One of four 1982 best-sellers in genuine science fiction, 2010: Odyssey Two was perhaps the least likely to achieve that eminence solely on the basis of its content. Rambling and discursive, with only brief flashes of melodrama to relieve its pursuit of information about the universe, it does not even offer a self-contained story, but it was pre-sold by the name Arthur C. Clarke and by its connection with the novelization of the classic film to which it is a sequel. It is surprising that the book holds together as well as it does, summing up and extending Clarke’s career.
Rarely does a sequel match the success of its predecessor. The problem is compounded here, since the 2001 remembered by most people was a film which set new standards for cinema. The novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), based heavily on the filmscript which Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick wrote for the film, differed considerably from the film itself. As described in that book, the journey across the solar system halted at Saturn, not Jupiter, and Clarke’s matter-of-fact narration made explicit and rather less interesting matters which the film director handled elliptically and symbolically.
In the sequel, Jupiter is where David Bowman left Discovery and entered the alien artifact that sent him across the galaxy for examination and transformation by an incredibly old and advanced extraterrestrial race. 2010 reiterates, however, Clarke’s explanations of Kubrick’s mysteries; its directness, its style, its assumptions about the universe are worlds apart from those of the film. Moreover, 2010 does not simply continue the story of 2001. Rather, like Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather, Part II (1974), it reviews, expands, and even envelops its predecessor.
2010 has five stories to tell, two main characters to explore, science lessons to teach, a raft of allusions to make, and many familiar Clarkeisms, from theme and motif to structure and style to echoes and even quotes from his previous work. Beginning as a tale of a cooperative American-Russian mission in another spaceship, the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, to salvage Discovery, the story quickly becomes complicated. The physical journey is also a test of character for Heywood Floyd, the director of the original Discovery mission. Next, a competing Chinese spaceship turns apparent triumph into tragedy when its crew is annihilated by a Europan life form. Counterpointing the outward journey of the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov is the return, as a disembodied intelligence, of David Bowman. Finally, the development of Europan civilization as another form of intelligence in our solar system is chronicled in a brief epilogue. The first, third, and fifth story lines concentrate on hard science extrapolation. The second and fourth reflect more interest in character, as in The Fountains of Paradise (1979). The last two story lines, moreover, reprise the quasimystical speculation of Clarke’s book Childhood’s End (1953) and 2001.
Science lessons have always been Clarke’s forte, with special emphasis on space travel, even when that was only a province of the imagination. The ground rules are the laws of celestial mechanics, with which man must cope by developing new techniques of astronautical and biological engineering, from the thermonuclear “Sakharov Drive” to induced human hibernation (also in 2001). The mission’s urgency results from perturbations in Discovery’s orbit caused by variations in Jupiter’s magnetic field (discovered since 1968). Speed, acceleration, weight, and fuel are calculated closely with reference to feasible orbits for travel, using Jupiter’s gravitational pull for braking on arrival and acceleration on departure. Given that background, the reader shares the crew’s surprise as the Chinese ship overtakes them, knowing that it cannot carry enough fuel for a round trip. Since post-1968 probes found Europa covered with ice, however, it is a feasible refueling station, as well as a possible habitat for life.
Clarke also incorporates the “soft” sciences and the still speculative science of exobiology. A major theme of the novel is the necessity of social cooperation. Dedicated to the Russians Alexei Leonov and Andre Sakharov, the book opens with a conspiratorial meeting between Floyd and the Russian diplomat Dmitri Moisevitch, who had a small role in 2001 setting up the joint mission. Set at the Arecibo radio telescope, this scene establishes the mission’s context in the continuing human search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The relative success of the cooperative venture contrasts sharply with the failure of the secretive Chinese competition.
To understand one another well enough to get along is a major goal of the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s crew. Notoriously provincial in languages, Clarke introduces a smattering of Russian but has everyone speaking English. There are minor difficulties in communication and a major difference of opinion concerning the return departure date, but political differences are virtually nonexistent. The Russians, in fact,...
(The entire section is 2148 words.)