Before I dived back into the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey, I had an undeniable urge to revisit Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey series. I’d recently visited a planetarium, and seeing Europa up there on the screen, in orbit around the giant Jupiter just fired that urge again, so I settled in to the journey again (one I hadn’t taken in book form in the better part of two decades if not longer).
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the first novel, in what eventually became a four book series, was written before man set foot on the moon.
There are differences between the book and the film, and both were created at the same time, with a lot of back and forth between Clarke and Kubrick. The most notable of which is the change of the third encounter with the monolith; in the film, there is a giant monolith in orbit of Jupiter, which will lead us to the mysterious Jovian moon Europa (which is full of possibility) in the follow-up, 2010. In the novel, the spacecraft Discovery, slingshots around Jupiter, and travels onwards to Saturn, and its moon, Iapetus, which has actual curious anomalies about it.
Much like the film, the book is broken up into four segments, The Dawn of Man, which features Moonwatcher, a man-ape, and his tribe’s encounter with a monolith, that gives them a bit of an evolutionary nudge. From there we travel to the moon, with Heywood Floyd, who meets his opposite number on the Russian Side, Dimitri Moisevitch who inquires about the quarantine of the U.S. base at Tycho. We continue our journey with Floyd to the surface of the moon itself, and encounter a long-buried monolith which sends a signal out into space, an alarm, if you will, letting someone (thing?) know that man has found it. The third part follows the voyage of the Discovery, with Dave Bowman, Frank Poole, and a computer that is working under conflicting orders which puts them all at risk, the Hal 9000. The final part, is Bowman’s encounter with the monolith on Iapetus, his journey through the stargate and his guided evolution.
I love the film and the novel equally, and I love the way Clarke writes, there’s an invitation in his writing to explore, to look up at the stars and wonder, and he grounds everything in a believable reality. There are things that have come to pass, and there are things that are no doubt still on the drawing board, but no less possible.
Clarke makes his science fiction accessible, and isn’t afraid of putting scientific concepts in layman’s terms, but for all that, he never talks down, or is that writes down?, to his readers.
Even knowing the story as well as I do, both film and book, each time I read it, and it has been far too long between readings, I can see it all in my mind’s eye, and while there are similarities between the images in my mind and the film, it is its own thing, and filled with wonder, awe, and it’s like laying on my back on a summer night looking up at the stars.
Take the journey if you’ve never read it, or if you have, take it again…