Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Odyssey’ Tetralogy

Or maybe you prefer Quadrilogy.  This four-book saga is made up of  2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), 2010: Odyssey Two (1982), 2061: Odyssey Three (1987), and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997).  Since these are related to film, I am comfortable writing about them on this blog.  But even if they weren’t, this blog will probably diverge occasionally to discuss non-film texts.  So, it’s okay either way.

And I will add that the filmed adaptation of 2010 was bad, really really bad.  I had higher hopes. Oh well.

Nonetheless, I have just finished reading 3001 and I thought I’d share my thoughts on the series of four books.  I don’t want to comment on each of them individually, but instead, just general comments about the whole lot.

I will note here that though 3001 is called The Final Odyssey, Clarke ends this one typically, by leaving it open-ended and ominous.  Well, he passed on to the other side this year so he won’t be writing a sequel to fill in the gaps, so as readers we must do our best to project, based on what’s come prior, what will happen with the presumably ‘Big Daddy Monolith,’ as I will call it, in the ‘Last Days,’ as he refers to them.

I started reading 2001: A Space Odyssey  back in the late Spring, early Summer of this year.  Perhaps I had heard of Clarke’s recent death.  I cannot say for sure.  But, I read it in the hopes of shedding some light on what the heck went on in the last part of Kubrick’s parallel film (1968).  I had seen the film a few times and just could not put my finger on what was happening.  It doesn’t help that those final scenes lull you to sleep with all the stars coming at you like a mind trip.  And yes, the book resolved the issues in my mind about the ending with Dave Bowman and the ‘Star Child.’ Very satisfying. 

So I continued reading.  What struck me about the first text was that it was so clear that human intelligence was something that had been affected, or even Effected, by the Monolith when it came to earth 4 million years ago.  The fact that human intelligence had to be coaxed out of its primitive stages by an unknowable entity (and it remained truly unknowable, even by the end of 3001 when mankind had attempted to interfere with it for self-preservation), was fascinating to me.  It really puts the idea of human ingenuity to test. 

The great thing about Clarke’s writing is that it is so highly scientific that it seems and feels plausible.  In fact, at the end of most of the books is a recap of scientific advancement since their first publishing. 

True Science Fiction is amazing.  That blend of real science, humanity and the unknown but somehow fathomable future is a truly remarkable way of dealing with life and death in the now. 

That’s what I like so much about Clarke’s Odyssey series.  It seems so unreal, and it is, but at the same time the story engrosses you so much that you just NEED to find out what happens.  It is more surreal than anything–something delicately balanced under our own sense of reality, but so nearly real that it sucks you in and forces you to contemplate the possibilistic.  That is a mark of great fiction–when the unreal forces you to contemplate the real as analogs.

I have yet to read The Lost Worlds of 2001, which I’m sure will be a nice addendum to the Odyssey series.  And I have Clarke’s highly acclaimed Rendezvous With Rama waiting for me on the kitchen table. 

So here’s to you Frank Poole, Halman, Tsienville, Dr. Heywood Floyd, and the unseen yet immanently anticipated Big-Daddy-Monolith of the future.  May those of us who are here now help answer the question of whether we’ll all (or at least partially) be spared with It comes for us 1,500+ years hence.  In the meantime, perhaps we can rectify Clarke’s prediction in 3001 that the Twenty-First Century was one of the most horrific in history.  Deus save us all. Deus give us strength.  Deus ex macchina….?  Clarke would have us believe so!  An interesting thought to resolve in the interim millennia.

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