Ideas for Group Discussions
Modern Western thought includes several perspectives on the origins of the universe and of life. Religious literalism may hold with a Six Day Creation occurring about 6000 BC, with each twenty-four hour day's developments being a new product of God's spoken word. Theistic evolutionism blends acceptance of scientific evidence of long-term developments in plant and animal species over spans of millions of years with acceptance of a Creator God who triggered and guided the development of the universe and the life it contains.
Agnostic and atheistic evolutionary views accept scientific evidence of long-term developments in the genera and species of prehistoric and present-day life, differing on the issue of whether the existence or nonexistence of God is unknowable, or that God simply does not exist.
Within the varieties of evolutionary thought, still another issue lurks: that of gradualism versus cataclysm in evolution. Gradualist thought holds that the adaptation of a species to its environment operates very slowly over spans of millions of years. Cataclysmic thought holds that relatively sudden changes in climate, in the orientation and rotation of the earth, rapid advance or retreat of glaciers, rapid flooding or desertification of a land mass punctuate critical stages of the evolutionary record.
The novel 2001: A Space Odyssey opens with prehuman primates dimly struggling to survive in an arid African environment, then leaps to events in the twenty-first century. It poses mysterious monoliths as crucial to human evolution, mixing both rational and mystical opportunities for interpreting the...
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One reason for the success of Stanley Kubrick's film and Arthur Clarke's novel was their timing, which coincided with the achievement of Apollo 11. Both film and novel offer a tour of human origins in Africa, of settlements in space stations and on the Moon, and of a sizable part of the solar system; unhampered by the limits of special effects, Clarke extends the tour from Jupiter to Saturn. Since contemporary science fiction seldom allows itself to be so openly didactic, the novel enjoyed its chance to show where the Apollo program might lead. Clarke and Kubrick's private title for their first outlines was appropriate; "How the Solar System Was Won." In its first year of publication over a million copies of the paperback were in print.
The novel is also oddly flattering in its view of the territorial imperative. Against the background of debates in paleontology, the novel endorses human aggression as necessary to the evolution of the race, yet denies that aggression is innate; the man-ape has to be trained by the alien monolith to throw stones at targets, and he eats flesh with a fleeting nausea. Humanity is red in tooth and claw, but guiltless.
A major theme is the human anxiety of being supplanted by a machine. Clarke, however, mutes this anxiety by making the contemporary demands of national security responsible for the murderous neurosis of the computer Hal. The novel argues for a free exchange of information among the scientists of...
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Techniques / Literary Precedents
The debates of Dr. Louis Leakey, Desmond Morris, and Robert Ardrey influence not only the first section but the broad themes of the novel. The use Clarke and Kubrick made of the Odyssey in structuring the screenplay and novel is clear, and the Divine Comedy plays a part in the afterlife pilgrimage of Bowman; and Stapledon, in Last and First Men, remains important. But the major background to the novel is Clarke's own work; as several commentators have noted, narrative motifs have been woven into it from "The Sentinel," "Transcience," "Encounter at Dawn," "Out of the Sun," "The Possessed," and his moon novels.
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The sequels to 2001: A Space Odyssey are 2010: Odyssey Two, (1982) and 2061: Odyssey Three (1987). However, several critics consider The City and the Stars (1956), Clarke's masterpiece. It compares two Utopias, the urban Diaspar and the pastoral Lys, and finds each an incomplete response to the challenge the universe presents. The people of the closed Diaspar are immortal, recreated by passing through the crystalline memory of the Central Computer, life after life; with no navels, they are abstracted from the cycles of nature. The people of Lys die, having achieved telepathic communication in their woodlands; but they have renounced analytic reason. The quest of the protagonist Alvin opens up both communities to the galaxy, to discover humanity's ancient failures and triumphs, to accept such risks again, and to remain open despite the clear premonition that humanity will not be present at the end of the universe, except in its artificial descendants.
Rendezvous with Rama (1973) is Clarke's version of an old science fiction plot, the probe of an alien artifact, in this case a cylindrical spaceship fifty kilometers long and twenty kilometers in diameter, as it falls through the solar system toward the sun. Meticulous in its physical details, the novel allows the object to dwarf the characters; for a crucial theme is the insufficiency of any viewpoint to exhaust reality. Yet the characters are admirable in their concerted efforts...
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When Clarke first visited Kubrick in 1964 to work on a science fiction film, the director believed that they should together write a novel upon which it would be based; they would be forced to detail the background of the world that would be filmed. Both processes, novel-writing and filmmaking, occurred in tandem, so that the relation between novel and film is intricate. Some differences flowed from the nature of the media; since Kubrick's special-effects could not depict satisfactory Rings of Saturn, the film had to end its odyssey at Jupiter.
Other dissimilarities highlight the different thematic concerns of novelist and director. There is little in Clarke of Kubrick's brilliant treatment of the mechanization of human relations; Clarke gives Floyd and Bowman interior lives. Nor is Hal, in Clarke, the Frankenstein's monster of countless films; much more resembling Mary Shelley's original creature, Hal is a victim of the divided intentions of its makers.
Although some critics found the film empty or too long, albeit visually stunning, most have come to regard it as the most important science fiction film since Things to Come. Within its genre, the novel is not the ground breaker the film has proven to be.
The film made from 2010: Odyssey Two was a workmanlike and entertaining effort, which handled the charm of the novel competently. But neither the novel nor the film meant to deal with the religious and evolutionary...
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