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3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

3001: The Final Odyssey (1997)

by Arthur C. Clarke

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Odyssey Sequence (4)

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3,805452,146 (3.17)28
A thousand years after being cast into the frozen void of space by the supercomputer HAL, Frank Poole is brought back to life-and thrust into a world more technically advanced than the one he left behind. He discovers a world of human minds directly interfacing with computers; genetically-engineered dinosaur servants; and massive space elevators built around the Equator. He also discovers an impending threat to humanity-lurking within the enigmatic monoliths. To fight it, Poole must join forces with David Bowman and HAL, now fused into one corporeal consciousness-and the only being with the power to thwart the monoliths' mysterious creators. A continuation of Arthur C. Clarke's groundbreaking Space Odyssey series, 3001: The Final Odyssey takes readers on a journey full of mysticism, wonder, and suspense.… (more)

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Alternates between repetitive (several chapters are pretty much copied and pasted from previous books) and really freaking weird (gardening velociraptors anyone?). Maybe I'm not a match for sci-fi. ( )
  Aug3Zimm | Nov 12, 2019 |
The last and probably the best one in the series. Frank Poole is found after being blown out the hatch if the Discovery in 2001. He is resuscitated and finds things amazingly different than when we last heard of him. Many things come to fruition and humanity lands safely on Europa to start peaceful relations with the inhabitants. ( )
  krgulick | Jun 19, 2019 |
Lightweight futurism, plus an alien threat. The notes at the end, justifying the predictions through the current state of the science or engineering, are conscientious and interesting. ( )
  themulhern | Feb 3, 2019 |
They told me - don't bother reading 3001, it's not worth it. I knew they were right. But partially from a need to complete the series, and partially out of morbid curiosity, I read it anyway.

It's awful. It's only [b:saving grace|130916|The Saving Graces A Novel|Patricia Gaffney|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171995451s/130916.jpg|126092] is being just 112 pages. There are a few beautiful passages - all lifted directly from the other novels in the series. He makes some interesting social commentary, but that's overwhelmed by his diatribes against religion.

Again, instead of ending it just frays away. What plot there is ends, but it's an unsatisfying end.

I will say this much for it - he does a nice job of handling a man sent 1000 years in the future. It's not an easy task, and he did it well. I also enjoyed the references to other SF works, and possibly seeing the origin on things in more recent SF stories. Did this inspire John Scalzi's "Brain Pal" in his Old Man's War series?

To save you the trouble, here's my synopsis of 3001: The Final Odyssey

SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT!!! (which I'm only hiding out of politeness. I'd much rather tell you about this book than have you suffer through reading it.)

So, it's the year 3001. In an amazing coincidence, a ship finds the body of Frank Poole, the astronaut HAL knocked into space in 2001. Becuase of the advances in medical science, he can be brought back to life. Can we say Mary Sue boys and girls? I knew you could. And why write a knew character, when you can just bring one back from the dead. But I digress.

He gets used to living 1000 in the future, and the author gets to hold forth on what's wrong with humanity in the second millinium.

For poorly explained reasons, Frank decided to try and contact Dave Bowman, by landing on Europa. In this process he meets a philosopher who holds forth at lenght about the insanity of religion. Somehow this is related to landing on Europa, although I do not at all understand how. The landing works! Frank is now the only being in conact with the only being who can contact the Monolith. Whee.

Frank goes back home, and goes on with his life. At some point, Dave gets in touch with him, basically pointing out that, based on 20th century information about humanity, the makers of the monolith have decided that Humanity has gone completely wrong and should be wiped out. Frank passes along that information, and watches as the great minds of the day figure out a way to stop their destruction. They gather the worst computer viruses they can find, send Frank back to Europa, and as him to ask Dave to be the Trojan Horse who delivers the computer viruses. They also give him a memory device to download himself to, to try and save him from the same fate as the monoliths.

It works, humanity is just barely saved from destruction, but Dave's consciousness is still infected with the viruses he delivered and so cannot be contacted. Frank goes on with his life, missing his old friend.

No, really. That's how it ends.

In 2061, the Dave/Hal/Monolith entity thing downloaded a copy of Heywood Floyd. There's no hint of him in this book - nothing. ARG! ( )
  hopeevey | May 19, 2018 |
Arthur C. Clarke

3001: The Final Odyssey

Del Rey, Paperback [1998].

