…he had only to put the corpse where he had left the new baby at the last quarter of the moon, and the hyenas would do the rest. (1.9)
This is a rather grim start to the novel, with dead man-apes everywhere. Life in the dim dawn of man was "nasty, brutish, and short" (to quote the philosopher Thomas Hobbes). But—things are going to get better. You get the bad stuff so you can see how much better the future is going to be, with its slabs and aliens and human advancement. Progress is climbing away from the mortal grave.
…though even the smallest could completely destroy the ship if it slammed into it at tens of thousands of miles an hour, the chance of this happening was negligible. (18.3)
The danger from asteroids emphasizes how vulnerable human beings are…though the scientific assessment of chances is a comfort. Morality looms, but in 2001 you've always got some technobabble to make things seem better.
Yet still he called stupidly, as if an incantation could bring back the dead: "Hello Frank…Hello Frank…Can you read me?" (25.30)
Frank Poole's fate is probably the most traumatic, or unpleasant, death in the novel. Bowman calling out helplessly into the vast indifferent cosmos links the big universe all around to death. It's like he's floating alone in a big sea of mortality (though of course the aliens are out there to rescue him eventually).
It was impossible to tell that the sleeping man was not dead; there was not the slightest visible sign of vital activity. (26.43)
The hibernating folks seem dead. Blurring the line between living and dead emphasizes the extent to which Bowman and all humans are just living on borrowed time. Could an alien tell the difference between a live human and a dead one?
He had thought that a hibernating man showed no sign of life, but now he knew that this was wrong. Though it was impossible to define it, there was a difference between hibernation and death. (26.22)
Even with all their technology, humans can't bridge that gap between death and life. Yet.
"Unless you obey my instructions, I shall be forced to disconnect you." (26.35)
The best evidence you get that Hal is alive is that he's afraid to die. Death defines living—and where does that leave the immortal aliens?
To Hal, this was the equivalent of Death. For he had never slept, and therefore he did not know that one could wake again….(27.9)
Again, you feel sorry for poor Hal…and again, he often seems more human than Bowman, who never seems all that worried about death. (There's a long tradition of artificial monsters being more human than their creators—see Frankenstein, for example.)
Bowman could bear no more. He jerked out the last unit, and Hal was silent forever. (29.59)
Bowman kills Hal—a sort of echo of the novel's other murder, when Moon-Watcher killed One-Ear. Both are part of humans' evolutionary push out to the stars. Transcendence requires a bunch of dead bodies (flesh or metal), apparently.
They would replace their natural bodies as they wore out—or perhaps even before that—by constructions of metal and plastic and would thus achieve immortality. (32.15)
Humans speculate how aliens might become immortal. Of course, this could be Clarke himself speculating, since it's exactly how he makes his aliens immortal. Mortal humans like to think about immortality, in gods or aliens.
He could not possibly survive until Discovery II made its rendezvous with Japetus, four or five years hence. (39.4)
Bowman realizes that he's going to die alone in space. He's remarkably calm about it. He's something of a cold fish.
…there was already something in his gaze beyond the capacity of any ape. In those dark, deep-set eyes was a dawning awareness—the first intimations of an intelligence that could not possibly fulfill itself for ages yet, and might soon be extinguished forever. (1.6)
So, is Moon-Watcher special because he's smarter than your average ape or is he special because he's smarter than your average man-ape? The novel goes back and forth a bit. Strength and skill are individual talents, but they're also evolutionary, or species, talents.
If he survived, those patterns would become eternal, for his genes would pass them on to future generations. (3.10)
The slab changes not just Moon-Watcher's mind, but his genetic material. It's not just teaching; it's changing evolution. The book makes Moon-Watcher the hero, but the real protagonist could be seen as the human race itself. (Which is maybe why many of the characters in the book are so bland. The human species as a whole doesn't have much of a personality.)
Then, not for the first or last time, he proved himself a genius. (4.16)
Moon-Watcher is the smartest man-ape around. Even the smartest man-ape isn't so smart, of course—but you could probably say that for humans too, if you were a super-energy alien.
