2001: A Space Odyssey
Part Six (Chapters 41–47)
Stars were rushing past Bowman's field of vision as if he were moving incredibly quickly, but the end of the Star Gate never seemed closer. The digital clock onboard had slowed down and eventually come to a halt. Bowman could not tell how quickly he was moving or what would happen, but he felt an extreme calmness as this adventure approached him. Then, Bowman perceived a growing aperture at the end of this intergalactic tunnel; he passed through it into a vast world, filled with an intricate network of buildings on the ground. The sky above him appeared white, with little black specks. It seemed as though this were an inverted world with a white sky and black stars. Bowman looked around, but soon his pod was being heralded back through one of the black specks, "he was passing through a Grand central Station of the Galaxy."
When Bowman was again released, he saw stars all around. He looked back and saw the opening from which he had come, being slowly replaced by stars, "as if a rent in the fabric of space had been repaired." Amazed, he gazed at the many wonders that filled the sky before him; then his pod began to descend toward a giant, red, sun. As he moved toward the star, Bowman noticed that he was not affected by what must have been an immense heat. The speeds at which he had been traveling should have torn him apart, as well. He felt, and was, guarded and protected. Through the rising flames, Bowman saw what looked like thousands of beads. Though he did not understand it, Bowman was going through a new type of creation of which no man had ever conceived. The pod came to rest on a floor of what appeared to be a nice hotel suite. As Bowman looked around, all of the normal accoutrements of home surrounded him, from a bed and chairs to familiar artwork; only his pod was out of place. He explored the suite to find a refrigerator and familiar looking boxes of food. Inside the boxes, though, was only blue goo that resembled a pudding. Bowman tasted it and it was reasonably good. The books in the suite had recognizable titles, but were empty inside. Bowman lay on the bed and began to watch TV—the programs were old, about two years out of date. Bowman realized that the suite had been constructed on the basis of television programs, used to gain information about what would make a normal human feel more at ease. Tired, Bowman extinguished the light and went to sleep for the last time.
Bowman felt himself drifting off. He began to enter a realm where no man had gone before. His memory of the hotel suite flickered before him, then the Star Gate, and Discovery. His memory was being drained from his brain, but stored elsewhere. David Bowman was being reborn, but this time, immortal. Arrays of light and shape appeared before him and he saw that he would no longer need the Star Gate to travel through space. Incredible, new knowledge was coming before him. He felt like he was being watched over and protected, and knew that he would never be alone.
Before him, Bowman saw Earth, "a glittering toy no Star-Child could resist." Down there, alarms would be ringing and, the history man had known, would be coming to an end. A payload of destruction had been released and was slowly making its way across the sky. This was no match for Bowman's strength and he detonated the megatons while still in the air. He reflected on his powers as master of the world, and that he would have to decide what to do next.
The end of the book is a bit tricky. Bowman is granted the gift of the technology that the civilization that built TMA-1 had come upon. He is immortalized, turned into energy, and given immense powers to move and impact the physical world simply through an action of his will. He returns to look at Earth.
The writing of the final chapter is metaphorical and a bit obscure. The "slumbering cargo of death" is a nuclear weapon. Bowman has returned to see Earth, just as a nuclear weapon is being released. Instead of allowing it to fall back to Earth and wreak massive destruction, Bowman detonates the weapon in the air. This produces the "false dawn."
This final event brings the book back to its central didactic theme. Just as nuclear weapons are mentioned as a potential danger toward the end of the first part of the book, they are presented as a grave danger that finally is realized in this final scene of the book. Luckily for those on Earth, the Star-Child is there to keep the nuclear weapons from actually descending to Earth and causing destruction. In the real world, there is no omnipotent force that we could reasonably expect to diffuse a nuclear warhead flying through the air toward a target. While the end of this book presents a hopeful scenario, in that the world is not destroyed by nuclear weapons, it paints a grim picture. After all, nuclear weapons are released. And, in our world, once the weapons are launched, the destruction will take place. This final scene, then, emphasizes the warning that this book is intended to convey. We are teetering at the edge of a nuclear catastrophe. We must do everything in our power to ensure that one does not occur.
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