by Arthur C. Clarke

Del Rey


263pp/$25.00/March 1997

3001:  the final odyssey
Cover by David Stevenson

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

With 3001: The Final Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke returns to examine the character of astronaut Frank Poole, believed killed outside Discovery by HAL in the original novel and film. The scene is, obviously, one thousand years later when Poole's near lifeless body is discovered near the orbit of Neptune and returned to Earth for resuscitation.

Poole is lucky in the proximity of Indra Wallace, an historian who specialized in the period immediately following Poole's exile from Earth. However, even without her aid, Poole would probably have survived well enough in the thirty-first century.

Technological descriptions have always been a strong point for Clarke. He has generally done well with cultural issues also. However, the world of 3001 is too similar in many ways to the world of 1997. I wonder if an historian one thousand years from now would be able to make references to specific features of Star Trek the way Indra Wallace does. Similarly, after a millennium of refering to the second sun as "Lucifer", having Dimitri Chandler invite Poole to "have a look around, before we take off for Jupiter" (italics mine), seems somewhat out of place.

Frank Poole's first life is another place where Clarke's sense of chronology seems to fall apart. In the final section of the novel, Poole's birthdate is given as 1996. The latest the Discovery mission could have occurred according to earlier novels is 2009, when this version of Frank Poole would have been 13 years old. However, Clarke clearly indicates in one of two afterwords (one of sources and acknowledgements, one a valediction), that this four books saga is fiction. As such, the books to not, intentionally, have an internal consistency. As he has stated before, 2010 was based on themes suggested by 2001 and 2061 on themes suggested by both its precursors. The same is the case with the current novel. This attitude allows Clarke to introduce scientific knowledge which was unknown in 1987, let alone 1968. Clarke can ignore the ending of 2061 in which Lucifer faded. The books also tend to stand on their own better than if they were in strict accordance with each other.

The books is written in Clarke's styleless style which is so easy to read. Clarke also includes small in jokes, a reference here to Asimov, a couple to Heinlein and quoting an unidentified person who stated that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Just as Clarke mined his short story "The Sentinal" (1954) for the basic material for 2001, he mines another short story, "The Star" (1955) for material in 3001. In fact, early in the novel a reference to a star going nova caused me to pull "The Star" from a bookshelf to re-read, although the themes from the short story don't become important until much later in the novel.

Although billed as the "Final Odyssey", 3001 opens up more questions about the "First Born", the name Clarke now gives to the creators of the Monolith. The novel does not wrap up the story as neatly as could have been hoped (but not expected) and leaves room for Clarke to change his mind. Clarke once commented that he would like to have a sequel published on January 1, 2001. Perhaps we'll see a future Odyssey at that time. Billed as final, the saga begun in 2001 has not managed to achieve a sense of closure after three additional installments.

Clarke's Frank Poole begins the novel as something of a tabula rasa. Despite being the focus character of the entire novel, his character does not appear any more life-like and less wooden than the portrayal given him in 1968 by Gary Lockwood. His search for meaning in the thirty-first century eventually takes Poole to Ganymede where he is convinced by Dimitri Chandler and the philosopher Ted Khan that he should attempt to communicate with Europa's own "Flying Dutchman," the ghost of David Bowman.

Poole attempts to contact Bowman form a minor, but climactic part of the novel. Nevertheless, Poole shows hardly any more emotion at their perspective reunion than Bowman or HAL could be expected to demonstrate at such a prospect. This reinforces the woodenness of Poole's character

An extrapolation of Clarke's which I find difficult to swallow is the ease with which his civilization manages to shed themselves of traditional gods and religions. Due in a large part to the monolith, the old religions have practically disappeared and "God" has become a curse word. The deity of myriad modern religions has been replaced by a sense that the Monolith and/or its makers should be revered. While I have no doubt that the appearance of the monolith would cause a decline among numbers of many (if not all) major religions, I also think that millions of people would turn to their religions for answers and most religions would come up with a satisfactory explanation of the monolith. The aetheistic utopia Clarke portrays does not seem particularly likely to happen.

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Go to Review of 2001: A Space Odyssey
Go to Review of 2010: Odyssey Two
Go to Review of 2061: Odyssey Three

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