The time had not yet come when Man could leave his mark upon the Solar System. (19.31)
The suggestion here is that humans at some point will leave their mark on the solar system. Humans will get ever stronger and more skillful, until they can put a big, "Joe Was Here" sign out on Pluto.
"Frank Poole, who is specially qualified for this type of work, will go outside the ship and replace the faulty unit with the backup." (21.27)
Poole is qualified to go out and space walk. The book thinks that's cool. It's into being qualified.
"I don't want to insist on it, Dave, but I am incapable of making an error." (24.23)
Hal is supposed to be incapable of making an error. Alas, he is full of them. This is why he's so much fun; all the other characters are professional and qualified and strong and skillful. Hal, with his neurotic burping brain, is much more sympathetic.
Work is the best remedy for any shock, and Bowman now had work enough for all his lost crewmates. (31.1)
Is work really the best remedy for any shock? Maybe if you're all efficiency and competence all the time, like David Bowman. He's more of a robot than Hal ever was.
If he was indeed mad, his delusions were beautifully organized. Everything was perfectly real; nothing vanished when he turned his back. (44.7-8)
This seems like it's Clarke's goal. 2001 is a delusion (or fiction) that is carefully organized; each piece of equipment fits together, and the whole clinks along. The movie is much more of a mess (which is part of why it's better).
If this is some kind of intelligence test, I've probably failed it already. Without further hesitation, he walked back into the bedroom and began to undo the clamp of his helmet. (44.30)
The novel opens with man-apes getting their intelligence tested; now towards the end, Bowman is worried about having his intelligence tested. 2001 is a world where smarts and skill are important, and need to be quantified. The future is a giant SAT. Yuck.
How obvious—how necessary—was that mathematical ratio of its sides, the quadratic sequence 1:4:9! And how naïve to have imagined that the series ended at this point, in only three dimensions! (46.8)
Being a star baby means you understand more math. Be jealous.
One of the mothers, defending the infant she could not properly feed, gave him an angry growl in return; he lacked the energy even to cuff her for her presumption. (1.4)
The man-apes appear to be very patriarchal; the guys are in control. This may seem like an anthropological truth—folks often assume that earlier people, not to mention earlier apes, were male-dominated. In reality, though, many researchers believe that social relations among hunter-gatherer peoples were often very egalitarian—strict gender divisions in labor and power only came along later. Some of this research is since Clarke's time. But still, it's worth realizing that the vision of early man as male-dominated is not necessarily a truth; it's a story he's decided upon.
Ascent of Man (title of Chapter 6)
Throughout the book, the novel uses "man" to mean "human beings." This is most noticeable with the "man-apes," not all of whom are men. Using "man" instead of human is supposed to sound more impressive—but it also reflects the extent to which there just aren't women in the book. The explorers, the inventors, the part of humanity that ascends up the evolutionary ladder—all those folks we see, just about, are men. As far as the book is concerned, it is the ascent of man. Women are off taking care of the kids, and doing whatever else they do while men head for the stars.
"Thank you," said Floyd with a smile, wondering why stewardesses always had to sound like robot tour guides. (7.24)
Even in the future, the stewardesses are all women. Floyd wonders why she has to sound like a robot—but the answer is that she, like all the women in the book, doesn't get to be a real person, she's just window-dressing.
"Dr. Floyd," demanded a very short and determined lady of the press, "what possible justification can there be for this total blackout of news from the Moon?" (7.14)
The lady of the press is about the only women in the novel we see who does not have a job like "stewardess." The reporter here is presented slightly satirically ("very short and determined"), and as an annoyance, trying to ferret out gossip from the competent, tight-lipped Dr. Floyd. Men do important manly things in space; women bother them.
…she came from Bali, and had carried beyond the atmosphere some of the grace and mystery of that still largely unspoiled island. (9.43)
One of the stewardesses on the moon-flight is from Bali, and she does a dance for Floyd. Bali is presented as primitive, and the woman is linked to that primitiveness. Floyd is the manly dude flying into space, contrasted with the sensual, exotic woman doing her sexy dance for his pleasure and entertainment.
