Thursday, April 21, 2016

2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke

We continue this week with the third of the Space Odyssey series, 2061: Odyssey Three. The selection of this year by Clarke is chosen to line up with the next return of Halley's Comet to the inner solar system, an event I hope I may be able to witness myself when I'm some seventy-odd years old. Of course, in this rapidly changing timeline from our own, humanity is in a position to launch a manned expedition to visit the surface of the comet. While we have managed to land robotic probes on a comet fairly recently, for right now the possibility of a manned mission remains unlikely. Although I may have the good fortune to be proven wrong in forty years.

I'm not sure if I have as much to say about this book opposed to the other two books. The monoliths and their mysterious creators, with their plan to foster intelligent life through the galaxy, are barely mentioned at all in this book. It's more a case of things happening in the same universe, but at an almost mundane level instead of the fantastic. There is, of course, the issue of Lucifer which I held off talking about because it was a massive spoiler in the last book, but I can't really talk about this book intelligently without mentioning it. So, of course:

 Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers! Skip the following paragraph to avoid!

At the end of 2010 the monolith or perhaps monoliths, it's a little vague because they may have the ability to warp time itself, altered the mass of Jupiter and forced it to implode, creating a small star and turning our solar system into a binary system. The new star is named Lucifer and its moons, especially Europa and perennial favorite Ganymede, become hospitable to life because of their new proximity to a star. Humanity is also given a brief message, stating they are welcome to populate as many worlds as they wish, except for Europa. Ostensibly this is part of the monoliths', or their creators', plans to foster intelligent life in the galaxy, with Europa being identified as another potential cradle of intelligent life. Humans are of course intrigued by this forbidden fruit, but for now all attempts to interact with the planet's surface have been mysteriously intercepted.

The book has two plots which run sort of simultaneously, although the second one ends up taking over the plot and forces the first one to wrap up pretty quickly. The first is the aforementioned manned mission to Halley's Comet, an event of incredible historic, scientific, and cultural interest. Included among these delegates is Heywood Floyd, now just over one hundred years old, one of the handful of men who first examined the monolith on the moon, and now practically the only survivor of the mission to recover Discovery from Jupiter. More importantly, it shows how far humanity has come in the development of space travel, now being able to take a pleasure cruise to a comet.

The second plot involves Dr. van der Berg, a geologist working on the newly founded colony on Ganymede. Van der Berg has been very interested in the mysterious cloud-shrouded Europa and a chance satellite image begins van der Berg on an investigation that reveals Europa may have far more interesting secrets to reveal. And while I won't reveal them here, let's just say I think it's hardly a coincidence that it's a Boer, Afrikaner geologist that happens to discover it. Ultimately this plot ends up taking over the second one and in its own way helps set up the final book in the series.

I'm sort of left with the feeling that Clarke had two ideas for books but couldn't quite flesh them out long enough so he melded them together to create one longer story. Once the excitement of landing on Halley's Comet is over, you kind of come to the realization, ''Oh yeah, it's basically a giant, dirty snowball.'' Which, you know, neat, and I'm sure there's tons of things to learn from it, but after the initial discovery it kind of wears off. I definitely feel that the second story, with the discovery of a massive secret on Europa and the intrigue that's involved could have used further development. We're introduced to shadowy organizations like Der Bund and Shaka, although in the case of Shaka I'm not really sure on whose side they're supposed to be on. But that definitely could have been expanded into its own book with a little bit more corporate intrigue, IN SPACE!! But instead it gets welded to the comet story. Neither of them are bad, it just feels a little awkward.

Overall it's not a bad book. I kind of like the two adventures in space and Clarke's ability to take the utterly fantastical and make it seem commonplace really comes to the fore here. There's almost none of the incredibly dramatic, flowery prose that came with the other books, which I personally don't care for and certainly didn't miss at all. By far this is probably the one that can stand on its own the most and reads as a pretty simple sci-fi adventure. Next week we conclude with 3001: The Final Odyssey.

- Kalpar

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