2010:Odyssey 2. (book reviews)
2010: Odyssey 2, by Arthur C. Clarke. DelRey/Ballantine, New York. 291 pp., hardcover, $14.95. 1982.
When asked if and when he would ever write a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur Clarke spent the better part of a decade explaining that such an undertaking would be utterly impossible. He was right, of course, and his reasons for changing his mind are nearly beyond my capacity to fathom.
Nonetheless, we have lately been presented with 2010: Odyssey 2, and sheer curiosity, I should think, to some degree accounts for its having spent two months on the Times Best Seller list.
Having been a fan of Arthur C. Clarke and 2001 since childhood, I was not about to let the pusillanimous attempt sneak past me. I knew I would be disappointed, but somehow held out the vague hope that the author would manage to do the impossible: write a sequel to a book for which no sequel can be written.
When they don't work, sequels tend to leave an especially bitter taste on the palate. For in the worst case, they manage not only to disappoint, but to compromise their very namesakes, and in the process undermine our estimation of the original work, the supposed inspiration of the sequel.
Extremely unfortunately, I found this to be much the case with 2010: Odyssey 2. While I would agree that the job of writing a sequel to 2001 is nearly impossible to even contemplate, I am sure that many of the pitfalls into which Clarke seems to have blithely swan-dived could have been avoided.
It should be pointed out that Clarke's short story "Childhood's End' served as a very loose framework for the development of the 2001 screenplay, and that his novelization of the film appeared after the fact. Further, his wide-ranging disputes with Stanley Kubrick nearly dissolved the collaboration on more than one occasion. Kubrick is a notorious film autheur of unlimited single-mindedness and perfectionism. Much of the originality of 2001 can be traced to him as opposed to Clarke, who was, by his own admission, reduced to the post of technical advisor.
In personally assuming the reins of the new work, Clarke breaks the most serious sequel commandment: he compromises the symbolism of the earlier work. This is the worst flaw in Odyssey 2, which treats its estimable original symbols and characters with a marked lack of respect. Dr. Heywood Floyd, a minor character from the original work, is the protagonist in the new book. He is treated deferentially enough, although he is not really a very engaging main character. But the two major characters from the original who reappear, HAL and Bowman, are treated with all the courtesy an annoyed patrolman might extend to a bag lady. I was appaled.
Poor, poor HAL. Clarke explains to us that HAL's malfunction in murdering several crew members on the original Jupiter probe was solely due to his preoccupation with the security of the mission. Not to fear: with a bit of therapy from a stereotypical AI type, HAL is as docile as a pussycat this time around. What a slap in the mouth.
The strength of HAL as a symbol in the original work is severely undermined in this weak and narrow interpretation. To me, HAL embodied all the dangers posed by the concept of man-made intelligence. When a conventional machine malfunctions it might stop working or work incorrectly. When a thinking machine malfunctions, however, it might become insane--and we may not realize it until it is too late. HAL was acting on irrational impulses when he terminated the crew of the Jupiter probe--any attempt to rationalize them, let alone diffuse them, desecrates HAL's original meaning. HAL's appearance in 2010: Odyssey 2 is therefore reduced to even less than a gratuitous cameo.
But this is nothing compared to what the author does to the symbol of David Bowman. Here is a character who has been immersed in the ultimate transcendental experience: he has experienced his own physical death, traveled through corridors between universes, then returned to earth as the "star child.' The resurrection myth plays heavily here. Clarke now has the audacity not only to reintroduce Bowman as a character, but even allows him to recontact his old girlfriend by appearing to her inside her TV set! The reader is left to wonder about the nature of the commercials aired during his program.
Then there is Clarke's mistreatment of the monolith, which is by far the most heinous debasement of a major image from the original. I will spare you the gruesome details. Suffice to say that Clarke reduces the imagery of the monolith to a symbol with all the intrinsic worth of a "No Parking' sign.
By treating Bowman as Casper the Friendly Ghost, HAL as a woebegone Atari 800, and the monolith as an intergalactic whoopee cushion, Clarke manages to transform one of the most resplendent stories of the '60s into a segment from "Bewitched.' He does, to some small credit, sandwich some new sci-fi action into the chapters describing a supplementary probe to Jupiter, tries to work in some new material discovered by Voyager, and many of his visual descriptions are vintage stuff. But these constitute precious little justification for the liberties he has taken with a now-classic story he himself knew was better left alone. 2010: Odyssey 2 does not deserve to inhabit the same universe as its predecessor.
Review Grade: F