2001: A Space Odyssey Wiki
2001: A Space Odyssey Wiki
For the film of the same name, see 2001: A Space Odyssey (film).

2001: A Space Odyssey is a science fiction novel written by Arthur C. Clarke. The novel was written at the same time as the film, directed by Stanley Kubrick.


The story starts its focus on a tribe of ape-men in Africa, three million years B.C. The first part of the story focuses on one small tribe, led by the largest and strongest of them called Moon-Watcher. One night, a mysterious alien race erects a large crystalline monolith. The monolith uses unseen forces to perform experiments on the ape-men, taking temporary control of their minds to inspire them to construct crude tools from bones and rocks. The ape-men use the tools to kill prey - a large, plentiful species of boar that did not fear them due to lack of predation - and end their ongoing starvation, thus saving them from possible extinction. They also used their weapons to kill a leopard that preyed on the smaller and weaker members of their tribe. The next day, Moon-Watcher kills the leader of a rival tribe that terrorized his tribe for control of the nearby water source. Moon-Watcher soon realizes that he is now the master of the world. He unsure of what to do next, but he will think of something.

Over time the ape-men evolve into modern man. They learn to walk entirely upright in order to use their forepaws - later hands - to grip and use the tools they fashion, eventually to perform "work". They develop tools to aid in eating, cutting up large pieces of meat into smaller bites, and as a result their large snouts recede and their teeth shrink, their long jaws nor their fangs no longer needed for eating. They discover how to make and control fire. In a flash, all of human advancement passes by, as they develop cooking, clothing, language, building, animal domestication, metalwork, sea travel, society, law, nations, machinery, steam power, and space travel.

The focus jumps three million years into the future, to the year 1999, where Dr. Heywood Floyd is preparing for his next trip into space. He arrives at Space Station One, where he runs into an old friend. Dr. Floyd then leaves Space Station One on an Ares IB moon shuttle. He lands at Clavius Base, where he attends a briefing about a recent discovery (a magnetic disturbance) in Tycho Crater; officially named Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One, or TMA-1. Excavation at the site reveals a giant black slab, with the proportions of 1:4:9, the squares of the first three integers (1,2,3). Aged at three million years, TMA-1 could not possibly be crafted by humans, thus making it the first evidence for extraterrestrial life. When the first sunlight hit it after three million years, the monolith sent out a piercing radio beam aimed directly at Saturn. The beam is later tracked to Iapetus, one of the moons of Saturn, where a mission is sent to investigate.

The focus jumps ahead once more to the year 2001, to the Discovery One mission to Saturn, crewed by David Bowman, Frank Poole, Victor Kaminski, Peter Whitehead, and Charles Hunter; the latter three were placed in cryogenic hibernation before the mission began. There is also an artificial intelligence on board, officially dubbed HAL 9000, often referred to as "Hal", who is responsible for controlling the ship's functions.

After Poole receives a happy birthday call from his parents, Hal reports to Bowman that the AE-35 Unit will fail within 72 hours. The AE-35 unit is the system that is responsible for keeping Discovery's antenna towards the Earth – without it, communications would be impossible. Poole goes out in an EVA pod to replace the malfunctioning AE-35 with a new one. When they bring in the old one for analysis, they can find nothing wrong with it. Hal then says that the new AE-35 unit will fail too. Both Poole and Bowman suspect that there is something wrong with Hal. They radio down to Earth about the dilemma, and mission control agrees that Hal is malfunctioning. However, communications are cut when the AE-35 unit suddenly fails, just as Hal predicted. Poole goes out once more in an EVA pod to retrieve the malfunctioning unit. However, shortly after Poole exits the pod and begins unfastening the AE-35 unit, the pod rams him, knocking him away from Discovery, and tearing his spacesuit, exposing him to the vacuum of space. Dave is deeply distressed by the death of Poole, and decides to wake up the three astronauts in hibernation. As Bowman wakes the three astronauts, Hal opens the airlocks in the pod bay, venting all the air in Discovery. Dave eventually manages to find refuge in an emergency shelter, where he dons a spacesuit. He exits the shelter and disconnects Hal's higher functions. Dave restores order to Discovery and manually restores contact with Earth. He soon learns about the Tycho Monolith and that the actual purpose of the mission was to investigate Iapetus, in an effort to learn more about the alien race that put the monolith on the Moon.

