Saturday, 8 October 2016

2001: A Space Odyssey by Sir Arthur C. Clarke


I sort of feel like I'm ragging on Arthur C. Clarke this weekend. That's a little weird, because I have liked the books of his I've read before. At very least, they've sparked ideas and connections, thoughts about trends in science fiction, and the ways in which he depicts his futures.

So, it's time for a bit of confession - I had never read 2001, nor had I seen the movie. My husband isn't a huge Kubrick fan, and particularly doesn't like that movie, so it's never been something we've popped in. As for why I haven't read it, your guess is as good as mine.

When I was two-thirds of the way through and starting to work through what I wanted to write in the review, I bounced my ideas off my husband, and his response to most of my thoughts was "yeah, that's what I felt about the movie too." Which raises the question - which of these is the chicken and which the egg?

Excuse me while I do some internet research.

Okay. Wikipedia says they were written concurrently, which makes a certain amount of sense. Mostly what I felt about the book was that there wasn't very damn much in it. It felt like a novelization of a movie where the author does not feel free to add in details and side bits that flesh out the world - a movie necessarily condenses, a book can spend more time and care. That fleshing out, however, was nowhere to be seen. This was bare bones as hell, and not only does that leave me wondering why so little happened, it also left me drifting distantly from what was there.

My husband's main complaint from the movie is that it's sterile and emotionless, with no character well-developed enough to actually get attached to. My call on the book is that it's much the same. The closest we get is Dave, out on the spaceship to Saturn, but even then we're given very little about him as a person. Even through the crisis on board the ship, there's no real character development. Because of that, when what happens at the end happens to him, it's not worry or disgust or wonder or happiness I felt at his fate. It was an emotion more akin to a shrug.

I'm being too hard on the book. It's not bad, and it's definitely nowhere near as bad as The Last Theorem. And I know Clarke tends towards unemotional characters tied to logic instead of feeling. But more so than any book of his I've read before, the subject matter is sparse, and it feels much of the time like I'm being repelled away from what's going on more than I'm being pulled to it. If I wanted to be cute, I could liken it to a gravitational repulsion. 

This feels like it may be what he wanted, for this book to be a story that is so strange it feels alien, and he gets that. But it just lacked any sense of wonder or awe I would want to see along with that. And if the human bits feel as distant as the drastically alien...what's the point, then?

Again, it's not terrible. There's just not a whole lot here.

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