I first saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey at my local library in San Bernardino, California. I’m pretty certain it would have been in 1978 and the screening was a celebration of the film’s 10th anniversary. I would have been about 12 years old and very much still in the thrall of Star Wars, which debuted just a year earlier. The movie captivated me with it’s plausible depiction of space travel and it challenged me with the idea that aliens could have tinkered with life on Earth. I still remember Heywood Floyd making a video call to his daughter from orbit and I still find it amazing that by 2008, I would be making video calls regularly home from the remote observatory where I work. The movie’s ending baffled me. Sure, I got that it was the aliens continuing their experiment on humans, but I was a very literal-minded kid and found the psychedelic imagery a little much for my taste. I wanted to know what the aliens were subjecting David Bowman to. So, almost immediately, I turned to Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, written more-or-less in conjunction with the movie. The novel didn’t really give me any clear-cut answers, but I felt more satisfied that I understood what the movie had shown me. Over the next year or so, the book and movie took on special meaning for me. Their plausible depiction of science, helped to start me on the path to actually being a scientist.
Because the book and film together held a special place for me, I ran right out and bought the hardcover of 2010: Odyssey Two when it came out in hardcover in 1982 and I saw the 1984 film almost immediately upon release. While neither sequel quite had the gravitas of the original, I still enjoyed both. By 1987, when 2061: Odyssey Three came out, I was well on my way to an undergraduate physics degree with little time for new novels, so I let it pass me by. Over the next year, some friends told me they didn’t like it as well as the previous two novels, so it never really became a priority for my reading list. A couple of weeks ago, though, I happened to notice that the ebook was available at a discount and decided to see what I had missed.
If one views 2001: A Space Odyssey as the story of humans discovering that aliens had a hand in their evolution and 2010: Odyssey Two as the story of what actually happened to astronaut David Bowman and what the aliens next had up their collective sleeves, then 2061: Odyssey Three is basically an adventure story about humans living in the world set up in the previous novels. While we don’t get a lot of new information about the aliens, we do get some interesting speculation about them.
In 2061: Odyssey Three, Heywood Floyd is still alive and has the opportunity to travel to Comet Halley as it makes its next sojourn through the inner solar system. Meanwhile, Floyd’s grandson is serving as second officer aboard a ship exploring the moons around the star Lucifer, which was formerly the planet Jupiter. As they approach the moon Europa, which now has liquid water on its surface, the purser hijacks the ship and forces them to land. In the process, the ship crashes into the Europan ocean. The danger here is that the aliens warned humans not to land on Europa at the end of 2010: Odyssey Two. As it turns out, the ship Heywood Floyd is on, is the ship in the best position to rescue the ship on Europa. All in all, I found it a fine adventure tale with some interesting speculation about comets, planets, and the life we might find on Jovian moons. There was one annoying detail in that the purser who hijacks the ship is given two different last names without explanation and I suspect Clarke just changed her name and the editor didn’t catch it. Beyond this simple error, this book again lacked the gravitas of the original film and novel, but it was still fun to revisit this world and read this adventure story with its roots in real science. Also, now that 2001 and 2010 are both in the past, it was fun to look forward again to a year that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully, I’ll get to see 2061 and see what the world is like when Comet Halley returns for real.
Clarke’s Space Odyssey series captivated me with the idea of humans crossing the solar system to solve a mystery. That basic idea served as a template for my novel The Solar Sea about humans traveling to Titan to find the source of particles that can apparently manipulate time. You can learn more about my novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html