Thoughts on "2001"


Note: This was originally posted as a thread on Twitter.

It's interesting re-reading 2001 after a childhood failed attempt, so many re-watchings of the film, and finally learning Arthur C. Clark was gay.

It never seems to come out in the broad plot strokes, but often it's there in the background details and in the aside observations of humanity.

Near the end of 2001, it is remarked on how some humans and two of three HALs in the book reacted xenophobically to alien existence, and that this was a "surprise". Only it shouldn't have been, the narrator points out, given *broadly gestures at humanity*.

Even the character of Dave is markedly humanized in the book. Fear is acknowledged. It's not discounted or framed as negative, only as a natural reaction to being trapped alone on a half-dead ship nearing Saturn. I wouldn't even call the character heroic.

Yet I, reading the book 50 years after it was written, can't help but notice other details. Lack of any women characters, the cultural emphasis on emotionlessness being a preferred set-point, and other tiny details that make me slap on the "product of it's time" label.

It's a criticism that often see labeled at another media property that's been a big influence on me, Star Trek. It's a criticism I feel is wholly justified, although the label itself has been dulled into dismissiveness rather than a signpost for further analysis.

I don't believe that stories can be unique, original, or timeless. I see them as extensions of an individual, and individuals as extensions of their culture, and all of it bound in a particular point and time. And with it, we carry all the faults of an imperfect humanity.

And I wonder -- seeing how the preoccupation of purity and viscerality will have its mark on my generation -- what some future reader will think of what we created. Will they too slap on a label, "A product of it's time"? 

Of that I have no doubt.