12mo. 274 pp. Sources and Acknowledgments [248-267].
Valediction [268-274] by Arthur Clarke, 19 September 1996.

First published by Del Rey/Ballantine, March 1997.
First International Mass Market Edition, November 1997.
First Domestic Mass Market Edition, March 1998.
12th printing per number line.


Prologue: The Firstborn

I. Star City
1. Comet Cowboy
2. Awakening
3. Rehabilitation
4. A Room with a View
5. Education
6. Braincap
7. Debriefing
8. Return to Olduvai
9. Skyland
10. Homage to Icarus
11. Here Be Dragons
12. Frustration
13. Stranger in a Strange Time
II. Goliath
14. A Farewell to Earth
15. Transit of Venus
16. The Captain’s Table
III. The Worlds of Galileo
17. Ganymede
18. Grand Hotel
19. The Madness of Mankind
20. Apostate
21. Quarantine
22. Venture
IV. The Kingdom of Sulphur
23. Falcon
24. Escape
25. Fire in the Deep
26. Tsienville
27. Ice and Vacuum
28. The Little Dawn
29. The Ghosts in the Machine
30. Foamscape
31. Nursery
V. Termination
32. A Gentleman of Leisure
33. Contact
34. Judgment
35. Council of War
36. Chamber of Horrors
37. Operation DAMOCLES
38. Preemptive Strike
39. Deicide
40. Midnight: Pico

Sources and Acknowledgments


It is probably safe to say that no other book by Arthur Clarke has been more mercilessly panned than The Final Odyssey. There is some truth and much exaggeration in the ranting. For my part, I think this futuristic essay in novel form is a pretty good way to end your career as a writer. For this was Arthur’s 21st and last novel, never mind his ill-advised collaborations[1]. He wrote it in his 79th year on this planet. He had written his first novel in the summer of 1947 – some 49 years earlier.

The book has its defects, of course, but none of them is anything quite as serious as you might have been led to believe by erudite readers of literary, character-driven, mightily descriptive science fiction. Their complaints usually resemble a comet that swaggers towards the Sun with the full intention to extinguish it, but in the end merely huffs, puffs and disappears without a trace on its highly eccentric orbit. The whole spectacle is just as magnificent as it is predictable.

Bringing Frank Poole back from the dead is certainly a lame piece of fantasy. But it’s quite clear why Arthur does it. Dave Bowman’s crew mate creates a human link with the very beginning of the saga. Everything you need to remember from 2001 (1968), 2010 (1982) and even 2061 (1988) is concisely recalled at the right places. Naturally, there are some repetitions, including almost verbatim, but always of things worth repeating. For instance, the Prologue here is pretty much the same as Chapter 37 from 2001 and Chapter 51 from 2010. Godlike aliens are one of the most consistent leitmotifs in Arthur’s complete works, fiction and non-fiction, but they have seldom been described with such stirring brevity:

Call them the Firstborn. Though they were not remotely human, they were flesh and blood, and when they looked out across the deeps of space, they felt awe, and wonder – and loneliness. As soon as they possessed the power, they began to seek for fellowship among the stars.

In their explorations, they encountered life in many forms, and watched the workings of evolution on a thousand worlds. They saw how often the first faint sparks of intelligence flickered and died in the cosmic night.

And because, in all the Galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped.

And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed.


Now they were Lords of the Galaxy, and could rove at will among the stars, or sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space. Though they were freed at last from the tyranny of matter, they had not wholly forgotten their origin, in the warm slime of a vanished sea. And their marvellous instruments still continued to function, watching over the experiments started so many ages ago.

But no longer were they always obedient to the mandates of their creators; like all material things, they were not immune to the corruption of Time and its patient, unsleeping servant, Entropy.

And sometimes, they discovered and sought goals of their own.

If you need anything more than this, I suggest you go to the nearest drugstore and buy yourself some imagination pills. Then again, don’t bother. The side effects may be terrible.

It is quite true that the plot is thin, to say the very least. It does exist, much like the characters, solely for the purpose of futuristic description and philosophical speculation. This is another good reason to have Frank Poole resurrected. He makes plausible, indeed inevitable, the constant comparisons between our world and the one one thousand years in the future. No wonder he is supposed to be taken care of by one Indra Wallace, a historian whose thesis title was “The Collapse of the Nation-State, 2000-50”. Why did she choose such an unsavoury period to specialise in? Well, for at least one excellent reason: “it marks the transition between barbarism and civilization”.

