion.
  • Author Tract: 3001, as utopian fiction, reflects a great deal of Clarke's views. In particular he confirms in the afterword that Dr. Khan's view of religion as a type of mental disorder reflects his own views.
  • Back from the Dead: Frank Poole, whose body was found essentially by chance, gets resurrected a thousand years in the future by advanced medical techniques. Future society views him as a curiosity and valuable living relic.
  • Broad Strokes/Negative Continuity: While all of the novels takes pretty much all of the events of the previous ones in account, each installment also seems to ignore the ending of the previous one. invoked Word of God is that each novel takes place in its own parallel universe.
    • In his notes on 2010, Clarke notes that the novel is in many ways more a sequel to the movie. In particular, it relocates the action of 2001 from Saturn's orbit to Jupiter's (as the film did).
    • Then ending of 2001 indicates that the Monolith can act as a wormhole and it transports Bowman to another solar system, apparently that of its builders. The sequels do not include any form of faster-than-light travel or communication and Bowman is said to have been "absorbed" by the monolith rather than transported anywhere.
    • Heywood Floyd's role in 2061 is referred to in 3001, but at the end of 2061 he was "copied" by the Monolith and joined Bowman and Hal as custodians of the Europans. There is no sign that he is part of "Halman" in 3001.
  • Canon Immigrant: Mister Machine (now Machine Man in the Marvel Universe).
  • Chekhov's Gun: In 2010, as the Leonov is leaving Earth orbit, the Captain comments that they're passing the new Chinese space-station, and Floyd muses to himself that there's some international suspicion regarding its function, especially as the UN Space Committee's repeated requests for an inspection have been refused. As it later turns out, it's not a space-station at all — it's a spaceship, the Tsien, which they plan to use to get to Discovery first. Even their rivals are impressed by the sheer audacity of them building the thing in plain sight.
  • Circumcision Angst: Inverted. A woman loses interest in Frank because his is circumcised, something that is considered a "mutilation" in 3001. Subverted by Frank, who is bemused to learn why his one-night stand ran out on him, but declines restorative surgery and goes on to date more favourably inclined women instead.
  • The Day of Reckoning: The last page of 3001 makes a statement that the creators of the Monolith will not determine humanity's fate until "the Last Days".
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: In 3001, humanity observed a planet explode, which somehow triggered a supernova. They are left to wonder if there was intelligence on that planet and if they caused the supernova. Though everyone was so terrified of the phenomenon they didn't want to speak of it again.
    • Subverted with the attempt by the monoliths to eradicate humanity: rather than directly assaulting Earth and its Jovian colonies, giant screens are created that block the light of both the Sun and Lucifer. Justified, of course, since the Monoliths don't want to risk destroying the Europans, who would also have been wiped out if detonating Earth had triggered the Sun to explode the way the other star had.
  • Endless Daytime: Europa in 2010, thanks to Jupiter becoming a star.
  • Failed Future Forecast:
    • Each book in the series has been invalidated by current events. The first three books all feature a still-existing USSR; the backstory of 2061 involves a revolution in South Africa in the 2030s which overthrows the apartheid regime; and of course there are moonbases and the invention of HAL in the late 1990s. Arthur C. Clarke went on record to state that the 'sequels' were actually stories taking place in alternate universes when current events surpassed his stories.
    • In addition to being too optimistic about human space exploration in 2001 and incorrectly predicting that the USSR would still exist by the year 2061 (let alone 2001), the series also incorrectly predicted that the South African Apartheid regime would end in a bloodless coup in the 2030s, with the white population fleeing and taking most of the country's wealth with them. The black population is able to rebuild the economy in a matter of months by nationalizing the diamond industry.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: In the first book, it's shown that one of the monolith's functions is to work as a stargate. Bowman also learns how to travel faster than light on his own after being transformed by the monolith, despite knowing it's supposed to be impossible. Later books drop this.
  • Full-Conversion Cyborg: The Benevolent Precursors progressively replaced their bodies with cyborg implants as they wore out until the only organic components left to them were their brains. And eventually, Brain Uploading made even this obsolete, with the race existing as mechanical minds inhabiting Sapient Ship bodies - until they transcended physical existence altogether.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: 3001 is about a man brought back to life 1,000 years in the future and Clarke's thoughts on what it will be like, then only the last third returns to the ongoing plot of the series.
