A Manifesto for the Future

In both the introduction to the novel, and the publicity material for the film, Clarke and Kubrick advised their audience / readers to "please remember: this is only a work of fiction. The truth, as always, will be far stranger." However, seeping through the drama at every point is Clarke's desire for the realistic rendering of the dynamics of space (a sentiment shared by Kubrick, and a change from the zap-woosh space of B- movie sci-fi). Moreover, about 2001 is the definite whiff of Clarke's predilection for prophecy. "He is the prophet of the space age," concludes The Times newspaper, and 2001 was very much Clarke and Kubrick's manifesto for the future as seen from the mid-sixties. That man was on the brink of a colonisation of space was almost taken for granted at the peak of Space Race Fever, before the reality of cutbacks and conflict curtailed the reach for the heavens. But, in 1968, the idea that Dr Heywood Floyd would have gone, by 1999 when the book opens, "to Mars once, to the Moon three times, and to the various space stations more often than he could remember", was altogether plausible. As perhaps, was the idea of airline space-plane flights to giant space-stations filled with a "barber's shop, drugstore, movie theatre, and a souvenir shop", not to mention the video-phone on which Floyd is able to call home on for, in the movie, the cost of $1.50. Indeed, Clarke was to predict in one of the sequels to 2001 the demise of the long-distance telephone charge at the turn of the twenty-first century. Clearly he has an over-optimistic view of the charitableness of the telecom industry. Clarke's future is one of "Newpads" to which one can download the day's copy of the "World Times", rendering the "very word 'newspaper'... an anachronistic hang-over into the age of electronics." It is one of artificial hibernation, "electronarcosis", a Moon base "like a tiny working model of Earth itself, recycling all the chemicals of life", and one where Commander David Bowman has "thanks to the Twentieth Century revolution in training and information- handling techniques" and an "electronic tutor", "the equivalent of two or three college educations - and, what was more, he could remember ninety per cent of what he had learned." Not only are the humans smarter, but so are the machines - in the shape of sentient super- computer HAL, more of which later.

Which of Clarke's predictions have hit home and where they have missed the mark is evident to all. (And Kubrick does not escape unscathed either, with his prediction that by 2001, "Certainly buttons will be gone. Even now there are fabrics that stick shut by themselves.") Clarke concedes in the foreword to 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997) that prediction is a risky business, particularly when sequels are concerned: "Obviously there is no way in which a series of four science-fiction novels, written over a period of more than thirty years of the most breathtaking development in technology... could be mutually consistent." But as far as the prophetic edge of 2001 is concerned, as HAL might have said, in many cases, "I'm sorry Dave, but I'm afraid we just can't do that." Perhaps it was merely optimism of time- frame rather then eventualities, and in choosing a year as a title Clarke and Kubrick were laying the work open to its own obsolescence. But, as Clarke recalls: "Our main problem... was creating a story which would not be made obsolete - or even worse, ridiculous - by the events of the next few years... On the other hand, if we got too far ahead, there was grave risk of losing contact with our audience." In the end the millennial significance of the date was evidently too strong to resist - almost an allegorical point in the future like Orwell's 1948-reversing 1984. One of the NASA consultants on the film, Frederick Ordway, even claims that the film decided how we now pronounce the year, recounting a conversation with Kubrick who wanted to know if it one would say 'two thousand and one' or 'twenty-oh-one' as in 'nineteen- oh-one'. In the end they decided 'two thousand and one' because it "sounded better", even speculating at the time what effect this would have on twenty-first century year pronouncers.

Finally, with regard to Clarke's predictions, it is perhaps at least worth the observation that whilst in the Sixties, the futurists on Earth were staring into outer space in anticipation, the last thirty years has in fact turned human innovation in on ourselves - to the 'inner-space' of our biology, our genes, to nano- technology, and (as Clarke among others did foresee), the possibilities of artificial intelligence. Perhaps aliens with foresight might leave evidence of their tinkering in our DNA rather than on the moon.

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