Some books want you to laugh, some books want you to cry. 2001 wants you to gasp. To that end, it gives you bigness—big, vast sweeps of time, big vast sweeps of space, big vast fiery suns coming at you. Time and space, 2001 says, are really huge and impressive. Why aren't you impressed yet? Look, it's a big slab—and a bigger slab—and the biggest slab ever, with stars in it. Be impressed. Be very impressed.
Aliens are the most awe-inspiring thing in 2001.
Humans are the most awe-inspiring thing in 2001.
2001 doesn't do much in the way of characterization, so it doesn't provide its characters with much in the way of dreams, hopes, or plans. What does David Bowman want out of life? Who knows. But while there aren't a lot of personal dreams in the book, there is a kind of diffuse species dream. The aliens want humans to progress and reach the stars, and that's sort of what Moon-Watcher and his descendants want too. The book is itself a hopeful dream—a New Age vision of humans transcending. 2001 dreams that one day, we'll all be space babies.
In 2001, humans are the dreams of aliens.
In 2001, aliens are the dreams of humans.
David Bowman ends up all by himself on a spaceship out by Saturn—which is kind of lonely. But his isolation is also a metaphor for the general bigness of space and humanity's lonely place inside it. At the same time, the novel also imagines that humanity is being watched or taken care of by aliens. The isolation in some ways is meant to make you realize how cool it is that the alien gods are out there watching over you.
2001 shows that humans are alone in the universe.
2001 shows that humans are not alone in the universe.
Any book that's about evolution is also going to be about death. Evolution works through death; some individuals die, but those that live get to pass on their genes. So, over millennia, evolution means lots and lots of death. But—2001 changes the way evolution works. Instead of evolution through dying, you get evolution through genetic manipulation by slab. The aliens are more powerful than death; mortality ends up as just a prelude to immortality. We wonder what Darwin would have to say about this.
2001 is about the mortality of the human race.
2001 is about the immortality of the human race.
2001 loves strength and skill. Moon-Watcher is awesome because he is smart, and being smart lets him figure out better ways to kill things. Then humans move on up with their gadgets and space ships and take to the stars, and the novel loves describing just how all those nifty ships work—and how smart the people who run them are. Techy details, bureaucratic efficiency, super-smart immortal awesomeness—they all go together. Weaklings need not apply (and even neurotic computers get the ax).
In 2001, to evolve means to become stronger and more skillful.
The space baby is just a stronger Moon-Watcher.
For the most part, 2001 is really into technology, whether it's bone-saws, spaceships, or alien lattice brains. Technology is cool, technology is hip, technology helps you on up the evolutionary ladder, man-ape. But—there's also a nervousness about technology that peeks through here and there…most notably around Hal, that Frankenstein's monster of a computer. Love the bone-saw—but watch out if it comes after you.
In 2001, humans evolve by getting new and better technologies.
In 2001, humans get new and better technologies by evolving.
Science-fiction has two big themes. The first is space—and 2001 gives you lots and lots of space stuff. The second is time—and 2001 has a bunch of that as well. In fact, space and time are basically smooshed together. When humans get off the planet, they find all this ancient stuff left behind by the aliens, who kick-started human evolution way back when. Traveling out is also traveling back; in 2001 you need to go way into the future to find the past.
2001 is about the future.
2001 is about the past.
You wouldn't think there'd be much to say about women in 2001, because there are almost no women in the entire story. The future is populated just about entirely by men, and the occasional male robot. Which seems curious. Unusual. Perhaps significant. Why only guys? What's with that? Sometimes what's left out of a book can be as important as what's left in. Is it part of progress that women disappear? Is space a place for men to be competent and women to step aside? What kind of future is it where space babies get made without women? A better one? And better for whom? We don't know about you, but we think the glaring lack of female characters reflects a troubling, dated mindset on Clarke's part.
2001 doesn't care about women.
2001 cares about women: it wants to make them disappear.