  • Jerkass to One: In 2061, classical composer Dimitri Mihailovich is generally friendly and well-disposed to most people, but takes an instant dislike to scientist Victor Willis, and is often rude to him. This is because Victor is tone-deaf, which Mihailovich seems to view as some sort of personal failing rather than a disability.
  • Kill All Humans: What Bowman is afraid the monoliths will decide to do in 3001, as they are basing their judgement of humanity on how we were at the end of the 20th century. The monolith blocks out the Sun (and Lucifer) in an effort to kill us all, but is swiftly defeated by a human-designed computer virus.
  • Living Gasbag: 2010: The Year We Make Contact had the noncorporeal Bowman journeying down through the Jovian atmosphere, where he sees gigantic non-sentient living beings floating through the clouds and consuming similar smaller creatures. They are all killed when Jupiter is turned into a star.
  • Mind-Control Device: In 3001 the "braincap" that everyone wears that gives them direct mental access to the future internet can also be used as a mind-control device. In fact there are no prisons in 3001 - criminals are simply mind-controlled through their braincap into menial laborers until they have served their sentence. Indra says it would be very difficult to staff those kinds of jobs if they didn't have a pool of criminals to mind-control into doing them. Poole worries a bit about whether the braincap will allow others to control him when he first has it installed, but when Indra later reveals to him that it certainly can function in this way he is surprisingly accepting of the whole idea. Perhaps he is being influenced through his braincap to accept this as normal and moral?
  • More than Three Dimensions: The first novel explicates that the Monolith has sides in a proportion of 1:4:9, the squares of the first three integers. Then it suggests the Monolith extends in more dimensions, presumably by squares.
    "And how naive to have imagined that the series ended at this point, in only three dimensions!"
  • Never Trust a Title: Despite the fourth book being titled 3001: The Final Odyssey, everything that's actually related to wrapping up the story arc of the series takes place in the year 3031, following a Time Skip.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. A Europan life form eats a human corpse and then vomits it back up, goes into death throes, and expires a short time later.
  • Nondescript, Nasty, Nutritious: Doctor Bowman explores the kitchen area of his habitat. He discovers packaged foods in the cupboards and bottled comestibles in the refrigerator. Unlike the film adaptation, the contents in every case are an azure blue substance with a cake-like consistency, devoid of any discernable flavor.
  • Novelization: Technically, 2001 is a novelization of the film, although being based on an early version of the screenplay it differs in many ways (Discovery goes to Saturn rather than Jupiter, for example, and the book ends with World War III breaking out on earth.)
  • Nuclear Torch Rocket: Used throughout the series.
    • In 2010: Odyssey Two, the Soviet spaceship Alexei Leonov is powered by the "Sakharov Drive", which uses a pulsed thermonuclear reaction to expel its propellant mass (usually liquid methane or ammonia; water can also be used, although it's less efficient). It's implied the Chinese ship Tsien uses a similar system. (Averted by the American Discovery, returning here from 2001, which is also fusion-powered but uses magnetic acceleration, rather than heat, to expel its propellant.)
    • In 2061: Odyssey Three, ships use a similar but more efficient drive based on muon-catalyzed fusion, which uses water as a propellant, and allows relatively inexpensive travel from one side of the Solar System to the other in a matter of weeks. (For comparison, Leonov's mission to Jupiter and back took five years.)
  • Oh, My Gods!: In place of "God", the people of 3001 say "Deus", example: "By Deus - It's full of stars!". Frank notices how everyone cringes when he says "God".
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, somewhat; the nickname the crew of the Discovery uses for the second maintenance pod in the first book is Betty. In the second book, Betty is also the name of Dave's ex-girlfriend.
  • On the Rebound: As told in 2010 as an extension of a flashback, Betty gets together with Dave only two years after his brother Bobby—whom she had previously dated—passed away. Overlaps with Sex for Solace, as they both essentially use the relationship as a way to cope with Bobby's death.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: By the year 3001 all the familiar organized religions of the 21st century have died out, having all been discredited by the discovery that aliens had "jump-started" human evolution and that the monolith in Africa was humanity's first object of worship. That said, they aren't entirely disbelievers: they are generally either "Deists", believing in not more than one god, or "Theists", believing in not less than one god. The distinction is somewhat lost on Poole, who is Jewish, and is not elaborated on further.
