They Could Split The Difference And Frag Alexa

You might know Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the book the film was based on — I think it's safe to say that it's one of the rare adaptations that surpasses the book, though in this case that's not a terrible thing in that Clarke helped write the screenplay and then apparently produced the book afterward. Which maybe makes it more akin to a novelization, like the book version of E.T. I ordered from Scholastic back in grade school.

In any case, the book both helps and hinders the 2001 story: some philosophical or seeming philosophical moments can be slowed down for rumination; elsewhere the text could use a visual ("It was like the jigsaw puzzle of a giant that played with planets; and at the centers of many of those squares and triangles and polygons were gaping black shafts — twins of the chasm from which he had just emerged"); still elsewhere the book fleshes out the vague, arty opening of the film and follows its hominid protagonist as it gains consciousness; then again, the abstract ending of both versions could probably use each other.

My memory of the film was that Hal — the ship's murderous consciousness-raising AI assistant — was around for most of the movie. In the book Bowman shuts off the computer around page 203 and then rides the rest of the way to Jupiter in silence. Clearly that's not a great idea for a movie, Cast Away notwithstanding.

We are all very, very woke, so it was not lost on us that there are very few women in 2001. Well, there is one — the stewardess on the shuttle to the moon (whose safety instructions Bowman ignores). That said, it is mentioned that there are 600 women on the moon base, out of 1700 total, making it a sex ratio on par with the United Arab Emirates (though better than Qatar).

. . . . . . . . . .

Which is as good a point as any to bring up Andy Weir's Artemis, the followup to the popular book The Martian. As in The Martian, Artemis's stock in trade is the meticulously researched science underpinning the world in which the story takes place (see here for a taste). The solid science (I'm assuming it's solid; no way I would know) is a large part of what makes both stories so compelling: there is space travel using bogus trans-cosmic boost thrusters (ahem, Han Solo) and then there is the physical universe; I'm assuming Weir agrees that space travel is amazing enough not to have to resort to such hokum (the difference between this and 2001 is striking in this respect). Another nice part of Artemis is it's economic reality — in short, Weir's argument is that the only way a permanent moon base makes sense is to use it for tourism, which is a fun idea (and which he expounds upon here).

Where The Martian was a survival story, Artemis is a regular caper, albeit one set on the moon. As a caper, it's OK, but the science is the star here. It's already been optioned as a movie, I think before the book came out (and apparently it's currently in development); I think it'll be a fun film.

That said — oh, the portentousness of "that said" — while it is nice that this fellow Weir made the protagonist female (and it's only a slight spoiler in that it takes a few pages for this to emerge), in this day and age it can be a little touchy to some to step outside your lane to portray someone outside your immediate experience. Granted, we are talking about perhaps a hundred years from now, which if anyone stopped to ponder is audacious enough, but even if you don't subscribe to this parochial thinking, you have to admit that it is, er, ballsy to do. In this day and age. Which is all well and good. But this guy, this Weir gentleman, this guy doesn't just stop there: he also makes her Muslim. And if that weren't enough, he also makes her a boozer. And a slut — the character's self-characterization, not mine. He basically shoots the moon here. So far I haven't seen any "Identity Politics and the Problem with Artemis" think pieces but if and when the film comes out I wonder what the response will be.

Posted: April 3rd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Books Are The SUVs Of Writing | Tags: , , ,