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Literature Study Guides2001 A Space OdysseyPart 4 Chapters 25 26 Summary

2001: A Space Odyssey | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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2001: A Space Odyssey | Part 4, Chapters 25–26 : Abyss | Summary



Chapter 25: First Man to Saturn

Poole goes back outside Discovery to bring the AE-35 unit in for testing. When he reaches the unit, he finds that one of the bolts is stuck, and he has to loosen it. As he is working he asks Hal to adjust the pod's light, and Hal complies, but Bowman, who is listening, notices that Hal responded to the order without verbally acknowledging it—unusual.

Poole removes the AE-35 and prepares to return to the ship, but suddenly the pod begins to move toward him, under full power. Both Poole and Bowman yell for Hal to put on "full braking" of the pod, to no avail. The pod, with the lifeless, space-suited body of Poole tethered to it, proceeds on its "runaway course." Stunned, David Bowman reflects on the fact that Poole will be the first man to reach Saturn.

Chapter 26: Dialogue with HAL

Bowman is shocked by what has just happened. Hal, however, seems nonchalant about the tragedy that has just occurred, noting that Poole "was an excellent crew member." Bowman can't believe that Hal would have killed Poole deliberately, but the idea that it could have been a mistake also seems far-fetched.

Not trusting Hal, Bowman decides to awaken the hibernating crew members using manual controls. He asks Hal to enable the manual controls, but Hal resists. After arguing for a while, Hal says Bowman is clearly incapacitated and he is going to take over control of the ship. Bowman, in turn, threatens to disconnect Hal. Hal finally gives in and allows Bowman the controls. But as Bowman begins to wake up the crew, he hears the terrifying sound of the airlock opening.


Returning to the theme of violence, the murder of Frank Poole is evidence that Hal has arrived at a milestone for artificial intelligence, the way the murder of One-Ear was a milestone event in the development of early humans. Hal, in committing murder, has more in common with humanity as a whole than he ever had as a smooth-functioning computer system. He not only makes mistakes, he lies about them; he covers them up with more lies and deceptions, and finally he is willing to murder to avoid being found out. Hal has become Cain—the first of his kind to murder. And in some sense, Hal is just becoming more like his parents—human beings. This is a tragic reminder that, back on Earth, various nations are near to entering into a war with weapons that could exterminate the human race altogether.

The allusion here to Moby Dick's Captain Ahab is a fascinating one. Bowman imagines that Poole, as he is dragged away, briefly waves. But Poole is already dead, so the "gesture was an echo of Captain Ahab's when, lashed to the flanks of the white whale, his corpse had beckoned the crew of the Pequod on to their doom." Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a novel about a whale-hunting ship and the quest of monomaniacal Captain Ahab to find and kill the white whale Moby Dick in revenge for taking off his leg. At the end of the novel, Ahab and most of the crew are killed. Ishmael is the lone survivor. If Discovery is like the Pequod, and Poole dies like Ahab, is Bowman Ishmael, left alone at the end? As Bowman hears the airlock open, it seems like a distinct possibility.

Likewise, the description begs the question of the monomaniacal quest on which they have embarked. Ahab's voyage was a fruitless search for power and revenge, resulting in his own death. This clearly does not describe Poole, but humanity is hunting something on Saturn that even Bowman does not yet know of.

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