Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Signal Reads: 2001 - A Space Odyssey

Because as a kid I liked SPACE, the old man took me to whatever movies were out that featured people slipping free of the bonds of Earth's gravity.  And so it came to pass that he said "We can go see 2010, but I don't think you'll like it.  I've seen the first movie, and this isn't going to be The Last Starfighter."

"Ok," I said.  "I still want to go."

And so it passed that I saw 2010 in the theater and had to have The Admiral explain 2001 to me on the way home.  No, it did not have the visceral thrill of the sci-fi adventures I adored, but I had already seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so slow moving sci-fi epics were not outside my scope.  

Perhaps tellingly, very few kids in my grade saw 2010, but all of us in the special nerd math class I was in during 4th grade had seen it and thought it keen.  We also all agreed that Star Trek wasn't properly appreciated, so, you know, there was precedent.  In short - kid nerds of the 1980's.

About two years after 2010, The Admiral and Jason rented 2001 and watched it while I was out of the house.  A bit peeved I'd been left out, I sat down the next day and watched the first half of 2001 by myself until Jason wandered back into the house and finished watching it with me.  

So, yeah, its been a long time in coming that I finally decided to get a bit more of my nerd bonafides and purchased the audiobook of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

According to Clarke's forward to the audiobook, done in 2000 as we neared the actual year 2001, the book was written basically for Stanley Kubrick so he'd have something to use when he made a sci-fi movie that wasn't, in the filmmaker's estimation, a whole lot of hoo-ha.  And it is interesting to compare and contrast Kubrick's film with the novel, which is written in the very literal terms of mid-20th Century Sci-Fi, and does not contain the ethereal feel or the explanation-by-implication that can leave some viewers feeling stranded in the film's last 20-30 minutes.  

Despite the fact that script and novel were co-developed, there are some differences, including Discovery's destination (Saturn in the novel) and an explicit explanation of HAL's malfunctioning.  

Frankly, I very much enjoyed the book and I'm glad I "read" it after all this time.   The themes of the novel and film reflect very much upon how I personally consider what it means for human beings to continue to look at space as a possibility, which is either because of Kubrick's influence or because I watched too much Trek as a kid.  

The audiobook, by the way, is extremely brief, running under 7 hours.  There's something to how long something like Stranger in a Strange Land runs, and how much information was shared, or how much story was necessary (that audiobook ran about 22 hours, I think), and the impact possible on the reader.  

In comparison to the Barsoom novels I'm also currently reading, well, its more or less two different ends of the spectrum from this genre we call "science fiction".  And with Clarke's scientific high mindedness, even the mystery of the cosmos that Kubrick puts forth gets a near unlimited omniscient narrator's explanation we'd never get from just the visuals of the film, draining away some of the mystery (or confirming what you thought Kubrick was suggesting).  

Its a wonderful novel, and if you can deal with some of the dated concepts and the deadpan characterization of David Bowman, Heywood Floyd and Frank Poole, there's a lot to like if you've never read the book.  Particularly HAL's characterization.  

I should mention, the HAL-related stuff is far less important to the book than the movie, and acts more as a fulcrum toward making a point about men, machines and the perils of both (especially a billion miles from home).

Anyone else read the book?  Thoughts?


Simon MacDonald said...

I must confess. This book is in my to read pile.

The League said...

As fast as you read - 3 hours.

J.S. said...

I started it once but never finished it. I DO remember thinking, as with one of Kubrick's other fine films, The Shining, that the movie felt much more atmospheric and, I guess, mysterious than the source material. I was pretty young when I read the book, though, so maybe I should take another run at it at some point.

Anonymous said...

The 2010 book is also a compelling read ( and much better than the movie )