Last night I finished listening to 2001: A Space Odyssey by the British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. He wrote the novel while working with director Stanley Kubrick on the 1968 movie of the same name. The book and movie are both considered to be great classics of sci fi.
The story is about extraterrestrial interference in human evolution. It begins three million years ago in Africa, with an alien monolith training human ancestors in the use of tools. Then it fast forwards to 2001. Humans have uncovered a monolith on the moon. A crew of astronauts is sent to make first contact.
If you read or watch a lot of stories set in space you’ll be familiar with many elements in 2001. Sentient computers with opinions, space ships in danger, and almost psychedelic encounters with minds beyond human understanding. I’m not familiar enough with sci fi history to know who first put these elements in stories. But I’ve no doubt that many written after 2001 were directly inspired by Clarke and Kubrick.
I enjoyed the story. Though I wonder if some novels are less suitable for audiobook narration than others. There is a lot of visual description in 2001. At some points I zoned out a bit, particularly when the appearance of planets was being described. I guess in part this is because now in 2022 we’re used to seeing images of the planets in our solar system. In 1968 there must’ve been more of a sense of novelty to it.
The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Dick Hill and released in 2008. Hill is a professional audiobook narrator with over 100 titles to his name. He’s also the winner of a Golden Voice award. AudioFile describe his voice as “robust, smooth, but with just enough grit to make it interesting”.
Before I read that I’d been wondering how to describe Hill’s voice. His accent is American, his pitch is deep without being too deep and there’s a consistent raspy or gravelly sound. It’s an easy voice to listen to. Hill speaks at a steady pace, shows emotion in all the right places and is good at doing the characters’ different voices. The famous scenes with the computer HAL were so well done, it was like listening to a radio play.
The 2008 audiobook also comes with a thirty-minute introduction by Arthur C. Clarke himself. Clarke talks about how he wrote 2001 while working with Kubrick. There’s lots in this intro to interest fans. I wasn’t aware, for example, that many people wrongly thought that HAL’s name was a reference to computer manufacturer IBM. Clarke debunks this theory, with some irritation in his voice.
The audiobook is 6 hours and 48 minutes long. I thought that was a good length. When they go over 11 hours it can feel like they’re taking over your life!