Floyd found himself back in the familiar environment of typewriters, office computer, girl assistants, wall charts, and ringing telephones. (10.21)
Again, "girl assistants" are part of the furniture, like "wall charts" or "ringing telephones". Clarke's future is mired in the gender assumptions of 1968. Other science fiction of the era (like Ursula K. Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness) imagined gender reconstructed and rejiggered. Not Clarke though; for him, it's all still about the girl assistants.
It was true—indeed notorious—that seamen had compensations at other ports; unfortunately there were no tropical islands full of dusky maids beyond the orbit of Earth. (17.27)
This is the second reference to sexualized non-white women (after the dancing stewardess from Bali) in the book. The book is almost completely sexless, but it seems significant that the times when sex is almost/sort of mentioned, it's in the context of "exotic" women providing various services for space travelers.
Though numerous ladies had promised to wait until the expeditions returned, no one had really believed this. At first, both Poole and Bowman had been making rather intimate personal calls once a week, though the knowledge that many ears must be listening at the Earth end of the circuit tended to inhibit them. Yet already…the warmth and frequency of the conversations with their girls on Earth had begun to diminish. (17.26)
The women are not only irrelevant to space travel; they're also fickle. Or perhaps it's that, to be real adventurous space travelers out among the stars, you need to cut yourself off from the distractions of those ladies and girls bound to earth.
Like all his colleagues, Bowman was unmarried; it was not fair to send family men on a mission of such duration. (17.26)
Why couldn't they send married couples into space? And why is it all "family men"? The assumption seems to be that women wouldn't want to go, or wouldn't be fit to go. Again, the gender relations of what is supposedly 2001 seem mired in the '60s, or even the '50s. Clarke likes to imagine changes in technology and whooshing spaceships, but changes to gender norms seem much harder for him to manage.
In an empty room, floating amid the fires of a double star twenty thousand light years from Earth, a baby opened its eyes and began to cry. (45.11)
Science-fiction started with a birth-without-women—Dr. Frankenstein's creation of an artificial monster. The star baby is also a kind of new life made without recourse to sex, pregnancy, and women. Part of progress in the novel is leaving women behind; you don't need them anymore. In this novel, women in the novel are mostly associated with earth and bodies; men with traveling to the stars and escaping from bodies. You could see 2001 as an extended explanation that men are jealous of childbirth and want to make their own kids and are going to take their toys and go out to the stars until they can get pregnant too, darn it. We're not buying it, though.
They could never guess that their minds were being probed, their bodies mapped, their reactions studied, their potentials evaluated. (2.18)
The man-apes are being evaluated by the aliens…or rather by alien technologies. So robots are checking and then manipulating people. The man-apes (our ancestors, supposedly) are actually quasi-alien cyborgs.
Poole and Bowman had often humorously referred to themselves as caretakers or janitors aboard a ship that could really run itself. They would have been astonished, and more than a little indignant, to discover how much truth that jest contained. (16.17)
Here's a hint of technophobia. One concern about technology, in Clarke's time and still today, is that it will end up destroying jobs, or making certain jobs irrelevant. That's what's happened here; Poole and Bowman have been made irrelevant. The man-apes have been replaced by their bone-saws.
Space pods were not the most elegant means of transport devised by man, but they were absolutely essential for construction and maintenance work in vacuum. (22.2)
The novel is careful to tell you how necessary and cool various bits of tech are. Three cheers for the imaginary space-pod! We couldn't get out of the imaginary ship without it.
They both knew, of course, that Hal was hearing every word, but they could not help these polite circumlocutions. Hal was their colleague, and they did not wish to embarrass him. (23.27)
Hal wavers somewhere between tool and person. He's a technology, but he's also a buddy. Humans built the brain, but the brain is still a brain—just as the aliens built human brains, but those brains are still people.
