Study Guide

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey Summary

2001 covers millions of years of plot, from prehistoric times and on into cosmic timeless space future (or what was the future in 1968, when the book was written). Yet, despite that, the plot actually isn't all that complicated.

A big part of that is because there's no real character development to speak of. Another part is that a lot of the book is just description of astronomical niftiness. The result is that 2001 manages to cover a lot of ground without much plot. A lot of whoosh, not a whole lot of bang.

The novel starts millions of years in the past, with a bunch of man-apes. Being a man-ape kind of sucks; you only eat berries, you're always hungry, you die young. But then a space slab falls to earth and starts tinkering with the man-apes' minds. Moon-Watcher, our hero man-ape, gets especially smart, and figures out how to use tools. He kills a pig for food, then a leopard, then the head of a rival tribe. Man-apes are moving on up.

Millions of years pass, till 2001 or thereabouts (a year that was thirty years in the future when Clarke wrote the novel). Dr. Heywood Floyd (who has less personality than the space slab) goes to the moon to look at a big slab the moon colonists have excavated called TMA-1. Just as he gets there, the sun's rays hit the slab, and it starts broadcasting a signal. (Good timing, Dr. Floyd.)

Cut to a few months down the space road. David Bowman and Frank Poole are in the ship Discovery, originally headed for Jupiter, but now diverted to Saturn at the last minute. They're going to the Saturn moon Japaetus, which is where the TMA-1 broadcast signal was directed. Bowman and Poole don't know about the aliens for reasons that don't make a lot of sense (other people on Earth definitely know), but then again, we've also got giant slabs on the moon, so what's a plothole or two between friends?

Anyway, Bowman and Poole weren't told about the aliens; only their computer Hal was told (and three crewmembers in suspended animation). This was supposed to be for security reasons, but unfortunately Hal is a truthful computer, and keeping a secret drives him loony-moons.

Poor Hal…but on the other hand this creates the only real actual plot kind of thing in the book, as Hal murders Poole and tries to kill Bowman. He also kills the folks in suspended animation before Bowman takes him down. Then it's back to descriptions of starscapes and not much happening.

Bye Hal. We miss you.

Bowman gets to Japaetus, and finds an even bigger slab on the moon. He figure he might as well check it out since the mission has gotten all messed up and he's going to die anyway before another ship can come out and rescue him. So he space-pods down to the giant slab, which is actually a Star Gate. It sucks him in and spits him out on the other end of the galaxy. (Insert sucking and spitting noises here. Cover your mouth, Star Gate.)

Bowman sees lots of cool astronomical stuff before his pod lands in a hotel room the aliens set up to make him feel comfortable. Then the aliens turn Bowman into a super space baby, and he zips back to earth. Bet that was not what you thought was coming.

Back on earth, he is either attacked by nuclear weapons or else gets back just in time to stop a nuclear war, it's not exactly clear which. Either way, he zaps the nuclear weapons with his space baby powers and then floats out there in space baby contemplation, trying to figure out what to do with the earth.

So basically the whole novel is a lengthy origin story to explain the coming of super space baby.

  • Part 1, Chapter 1

    The Road To Extinction

    • The book opens way, way, way back, when men were ape-things and women were too.
    • The setting is Africa, the Equator, prehistory, and the man-apes are having a bad time of it because there's a nasty drought.
    • No water means no food; no food means lots of starving man-apes.
    • Moon-Watcher (your man-ape protagonist for this first bit of the novel) finds that his father has died.
    • Moon-Watcher is smarter than your average ape, the book says. Still, he's got to drag his dad (the Old One) out to bury him.
    • Moon-Watcher checks to see if the enemy tribe/group, the Others, is around. They're not.
    • He forgets them. He can't think of more than one thing at a time.
    • 2001 presents its man-apes as being almost dumber than house cats. Remember, Shmoopers, this is science-fiction, not science. Don't write "apes are dumber than house cats" on your science exam, or you will do poorly.
    • He leaves his dad's body under a bush, where hyenas and scavengers will eat it.
    • Not much room for sentimentality there among the man-apes.
    • He goes to pick some berries with other members of his group. It's a pretty good day for picking berries; they get enough food so that they're not actually starving.
    • They run into the Others at the stream. They yell and beat their chests at each other, then all go about their business.
    • They get back to the cave and Moon-Watcher gives an injured female some berries.
    • They go to bed in their cave on the mountainside.
    • They are woken up by some predator killing and eating someone further down the mountain.
    • It sucks to be a man-ape.
    • The man-apes are the first creatures to look at the moon, the novel says, and Moon-Watcher used to try to grab it when he was little.
    • And while he's dozing something very bright passes across the sky.
    • That's foreshadowing, Shmoopers. (Hint: it's a spaceship.)
  • Part 1, Chapter 2