As you might expect, Arthur’s description of the world in 3001 is relentlessly optimistic. It cannot be called a fully-fledged Utopia, for he pays scant attention to social and political questions (was this deliberate?), but the tone is definitely utopian. War is virtually unknown, crime has been reduced to “noise level”, mental aberrations like religion died out soon after Pope Pius XX dealt them a deadly blow in the 25th century. (The poor Pope was assassinated by a “demented cardinal”, but his attempt to reform the Church bore unexpected and long-lasting fruit.) Technology has opened up the Solar System: there are even a bunch of mad scientists living on the south pole of Venus. Advances in electronics have changed communication – including one of its most delicate forms, education – beyond all our modest 21st-century fantasies.

Religion is the most often dissected subject. Each and every form of it, from the most highly organised and durable monsters to the most ephemeral self-appointed messiahs, is demolished with gusto. Theodore Khan, the sole resident philosopher on Ganymede (the biggest moon of what was once Jupiter), describes religion as “psychopathology” born of fear and leading naturally to cruelty, essential only for the primitive stages of a civilisation but quite harmful if not discarded in time later. Religion, in short, is a form of insanity. When Frank Poole, who deep down is still a humble boy from a small town (Flagstaff, AZ, as it turns out), finds this a “harsh judgement”, he is confronted with a barrage of arguments which ends thus:

There’s never been anything, however absurd, that countless people weren’t prepared to believe, often so passionately that they’d fight to the death rather than abandon their illusions. To me, that’s a good operational definition of insanity.

This blistering anti-religious attitude does not preclude a fine tribute to the most famous religious order in history. Arthur greatly admired the Jesuits, as you can tell from his famous story “The Star” (1955), and here they are described (by Indra) as “one of history’s supreme ironies – sincere and brilliant seekers of knowledge and truth, yet their whole philosophy hopelessly distorted by superstition.” It is left to Ted Khan to supply the other side of the equation by quoting the Jesuits themselves: “Give me a boy for six years, and he is mine for life.”

Nor is the world of 3001, for all of Arthur’s faith in our species, without its dark and depressing sides. Even religion isn’t quite dead yet. One can still encounter fierce disputes about mighty trifles between Theists and Deists. Potentially more dangerous are the tensions developing between the colonists on Ganymede (“Medes”) and their decadent ancestors on Earth (“Terries”). But perhaps the most disturbing discovery that Frank Poole makes is that the human race has improved intellectually at the expense of colourful variety. There are very few “characters” around. One of them, sparsely drawn yet very much alive and undeniably charming, is the “comet cowboy” Dimitri (Dim) Chandler whose job is transporting space icebergs to the inner planets from beyond the orbit of Neptune, which is not exactly just around the corner even in 3001.

“It is a strange thought”, Arthur wrote in one of his essays, “that purely scientific technologies will eventually put us into direct contact with beings with most of the attributes our religions have given to the gods.”[2] Rather the reverse happens in the Odyssey Saga. The original Monolith from 2001, the one in the African savannas some three million years ago that is, gave us “an evolutionary kick in the pants” and set us on the road of civilisation. Whatever that means, it certainly raises some hard questions about the two major driving forces of our species, aggression and superstition. Could the first Monolith, ironically, have been the first God? Could it have made a mistake? Was it necessary for us to become quite so ferocious? Or so superstitious? Is this fatal in the long run? If so, is it reversible? Or at least possible to mould in some form compatible with survival? No easy questions. It’s not hard to share Frank Poole’s perplexity:

“Ted’s fond of quoting a famous palaeontologist who said “TMA-0 gave us an evolutionary kick in the pants”. He argues that the kick wasn’t in a wholly desirable direction. Did we have to become so mean and nasty to survive? Maybe we did... As I understand him, Ted believes that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the wiring of our brains, which makes us incapable of consistent logical thinking. To make matters worse, though all creatures need a certain amount of aggressiveness to survive, we seem to have far more than is absolutely necessary. And no other animal tortures its fellows as we do. Is this an evolutionary accident – a piece of genetic bad luck?”

