Book Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not the greatest of Arthur C. Clarke’s fans. Even in my youth, when I devoured classic sci-fi while other kids my age were discovering their dad’s not-so-secret stash of porn magazines, I was reading things like ‘Rendezvous with Rama’, ‘Imperial Earth’ and ‘Childhood’s End’ and really not so impressed, to be honest. Compared with Asimov (and Clarke so often was) and Anne McCaffrey, I really didn’t find Clarke so interesting.

That said, the Stanley Kubrick movie of 2001 was, without a shadow of doubt, one of the greatest movies of any genre. I know that’s contentious (the number of people I know personally who say they love and highly rate the film I can count on one hand and have fingers left to spare), but I hold that it is true and, on the whole, both critics and ‘Top Ten’ type lists tend to agree (give or take a superlative or two). After many viewings, plus learning a lot about the musical choices of Kubrick (there’s a bloody good reason why Richard Strauss’s opening to Also Sprach Zarathustra was chosen – horrifically and subsequently relegated to a spoiled cliché though it was), I came to have a pretty good understanding of what the hell the movie was all about. Or at least I thought I did.

It’s funny how things change. You get older and some heroes become disappointingly normalised, while many also-rans, start to prove their skill. I’m reading Asimov at the moment and find the great man isn’t quite as great as I used to think. And reading Clarke’s 2001? Well, at the very least, it is the best thing of his I’ve ever read. It was really, really good.

In part, this has to be because of the introduction to my copy, from Clarke himself, written after 2001, the year, had passed, which gave some interesting bits of information. I found out the book was written in conjunction with the making of the movie, with Kubrick and Clarke working together on the story, though the idea was born from a short story, ‘The Sentinel’ which Clarke didn’t rate very highly (it having failed to get anywhere in an BBC competition in 1948). I found too, that originally the movie was supposed to be centred around Saturn rather than Jupiter but this was changed for technical reasons. It was good to know that the movie and the book came hand-in-hand rather than having Kubrick shamelessly reinvent the story as he did so famously with Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’. In the film, you really do see what Clarke was envisaging in the book. Or perhaps the other way around.

But the main delight was in finding out what was really going on in the movie. What entirely was that monolith at the dawn of Man? What did it do to the apes? And what was the whole of that last section of the movie really all about? The novel answers all these questions, and does so NOT in the manner of finding out how the magician does the trick and being disappointed with the revelation. Instead you come away with an ‘Ohhh…THAT’S cool!’ kind of response.

For me, there was an additional delight of reading the connection only hinted at between the ape so iconically captured in the movie and Dave Bowman’s ‘final’ moments. It’s a brilliant moment, skilfully executed. And despite having enjoyed the novel so much, I am not sure there is much more I have to say. But perhaps – and forgive me for saying this, but I can’t resist – I will think of something.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, will be published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways,  and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.

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