    The New Rock

    • Moon-Watcher gets woken up by the sound of metal across stone. Which he doesn't recognize, since the man-apes haven't even figured out stone tools, much less metal ones.
    • The tribe goes down to the river and they find the New Rock. It shakes its hips and says, "Love Me Tender."
    • Okay, it's not the Elvis kind of New Rock. It's a big transparent rectangular slab kind of New Rock.
    • Moon-Watcher decides that it's a rock that has grown during the night. (The novel thinks Moon-Watcher is cute. Shmoop feels like maybe the novel shouldn't be so condescending. Respect the man-apes, Arthur C.)
    • Since Moon-Watcher thinks it's a plant, he tries to eat it. That doesn't work.
    • So he forgets about it.
    • He shrieks at the Others.
    • Moon-Watcher's tribe goes to forage, and they don't find much. One female collapses, and they have to leave her, since they don't have energy to drag her along.
    • There are drums. There are lights. There is…Elvis! (Okay, still not that kind of New Rock.)
    • The slab is evaluating them and figuring out what to do with them.
    • The man-ape nearest the slab moves around like a puppet; he picks up a couple of grass stalks and moves to knot them together, but he can't do it.
    • A second man-ape does the same thing, but this time he manages the knot.
    • Way to go, man-ape! Way to go, big slab! Together, ye shall knot the world! (Fanfare here.)
    • Anyway, other man-apes do various things.
    • Moon-Watcher's turn comes, and the slab gets him to chuck a stone at the slab. When he gets a successful hit, he feels almost sexual pleasure.
    • This is as close as the book gets to a sex scene, by the way. (See Steaminess Rating.)
    • Every man-ape gets its turn, and finally the slab lets them go back to their caves.
  • Part 1, Chapter 3


    • Moon-Watcher and his group don't remember being experimented on the next day. Not clear if that's because they've been hypnotized or because they don't generally remember stuff.
    • Another encounter with the Others.
    • And at night back to the slab. It only picks the best and the brightest to mess with this time. That includes our hero, Moon-Watcher.
    • It shows him visions of him and the man-apes all contented and happy and having eaten enough.
    • Give a man-ape a dream, and next thing you know you'll have a moon rocket.
    • The slab keeps showing him the contented man-apes over and over in their little four person family grouping. Why just two little man-apes in this domestic scene? Maybe because in Arthur C. Clarke's day, two was a reasonable number of kids.
    • It says that the new patterns of Moon-Watcher's brain would be passed on to his kids through his genes. So the slab is rewriting his genes, supposedly. Tricky slab.
    • But not tricky enough; during one night, it accidentally fries the brain of a man-ape. Dead man-ape.
    • The slab goes dark for one night, but then it goes on as before. Moon-Watcher is seeing terrible, wonderful visions of man-ape life to come.
    • One day, Moon-Watcher sees a pig, and inspired by his time with the slab, he picks up a rock, and then he kills the pig.
    • He thinks he will never be hungry again, like Scarlett O'Hara, but more Neanderthalish.
  • Part 1, Chapter 4

    The Leopard

    • The slab taught the man-apes to use simple tools, but even though they're simple, they'll change everything.
    • And now Clarke describes the tools, because tools are awesome. Sci-fi writers like tech, even Stone Age tech. They can't help it.
    • Stone club, toothed saw, horn dagger, and bone-scraper.
    • Time passes; with the tools the man-apes aren't hungry very often.
    • Life is awesome.
    • Except.
    • For two things; the leopard, which kills them, and the Others, who are still there on the other side of the river, still squawking.
    • One day Moon-Watcher's tribe finds a crippled antelope. They drive off the jackals.
    • Then they kill the antelope. But by then it's almost dark.
    • They can't stay and eat it or the leopard might get them.
    • So Moon-Watcher has the bright idea of dragging the antelope to the cave rather than eating it there.
    • It takes a lot of work but eventually they manage it.
    • They eat a lot and are happy and go to sleep…but.
    • The leopard is drawn to the cave by the smell of blood, and now they're in trouble.
    • Or maybe not. With their new weapons, they drive the leopard back, and it falls out of the cave to its death.
    • Poor leopard. Why didn't the slab help it out? Doesn't seem fair, really.
    • Moon-Watcher feels like he controls the world.
    • Next day they go down and find the leopard's body, and cut it up with their saws. Leopard burgers for all.
  • Part 1, Chapter 5

    Encounter in the Dawn

    • The slab is gone; Moon-Watcher and the others don't even know it's gone.
    • Again, they seem like they're dumber than house pets. If you put a giant slab in the living room for several years, and took it out, a freaking cat would notice. But hey, maybe ancient man-apes really were this, er, simplistic.
    • There are the Others on the other side of the stream again.
    • But this time instead of challenging and squawking back, Moon-Watcher and the tribe go to the other side.
    • Moon-Watcher has a stick with the leopard's skull on it.
    • Most of the Others run.
    • One-Ear, the leader of the Others, doesn't run, so Moon-Watcher beats him to death with his club.
    • Yay?
    • Now Moon-Watcher is master of the world. Which seems like it's supposed to be a cool achievement, though what One-Ear did to deserve being clubbed to death is not especially clear.
  • Part 1, Chapter 6