It was beyond all reason that Hal, who had performed flawlessly for so long, should suddenly turn assassin. (26.12)
Think of how you feel when your car breaks down, or the washer goes on the fritz, or the internet stops working. It's a betrayal; the technology has zapped you. How much more so if the technology were an evil supercomputer? You'd be surprised and disbelieving too.
He was only aware of the conflict that was slowly destroying his integrity—the conflict between truth, and concealment of truth. (27.7)
This is presented as some sort of programming glitch or conflict—but in practice it seems much more like the sort of thing that would upset a human person type brain. It's a moral conflict—and really the only moral conflict in the whole novel. The result is that moral conflicts are presented in technological terms; morality is a glitch in the system.
"…primitive races have often failed to survive the encounter with higher civilizations. Anthropologists talk of 'cultural shock': we may have to prepare the entire human race for such a shock." (30.210)
These days, anthropologists try to avoid talking about "primitive races" or "higher civilizations". Cultures with stone-age technology aren't necessarily backwards, nor are they fossil relics. In some ways some of those cultures might be seen as more advanced than highly technological ones (in terms of equitable distribution of goods, for example, or in terms of richness of interpersonal relations). This speech about "primitive races" is supposed to sound scientific and rational and modern, but it actually sounds kind of prejudiced and out of date. That's the danger with science-fiction; your future is always at risk of looking quaint and old-fashioned.
The feeble energies it contained were no possible menace to him, but he preferred a cleaner sky. (47.2)
Space-baby Bowman uses his future technology to blast the evil nuclear weapons, saving earth from the bad technology. Nuclear weapons are one of the few technologies in the novel that are clearly marked as ominous or bad. But, predictably, the solution to them isn't less technology, or better relations with people, but more futuristic alien power. The answer to problematic progress is more progress.
The tools they had been programmed to use were simple enough, yet they could change this world and make the man-apes its masters. (4.1)
A technology fiddles with the man-apes and gets them to use different technologies. Modernization is technology through and through.
He was looking at a peaceful family group, differing in only one respect from the scenes he knew. The male, female, and two infants that had mysteriously appeared before him were gorged and replete with sleek and glossy pelts—and this was a condition of life that Moon-Watcher had never imagined. (3.7)
…it was longer still before Moon-Watcher, despite all that he had been shown, really understood that he need never be hungry again. (3.23)
This line echoes Scarlett O'Hara's famous vow in Gone With the Wind that she will "never go hungry again." It's not clear that this is an intentional shout-out—and intentional or unintentional, it seems to undermine the novel's point. After all, tens of thousands of years later, folks are still worried about going hungry. Hunting didn't change that, and neither did the agricultural revolution. Moon-Watcher sees a dream of permanent progress, and Clarke seems to see it too—but that dream isn't quite reality, whatever the novel says.
Yet he had no regrets for those lost beauties. He had enjoyed them all, in his thirty-five years of life; and he was determined to enjoy them again, when he returned rich and famous. (16.6)
This is one of the few glimpses we get into what makes Bowman tick, or what he wants out of his trip. It seems fairly banal—he just wants to be rich and famous. Rather than making him more specific, his dreams just make him more generic. He wants what everyone else wants. You're boring, David.
Their goal was a still stranger world, almost twice as far from the Sun—across another half billion miles of comet-haunted emptiness. (20.15)
Hopes and plans here are like the signal TMA-1 sent out—they point out to the stars, in order to make you see the vast immensity of space. 2001 likes big dreams.
"You know that I have the greatest possible enthusiasm for this mission." (24.43)
Plans and goals tend to be seen as good things in 2001. The aliens' plans lead to the emergence of the humans we are today, and ultimately move us up the evolutionary ladder. Hal's enthusiasm for the mission, his single-minded devotion to the hopes and plans of Discovery, are a bit of a contrast. They don't end up leading anywhere good. (Trust aliens, not robots.)
