Holiday Reads, November 2016 (Arthur C. Clarke)

This month, Lucy and I visited Gran Canaria for a week. Normally our holidays are fantastically hectic, itinerary-based, do-as-much-as-we-can-a-thons, but this time we really wanted a “nothing holiday” (as I’ve been calling it), so we could spend time just lying in the sun and reading.

I was halfway through Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the start of the holiday, and I finished it a couple of days afterwards. As anyone who has read it will know, it’s a hugely readable, enjoyable piece of science-fiction history. I was engaged with the narrative the whole time – something that is not guaranteed with me and sci-fi!

I’ve seen the film but I haven’t watched it for a long while, so some of the details felt new to me. It was also interesting to note the differences between the film and the novel, especially concerning Hal’s motives aboard Discovery, and the expansion of the final Star Gate sequence. This last section was especially thrilling, as it all seemed so new and disorienting to me. I’m very familiar with the famous climax of the film now, but when I first watched it, I was a stubborn fourteen year old trying to comprehend what I was seeing. Reading the end of the book now, which is presented in the novel with a great deal more exposition, gave me similar feelings of confusion and disorientation. This was a good thing!

As soon as I’d finished 2001, I started 2010: Odyssey Two straight away. I actually wanted to read Clarke’s The Lost Worlds of 2001, but I’d left it at home some 1700 miles away – so the sequel would have to do.

2010 was another entertaining read, though I’d say it’s inferior in a lot of ways to the original 2001 story. It was great to be re-introduced to some of the characters from the first book, but there is a lot of repetition here also. Maybe it’s because I read 2010 directly after 2001, but it was hard not to notice whole sections lifted directly from the first book. This isn’t necessarily a criticism – I don’t feel as though these aspects took anything away from the book – but it just seemed a little rushed (though 2010 was written fourteen years after the original!).

The pacing of this novel is fairly sluggish when compared to the original. The majority of the story takes place aboard one Russian/American space vessel, the Leonov. As a result, these parts of the book feel rather claustrophobic. At other times, there are sudden narrative u-turns and the hasty introduction of various new plot devices which I found slightly jarring and often clumsy. One element in particular feels as though it was inserted in the first section of the book with the express purpose of revisiting it at the story’s climax. This is no bad thing in itself, but the way in which this particular plot element is introduced seems at odds with the gradual pace of the rest of the narrative.

Still, it was a very enjoyable read, and I’m eager to read the other two novels in the Odyssey series. Despite my criticisms above, I find Clarke to be a formidable writer – his prose is engaging and entertaining, and it has a great balance of human interest/technical speculation.


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