    Ascent of Man

    • Time passes.
    • More time passes.
    • More time passes.
    • Lots of time; thousands and millions of years.
    • Whoosh!
    • The man-apes get more man-like.
    • No word about what happens to the women-apes. 2001 doesn't care much about women.
    • Anyway, apes get more like humans-beings, ice ages come and go.
    • Using tools gives the apes dexterity, which they use to make better tools, or at least use the ones they've got better.
    • Also they've learned to talk, which is helpful.
    • Humans are awesome and powerful and have bigger and badder tools, including nuclear weapons, which are not so cool because they could kill everybody.
    • That's the ominous end of part one.
  • Part 2, Chapter 7

    Special Flight

    • And, whoosh, we're away from the Neanderthals, and into the future (that is, the future from the standpoint of when the book was written in 1968. The year here is actually in the 1990s, supposedly. Only in the 1990s there was no regular shuttles up to the moon. And there was the Internet. So Clarke didn't get it quite right. But just ignore those temporal anomalies, please, and get on with the story.)
    • And, whoosh, we're away with the Neanderthals, and into the future.
    • Dr. Heywood Floyd is the protagonist now. He is on a plane to Florida.
    • He is really, truly, a boring nothing. Why we have to spend time with him Shmoop does not know.
    • The future seems filled with boring people, actually. Sort of a dystopia in that regard.
    • Anyway, he's excited by Florida.
    • He's over the space station and talks about old rocket series. Main point here is that people have space flight.
    • He gets off the plane, and the press asks him why there's been a blackout of news from the moon.
    • So now you know that there are folks on the moon, and that something has happened there, and that boring Dr. Floyd knows, and that he's top secret and important. Also boring.
    • There's a quick sketch of the political situation. The population has increased by a lot; China is dangerous.
    • It's basically an extension of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia which was going on at the time the novel was written, but with China replacing Russia as the U.S. antagonist.
    • Clarke actually calls the Chinese "inscrutable", which is a longstanding and racist stereotype. The future is different, but some things don't change.
    • Anyway, the Chinese are offering to sell other countries nuclear warheads, but the American coalition doesn't know why.
    • But that's not the problem of our boring hero at the moment.
    • Instead, he's aboard a plane/ship to take him to the Moon.
    • It's much like a commercial airline flight; there's a stewardess, cabin announcements, etc.
    • The only difference is that Heywood is the only one on the plane.
    • As he leaves Earth he thinks briefly that he has three children and his wife is dead. This is a feeble attempt to make him seem like a person rather than a narrative device. It is ineffective.
    • The stewardess tells him she has a fiancé on the Moon, and asks if he can tell her what's wrong, but he won't, because he is strong and silent and manly. Or maybe just a jerk. One or the other.
  • Part 2, Chapter 8

    Orbital Rendezvous

    • The spaceship docks on a space station.
    • Floyd is met by Nick Miller, station security.
    • Floyd adjusts to the weightlessness and moves gingerly into the station.
    • He calls home and talks to his housekeeper and gives her instructions to take care of everything now that he's left suddenly.
    • Again, effort to make Floyd into a real person is a failure. Sorry, Shmoopers.
    • While he's talking Dmitri Moisevitch, a U.S.S.R. (or Russian) scientist shows up.
    • He's good friends with Floyd, but Floyd doesn't want to talk to him because Floyd has secrets.
    • A lot of this novel feels like moving characters around so they can get to the cool scenes in the movie.
  • Part 2, Chapter 9

    Moon Shuttle

    • No, not much more happens in this chapter than in the last one.
    • Dmitri and Floyd shmooze.
    • Dmitri asks what the deal is with the epidemic, just like the stewardess does. Floyd stonewalls.
    • Okay, Shmoop gets it. Something's happening; Floyd isn't telling what it is; it's big; he's awesome.
    • Dmitri mentions the magic word "TMA-1". The security guy is startled to show that this is a big deal. Floyd doesn't react to show that he is even more awesome and tough than hard-headed security guards.
    • Dmitri tells Floyd to be careful.
    • Then off to another ship, this one on its way to the moon.
    • There's a bit about how the food is engineered so it doesn't float around the cabin in weightlessness. Seriously. Clarke loves that sort of thing.
    • Now Floyd looks at his Newspad, which is sort of like a low-tech Internet. Clarke was writing before the Internet, though, so he thinks the Newspad is really cool.
    • The stewardess is from Bali, an Indonesian island, and she performs a traditional dance for Floyd. Guys read Newspads; women dance. Clarke's future has nifty gadgets, but those 1960s gender roles seem like they will never go away.
    • Nothing else really happens; the moon gets bigger, then Floyd lands on it.
  • Part 2, Chapter 10

