2001: A Space Odyssey | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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2001: A Space Odyssey | Part 2, Chapters 11–12 : TMA-1 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11: Anomaly

Halverson and Floyd attend a briefing. Dr. Floyd thanks everyone for gracefully enduring the media blackout that has been necessary. Dr. Michaels shows them a photo of Tycho crater, then an image generated by a magnetic survey of the moon's surface. An area of great magnetism can be seen centered in Tycho crater. Dr. Michaels calls it Tycho Magnetic Anomaly–1, or TMA-1. He reveals that when they excavated the area, they found a "vertical slab of jet-black material, about ten feet high and five feet wide." Scientists dated the material at 3,000,000 years old. Since this is far too old to be of human origin, they have concluded that the object is "the first evidence of intelligent life beyond the Earth."

Chapter 12: Journey by Earthlight

After the briefing Dr. Floyd is transported in a mobile lab to see TMA-1. During the 200-mile journey Dr. Floyd contemplates the enormity of 3,000,000 years: the "immensity of Time." Halverson, Floyd, and Michaels speculate about what kinds of creatures might have created TMA-1 and the nature and purpose of the "Tycho Monolith." It is Dr. Floyd's job to decide what to do next. He observes TMA-1 by Earthlight and then in artificial floodlights, but the utterly black monolith seems to absorb all the light that falls on it.

Analysis

In Chapter 11 the narrative reveals information of interest to both the characters in the book and the reader. Dr. Floyd gets a full briefing on the matter that brought him so quickly to the moon. He gets to see it with his own eyes. And readers finally understand a connection between Parts 1 and 2 that was not apparent before: the monoliths. Although the "New Rock" of Part 1 was transparent and filled with rotating, wheel-like light patterns, and this one is jet black, they are still obviously of the same basic origin. And they appear to have come to our solar system around the same time—3,000,000 years ago, before true humans had evolved.

Clarke introduces Chapter 12 with an excerpt from "Engineer Special Study of the Surface of the Moon," a manual helpful for traversing the Moon's surface. This technical beginning leads into a description of Dr. Floyd's trip to see TMA-1. However, Dr. Floyd's journey is described with less technical precision and more imagery. Both Earth and the sun's corona can be seen in the sky. Earth is "a blazing beacon hanging above the northern horizon ... dozens of times more brilliant than the full moon." The sun's corona is "a faint, pearly cone of light slanting up the eastern sky ... a pale glory that no man had ever seen from Earth, save during the few moments of a total eclipse."

The theme of the vastness of the universe is engaged as Dr. Floyd considers the age of TMA-1: "The infinitely crowded panorama of written history, with its empires and its kings, its triumphs and its tragedies, covered barely one thousandth of this appalling span of time." Compared with written human history, 3,000,000 years is an unfathomable amount of time. Likewise Dr. Floyd regrets, a little, that the visit of these aliens did not coincide with his own time. He is clearly motivated by intellectual curiosity and represents the better part of humanity's nature. The age of TMA-1 is the beginning of the answer to the Foreword's question: "Why have such meetings not occurred already, since we ourselves are about to venture into space?" Part of the answer has to do with the immensity of Time—when intelligent aliens appeared, humans were still in their evolutionary history and not ready for such a meeting. Meetings by their very nature must put two parties in the same time as well as in the same space.

At the end of Chapter 12, Floyd compares the monolith to "Pandora's box ... waiting to be opened by inquisitive Man." In Greek mythology the young woman Pandora is given a box, but the box bears a warning not to open it. Curious, Pandora opens it, and all the sufferings of the world fly out. Pandora despairs at her hasty action, shutting the container. Something, however, is left inside. That thing is hope.

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