Picks and Pans Review: 3001: the Final Odyssey

updated 02/24/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/24/1997 01:00AM

by Arthur C. Clarke

Though we're just three years shy of the millennium, the technological marvels predicted by 2001: A Space Odyssey seem as distant today, sadly, as they did three decades ago when Clarke adapted the screenplay he cowrote for Stanley Kubrick's 1968 sci-fi film classic into a first-rate novel. Just think: There are no manned missions to Jupiter, no lunar colonies, no giant orbital space stations (just a primitive, oversize tin can named Mir): No matter. Clarke, at 79 one of the last surviving grand masters of science fiction, continues to dazzle with his meticulously detailed, and scientifically plausible, vision of mankind's future.

Make that far, far future. 3001, which jumps centuries beyond the events Clarke limned in two previous sequels (2010 and 2061), resurrects a long-lost (and presumed dead) character from 2001. Remember Frank Poole, the Jupiter-bound astronaut asphyxiated by HAL, his homicidal shipboard computer? After Poole's space-suited body is retrieved and thawed out, he awakens as a 31st-century Rip Van Winkle through whose eyes Clarke's brave new world comes into startling focus. Crime is virtually nonexistent; organized religion (considered the delusions of madmen) is extinct; the Internet is all in your head, thanks to cybernetic implants known as Braincaps. Most stunning are the twin towers rising out of Africa and North America all the way up to Star City, an orbital space platform so immense that it encircles the equator.

There are more shocks in store for Poole, including a reunion with his old shipmate Dave Bowman, who at the end of 2001 had been transformed by the cryptic extraterrestrial sentinels known as the Monoliths into a superior being whose spectral presence has haunted each sequel. Now, Bowman has returned with an apocalyptic warning, and it's up to Poole to try to save an Earth he barely knows. The ending, which has echoes of Independence Day, is a grand-slam cosmic blowout that suggests this may not be the final odyssey after all. (Del Rey, $25)

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