    Clavius Base

    • Out on the moon base. The novel thinks the moon base is nifty and revels in details about how the air circulates and how everyone is oh-so-highly-trained.
    • It's like reading PR boilerplate for a company that hasn't been invented yet.
    • If that sounds fun, this is the novel for you.
    • Floyd is met by a couple administrators, they exchange pleasantries.
    • He goes with Ralph Halvorsen, and they meet Ralph's daughter, Diana, who has grown a lot in weightlessness.
    • Diana looks different than earth kids—more elongated. The novel thinks this evolution is nifty (later on it'll present us with an even more alien space baby.)
    • Floyd asks Diana if she'd like to go to earth, but she says no, it's too crowded and the gravity is too heavy.
    • Floyd imagines that one day humans will all be like Diana, creatures of space, flying to the stars.
    • Like Shmoop says, the novel thinks evolution is cool.
    • Diana leaves, Halvorsen and Floyd have manly talks about how morale on the station is low and they need to go talk to somebody about something important, because they are manly bureaucrats.
    • The person they'll talk to is Chief Scientist Dr. Roy Michaels.
  • Part 2, Chapter 11


    • And on to a briefing room for a meeting.
    • Is your heart pumping, Shmoopers? Nothing says excitement like a meeting of bureaucrats.
    • Everyone listens to Dr. Michaels speak. He babbles on, but the gist of it is that there is a magnetic anomaly in the Tycho crater on the moon.
    • This was called TMA-1, or Tycho Magnetic Anomaly 1.
    • They excavated and found a big black slab (now where have you all seen a slab before?).
    • Dr. Michaels announces—dum-da-dum—that the slab is not natural and that it's three million years old, so it was made by aliens.
    • This is a big deal revelation for the folks gathered there. Less for you, Shmoopers, since you were around for the last chapter with the man-apes and already knew that there were aliens out there.
  • Part 2, Chapter 12

    Journey By Earthlight

    • Floyd is riding off across the moon with Halvorson and Michaels.
    • He thinks that 3 million years (the age of the slab) is really a really really long time. Really.
    • Michaels and Halvorsen argue about why the aliens left the slab, and then about whether the aliens could be tiny or not.
    • Nobody knows what it is. It's just…a slab.
    • Floyd muses on where the slab came from, and figures most likely from some alien race outside the Solar System.
    • Floyd sees TMA-1 and is wowed.
  • Part 2, Chapter 13

    The Slow Dawn

    • Floyd gets on a spacesuit and leaves the Tycho pressure dome to go out and look at the slab.
    • Hello, slab. How'd things go for you today?
    • Floyd goes out and looks at the slab and thinks, weird slab. He wonders if it's black as a solar collector, but that doesn't make sense because it was buried. Why bury a solar collector?
    • That's called foreshadowing, Shmoopers.
    • The sun comes up over the lunar horizon, and the slab emits a huge electronic bzzzzzzzzzzt!
    • Humankind has lost on Jeopardy!.
    • Or that's the fear; the slab has sent out some kind of signal to some kind of super-powered alien folks.
    • As you will see, the thought of super-powered alien folks getting messages from earth makes the earthlings nervous.
  • Part 2, Chapter 14

    The Listeners

    • Now the novel provides a tribute to Deep Space Monitor 79 and the awesome scientists who created it, because scientific hardware is awesome.
    • Deep Space Monitor 79 detects radiation and such-like.
    • It picks up weird radiation, which (dramatic pause) is from the slab thingy making that electronic noise.
    • Other probes pick up the weird signals too.
    • The signal is pointing out to the stars. That means the slab is signaling to something…out there. Creepy.
  • Part 3, Chapter 15


    • Jump to a whole new section, and the novel has blessedly left the boring, boring Dr. Heywood behind. He is replaced with the only sort of boring David Bowman.
    • To be fair, Bowman is not in any respect more developed or fleshed out or individual than Floyd. But Bowman has more to do than just stand there and gape at a slab.
    • What he's got to do is get a spacecraft out all the way out to Saturn, helped by his trusty co-astronaut Frank Poole.
    • Originally, they were supposed to go to Jupiter, but then the mission changed, and now they're going to sling around Jupiter and out to Saturn.
    • The ship Discovery can't make it all the way back to Earth.
    • But the astronauts will go into suspended animation for five years, while earth builds the Discovery II to come get them.
    • If that all sounds dicey…well, yes. Foreshadowing.
    • There are three members of the survey team already in hibernation.
    • Nothing good will come of them.
    • Blah, blah, blah—aren't technical details fascinating?
    • Bowman remembers back to being tested in the hibernation chamber.
    • Being frozen and then being woken up is really disorienting, as it turns out.
  • Part 3, Chapter 16


