The mystery of the monolith in orbit around Jupiter grows as a new mission is launched from Earth to hopefully discover what happened on that fateful mission in 2001.
Taking its cue more from Kubrick’s film version than his own novel, though parts of that have been incorporated, the setting for mankind’s next encounter has been changed from Saturn to Jupiter, and the moons that surround it, especially the satellite known as Europa, an ice-covered world that may hide oceans, and perhaps even life beneath it.
Picking up some nine years after the events of the original, Doctor Heywood Floyd, still feeling some responsibility in his involvement in the original Discovery mission, has taken up residence in Hawaii and is serving as Dean of the university.
When his Russian friend Dimitri meets up with him at a symposium, he reveals two things, that set the action of the novel underway. The Russians are sending their own ship to Jupiter, the Leonov, which will reach it before the American follow-up mission, Discovery II, and that the original spacecraft, Discovery, now a derelict, is in a deteriorating orbit, that will cause the ship’s destruction before Discovery II can arrive.
What is proposed is a joint Soviet-U.S. mission, and Heywood finds himself invited along at the request of the President.
As they race towards Jupiter, they learn that what was supposedly a Chinese spacelab, the Tsien, is in fact a starship, and now, is going to reach the Jovian system before the Leonov can arrive. The crew watch in horror and respect as the Chinese temporarily bypass Discovery and the massive monolith hanging in space to land on Europa… where they meet with disaster. (This sequence is changed completely in the film based on the novel, the Chinese mission is completely dropped out, and replaced with a probe that is launched from Leonov instead. It’s still one of my favorite bits in the film though).
Out amongst the stars, the human drama isn’t lost as Floyd deals with personal issues both aboard the ship, in the form of HAL’s creator, Chandra, as well as at home, as his wife deals with their estrangement.
Clarke continues to make science accessible, and tries to ground as much of the story in scientific reality as he can, making it that much more believable.
There is more to deal with than just the Discovery and the mystery of the monolith. It seems the being that was once David Bowman, and his guides, are still keeping an eye on things, and are about to implement major changes in the solar system, in the hopes of fostering new life.
And as the crew of the Leonov watch, Jupiter changes before their eyes, and as they return to Earth, on a somewhat successful mission, a message races before them, one that almost every science fiction fan knows, one that fills me with wonder, hope, and a touch of fear…