3001 The Final Odyssey
by Arthur C. Clarke
Review by Ernest Lilley
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0345438205
Date: October 1999 List Price $19.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The final installment in the series that started with the sunrise over the monolith on the African plain ends with the release of Clarke's latest book. This book is a rare treasure, as the author's own output has diminished, and he has employed as he puts it "hired guns" to flesh out ideas with him. Like William Gibson, Clarke's future has changed substantially since he first envisioned it, and similarly, some of those changes have the effect of recanting the marvelous things to come.
A thousand years after we last saw his lifeless body drifting off into the void in 2001, Frank Poole wakens in a hospital following his resuscitation by medical marvels the author passes over lightly. A millennium may well be enough time for such miracles to become mere science, and certainly the body lay undisturbed, but for the initial trauma of decompression, which seems to have been passed over. Bringing in Poole as a point of view character serves the author well of course, as 3001 is genuine Clarke, the sort of grand tour of the future that he loves to produce, with a totally recognizable character standing in for the audience.
After Frank gets used to his Buck Rogers resurrection, and Clarke tires of parading the utopian future available to us beyond religion and thanks to technology, we whisk off to visit an old friend one last time.
Clarke has killed off the original creators of the monolith, invoking their own evolution, somewhat reminiscent of his classic The City and the Stars, and supposes that the monoliths are simple, if powerful, supercomputers left around to monitor the experiments their creators started millennia ago. Evidence mounts that not all experiments are deemed successful, and failures sterilized by the monolith's program. In one of the sadder losses of the book, Clarke rewrites both the wormhole and intent of the creators from the original book and screenplay. If anything was clear to us the first time around, it was that the creators knew that putting mankind on the path towards sentience was to put him on the path towards self-destruction. Now, the self-governing program in the monolith finds that on review, Man (circa 2001) is a nasty beastie with no real hope for improvement. Stars have been known to nova for less.
Is there hope for mankind? Can we learn enough in the next thousand years to merit a future? Failing that, can we defend ourselves against it, and what form would our weapons take?
When Clarke writes, it's worth reading. 3001: The Final Odyssey will hold a significant place in SF and the author's soothing tone takes me back to a kind of SF I still love and occasionally miss. Like the story's central character, though, Arthur Clarke is a man out of time, and reading his latest work offers us a telescope both into the future of Man and the history of Science Fiction.