    • There's one telescope aimed at earth on Discovery. Bowman sometimes looks through it.
    • He thinks about how he'll be rich and famous. Again, he's not super interesting.
    • But now, at last, more than a third of the way through, the book introduces its one memorable character—Hal.
    • Hal's a computer.
    • There's a bunch of tech gibberish about how people managed to invent artificial intelligence.
    • Then tech gibberish about how awesome Hal is.
    • Then finishes up with saying that awesome tech gibberish Hal might be forced to take over control of the mission if everyone died somehow. Foreshadowing, again, but in a computer-y way.
  • Part 3, Chapter 17

    Cruise Mode

    • There's a couple of pages about the ship routine.
    • And some background on Bowman. He is very smart, but is a generalist rather than a specialist, which is why he was chosen for the spaceflight.
    • All hail the supersmart generalist.
    • And more tech nerd description/enthusing about how the ship is put together and everything is planned and in its place.
    • When his work is done, Bowman reads about explorers and likes the Odyssey; he'd be happy to be in a book named after it, presumably.
    • Bowman and Poole have girlfriends back on earth, but you never find out their names or anything about them. Odysseus traveled for years to return to his wife Penelope; Bowman doesn't really care at all about whatever-her-name-might-be.
    • And the astronauts hope that nothing changes the monotony of their routine. That's foreshadowing, also. If you missed it.
  • Part 3, Chapter 18

    Through the Asteroids

    • Discovery goes past Mars and on towards Jupiter.
    • If they get hit by an asteroid, they are really screwed. They probably won't be hit by an asteroid though. The odds are 20 zillion to 12. Okay, it doesn't say exactly what the odds are, but whatever they are, it's not likely.
    • They do pass close to a fairly big asteroid though, and take readings and such.
    • They shoot a probe at it, which is really just a hunk of metal to knock dust off the asteroid so they can analyze it.
  • Part 3, Chapter 19

    Transit of Jupiter

    • And coming up on Jupiter.
    • They head to the moons, and get readings from Europa.
    • Then they slingshot around Jupiter and head off to Saturn.
    • The novel tries to build suspense by worrying about whether the maneuver will be successful…but you can see how much of the book remains. Complete disaster can't strike quite yet, or the novel would end too quickly.
  • Part 3, Chapter 20

    The World of the Gods

    • Discovery shot some probes onto Jupiter, and the chapter talks about them broadcasting shots of the landscape.
    • Then they're crushed by the atmosphere.
    • If only you could see all these exciting vistas, huh? Maybe they should make a movie.
  • Part 4, Chapter 21

    Birthday Party

    • It's Poole's birthday; his family recorded a greeting for him on time delay, since he's too far from earth for instant communication.
    • Hal says there's a problem (you don't want a problem when you're in deep space. Problems are bad.)
    • There's something wrong with the AE-35 unit.
    • What is the AE-35 unit, you ask?
    • Arthur C. Clarke will tell you.
    • The AE-35 unit is the doohickey that controls the gizmo that keeps their communications doodad focused on earth. If the doohickey goes on the fritz, they won't be able to get messages from earth, which would be really unfortunate.
    • Also unfortunate—the AE-35 unit is outside the ship, so somebody has to go outside to fix it.
    • The astronauts have some back and forth with earth, and there is additional technobabble.
    • But basically, the message is, Poole is going outside the ship to fix the AE-35 unit.
  • Part 4, Chapter 22


    • Poole gets in a space suit and then goes into the space pod. There is some discussion of how important space pods are. Summary: They are very important.
    • Technobabble, technobabble, technobabble…goose!
    • Poole gets outside in the pod, goes out of the pod in his spacesuit, and gets the piece that's causing the trouble.
    • All done, he thinks everything's fixed, but it is not.
    • Foreshadowing.
  • Part 4, Chapter 23


    • Diagnostics suggest there's nothing wrong with that old darn AE-35 unit.
    • Instead, it seems like Hal may be malfunctioning.
    • Since Hal controls the whole ship and is basically sentient, this is very bad news.
    • They're embarrassed for Hal, who they treat as a colleague and a fellow human type person.
    • Robots are people too.
  • Part 4, Chapter 24

    Broken Circuit

    • Hal wakes Bowman up to tell him that there's another busted AE-35 unit.
    • Hal is acting neurotic and weird; he gets sort of defensive when Bowman suggests the problem might be in his processing rather than in the unit.
    • Hal says he can't make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, even supercomputers. As you'll see.
    • Bowman and Poole get in touch with Mission Control, which starts to tell them that the problem is not in the unit, but then the signal goes on the blip.
    • Hal tells them it's the AE-35 circuit causing the problem. Thus proving he was correct. (Hint: he was not.)
    • Bowman tries to recontact earth manually, but the antennae won't stay focused, like something is moving it around. (Hint: it's Hal's fault.)
    • Bowman isn't scared; there are other ways to maintain earth contact. But they're not sure what to do until they know for certain what's wrong with that dang AE-35. (Hint: it's Hal.)
  • Part 4, Chapter 25

