If one were to gauge what makes a perfect science-fiction story, what elements would have to be in place? You could start with a very open question. F...moreIf one were to gauge what makes a perfect science-fiction story, what elements would have to be in place? You could start with a very open question. For example, who else is out there besides us? You could take realistic human beings, bound by the laws of science as we know it today, and throw them at that question. Throw in an epic journey through space, a nearly unstoppable adversary and a mind-warping ending that exceeds the wildest expectations. And to top it off, wild sex with beautiful alien women. 2001: A Space Odyssey has all of these elements but one. It is a nearly perfect sci-fi experience.
Now I’ll admit to one little bit of sci-fi fandom heresy. I’ve never seen the 2001 movie. I’ve seen countless other classic science fiction films, but for some reason just never watched it. I was just thinking recently that I should watch the film, but as I'm on a bit of a classic reading stint right now I decided to read Clarke's book first. Really I have no idea what took me this long. Aside from Michael Chrichton, Clarke was my introduction to science fiction. I read Rendesvous With Rama in middle school and absolutely loved it. Having returned to reading Clarke after so many years, I can say with a surety that he is one of my favorite science fiction authors.
If you asked who the book's main character was, I suppose I would have to say that it's David Bowman. But 2001 doesn't really follow a typical format where one character can be pinpointed as "it." The book has several acts, two just happen to be smaller than the last acts featuring Mr. Bowman. The book starts 3 million years ago, when humans handn't quite developed from man-ape... things. Our POV character here is Moon-Watcher, a man-ape that encounters a monolith, one such object that each "main" character will encounter in 2001. This monolith, obviously extra-terrestrial in origin, changes Moon-Watcher and sets in motion a change in the entire human race. Fast forward three million years, give-or-take some centuries or so. Our next POV character, Dr. Heywood Floyyd, a famous scientist, is called to the moon to view a new discovery. Yet another mysterious monolith has been revealed, hidden from the news-mongers on aearth under the pretext that it's a plague broken out on the lunar base. This brings us to David Bowman.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and Bowman and a few other crew members are hurtling through space in a new state of the art ship, on a mission whose purpose isn't revealed until the end of the story. Their constant, ever-awake companion is an on-board ship AI with an agenda of its own. ("What're you doing, Dave? I can't let you do that, Dave.") Though I haven't seen the movie, I've known about Hal since I was a child. Being surrounded by movie quoting nerds my whole life, it'd be impossible not to. Hal is an immediately recognizable sci-fi icon and it was entertaining to finally learn what it was all about, even if it wasn't the medium that most people first experienced "him" in.
I don't want it give anything else away for the few people like me who don't know the story. In summation, I will say that 2001 has everything I love and forgot I loved about science fiction. With a great mystery to look forward to, I was eager to know what was going to happen from the first few pages onward. Clarke's writing is fantastic. Not only was he a visionary (he wrote this book before the moon landing for frakk's sake!), his writing was incredibly detailed and gripping. I am absolutely never bored when I'm reading Arthur C. Clarke. He pulls beauty out of the plain and excitement out of the mundane. During Bowman's journey, you will have no trouble believing that this is exactly what mankind's first trip to the outer planets will really be like. I felt like I was really staring at Jupiter and Saturn and seeing it with amazement through Bowman's eyes. While the ending of the book is worth the wait (not that this is a particularly long book) and utterly mind-warping in scope, the true majesty of 2001 is realizing the wonder that already exists in our own non-fictional universe. Everyone who is even remotely interested in science fiction or who just loves a good story about human discovery should read 2001: A Space Odyssey(less)
For an author, creating something that is frightening can be a challenging thing, given that the subject matter is neither seen, nor heard by the read...moreFor an author, creating something that is frightening can be a challenging thing, given that the subject matter is neither seen, nor heard by the reader. Rather it takes place solely in the mind, leaving it up to the reader to decide if what they're experiencing is scary or horrifying. It's almost pretentious, when you think about it. Selling a story as a horror is telling the reader how they're going to feel while reading it. Of course, the same could be said for comedy and many other genres, but horror seems particularly subjective to me. H.P. Lovecraft is called the master of horror, the grandfather. I've been told for years that I need to read him, and for many years this book has gathered dust on my shelf. Well I decided to finally blow off that dust, wipe away the cobwebs and open the portal to the Elder Gods... I mean into a clever and demented mind. I'm glad that I did.
I don't read a lot of short story collections. I love the idea of short stories but when it comes to writing and reading them, I'm always thinking that I'd rather cut my teeth on something longer instead. I think I've ruined myself with door-stopper epic fantasy tomes. But Lovecraft only wrote in the short so alas, short stories it is. I wish I had read Lovecraft sooner. As I’m reading these stories I can see where Stephen King and various other horror writers have pulled influence from. I remember being a kid and reading IT (which was quite terrifying when I was in 7th grade, by the way) and reading about the Turtle, a strange god-like being outside of time, thinking “what a strange and interesting concept.” Well, I’m pretty sure if King hadn’t read about Lovecraft’s Elder Gods, he wouldn’t have had the idea. I’d give more examples, but honestly I’m not too well-read in the horror genre so I can’t think of any more at the moment.
As for the stories themselves, I won’t touch on all of them, but I will give my thoughts on a few; particularly my favorites of the bunch.
Rats in the Walls: This was a great way to begin my Lovecraft experience. What starts as a standard horror tale of a potentially haunted home becomes much, much more. You’ll learn just by reading this story that Lovecraft doesn’t deal in ghosts and spirits, but in things far more terrifying.
Pickman's Model: This one is about an artist of the macabre variety whose subjects may or may not be derived from his imagination. While this story was one of the shortest with the simplest of premises, it stuck with me as one of the more chilling tales in this collection. Pickman's Model is truly meant for the short story format. I couldn't see it being worked into a film and I can't see the premise working as a full length novel. It's an idea, and that idea is creepy as hell.
Call of Cthulu: I suppose I couldn't write a review of this book without touching on the great Cthulu. I won't spend too much time talking about the most famed Lovecraftian creation, but it's definitely a story that's worth a read. Whereas most of the stories in the collection focus on one subject finding themselves in an unspeakable situation of isolation or insanity, Call introduces horror on a grander, world threatening scale. Also tentacles (and not the kind that Krieger is into.)
The Colour Out of Space: This one is my favorite story in the collection. It's just disturbing in the best way. The sheer sense of helplessness and horror is in full swing here as an object falls from space and disturbs the fabric of reality itself, slowly decaying anything living into dust. And of course that includes humans. The visuals this story conjures are definitely enough to induce chills. I'd love to see this one in some sort of film capacity.
The Dunwich Horror: This is one of the least typical Lovecraft stories in the collection. A family makes a contract with an Elder God and creates a couple of Elder Godly horrific children that terrorize the podunk town of Dunwich. What makes it unique is that instead of humans being helpless against this threat, this story actually focuses on a various group of people attempting to solve the problem. Its definitely one I could see made into a modern movie, even one that's purposely campy like Slither or Tremors.
It's obviously not necessary for me to go into each and every story here as there are 20 or so, but this collection has definitely whet my tongue for more HP Lovecraft. He perhaps wasn't the best fiction writer as his characters don't have a lot of depth and he reuses a lot of the same descriptors. But every writer has their strengths and weaknesses and Lovecraft's strengths lie in digging into your imagination and conjuring images and fears you didn't even know you had. A lot of horror these days lacks subtlety and likes to take its subject and best you over the head with it. Lovecraft's work does not have that problem. Every writer, director or actor of the horror genre should be given this book to be reminded what horror really is.(less)