Happy Birthday, 2001

The greatest of all movies without interesting humans turns forty today. Just shows there’s a place in the world for awe, as well as comedy, love, terror, and so on. Reminds me of a fascinating passage from the late Arthur C. Clarke’s first great novel, The City and the Stars. From Chapter Thirteen:

Throughout the earlier part of its history, the human race had brought forth an endless succession of prophets, seers, messiahs, and evangelists who convinced themselves and their followers that to them alone were the secrets of the universe revealed. Some of them succeeded in establishing religions which survived for many generations and influenced billions of men; others were forgotten even before their deaths.

The rise of science, which with monotonous regularity refuted the cosmologies of the prophets and produced miracles which they could never match, eventually destroyed all these faiths. It did not destroy the awe, nor the reverence and humility, which all intelligent beings felt as they contemplated the stupendous universe in which they found themselves.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, 2001

  1. I have a question about Clarke and 2001. I heard that he wrote a short story called RENDITION that Stanley Kubrick ued to flesh out a longer film story that was later called 2001. and then Clarke was paid to write a novelization of Kubrick’s screenplay, but that he in fact never wrote a book or a story called 2001 as an original? is that true? what was RENDITION about?



  2. Did some research at Wiki:

    “The Sentinel” is a short story written in 1948 ! by the late Arthur C. Clarke, famous for being expanded (and extensively modified) into the novel and movie ”2001: A Space Odyssey”.

    Clarke actually expressed impatience with the common description of it as “the story on which 2001 is based.”

    He was quoted as saying, it is like comparing “an acorn to the resulting oak-tree”.

    It was written in 1948 for a BBC competition (in which it failed to place) and was first published in the magazine 10 Story Fantasy in 1951, under the title “Sentinel of Eternity”.

    It was never well received when first published. However….Despite the failure of the story, it changed the course of Clarke’s career.

    The story deals with the discovery of an artifact on Earth’s Moon left behind eons ago by ancient aliens. The object is made of a polished mineral and tetrahedral in shape, and is surrounded by a spherical forcefield. The first-person narrator speculates at one point that the mysterious aliens who left this structure on the Moon may have used mechanisms belonging “to a technology that lies beyond our horizons, perhaps to the technology of para-physical forces.”

    For millennia (evidenced by dust buildup around its forcefield) the artifact has transmitted signals into deep space, but it ceases to transmit when the astronauts who discover it breach the forcefield. The narrator hypothesises that this “sentinel” was left on the moon as a “warning beacon” for the possible intelligent and spacefaring life that might develop on Earth.

    This quotation illustrates the idea, and its ramifications:

    “It was only a matter of time before we found the pyramid and forced it open. Now its signals have ceased, and those whose duty it is will be turning their minds upon Earth. Perhaps they wish to help our infant civilization. But they must be very, very old, and the old are often insanely jealous of the young.”

    In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the operation of the sentinel is reversed. It is the energy of the sun, falling for the first time on the uncovered artifact, that triggers the signal.


    Shortly after completing Dr Strangelove (in 1964), Stanley Kubrick became fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and determined to make “the proverbial good science fiction movie”.

    Searching for a suitable collaborator in the science fiction community, Kubrick was advised to seek out Arthur C. Clarke by a mutual acquaintance, Columbia Pictures staffer Roger Caras. Although convinced that Clarke was “a recluse, a nut who lives in a tree”, Kubrick agreed that Caras would cable the Ceylon-based author with the film proposal. Clarke’s cabled response stated that he was “frightfully interested in working with enfant terrible”, and added “what makes Kubrick think I’m a recluse?”

    In early conversations, Kubrick and Clarke jokingly called their project How the Solar System Was Won, an allusion to the 1962 Cinerama epic How the West Was Won.[6] Like that film, Kubrick’s production would be divided into distinct episodes. Clarke considered adapting a number of his earlier stories before selecting “The Sentinel”, published in 1950, as the starting point for the film. The collaborators originally planned to develop a novel first, free of the constraints of a normal script, and then to write the screenplay; they envisaged that the final writing credits would be “Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick”, to reflect their pre-eminence in their respective fields.[7] However, in practice the cinematic ideas required for the screenplay developed parallel to the novel, with cross-fertilisation between the two. In the end, the screenplay credits were shared while the novel, released shortly after the film, was attributed to Clarke alone, but Clarke wrote later that “the nearest approximation to the complicated truth” is that the screenplay should be credited to “Kubrick and Clarke” and the novel to “Clarke and Kubrick”.[8]


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