2010

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A lot of people will be talk­ing about the obvi­ous film/book. The film and book ver­sions of 2001 are dif­fer­ent, in the book the mono­lith is on Iapetus, the moon of Saturn where liquid water may exist. Arthur C. Clarke changed his mind for the sequel, and decided that Jupiter was the bet­ter place for the sequel 2010, which is far bet­ter than any sequel to 2001 has the right to be. I haven’t bought the DVD yet, but I will even­tu­ally. A dir­ect com­par­ison between the two is per­haps not fair as they’re two dif­fer­ent films and stor­ies. As great as 2001 is, it is umm… cine­matic in scope. It’s a story of bil­lions of years. 2010 is much more personal.

The plot is the quest to find out what happened after Dave Bowman left the Discovery for the last time. All the people on Earth have to go on is the mes­sage: “My God! It’s full of stars!” The Americans are build­ing Discovery II travel there. In the mean­time Russians have built their own ship, the Leonov, to exam­ine Jupiter and board Discovery as a derel­ict. This hap­pens against a back­ground of Cold War ten­sion (one magazine said that this dated the film). An ana­lysis of Discovery’s orbit shows that it will crash onto Io before the American ship can reach it. The Russians offer to take three American astro­nauts with them on the Leonov, so that they can try and avoid whatever happened to the Discovery’s crew repeat­ing itself.

The Americans are put into hiberna­tion for the trip, but as they sleep US-Russian rela­tions deteri­or­ate fur­ther. The Russians dis­cover unusual read­ings from Europa and reluct­antly awake Heywood Floyd. They agree they haven’t the fuel to make a diver­sion, they’ll be rely­ing on scrap­ing over Jupiter’s atmo­sphere to act as a brake to slow them down. Instead they launch a probe…

2010 is among other things a ghost story, the adversary is unknown and pos­sibly unknow­able. It shows off what Arthur C Clarke could do. The scene above was based on pub­lished spec­u­la­tion about Europa at the time. The res­ult is that the scene isn’t too far off how sci­ent­ists would describe Europa today. However the point of 2010 isn’t to be a lec­ture in astro­bi­o­logy, it’s about human inter­ac­tion. Unseen alien pres­ence poses a chal­lenge which means the crews of the Discovery and the Leonov have to over­come both their fear of the unknown and of each other to leave the Jovian sys­tem alive. Technology is import­ant in the story, but its role is pla­cing lim­it­a­tions on what is feas­ible rather than a means of escap­ing limitations.

Arthur C. Clarke under­stood the lim­it­a­tions of tech­no­logy and that’s what makes 2010 a far bet­ter story than you’d expect. His death will be a great loss.