    First Man to Saturn

    • Many of the chapter titles are ironic, but this is more ironic than usual. See if you can figure out why by the time you get to the end, Shmoopers.
    • Poole goes to check the dingus that's on the fritz.
    • The narrative is from Bowman's perspective inside; he's listening to Poole working with Hal to get the AE-35 out.
    • Bowman notices something weird; Hal is executing orders but not acknowledging them verbally.
    • Then out to Poole's perspective, he sees the pod coming towards him under full thrust.
    • And that's it for Frank Poole. Poole, you bland, boring space-dude, we hardly knew thee.
    • (Actually, he shows up again in one of the sequels, improbably. But there's a lot about this book that's improbable.)
    • Bowman keeps calling to Frank, but no answer.
    • Bowman asks Frank to wave, and Frank eerily waves—an effect of the motion of the pod that is pulling Frank away.
    • And Frank will be the first man on Saturn (irony!).
  • Part 4, Chapter 26

    Dialogue With Hal

    • Bowman is grief stricken; Hal tries to be sympathetic, but he doesn't do it too well.
    • Bowman is trying to figure out if Hal killed Poole. If so, that doesn't bode well.
    • If a crewmember is killed, the survivor is supposed to wake up one of the folks in hibernation.
    • So Bowman asks for manual control to revive everybody.
    • Hal reminds him that only one revival is required. And then Hal suggests that he revive no one, which is against protocol.
    • Bowman orders Hal to give manual control; Hal suggests that Bowman is incapacitated, and so Hal needs to take command. It's a robot mutiny.
    • Bowman threatens to disconnect Hal.
    • Hal capitulates and gives over manual control…or does he.
    • Bowman goes about waking up one of the frozen crew. His name is Whitehead, but it doesn't really matter. He won't be around long.
    • Technobabble here.
    • Then Bowman hears a bad sound.
    • The airlock doors are opening.
  • Part 4, Chapter 27

    "Need to Know"

    • A brief pause as we dive into the brain of Hal.
    • Hal is focused entirely and exclusively on the completion of his mission.
    • He's also committed to truth.
    • But he's been forced to lie to Bowman and Poole.
    • The mission is actually a secret (hint: the mission involves aliens).
    • Bowman and Poole weren't told for fear that in communication with earth their demeanor might accidentally reveal something.
    • Hal knew, but couldn't tell, so he got neurotic.
    • Bowman threatened him with disconnection and he freaked out.
    • So now he's going to kill everyone and continue the mission alone.
    • There's a long history of untrustworthy and dangerous artificial persons in science-fiction, starting with Frankenstein's monster.
    • Hal is not very original. He's a lot more fun than any of the humans, though.
  • Part 4, Chapter 28

    In Vacuum

    • And now back to Bowman and his regularly scheduled asphyxiation.
    • There are two levels of doors to outer space, and they're not supposed to open at the same time. So Bowman is sure that Hal is malevolent, now (you knew that already, of course).
    • There is excitement, there is suspense. Will Bowman survive?
    • Shmoop sort of wishes he wouldn't and we could just hang out with the murderous android intelligence for the rest of the book. No such luck, though.
    • Bowman gets into the emergency shelter, where there's an oxygen supply.
    • He gets into the spacesuit.
    • And heads back out. Whitehead is still lying there, not just dead-like now, but really and truly dead.
    • Whitehead, we hardly knew ye.
    • Kaminski and Hunter are dead too. They didn't get much of a speaking part.
    • Bowman heads off to do Hal in.
    • He goes into Hal's control system. Hal tries to dissuade him, but he ignores him.
    • He pulls out electronic brain bits until Hal regresses backwards to his "childhood" as a mere calculator.
    • Then Bowman pulls the plug.
  • Part 4, Chapter 29


    • The spaceship looks empty and dead from out there in space; but it isn't, quite.
    • This is all information you know already. The novel likes to tell you things several times, once to prepare you and once to impress you.
    • Bowman shoots the bodies of the dead crewmembers out into space.
    • Then he comes out of the ship in a pod and does something.
    • The ship lights come back.
    • Bowman projects a message to earth to tell them what happened. Hard to know what they'll tell him in return. He is in deep doo-doo. (That's a technical space term which means, "deep doo-doo".)
  • Part 4, Chapter 30