The ending is the only really disappointing part of this book. It is much less believable than the rest. And it does employ, to borrow a phrase from Gregory Benford, “a human-chauvinist thrill”[3] that’s rather unpleasant and quite inconsistent with the rest of the Saga. Arthur’s lovely musical metaphor (in “Valediction”) is to consider the four books as variations akin to those Sergei Rachmaninoff and Andrew Lloyd Weber created using the same handful of notes by Paganini. This is a powerful and compelling analogy, but it doesn’t hold water as regards the ending.

Let me give you another musical example. If you went back in time and gave Beethoven some scores from the turn of the twentieth century, say, Ravel, Debussy or Mahler, he would be very surprised by them. But he would understand them. They are written in the same basic language, however superficially different, and they represent a later stage of music’s natural development. But if you give Beethoven a compact disc and tell him that it contains the whole of the Ninth Symphony, he would kick you out of his house yelling unprintable insults. It might be different if you have a CD player to demonstrate the truth of your statement. I wish Arthur had brought the necessary equipment to play his strange Final LP. As it is, the music it contains must be taken on faith.

I can’t tell you anything more without major spoilers. Not that they matter, but still let’s not annoy the chief engineers of Project Spoiler Guard. On the other hand, Arthur must be given some credit for making the Firstborn, the masters of the monoliths, neither omniscient nor omnipotent. It was a bold decision to make them dependent on servants almost humanly capricious and unreliable.

If Arthur Clarke is a special writer for you, and unless he is you have no business reading this book, the two essays in the end may prove to be more interesting than the novel. There is a good deal of meat in these 25 pages or so.

“Sources and Acknowledgments” is an extensive discussion, conveniently split by chapters, of the scientific background. This is nothing if not meticulous. Even such fantastic ideas like “the inertialess drive” and “the Star Trek transporter” don’t seem to violate any natural laws, and though they do present an enormous technological challenge, one day they may be realised if the incentive is great enough. It seems that even in his late seventies Arthur continued to read, not just plenty of pop science, but also a good deal of highly specialised papers. If you feel brave enough, you can try, say, “Inertia as a Zero-Point Field Lorentz Force” by B. Haisch, A. Rueda and H. E. Puthoff (Phys Review A, February 1994) or, better still, “Machine Intelligence, the Cost of Interstellar Travel and Fermi’s Paradox” by Louis K. Scheffer (Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 35, no. 2 [June 1994], 157-75).[4] Last and least, there is plenty of trivia served with a solid dose of Clarkian humour. I cannot resist quoting the bit about the most famous Roland Emmerich epic (which far too many people take far too seriously):

[Here comes a spoiler as big as Jupiter!]

Since writing the above paragraph, I have been intrigued to learn that the finale of the movie Independence Day, which I have not yet seen, also involves the use of computer viruses as Trojan horses! I am also informed that its opening is identical to that of Childhood’s End (1953), and that it contains every known science-fiction cliché since Melies’ Trip to the Moon (1903).

I cannot decide whether to congratulate the script-writers on their one stroke of originality – or to accuse them of the trans-temporal crime of pre-cognitive plagiarism. In any event, I fear there’s nothing I can do to stop John Q. Popcorn thinking that I have ripped off the ending of

“Valediction” is a brief biography of the Odyssey Saga. Nothing really new, but all the salient points are summarised as nowhere else, to the best of my knowledge, in Arthur’s voluminous writings. The disarming opening paragraph is worth quoting:

“Never explain, never apologize” may be excellent advice for politicians, Hollywood moguls and business tycoons, but an author should treat his readers with more consideration. So, though I have no intention of apologizing for anything, perhaps the complicated genesis of the Odyssey Quartet requires a little explaining.

It is not generally known that this genesis covers more or less Arthur’s complete career as a professional writer. Indeed, it started back at Christmas 1948 when he was still an inspired amateur with a bunch of magazine stories but nothing in permanent book form. He wrote a short story for a BBC competition which was rejected and, though it was later duly published in both magazine (1951) and book (1953) form, it “remained in limbo for more than a decade”. The unique relationship with Stanley Kubrick in the mid-1960s made “The Sentinel” world-famous as the starting point of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arthur is quite charming about the massive failures of imagination he and Stanley committed under the noxious influence of the Zeitgeist:

Today, of course, it seems ludicrous that we could have imagined giant space-stations, orbiting Hilton Hotels, and expeditions to Jupiter as early as 2001. It is now difficult to realize that back in the 1960s there were serious plans for permanent Moon bases and Mars landings – by 1990. Indeed, in the CBS studio, immediately after the Apollo 11 launch, I heard the Vice President of the United States proclaim exuberantly: “Now we must go to Mars!”

