(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

2001: A Space Odyssey is Clarke’s best-known work, partly because of the popularity of the 1968 film version. From 1964 to 1968, Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick collaborated on the novel and the screenplay, with Kubrick having control over the film and Clarke being responsible for the novel. Both works were extensively revised, and Clarke later published some material cut from the novel in The Lost Worlds of 2001 (1972).

In the epilogue to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke says the book “was concerned with the next stage of human evolution.” The beginning of the book describes creatures not yet human, the middle shows modern humankind, and the ending speculates on what humanity might become. Black monoliths appear in each section and provide connections between each section.

When the book opens, three million years in the past, man-apes have reached a crucial point in their development. Unable to obtain enough food, they will perish if they do not learn to use tools to hunt. Space-traveling extraterrestrials recognize their potential and teach them how to use bones as weapons. The first monolith is a teaching device, but it also transforms Moon-Watcher, one of the smarter apes; the structure of his brain is altered and the change will be passed on to his descendants. Without this almost divine intervention, the human race would not have evolved. Moon-Watcher also discovers, on his own, that the weapons can kill others of his own species.

In the next section, humans have developed a sophisticated technology that enables them to travel to the Moon—and also to create increasingly lethal weapons. They also are at a crucial point in their history: Will they continue to progress or will they destroy themselves and the planet?...

(The entire section is 732 words.)