Discovery is put into an orbit around Iapetus, which Dave has discovered to be oddly colored; one hemisphere is deep black, the other a vibrant white. At the very center of the white hemisphere, Bowman noticed a small black dot. Later on, he discovered the dot to be a second monolith, identical to the one found on the moon- though this one was nearly two kilometers long. Dave decided to go out in one of the pods to get a closer look. He moved out above the monolith. It then reveals its true purpose as a stargate. It opens and pulls Bowman in. His last transmission was: "The thing's hollow...it goes on forever and... oh my God, it's full of stars!"

Bowman is transported through the stargate to fantastic sites such as a globular cluster, a binary star system, and a derelict space station. The pod's final resting place was a large hotel suite. After an examination of the suite, Dave climbed into bed and fell asleep. As he slept, Bowman's memory and thoughts were slowly drained from him. "As one Dave Bowman ceased to exist, another became immortal." Dave was made into an immortal entity, a Star Child, free from the bonds of matter, free to live and move about in the infinity of space and time. The Star Child then returned to Earth and destroys all of the nuclear weapons in orbit about the Earth. The Star Child, like Moon-Watcher, soon realized that he is the master of the world. He is unsure of what to do next, but he will think of something.

Differences from the film[]

Though Kubrick and Clarke developed the novel and screenplay simultaneously, they bear several differences, the most notable is the change of the destination for Discovery; Saturn in the novel and Jupiter in the film. Kubrick chose to set the film here because the special effects supervisor, Douglas Trumbull, could not produce a convincing model of Saturn's rings. (He built on his experience with "2001" when he directed the later science fiction film, Silent Running, which depicted a spaceship passing through Saturn's rings). Clarke also changed Saturn to Jupiter for his sequel novel, 2010: Odyssey Two.

The film shows Bowman going out in a pod to salvage Poole's body. While Dave is out, Hal shuts off the life support systems for the three astronauts in hibernation. When Dave returns, he is refused reentry into Discovery, forcing to enter through the emergency airlock, risking exposure to the vacuum of space. After this, Bowman proceeds to disconnect Hal. However, in the novel, Dave does not go out to rescue Frank. After Poole's death, Dave attempts to wake the three astronauts in hibernation. Hal then opens the airlock doors, venting the air inside Discovery, suffocating the hibernating crew and nearly killing Bowman. After which, he proceeds to disconnect Hal.

At the end of the film, Bowman is portrayed as experiencing a full human lifetime in the span of a few minutes, dying as an impossibly-old man before his evolutionary leap and being reborn as the Star Child, hinted at being assisted by the monolith. In the novel, which goes into detail about the aliens' abandonment of physical bodies for artificial, nigh-immortal constructs to house their intellect before finally becoming pure energy, Bowman simply falls asleep, at which point his memories and personality are "downloaded" into this new entity and awakening as a "baby", though with the knowledge that he only needed this construct for a time until he gained enough control of his powers to shed physical matter entirely.

In the novel, the original monolith found by the man-apes in described as a translucent crystalline monolith. In the film, the monolith is seen as opaque.

In the film, after Hal is shut down and viewing the recorded announcement from Floyd, Bowman is never shown contacting Earth again, the entirety of the rest of the film being without dialogue. In the novel, he repairs the AE-35 unit and takes manual control of the ship's systems to make contact with Earth and continue the mission, which lasts for several more weeks or months. His last transmission back to Earth before being swallowed by the stargate is, "My God, it's full of stars." This line was added to the beginning of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, indicating that he did, in fact, make contact with Earth again.


Clarke also wrote three sequels to the novel:

  1. 2010: Odyssey Two
  2. 2061: Odyssey Three
  3. 3001: The Final Odyssey