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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 novels are in chronological order:

  • 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 their launch point, and they largely follow the same plot, but with some notable differences.

    A strange black rectangular Monolith is discovered on the moon, apparently having been buried there thousands of years ago by a race of 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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:

  • Absent Aliens: Besides the unseen creators of the Monoliths and the Europans, mankind has not made contact with any aliens even by the year 3001. Maybe not even by 20,001 AD.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • HAL is one of the most famous examples. His erratic behavior in 2001 is explained in 2010 as the result of a programming conflict.
    • The Monoliths in 3001. Earlier books state that the Monoliths were ordered to continue observing humanity, but the prime Monolith on Eurpoa 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 and eventual divorce of Indra is a form of this. They are said to have managed to stay friends afterwards.
  • Artistic License – Biology: 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.
  • 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).
  • 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".
  • Dewey Defeats Truman: 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.
  • 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.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: In 3001, humans are able to clone velociraptors which are used as gardeners, and excellent babysitters. They tried using great apes (like gorillas), but as Frank learned, the apes "don't have the patience for it".
    • An old joke in the 31st Century goes as follows:
    Setup - Would you trust your children with a dinosaur?
    Punchline - What? And risk injuring it?
  • Endless Daytime: Europa in 2010, thanks to Jupiter becoming a star.
  • Failed Future Forecast: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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.)
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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


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