It was even possible —though he had not yet looked into the supply position carefully —that by rigorous rationing he might remain alive, without resort to hibernation, until rescue came. (31.7)
Bowman is hoping he can manage to survive even after Hal has killed everyone else. Later, you learn that he won't be able to. You never see the process by which his hopes are dashed, but his impending death doesn't seem to disturb him that much. Bowman's hopes and dreams always seem oddly disconnected from his actual inner life; it's like the aliens have dreamed so much for him that he doesn't have any hopes left for himself.
Perhaps indeed he was [suffering from delusions]; for he had half convinced himself that the bright ellipse set against the dark background of the satellite was a huge empty eye, staring at him as he approached. (35.3)
Again, a moment of cosmic dream spookiness. There's an eye out there looking at him: the aliens are watching—and of course we're watching too. If Bowman is a dream or hope of humanity, then he's your dream and hope as well. You can see why having all those dreams and hopes focused on him would make him nervous.
They tinkered with the destiny of many species, on land and in the ocean. But which of their experiments would succeed they could not know for at least a million years. (37.8)
The aliens plan across millennia. We have trouble planning what we're gonna eat for dinner this evening. That's the difference between being us and an all-powerful alien species, we suppose.
He had missed its builders by ages, and with that realization Bowman felt a sudden sinking of his heart...
Well, it was unreasonable to expect more. Already he had seen wonders for which many men would have sacrificed their lives. (42.22-23)
Bowman figures he's going to die out in space all alone and is upset…but then he immediately chastises himself for getting depressed and figures he should look on the bright side. Talk about weirdly cheerful. It's annoying.
The future was, very literally, in their own hands. (4.6)
The man-apes hold the future in their hands because their hands, and the tools in those hands, will be their future. Technology takes you to the future, to the moon, and out into space, where you are turned into an alien space-baby.
They had learned to speak, and so had won their first great victory over Time. Now the knowledge of one generation could be handed on to the next, so that each age could profit from those that had gone before. (6.7)
History is seen as a victory over time—but you could just as easily see it as a kind of victory of time. After all, if you're a happy man-ape, without speech, living day to day, you don't know that time is passing. It's only with history and knowledge passed on that time really comes into being as a big weighty thing sitting on your forehead.
Three million years! The infinitely crowded panorama of written history, with its empires and its kings, its triumphs and its tragedies, covered barely one thousandth of this appalling span of time. Not only Man himself, but most of the animals now alive on Earth, did not even exist when this black enigma was so carefully buried here….(12.11)
The slab is three million years old, which is really old. It's older than the human race (or about the same age, if you count the man-apes). Time here is presented as awesome or amazing in itself. Time—it will surprise you.
Though he had come back safely from the furthest borders of sleep, and the nearest borders of death, he had been gone only a week. (15.37)
Hibernation fiddles with time…and as such it's kind of like reading the book, don't you think? You can go to the furthest borders of sleep and the nearest borders of death and 3 million years into the past in only about a week if you read 2001. Hibernation is a kind of reading, only maybe colder.
The ancients had, indeed, done better than they knew when they named this world after the lord of all the gods. If there was life down there, how long would it take even to locate it? (20.14)
This is about the planet Jupiter. As always in 2001, space is quickly linked to time; "the ancients" named Jupiter, reminding you that the planet has been there the whole time, just hanging out and being big.
How strange to think, Poole told himself, that all this had happened more than an hour ago; by now his family would have dispersed again and its members would be miles from home. (21.3)
The distance from earth (through space) is emphasized by disjointed communication. When you go far enough away, time gets stretched out too.
These arguments, theoretical though they were, concerned a matter of the utmost practical importance; they involved the concept of "reaction time." (32.9)
How long is it going to take the aliens to get to earth? The answer, as it turns out, is "no time at all." The aliens have mastered space, which means they have mastered time, just like their mastery of the past and all those man-apes reflects their mastery of the future. The aliens are everywhere and everywhen. They're tough to get away from.
