2001 and Beyond the Infinite

Commentary and Criticism

August 1997 to September 1997

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Date: Fri, 08 Aug 1997 02:08:33 -0700
From: Bill Wheaton [waw@ipac.caltech.edu]


I enjoyed your page, and your essay.  I have not yet read everything
here, but I do think some mention of Clarke's earlier novel "Childhood's
End" is important.  It is, to my mind, the greatest science fiction
novel ever written, or at least the greatest one I've ever encountered
or heard of, and key to most of the ideas in "2001".  In it, the best
writer of "hard" (ie, technically accurate) science fiction, develops
the idea of The Overmind, an alien consiousness so vast it is, on a
human scale, essentially indistinguishable from God.  And he does it in
a way that is extremely plausible, given the tremendous limitations of
our knowledge and experience.  If there is an older intelligence out
there, the Overmind is the best guess going as to what it will seem like
to us, given our inevitable perspective, of (slightly) intelligent
ants.  If there is no Overmind, and we are the first, then there _will_
be one in a billion years -- for that is the direction we are going.
Either way, we are the Children of God.  (If we survive, one must add,
but it does not change the truth of our significance.  Some children do
not survive, of course we know, numbingly tragic as it is.)

The novel version of "2001" is very very good, and essential to
interpretation of the movie.  Taken as a unified work, I think the
combination of movie and book are on a par with "Childhood's End".  In
my opinion, CE beats the novel 2001 by a large margin for the power of
its imagry; but the movie 2001 evens the score.  And that is Kubrick's
enormous contribution.  In the movie, the husk of David Bowman reaches
out to the stone: now for the last time, finally as one who knows
something of That Thing for which he reaches.  I cannot say there is
anything in CE _more_ powerful than that moment, yet neither can I say
that CE is the loser.  Read it, and decide for yourself.  If your heart
was moved by one, you need to experience the other.  And the power of
both is greatly increased by Clarke's deep knowledge and insight into
science and technology, for both are as true as a pure product of the
human imagination can be.

There is one essentially new idea in 2001 that is not in Childhood's
End, and that is Hal.  Confused, brilliant, scary yet childlike, Hal is
a bridge towards minds greater than our own.  For millions of years,
mind has developed by blind trial and error.  Now, as we design with
both silicon and DNA, we may still expect to have both awful mistakes
and happy accidents, but the pace is likely to increase a thousandfold,
and the end is truly beyond our imagining.  And if the journey seems
terrifying, may we remember that it has always been so, from the first
blind gropings of molecules, when Earth and Sun were young.  I hope we
will guide it as well as our small wisdom allows, and take heart perhaps
from the fact that it has flourished thus far with the benefit of no
wisdom but God's.  Nor do I see much reason to fear that He will
suddenly take away His hand, if He has guided us this far.

Tolkien, a writer Clarke is said to admire, grieves that "many fair
things shall pass away, and be seen no more under the sky".  Trilobites
and dinosaurs, gone forever; except as we may honor them, based on
petrified bones, clothed again by our imaginings.  It seems, after all,
the least we can do; and hope that we in turn are remembered with some
affection by those to follow.

From: "Aaron & Potosi" [Aaron@accessnet.es]
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 18:27:58 +0200

I have just read your essay. It's damn good. But I think I have some things
to say.

1. Stanley manages very well to give us the feeling that Aliens are here,
but remain invisible because they don't need a physical appearance. So, why
does Dave adopt a physical form when he becomes the Star Child ?

2. If the Aliens are so powerful, why do they make their world a bit
familiar to Dave? Aren't they able to make the unknown known for Dave
without transforming the physical reality?

From: SHL@webtv.net (SHELDON STEIN)
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 1997 08:15:40 -0700

     2001 is the best film ever made.

When I was 15 years old in 1983, i've seen this movie several times and I
thought the future was really bright.  All this space exploration, hi-tech
computers, new discoverys to benefit mankind, etc, (I think it was the
Apollo 11 moon landing that inspired this film)  anyway I'm 29 years old
now and it is AUG 1997 and there is no future and nothing is happening.
The only thing happening is rent, child support, welfare, 25,000 autos
with air bags, I am fucking dissapointed with it all and have gave up.  I
see myself as Dave Boweman on Discovery.

Date: Sat, 27 Sep 1997 07:11:51 -0400
From: Stephen Johnson [StephenJohnson1@compuserve.com]

I first saw 2001 in 1968 when I was 14 years old. I t left an impession on
me that has been with me ever since.These comments may be of interest to
your readers.
THE MONOLITH:  To me it is simply an enabler.
The vexed topic of rocket sounds in the vacuum of space as per 2010 when
compared to the silrnce of 2001.
2010:ROCKET SOUNDS. Yes they are there, but if you look as you listen they
are not all wrong. Most occur when an airlock is or just has
opened....could the sounds not be carried by the rush outwards of air
molecules as they rapidly expand in the vacuum of space.Makes sense to me.
A lot of the other sounds of the Leonov in space I believe are low bass
frequencies added as a meaningless blanket purely for effect....almost
abstract  musical, and are not meant to reproduce rocket sounds as such.
When the Leonov aero-brakes around Jupiter we can hear the searing sounds
in the external view as the balute heat shield-brake glows hot. This
heating is caused by friction with the molecules of the Jovian atmosphere.
Where there is atmosphere there is the medium to carry sounds, so it is
correct that we should hear the sounds of the Leonov.When aero-braking is
complete we hear the sounds of the jettisoning of the balute. I believe
that to prevent the balute from freezing solid in space it would be packed
in an inert gas controlled enviroment and the release of this gas is the
medium which carries the sounds. Discovery is seen to be coated in a dust
of "sulphur" in its orbit over Io. Could this dust and other emissions from
Io degrade the vacuum locally and be a carrier for some sound frequencies?
This does not explain all the rocket sounds but points the way. The hardest
ones to explain are the static energy bursts from Europa caused by the
Leonov`s probes close approach and the burst toward Earth (that is Bowmans
spirit on his visit to his wife and mother)triggered by the pod piloted by
Max .Perhaps this is  not sound as such but perhaps radio waves which can
certainly be heard in space, and we hear it as if we were a radio.
Certainly the crew of the Leonov would hear it on there systems. Hope this
provides food for thought for your readers and hope you can use this

Date: Sat, 27 Sep 1997 20:34:43 -0400
From: scturner [scturner@eden.rutgers.edu]

After reading parts of your essay, which was very good, I feel obliged
to offer an interpetation of one of the film's less understood aspects,
it's vagueness and apparent meaninglessness.  This is one of the
complaints most often voiced about the film:  what does it mean, what is
it trying to say.  As far as I can see, it very intentionially says very
little.  It offers many suggestions and hints, but never actually comes
out and makes a definate statement.  However, from the hints that we are
given, it is possible to get some kind of message out of the film, and I
believe that it is this:  We humans are powerless and in the ultimate
scheme of things mean nothing in and of ourselves (ironically, I thind
that Arthur C. Clarke would be horrified by this reading, he is a very
humanistic) In the film, we only achieve what greatness that we have
because of the alien intervention, and these very aliens have the power
to destroy us at will.  Furthermore, the film does not protray a truely
transcendent human breakthough as you stated in your essay, it was the
alien power that did all of the work, we could have never done it
	An even more subtle hint is the fact which I stated earlier, that the
film is vague and apparently meaningless.  Is this not simply a parallel
to the human condition, equally meaningless and vague. 

Think about it.