2061: odyssey three

by Arthur C. Clarke

Del Rey


279pp/$10.00/January 1991

2061:  odyssey three
Cover by Michael Whelan

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Written shortly after Halley's Comet's 1986 approach, Clarke's 2061: odyssey three was able to make use of the discoveries made by the Soviet, European and Japanese fly-by missions as well as the earlier US flyby or a different comet. When it was first released, I remember thinking it was almost a tie-in novel. It is certainly the weakest of the first three "Space Odyssey" novels.

The novel opens with a reintroduction to Haywood Floyd, now 103 years old and living on Pasteur, a space station hospital, despite his comment in 2010 that he would never again leave Earth. It seems he suffered a drunken fall only a week after the return of the Alexei Leonov and was taken to Pasteur to recuperate. Since then, he is too acclimatized to Zero-G ever to return home. His family plays a larger role in 2061 than in the earlier novels. Divorced from Caroline and estranged from his son Christopher since the Leonov's mission, Christopher is dead, but he keeps in touch with Caroline in their attempts to keep track of astronaut grandson Chris, II, a character whose reappearance will become central to the novel's action.

Floyd leaves Pasteur to take part in the first luxury space cruise/scientific mission to Halley's Comet. The world's richest man, Lawrence Tsung's interest in space is adequately explained by Clarke in a manner which allows him to recount the pivotal discovery of Europan life by the Chinese from 2010. Clarke does not even attempt to explain, however, why Tsung would send his newest liner to Halley's Comet with a complement of famous tourists. As a result, the voyage seems to be almost a deus ex machina was of getting Floyd to Halley's Comet and subsequent locales.

2061 has the distinction of being the first novel in the sequence to actually feature a villain in the person of Rolf van der Berg. Van der Berg becomes obsessed with the sudden appearance of a mountain on the now cloud covered (and still forbidden) world of Europa. Despite the injunction passed along by HAL at the end of 2010, van der Berg plots to land on Europa to proof his theories about Mount Zeus. His actions provide the catalyst for the novel's action once Floyd and company have begun their exploration of Halley's Comet. As an antagonist, van der Berg leaves something to be desired. He is not actually evil, as he is greedy. Nevertheless, he is responsible for much of what occurs.

As with the earlier books, 2061 is equal parts novel and lecture. While in the earlier books, Clarke expounded on computers, space travel, and orbital mechanics, 2061 gives him the opportunity to discuss evolution and comets. Fortunately, Clarke is good enough to make these explanations interesting and integral to the novels he writes.

As Clarke has pointed out on several occasions, this sequence of books form only a loose series. Events in earlier novels are contradicted by events in later novels. Later books can be based on either the earlier books, the movies, or something fresh out of Clarke's head. I can only imagine his comment about the abolition of long distance charges on 31 December 2000 is in order to explain the $1.20 charge Floyd receives for his space station to Earth call in Kubrick's film.

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Go to Review of 2001: A Space Odyssey Two
Go to Review of 2010: Odyssey Two
Go to Review of 3001: The Final Odyssey

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