Wednesday, August 16, 2006

3001, Arthur C. Clarke

Title: 3001
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Rating: OK

In my last review I complained that the short SF in the volume I was reviewing wasn't impressive. The next book I picked up - 3001 by Arthur C. Clarke - wasn't that good either. It was better, but not by a lot.

In 3001 we follow the story of Frank Poole. For those who saw the movie 2001, you may remember your last vision of Frank: he was released into space by the pod commanded by Dave Bowman, clearly dead. This story picks up the tale about one thousand years later. Poole's body is found in deep space and he is returned to life. Don't ask how - Clarke doesn't say - but he's back. Of course, it's not really a surprise that Clarke doesn't expound on Poole's recovery. Clarke is a noted visionary on things related to space and space travel, but not on medicine. So the fact that he glosses over Poole's restoration is expected, but it did leave me a bit cold.

In the first third of the book - in addition to seeing Poole return - we are introduced to the world of 3001. Clarke spends a fair bit of time (and a number of pages) describing the homes and lives of those living 1000 years from now. It's mildly amusing, though not really related to the plot. Sadly, it gets substantially less interesting when he heads off into more social, political or moralistic grounds, where I'm afraid it's just not that well thought out.

As to character development, Poole gets very little, despite being a fish out of water. Oh, he says a few things to imply that he's having some trouble adjusting to all the differences between 2001 and 3001, but we never really believe it. The rest of the characters are one dimensional, almost hackneyed, and thus not particularly believable.

Finally we get to the actual plot involving the monolith. While this was more interesting than the first third of the book's exposition, it was pretty thin overall. And the resolution was disappointing to this computer programmer.

The last 15% of the novel is actually a set of end notes, mostly about the research Clarke based his predictions on. It's all about 10 years old now (in 2006) and some of it hasn't gone anywhere since it was first published. But those end notes were actually more interesting (to me) than the novel itself. Clarke's style gets more folksy, and you can tell he's writing to convey information, rather than to tell a story. It works better for him, and what he says is both interesting and touching at times.

In all I'd guess this book was better than 2061 (which I read years ago and barely remember) but not by much. 2010 was much better than either of those later books, and a much better follow on to the original movie.