As it turned out, he was lucky not to go to prison. That scandal, plus Vietnam and Watergate, is one of the reasons why these optimistic scenarios never materialized.

No thought of sequels crossed Arthur’s mind until the Voyager space-probes in the late 1970s. They revealed a system of Jovian satellites so marvellous that it simply had to be described in fiction. The Halley Comet in 1986, rather than the postponed Galileo space-probe, was another “irresistible theme” and so the Third Odyssey was born. It was dedicated “to the memory of Judy-Lynn del Rey, editor extraordinary, who bought this book for one dollar – but never knew if she got her money’s worth”. In the late 1980s, much to my personal chagrin, Arthur descended into the hideous dungeon of collaboration. But I am glad that “this particular Odyssey had to be a solo job”. So every word is Arthur’s – “well, almost every word, I must confess that I found Professor Thirugnanasampanthamoorthy (Chapter 35) in the Colombo Telephone Directory; I hope the present owner of that name will not object the loan.”

To sum up, Arthur Clarke’s final work of fiction, much like Aldous Huxley’s, can only be described with the dreadfully oxymoronic phrase “philosophical novel”. In the wrong hands, this stuff is unreadable. But in the hands of a great writer – or, to be more accurate, in the hands of a favourite writer – it is very readable and not a little thought-provoking, however deficient in terms of plot and characterisation. As a final instalment in the Odyssey Saga, it wraps things up rather neatly, but the ending is neither very impressive nor very convincing. The non-fiction bonuses alone are almost worth the price of admission.

[1] The City and the Stars (1956) is supposed to be a revised and expanded version of Against the Fall of Night (1948 in magazine, 1953 in book form), and so it is, but to my mind the final results are sufficiently different to be considered separate novels. If you disagree, then Arthur wrote 20 novels.
[2] “Science and Spirituality” in Voices from the Sky (1965).
[3] See Arthur’s notes in The Sentinel (1983).
[4] Some further reading recommendations for Clarkian neophytes. Arthur’s most thorough exercise in futurology is the aptly titled Profiles of the Future (1962, 1999). It may not be a coincidence that the last and thoroughly revised “Millennium Edition” was published just two years after 3001. In regard to “The Madness of Mankind”, Arthur suggests we should see Episode 22 from his TV series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious Universe, but I think the hilarious essay “The Lunatic Fringe” from Voices from the Sky (1965) is a better choice. The same collection contains a good deal about the psychological impact of communications, electronics and space exploration which is relevant to the novel, but so do Report on Planet Three (1972) and 1984: Spring – A Choice of Futures (1984), another two of Arthur’s typically eclectic and unjustly forgotten collections of essays. The background of the space elevator is rather extensive in “Sources and Acknowledgments”, but The Fountains of Paradise (1979) and “The Space Elevator: ‘Thought Experiment’, or Key to the Universe?” (Ascent to Orbit, John Wiley, 1984) remain essential reading.
[5] Since the movie had its world premiere on 25 June 1996, when Arthur was still writing the book, his plagiaristic fears were justified. It should be remembered that in 1996 virtual Trojan horses had yet to become cliché. For the “trans-temporal crime of pre-cognitive plagiarism”, see Arthur’s charming story/essay “Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells, Esq.” from the collection The Wind from the Sun (1972). ( )
  Waldstein | Aug 24, 2017 |
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Nearly 10 years before ''Star Wars,'' ''2001: A Space Odyssey'' caught the spirit of the nascent revolutions in computation and space exploration. The story of an alien intelligence ensconced in a black monolithic slab and appearing to take a peculiar interest in stimulating human evolution at critical junctures, Arthur C. Clarke's novella and the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film based on it were irresistibly beguiling. So was HAL, the personable supercomputer whose mutiny on a mission to Jupiter resulted in the demise of the crew members David Bowman and Frank Poole. Now, in ''3001: The Final Odyssey,'' Mr. Clarke brings Poole back the way a television series resurrects a character killed off prematurely.

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Clarke, Arthur C.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Holicki, IreneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, DavidCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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