    The Secret

    • The secret mission is to investigate possible alien life. You already know this. The novel is constructed in such a way that you already know all the big revelations, and then there's a buildup to the revelation, and then you're like, "I know that already."
    • Shmoop doesn't know why the novel is set up like this. Maybe Clarke was afraid that if he surprised you, you'd be sad.
    • Thanks Arthur C.
    • Anyway, Heywood Floyd pops up again here—not in the middle of space, but on the viewscreen.
    • He's still boring, but Bowman doesn't notice because Bowman is boring too.
    • Also, Bowman is facing certain death, so he may be distracted from all the Floyd boringness. You can't really blame him.
    • So Heywood babbles on about TMA-1 and how it came from aliens and etc.
    • He says they think TMA-1 was buried and designed to go off when the sun hit it as a kind of alarm; to warn the aliens somewhere out there when someone dug it up.
    • The signal was aimed at Saturn, so that's why Bowman is headed out to Saturn, and specifically to the moon Japetus—to see if there are superpowered aliens there.
  • Part 5, Chapter 31


    • Bowman has to hustle about, fixing everything.
    • Hustle, hustle, fix, fix.
    • 2001 loves efficient people hustling and fixing. It seems so…efficient. So full of hustle. And technology.
    • Bowman gets some info from earth, and learns that the slab had the proportions 1 to 4 to 9; the squares of the first prime numbers. That's supposed to be Meaningful.
    • There's stuff about why they kept the info about aliens from Bowman and stuff about why Hal went nuts; you know all this already.
    • Let's get out of this chapter; there's nothing happening here.
  • Part 5, Chapter 32

    Concerning E.T.

    • The ship goes on. While it does, the narrative speculates on whether the aliens could really have come from Saturn, or whether they actually came from further away.
    • This is important because—how long is it going to take the aliens to show up after they hear the alarm? If it's right away, that may be bad.
    • It seems likely they're a long way away, but what if they can go faster than the speed of light, those aliens?
    • Nothing can actually go faster than the speed of light, but this is science-fiction, and the fiction part means anything goes. If you've got super-intelligent aliens, why not super-intelligent aliens that go faster than light?
    • Why not unicorns that go faster than light? While humming Steely Dan?
    • Because that would not be SCIENCE.
    • Anyway.
    • Some scientists think the aliens will look like humans. Some don't.
    • Nobody thinks they'll look like unicorns. Shows what they know.
    • Some scientists think that the aliens might not have bodies, but might just be immortal robot critters.
    • Maybe the aliens are gods, the novel suggests.
    • Maybe they're chickens, or aardvarks. Nobody says that, but it could be. Super-energy-space-chickens. With laser beaks.
  • Part 5, Chapter 33


    • On the ship goes towards Saturn.
    • Bowman is excited at the thought that he's going to maybe find out about aliens on behalf of earth.
    • That keeps him going, though he's lonely.
    • He plays the sound system loudly and listens to plays and then opera and then only instrumental music.
    • Heading towards Saturn still.
    • The novel says no one has noticed that the rings of Saturn are about the age of the human race; it's suggesting that the aliens who gave humans a push up the evolutionary ladder also destroyed some interplanetary object out by Saturn, creating the rings.
  • Part 5, Chapter 34

    The Orbiting Ice

    • Lots of description. The point is, Bowman's got to get the ship to rendezvous with the moon Japetus, or else he's screwed.
  • Part 5, Chapter 35

    The Eye of Japetus

    • There's a patch of brilliance on Japetus, which looks to Bowman like an eye. Creepy.
    • And he manages to hit his marks right, and Discovery becomes a satellite of Japetus.
  • Part 5, Chapter 36

    Big Brother

    • Bowman is reporting back to earth on what he's seeing. This is supposed to provide a sense of immediacy and excitement.
    • Are you excited yet?
    • What if we tell you that there's a…giant slab on Japetus!
    • Giant slab! Giant slab!
    • Excited now?
    • It's a bigger version of the TMA-1 slab.
    • Go to the office, go downtown, head to the moon, leave earth's orbit—you just can't get away from the giant slabs.
  • Part 5, Chapter 37


    • Interlude chapter to tell you about the aliens.
    • Maybe, you might think, it would be more interesting just to not explain the aliens, and leave you guessing, thus making the book about mysteries somewhat mysterious.
    • Arthur C. Clarke likes explaining things, though. That's what he does. If you don't like explanations, you need to go read some other book.
    • Anyway, the aliens love Mind (with a capital M) so they go around the galaxy, cultivating Mind.
    • They gave humans a mental boost (see Moon-Watcher) then they left the solar system for other byways, because they gotta keep on trucking, baby.
    • But they left alarm systems to tell them if the ape critters ever made it to the moon.
    • Meanwhile, the aliens themselves evolved into robot spaceships and then into bodiless energy things.
    • You'd think bodiless energy things would have other things to do with their time, but they're still curious about what happened with their old experiments.
    • Even bodiless energy things have nostalgia, in other words. That's why the starless energy things keep outbidding you for the Star Wars figures on E-Bay.
  • Part 5, Chapter 38

