The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This series began in a unique collaboration between author Arthur C. Clarke and film director Stanley Kubrick. Between 1965 and 1968, they created a screenplay for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Simultaneously with the filming, Clarke wrote the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. The novel exhibits striking inter-dependence with the film, which is notably nonverbal— the first forty minutes and last thirty minutes have no dialogue.

As the novel opens, a point of light orbits the Earth, unnoticed by protohominids living on the brink of extinction. It leaves behind a device to study and tutor the creatures. Thus tutored, a protohominid named Moonwatcher turns a rock into a weapon, and Earth’s era of technology dawns.

A hundred thousand generations later, Dr. Heywood Floyd travels to the moon to investigate TMA-1, a three-million-year-old extraterrestrial artifact found because of its magnetic field. After its discovery, TMA-1 sends a single strong signal toward Saturn. TMA-1’s discovery is kept secret from the people of Earth.

The spaceship Discovery is sent to reconnoiter Saturn for evidence of whatever civilization produced TMA-1. Three astronauts who understand this mission travel in artificially induced hibernation. Two active astronauts, David Bowman and Frank Poole, know nothing of TMA-1 or the mission’s real goal. Virtually a sixth member of the crew is HAL, a supercomputer programmed to tell the truth unreservedly but also to complete the secret mission. Unable to reconcile the contradiction between secrecy and truthfulness, HAL suffers a nervous breakdown and kills Poole and the hibernating astronauts. Barely saving himself, Bowman disables HAL.

Bowman reaches Saturn on the now crippled Discovery. Floyd radios him and describes the mission’s true goal. On a moon of Saturn, Bowman discovers a huge, enigmatic monolithic replica of TMA-1. When he approaches in an extravehicular space pod, the monolith opens, and he is transported to realms unimaginable to those on Earth. Nurtured by extraterrestrial intelligences, Bowman is reborn as a disembodied star-creature,...

(The entire section is 882 words.)