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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2148

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, are remarkably pleased to serve as a ferryboat crew for the three Americans.

Psychology in any scientific sense is employed only behind the scenes, where its recent offshoot—cybernetics—is vital to Chandra’s “psychoanalysis” of HAL 9000, whose malfunction in 2001 was caused by conflicting human directives. As an element of characterization, literary psychology is most apparent in Floyd’s and Bowman’s coming to terms with their lives.

As for exobiology, the Europan life forms are extrapolated directly from recent findings in the ocean depths (another of Clarke’s areas of specialization), where life flourishes with heat not from the sun but from beneath Earth’s crust. Although Clarke repeats his previous speculation about life in Jupiter’s atmosphere as well, his superior aliens are known only through their “tools.” The gigantic orbiting monolith, not merely a marker in the sky and a “star gate,” as it was for Bowman, proves to be a multipurpose tool when it descends to Jupiter and replicates itself, turning the red planet into a miniature sun for the benefit of the Europans. The other alien “tool” is Bowman, the expressionless hero of 2001, who now acquires a past and a purpose.

Bowman returns first to Earth to reestablish connections with his only strong emotional contacts: the brother he accidentally helped kill (the Cain motif), his ex-fiancée (no Penelope), and his mother dying, in the Disney EPCOT Center (another update from 1968). Then, for the aliens, he touches base with the history and present variety of mankind, before checking out the life forms of Jupiter and its satellites as a prologue to the birth of a new sun.

Bowman’s physical powers are obviously advanced: he can travel at the speed of light, plumb the depths of a planet’s core, find his way through an electronics network. His psyche, however, is not that of a superman, since it is still immersed in sentiment and nostalgia, but he learns to communicate with his masters and to exert his own will within limits (like the Overlords in Childhood’s End). The result is a blend of responsibility and sentiment: he shows his ex-fiancée “blatantly sexual images” of his unpurged lust, warns the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s crew of impending danger, and helps “liberate” HAL from Discovery to be his “pet,” reversing their relationship as portrayed in 2001.

Not limited by natural law as currently understood, Bowman and his masters illustrate “Clarke’s Law,” that technology too advanced to be understood seems to be magic. Clarke is not content, however, simply to awe his readers with the universe and his godlike—not divine—aliens. The major focus, disrupted by occasional dangers and urgency, is on everyday human activities on board the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. One sees little of the actual nuts-and-bolts operation of technology still unavailable today, since Floyd does not understand all he sees, and his transmissions to Earth water that down, but even from the viewpoint of Curnow or Chandra, one learns more of their idiosyncracies than of their technical expertise. Clarke shows what people do aboard a spacecraft when not engaged in their specialties: swapping memos and confidences, arguing and discussing, seeking counsel and vying for attention, overcoming minor irritations, flirting, making love, and sightseeing.

One does not expect rounded characters from Clarke, but the Russians are barely distinguishable from one another; they are essentially labeled functions for running the ship who simulate an extended family. Curnow and Chandra are also recognizable types, seen by Floyd as a bearlike sexual polymorph and a birdlike ascetic (except for one vice: cigar-smoking). Floyd himself is considerably more interesting—like Bowman—in this second incarnation. Having lost his NASA position (a scapegoat for Discovery’s failure) and his first wife, he has (like Job) regained everything in greater measure. As the Chancellor of the University of Hawaii, with perquisites appropriate to his position and his scientific reputation, he has a new and younger wife. His family now includes a young son on whom he dotes, two offstage daughters from his first marriage, and some friendly dolphins. As a true Clarkean alien-seeker, however, he gives this all up for a mission where he is little more than public relations director.

Supposedly propelled by duty, to take care of “unfinished business,” Floyd is really drawn by the siren call of Clarke’s lifelong infatuation. To share “man’s greatest adventure,” Floyd sacrifices position, home, and love, though he tells himself that induced hibernation will bring him closer to his wife in more than age. In fact, his marriage dissolves offstage, the details conspicuously absent, while onstage he passes up opportunities for dalliance, suggesting a deep sexual component to the space imperative itself.

2010 represents, in fact, Clarke’s most open writing about sexuality. His repeated use of pylons, towers, and monoliths has been interpreted as sexual symbolism by Eric Rabkin (though they also suggest progress, achievement, and high standing); this time, Clarke playfully has the monolith reproduce itself asexually, while overtly underlining the coupling of the two spaceships. David Bowman belies his “angelic” image in his ex-fiancée’s eyes by showing her “dirty pictures.” Floyd has sexual urges, though he does not act on them, and even experiences “the secret envy that normal homo- or heterosexuals feel . . . toward cheerfully well-adjusted polymorphs.” Finally, the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s homeward journey is crowned with the traditional finale of comedy, a brace of marriages among its crew members.

Another extension beyond typical Clarke procedure is the sheer density of cultural allusions. As usual, he refers to ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Indian traditions, and to precursors in maritime activity, such as Columbus, Herman Melville, the H.M.S. Bounty, and the Marie Celeste. 2010 also brings in Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Leo Tolstoy, Rudyard Kipling, Marcel Proust, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Boris Pasternak, J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Koestler, and the Russian fairy-tale witch, Baba Yaga. Clarke alludes to science-fiction writers (Isaac Asimov, Stanislaw Lem, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky) and films (Star Trek the Movie, 1979; Star Wars, 1977; Alien, 1979), to scientists and artists, and to about a dozen of his own novels and stories. Though few of these seem strictly necessary, they help to hold together a loose structure and to tie to tradition a book with a message some might see as inhuman.

2010 is open to attack on structural grounds. Most of its fifty-five chapters are short, even skimpy. Clarke plays hopscotch with point of view, even within a single chapter, and resorts to the electronic equivalent of “letters home” at least seven times, not including the entire story of the Chinese expedition, which reaches the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov via the weak suit-radio of its last survivor. The seven titled sections are of random length with sometimes arbitrary backtracking, and only one is a fully coherent unit. This awkwardness is compensated for by the lucid style of the omniscient narrator and by the book’s thematic consistency.

Man is not the measure of all things: various alien entities imply the unknown standards of a vast universe. Yet, man’s technological and spiritual progress is appreciable despite his tiny place in the scheme of things. There is always room for optimism, if one is willing to cooperate with the inevitable.

2001 gave rise in the 1970’s to big-budget science-fiction films, commercial blockbusters whose science was shaky at best. Unlike the aliens of film directors Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott, Clarke’s are neither cozy nor ravenous, but inhuman and all but unknowable. Not being supernatural, they do not offer grace, as do the gods of Earth, yet their religious implications have made Clarke somewhat of a guru since the 1960’s. Hard and implacable as nature itself, they yield their secrets reluctantly and only to those who accept their constraints. This view of the universe’s response to the human hunger for knowledge distinguishes “hard” science fiction as an acquired taste for a limited audience, but by appealing to the film audience’s demand for danger and spectacle, Clarke’s aliens give that hunger a certain urgency, perhaps broadening its appeal. With this mix of physics and metaphysics, 2010 is both an interesting sequel and a fitting capstone to Clarke’s career.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 23

Booklist. LXXIX, September 1, 1982, p. 1.

Library Journal. CVII, November 15, 1982, p. 2191.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXII, October 8, 1982, p. 58.

Time. CXX, November 15, 1982, p. 91.

Times Literary Supplement. January 21, 1983, p. 69.

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