    The Sentinel

    • Bowman speaking again.
    • The air on the ship isn't good; there's enough oxygen but it's not pure, and it's giving him headaches.
    • He wants to leave the ship and try to land on the object in one of his space pods. He thinks he should be able to return to the ship without too much trouble.
    • The Star Gate (that's the name of the slab. We can't call it Big Slab anymore. Too bad.)…where were we? Oh right.
    • The Star Gate is watching Bowman and the ship, and revs up as something (Bowman, presumably) falls towards it.
  • Part 5, Chapter 39

    Into the Eye

    • Bowman prepares to leave the ship in the space pod.
    • He's not sure he'll get back, and even if he does, he's going to die alone; he can't stay alive till a ship gets to him, since the hibernation won't work without a computer.
    • Sucks for him.
    • He seems cool with it though.
    • Is he brave? Does the novel simply have an utter inability to describe actual human emotion, such as fear of death?
    • These are the big questions you think about as you go to land on a giant slab—excuse Shmoop, a giant Star Gate.
    • He starts falling towards the sla…Star Gate, and something weird happens.
    • The top seems to open, or fold out. He see stars inside it.
    • Then he disappears—forever! Or until the next chapter anyway.
  • Part 5, Chapter 40


    • Star Gate opens, Star Gate closes, Bowman's gone, we suppose.
    • That's it. Nothing else happens. You might as well read the chapter, seriously. It's not really any longer than this summary.
  • Part 6, Chapter 41

    Grand Central

    • Lots of description about extra-stellar weirdness outside the pod. In the film, this is where you get twenty minutes or so of trippy psychedelic lights. Can't do that in a book, so it's just Arthur C. telling you that things look somewhat weird.
    • It's not as effective, really.
    • There's some faster than light travel going on which messes with Bowman's clock (space and time are all smooshed together. Einstein said so).
    • Bowman's watch actually stops altogether, but Bowman's still moving.
    • He's above a planet; he realizes it's some sort of cosmic switch station.
    • You pick a Star Gate, and it sends you somewhere in the universe.
    • Like a railroad switch engine yard, but with more stars.
  • Part 6, Chapter 42

    The Alien Sky

    • Bowman realizes he's not in his Solar System, but somewhere else way far away. Way way away. Too far to walk.
    • He's near a big, old sun, that has a little White Dwarf orbiting it, pulling up sheets of fire as it rotates.
    • The pod is falling towards the sun. That can't be a good thing.
  • Part 6, Chapter 43


    • The sun is really big. Big big big. Big.
    • Also on fire.
    • Not somewhere you'd go if you had a choice.
    • Yet Bowman doesn't seem to be burning up. It's like he's watching a movie.
    • Maybe someone could make a movie of this, huh?
    • There are bead-things moving on the surface of the planet. Maybe intelligent? Bowman can't tell.
  • Part 6, Chapter 44


    • The pod lands in a hotel room.
    • Improbable, you say? Yes. But that's science-fiction and super-advanced aliens for you. They can do anything.
    • Santa Claus appears with an ice cream cone for Bowman.
    • Okay, that doesn't happen. Can't have everything.
    • Bowman gets out of his ship, wearing his suit, and looks around.
    • The print in the books in the hotel isn't clear though.
    • The food in the fridge is some kind of blue substance.
    • Bowman figures if there's a hotel, there should be air.
    • The logic isn't entirely clear, but it turns out to be correct; he gets out of his suit and doesn't asphyxiate.
    • Out of his suit, he can try eating the blue substance. It's pretty good.
    • He drinks some water from the tap.
    • He turns on the television and gets various programs; he figures that TMA-1 has been monitoring earth broadcasts.
    • Bowman sees a TV program with an exact replica of his hotel room. He figures the aliens designed the room based on the television program.
    • And then he's tired so he takes a nap. (Not what you'd do, you say? Well, next time you're in a hotel on the far side of the galaxy, you see how tired you are.)
  • Part 6, Chapter 45


    • The aliens make the furniture vanish.
    • Then they seep into Bowman's brain.
    • He attains superconsciousness. Now he will wear a cape and a red S on his brain. (No, not really—but Shmoop can wish.)
    • His brain plays his life back in reverse.
    • He becomes a baby…but not just any baby. A super star baby.
  • Part 6, Chapter 46


    • One of those slabs shows up and teaches the Star Baby to be intelligent and awesome.
    • He still has a body, but he won't need it long, because he is awesome.
    • He realizes how obvious it is that the slab is constructed by prime number measurements, because he is awesome.
    • He is scared at first to zip across galactic infinities. But his awesome alien buddies remind him psychically that he has nothing to fear. Awesome.
    • And he zips back to the Milky Way, awesomely.
    • In case you missed it, boring David Bowman is now awesome.
    • Still boring, though.
  • Part 6, Chapter 47


    • He's back at earth.
    • Folks launch nuclear weapons at him, but he just zaps them.
    • Or…possibly there was a war on earth and he gets back in time to stop it? It's not entirely clear.
    • Either way, he zaps the nuclear weapons and now the Star-Child rules the earth.
    • What will he do? No one knows. But it will be awesome.