The seconds themselves were passing with incredible slowness, as if time itself were coming to a stop. At last, the tenth-of-a-second counter froze between 5 and 6. (41.7)
Einstein's theory of relativity linked travel through space and time—basically, as you approach light speed, time appears to slow down from your frame of reference. Something like that is happening to Bowman, whose watch slows down as he goes through the faster-than-light transportation of the Star Gate (This would be convenient if you're ever late to an appointment, obviously.)
He was retrogressing down the corridors of time, being drained of knowledge and experience as he swept back towards his childhood. (45.8)
This is the second time retrogression occurs in the novel. The first is when Bowman unplugs Hal, making him regress to when he was just a baby calculator. Again, this reflects the way the novel treats time and space—you go into the stars to find the past, and so Bowman on the other side of the galaxy regresses to a (super space) baby.
For a few seconds, Moon-Watcher stood uncertainly above his new victim, trying to grasp the strange and wonderful fact that the dead leopard could kill again. Now he was master of the world, and he was not quite sure what to do next.
But he would think of something. (5.10-11)
Moon-Watcher has taken the first step up the evolutionary ladder. That cuts him off from the other man-apes to some extent; he's isolated by power. Evolving is a lonely business.
Though they were perfectly well aware that 7794 was only a lifeless, airless chunk of rock, this knowledge scarcely affected their feelings. It was the only solid matter they would meet this side of Jupiter—still two hundred million miles away. (18.9)
The astronauts get all sentimental about a hunk of rock out in space. It's another chance for Clarke to point out that the middle of space is a long way from home.
… he would continue the mission, unhindered and alone. (27.11)
Hal the computer figures he can kill all the astronauts and then go on his way to complete the mission. Part of the eeriness is that Hal isn't really a person himself, so Hal alone is more lonely than lonely.
There was not another human being within half a billion miles.
And yet, in one very real sense, he was not alone. Before he could be safe, he must be lonelier still. (28.25)
Hal figures isolation will be safe…and David Bowman comes to the same conclusion. One thing about being isolated, you know no one will kill you. People (or, in this case, computers) are dangerous.
During the last three months, David Bowman had adapted himself so completely to his solitary way of life that he found it hard to remember any other existence. He had passed beyond despair and beyond hope, and had settled down to a largely automatic routine…(33.1)
In isolation, Bowman has become computer-like. It's like he's merged with Hal. Or as if the novel tends to view humans like computers, and enjoys watching them run through routines.
It if had been alive, it would have felt excitement, but such an emotion was wholly beyond its powers…It had waited three million years; it was prepared to wait for eternity. (38.7)
The Star Gate feels nothing—so why imagine it as feeling something? The suggestion is that it's a kind of computer, like Hal, similarly singularly focused on its mission. The purposeful isolation is meant to be eerie and impressive.
Bowman wondered if this was indeed his own galaxy, seen from a point much closer to its brilliant, crowded center.
He hoped that it was; then he would not be so far from home. But this, he realized at once, was a childish thought. He was so inconceivably remote from the Solar System that it made little difference whether he was in his own galaxy or the most distant one that any telescope had ever glimpsed. (42.3-4)
Bowman is more isolated here than any human has ever been. Yet he chides himself for wishing he was a little closer to home. It's like the novel doesn't want you to think for a second that Bowman might be illogical, or might except illogical thoughts. No matter how isolated, he's just sane, stable, boring old Bowman. We've got to give him props for consistency.
He was moving through a new order of creation, of which few men had ever dreamed. Beyond the realm of sea and land and air and space lay the realms of fire, which he alone had been privileged to glimpse. It was too much to expect that he would also understand. (43.16)
Bowman is going where no one has gone before. He is, literally, far out.
David Bowman moved into a realm of consciousness that no man had experienced before. (45.4)
The strait-laced Bowman becomes the ultimate hippie, expanding his consciousness the natural way, via alien intervention. (The visuals for 2001 in the film are extremely trippy; Bowman may be a boring square, but the aliens definitely listen to the Beatles.)
