Should You Read 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke?

The cover of 2001: A Space Odyssey, red with black dotted lines coming out from a circular yellow center

“The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Here on the Equator, in the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight. In this barren and desiccated land, only the small or the swift or the fierce could flourish, or even hope to survive.”

– Opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic science fiction novel divided into three parts. The first follows the ancestors of humanity as they have a strange encounter that changes the course of human history. The second follows a scientist who journeys to the moon to investigate a top-secret discovery. And the last follows an astronaut on a journey to Saturn, although the real purpose of his mission is not told to him until disaster strikes.

I should mention that I’ve never seen the movie that was developed at the same time as this novel. I typically prefer books to movies, and therefore I was interested in reading this book but feel no particular compulsion to watch the movie. As such, this review will not contain any comparisons or an answer to the question of which is better. If you haven’t seen the movie either and are considering whether to read the book, I hope this will be helpful to you.

I will admit that I was aware of the movie going into this, and I knew one particular plot point from what is the third portion of the book (I think I saw a clip at some point), so I was surprised to find that the opening is not about space travel at all. That being said, once I got into it, I quite enjoyed reading about the man-apes, as Clarke envisioned them. It was fascinating to see what he thought they were like or what he thought they might have been like and to wonder about the mystery that begins unfolding here. The second section was, to my mind, a little slow, while the third started slow, picked way up, then disappointed me. I don’t recommend reading this if you’re looking for an exciting or action-packed plot.

What did the book have instead? Lots of descriptions of space, space travel, and the technology that humans use to live in and travel through space. I’m no expert on the science shown here, but it read to me as being quite believable, and there were many times when I did believe the author was presenting details as they truly are. If you haven’t read or watched much science fiction, perhaps many of the ideas would surprise you and catch your interest as well. I suspect that at the time it was written this was a large part of the appeal, as of course no one had created anything inspired by it yet.

I couldn’t help but notice that it is very much a product of its time, both in terms of the level of advancement of the scientific ideas and the portrayal of female characters. The latter wasn’t at the level where it was upsetting, but it was certainly noticeable to this reader. One line that gives a good idea of what I’m talking about is this: “[Space pods] were usually christened with feminine names, perhaps in recognition of the fact that their personalities were sometimes slightly unpredictable.” Coming from the omniscient narrator, that certainly helps explain in my mind why this depiction of “the future” focuses so heavily on men and seems to put them in every single position of power or influence in society. Some readers, I’m sure, will not mind this in the slightest. Others like myself will likely find it interesting, a view into the mindsets of the past as well as the futuristic speculations of the past. In the year 2022, I personally find it interesting to consider how the real 2001 turned out so differently than what Clarke predicted.

In the end, I found this book enjoyable enough. I’m glad I read it in order to understand the cultural relevance and the impact it’s had on what has come since. I also enjoyed seeing the writing techniques used and was intrigued to find that the book is so beloved in spite of what I wouldn’t have expected to be widely considered a compelling plot structure. If you like space and space travel or if you’re a science fiction buff, a lover of classic literature, or an aspiring science fiction writer, I would recommend giving this one a read. If you’re looking for good representation, action, or new ideas, I’d go with a modern science fiction book instead. Perhaps The World Gives Way, which I reviewed previously.

Should You Read Master Class by Christina Dalcher?

“It’s impossible to know what you would do to escape a shitty marriage and give your daughters a fair shot at success. Would you pay money? Trade the comfort of your house and home? Lie, cheat, or steal?”

– Opening of Master Class

Master Class is a science fiction novel set in a version of the United States that has embraced standardized testing to such an extent that every aspect of a child’s life is determined by how well or how poorly they perform on them. There are three tiers of schools, one for the top students, one for the average students, and one for everybody else. Elena is a teacher at an elite school. She also has two daughters, one at a top school and one at an average school. She has a nice life, if you discount the fact that her husband is the worst, but when one of her daughters fails a test, everything changes. Suddenly it’s her daughter being sent away to a mysterious boarding school in the middle of nowhere, and Elena begins to rethink her entire life as she struggles to get her daughter back.

The best thing about this book was the tension in it. From the beginning, it was obvious that everything was much worse than the main character was aware of, that awful things were happening, and that terrible things were very likely going to happen to the children who were disappearing, but without having any real answers, my mind was left to its own devices. I turned page after page, just gobbling up the story in the race to find the answers, even as a part of me didn’t want to find the horrors that I knew were waiting. The story unweaves bit by bit, with stakes increasing all the time, and it definitely holds the attention right up to the final page.

I did find the setup to be a little unbelievable by the end, but the fact that the story is so clearly drawing on true historical events that are little known about is definitely chilling. While I didn’t end up thinking that this exact thing could happen, I did wonder whether something like it could, and that’s a huge part of the draw of this kind of book for me. I also appreciate that it is drawing attention to these issues, as I also believe that some books can be very important in sparking conversations and raising awareness of important topics. Some books can have a real and positive affect on the world, and I think this may be one of them.

Overall, I think you’ll enjoy this book if you like the type of book that asks “what if” while simultaneously suggesting that such things could really happen in our future. It’s a story about motherhood and redemption and breaking out of a bad situation, as well as about the US school system. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in these concepts and is not afraid to explore some of the darker sides of history and human nature.