I don’t usually do book reviews as I’m not a big fan of them. So I’m not sure that this is a review. It’s probably closer to a commentary on 3001 and Arthur C. Clarke’s work as a whole.
As a film buff, I find 2001: A Space Odyssey to be the most ambitious movie ever made. I also think Peter Hyams’ 2010 is an underrated gem that doesn’t detract from its predecessor at all. What both these films do is ask more questions of humanity than it answers. However, it is typical for both film and book series to provide a sense of closure.
Which is why I was somewhat disappointed with Clarke’s 2061 and 3001. In fact, I found 2061 to be entirely superfluous. I enjoyed 3001 far more but even then I found the final entry to the Odyssey series to be wanting.
That is, until I read Clarke’s “valediction” at the end of 3001, where he reiterates what he stated in the introduction to 2061:
While in a certain sense I found this explanation to be a cop out, it does stand to reason when you evaluate Clarke’s work as a whole. In fact, I totally bought this same explanation for his Rama series. Rendezvous with Rama is one of the greatest works of hard science fiction and one one of my personal favorites. Yet its sequels are far friendlier to popular audiences. While I found the sequels to be a guilty pleasure, their perspectives don’t quite mesh with the original. To account for this, I too have to adopt Clarke’s rationale in his 3001 valediction.
Plus, the conclusion to the Odyssey series is in keeping with the themes found in his other works. From what books I’ve read from Clarke (I haven’t read them all), he rarely offer easy answers. In fact, that’s part of the reason why Rendezvous with Rama is so effective: there’s no clear explanation, merely speculation, for what the Rama craft is and why it visited the Solar System.
I think there’s an assumption that when we make contact with an intelligent, spacefaring extraterrestrial species, everything will be absolutely clear. At least that is what’s presented in mass entertainment. But that’s never the conclusion that Clarke reaches.
Space is unimaginably huge. And insofar as scientists can tell, there’s a limit to how fast information can travel. In all likelihood, when the first positive confirmation of intelligent life is found, it will likely be centuries before contact is made. Humanity, as a result, will be flipped on its head where entire theories will be obsolete and new fields of speculation will be established. Where humanity stands presently, it is unlikely that we have the language and understanding to fully grasp the final answers. That’s what it means to come face to face with “God”.
So to me, it’s these steps in human evolution…on our ultimate path towards the infinite…where Clarke found his fascination. That’s why he rarely provided answers: because we aren’t ready for them.