Then he remembered that he would never be alone, and his panic slowly ebbed. (46.13)
It's not exactly clear what this means, though the suggestion seems to be that Bowman shares some sort of super-consciousness with the aliens. So humans and aliens really do fuse; the novel ends with humankind no longer being alone, not even in its skull. This is supposed to be a good thing, though you could also see it as maybe a little intrusive.
Someone had once said you could be terrified in space, but you could not be worried there. It was perfectly true. (8.31)
Heywood Floyd thinks that space is a place for big emotions. We haven't been to space, so we can't say if that's accurate—but it's certainly true that 2001 prefers big, huge, emotions to smaller more contemplative ones.
It was barely audible, yet it stopped them dead, so that they stood paralyzed on the trail with their jaws hanging slackly. (2.12)
It's not exactly clear if the man-apes are filled with awe, if they're semi-hypnotized, or just confused. The slack-jawed stare comes across as something of a parody of watching television—especially since the man-apes eventually watch images in the slab. Awe is kind of watching a screen—it's like the man-apes in the novel are watching the man-apes in the film of 2001 (and are amazed).
So perhaps these visitors had come from the stars—yet that was even more incredible…Speculation was a waste of time: he must wait until there was more evidence. (12.26)
Floyd thinks about the vastness of space and time…and then chastises himself and says he needs evidence. This is a nice thumbnail illustration of how the novel works. It gives you giant, speculative, preposterousness to swallow (evolving man-apes! Energy aliens!) and then follows that up with serious, slow-moving descriptions of technical details. The details and the plea for evidence are supposed to make the awesome ridiculousness more real—even though it might make us yawn sometimes.
Some immaterial pattern of energy throwing off a spark of radiation like the wake of a racing speedboat, had leaped from the face of the Moon, and was heading out toward the stars. (14.8)
There is lots of whooshing from earth and out towards the distance in 2001. You start here and rush out to there; the distance and the speed are both meant to be amazing and impressive.
It was an eerie sound, for it had nothing to do with Man; it was as lonely and as meaningless as the murmur of waves on a beach, or the distant crash of thunder beyond the horizon. (19.8)
Bowman is here listening to background radiation from space. The sense that space is bigger than humans is meant to create a sense of insignificance and impressiveness. At the same time, the point of the novel is that there are vast forces out there that do, unexpectedly, care about humans. Humans are part of a vast, cosmic plan, tied into that distant crash of thunder in unexpected ways.
And then, almost as if in response to his plea, Poole waved back.
For an instant, Bowman felt the skin prickling at the base of his scalp. The words he was about to call died on his suddenly parched lips. For he knew that his friend could not possibly be alive; and yet he waved. (25.31-32)
This is a zombie moment; the dead wave and come back to life. It's one of the few incidents where awe and amazement are linked up to horror (as they are in the work of writers like H.P. Lovecraft and H.G. Wells).
"We do not know if, out on the moons of Saturn, you will meet with good or with evil—or only with ruins a thousand times older than Troy." (30.23)
Heywood Floyd compares the possible alien ruins to the ruined city of ancient Greece. It's hard to imagine that anyone would actually say something like this; it sounds like something you'd read from a script. But it's thrown in there for the same reason the novel is called "A Space Odyssey"—to reference other old, important, impressive stories and make the events here seem important and impressive.
"It's just like the thing you found on the Moon! This is TMA-1's big brother!" (36.6)
Size is used as a way to provoke awe and amazement. The novel first has the little slab that teaches the man-apes; then the bigger slab on the moon, then the biggest slab, each more amazing than the last.
"The thing's hollow—it goes on forever—and—oh my God!—it's full of stars!" (39.20)
Bowman is wowed by the Star Gate. We would be too, understandably. This could be read as a description of the way Clarke sees sci-fi itself. It is vast, it is full of stars, and isn't that just shockingly nifty?
He did not even attempt to grasp the scale of the inferno toward which he was descending. (43.2)
Again, this seems like Clarke telling you how he would like you to read his book, or like you to see his book. All this vastness of space and time—do not even attempt to grasp it. Just leave your jaw open a little like the man-apes, and be stunned.