  • Portal Crossroad World: The Star Gate leads to a hub system at the center of the galaxy with portals leading everywhere else.
  • Precursors: The mysterious race only know as "The creators of the Monoliths". The prologue of 3001 gave them the name "Firstborn", but it is never used by the characters in-story.
  • Rip Van Winkle: Frank Poole, by dint of coming back from the dead after a thousand years.
  • Shout-Out: 2010: Odyssey Two has a number of characters named after Soviet dissidents. In 1984, the book was translated into Russian and began appearing in serial form in the youth popular science magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi ("Technology for the Youth"), but only the first two parts. After the second, an article on the International Herald Tribune pointing out the names came to the attention of the KGB. The serialisation was cancelled with a brief note summarising the rest of the plot in the next issue. The editor, Vasily Zakharchenko, was made the scapegoat for the whole affair, losing his job and all the privileges he had. The rest of the serialisation would reappear during glasnost, being published in 1989-1990. In the acknowledgements of 2061, Clarke references the whole affair, of which more details can be found here.
  • Solar System Neighbors: Europa turns out to have a complex ecosystem, including a number of intelligent species. The Monoliths convert Jupiter into a mini-sun in order to boost their development (and prevent their eventual extinction as Europa recedes from Jupiter and freezes solid), as their creators, the Firstborn, believe their potential deserves to be explored. (Jupiter itself was also home to life, but all its organisms were simple creatures driven by instinct; the Firstborn decided it was worth sacrificing them for the Europeans' sake.)
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: 2061 mentions that Dr. Chandra died in hibernation on the trip back to Earth after 2010. It's implied that he died of grief over HAL having been destroyed by the explosion of Jupiter, despite the ending of 2010 stating that he would create a new 9000 computer.
  • Starfish Aliens: The "Europs", whose evolution has been accelerated by the Monoliths much as ancient man-apes were accelerated on the path to humans. They're described as looking like mobile thorn-bushes, with no obvious sense organs. Because their biochemistry is based on sulphur instead of oxygen, it is much less efficient, thus even a sloth could outrun them. They are filter-feeders that use their branches to strain the water for plankton. By 3001 they've barely started using tools, just making ice igloos on the surface to avoid predators - after a thousand years they're still loosely at the level of the man-apes at the beginning of 3001 who started using bones as clubs. Yet there's a spark of pre-sapience in them now, as they are fascinated by metal objects left over from human probes, and arrange them in piles like cargo cults.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Firstborn, who created the Monoliths and later went on to transfer their consciousness to all of space-time. While they normally stay out of the affairs of lesser races, they will occasionally personally interject their help if they deem the one asking for it worthy. This is displayed at the end of 2010 when Dave asks them to save HAL from being killed by the newly-born Lucifer's creation. They transfer HAL's consciousness to be with Dave in his ascended form from then on.
  • Terraform: 2061 and 3001 depicts humankind as doing this to Mars and Venus. In 3001 there are still centuries to go before Venus will be habitable.
  • Title by Year: Multiple, following an Idiosyncratic Episode Naming pattern of "[Year]: [Phrase with "Odyssey" in it.]":
    • 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    • 2010: Odyssey Two.
    • 2061: Odyssey Three.
    • 3001: The Final Odyssey.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: The three cryogenically frozen scientists in 2001 get practically no characterization before being killed off. Lampshaded as David examines their dead bodies:
    "He had never known them very well; he would never know them now."
    • Their names in the novel are different than their names in the movie as well.
  • You Keep Using That Word: In-Universe, mixed with Nonindicative Name. The monolith near Jupiter is designated TMA-2. This is in spite of the fact that TMA stands for Tycho Magnetic Anomaly, referring to the original monolith on the moon (which stopped being magnetic after it realized it had been dug up). The crew of the Leonov snarkily refuse to use the term. Happens later on when Moonwatcher's monolith is dug up in Africa and termed TMA-0. Poole points out that this name makes even less sense than calling the Jupiter Monolith TMA-2.
    • Chandra is always quick to point out that HAL didn't malfunction, he was given conflicting orders and made bad decisions in his attempt to reconcile them.

Alternative Title(s): Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey, Space Odyssey