2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke was published only a few months after the movie released in 1968. I have not seen the movie and had not read the book. The introduction to the copy I have states, by Clarke himself, that Stanley Kubrick commissioned the novel because he wanted a genuine story for his movie. Clarke and Kubrick thus worked on the screenplay together while Clarke was writing the book. I had no idea that this story was developed this way and thought it was an interesting and likely isolated case as most movies are based off of books or a novelization of a movie is released after the movie screening. One precedes the other. This one was more of collaboration or joint production.
I have known of this book for a long time but only recently read it. I knew of the movie but have still not seen it. They are, to me, quite older works (they were released more than two decades before my birth and only seven years after my father was born; also 2001 was 19 years ago now). I of course have read much older works, but this one came to be placed on my TBR pile after I read an introduction to another novel which claimed that there are six novels that have proved to be the most influential to the development of science fiction. Naturally, I was curious. I had only read one of the six listed and I respect the author of that introduction. I also greatly enjoy science fiction so I made it a goal to read every book on this list.
For those who are curious, the list was:
- 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
- The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Of these six, the only I had read was Neuromancer. I am not sure why The Once and Future King would be considered science fiction as it centers on the Arthurian tales, but who am I to refute somewhat trivial genre categories.
I have now read all of these and agree that they were likely highly influential to science fiction as a genre. Most of them were written in the 1960’s or prior with the exception of Gibson. I loved a few and only liked others. As for Odyssey, I liked it and can see its merit, but do not believe it would be a popular novel if written today. It was written at the peak of space exploration and public curiosity with the cosmos, which unfortunately has diminished. Not so much the curiosity but we have stopped that fervent wish to explore beyond our planet. Probes are still sent out and they gather public interest momentarily (i.e. the Curiosity rover), but we no longer as a species desire to go beyond. We no longer care to have manned missions beyond orbit.
Odyssey is well written and is still interesting partly because we still have so little knowledge of what lies at the outer reaches of our solar system. We know a lot more than we did in 1968, but we no longer look out at the stars. We have reverted back to fighting each other and squabbling over idiotic disagreements or straight up greed. I’m sure anyone who lived in the 1960’s and watched the moon landings thought the year 2000 would be much different than what it turned out to be. Though I can probably say the same of what we believe 2050 will look like from today.
I wish we would return to the dreams of space exploration. This book was kind of a nostalgic reminder that the human race once did have such dreams. However, I am recommending it much like it was recommended to me. I believe it was influential to the growth of science fiction and has influenced many stories since. I knew of HAL 9000 without having read or watched the movie, but he is just a minor part of this book. So, if you are a fan of science fiction or are interested space, then you will likely enjoy this book. I hope you maintain your curiosity and go look out at the stars every once in awhile.