Space Odyssey Celebrates Fifty Years On Top

In Features by Paula Hammond - Features Editor

It was fifty years ago this year, that director Stanley Kubrick’s seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey was first released.

Based on a screenplay written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, the ground-breaking film was inspired by Clarke’s short story The Sentinel. However Clarke himself was continually frustrated by the impression many people had that 2001 was ‘based on’ this early story.

Above: Illustration by Joe Wilson from Folio Society edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey ©Joe Wilson.

Speaking in Heavy Metal magazine in 1984, he said: “I am continually annoyed by careless references to The Sentinel as the story on which 2001 is based. It bears about as much relation to the movie as an acorn resultant full-grown oak. Considerably less, in fact, because ideas from several other stories were also incorporated. Even the elements that Stanley Kubrick and I did actually use were considerably modified.”

Kubrick and Clarke had initially planned to write the full-length novel first, allowing the reader to enjoy the story free from any plot or visuals that might be imposted on them by the finished film. However, Kubrick was a famously meticulous film-maker and, as the script was re-written and re-worked, the novel slowly fell behind schedule. It  was finally released after the film debued, which, again led to numerous misunderstandings. Even today the book is often perceived as a ‘novelisation’  of the film, rather than a stand-alone work of art. 

Above: Illustration by Joe Wilson from Folio Society edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey ©Joe Wilson.

It’s also interesting to note that while Clarke is credited on the screenplay, Kubrick’s name doesn’t appear on the book. As Clarke would later point out, they collaborated so closely that it wasn’t always easy to know who wrote what. “The nearest approximation to the complicated truth” said Clarke, “is that the screenplay should be credited to Kubrick and Clarke and the novel to Clarke and Kubrick. Working so closely brought its own problems and, at one point, Kubrick even considered replacing Clarke with another author. According to Michael Moorcock, in his Introduction to the Folio Society edition: “I … knew something that I don’t think Arthur ever did. Kubrick was at some point dissatisfied with the collaboration… Arthur was a scientific educator and belonged to a school of SF writers that needed to cross every t and dot every i. Explanations were his forte. He was uncomfortable with most forms of ambiguity. Kubrick was an intuitive director inclined to leave the interpretations to the audience”. 

Fortunately that didn’t happen and both the film and novel became genre classics. 

What may surprise fans to learn, though, is that despite 2001’s striking imagery it wasn’t until 2016 that the Folio Society produced the first ever illustrated edition of the book. This luxury edition looks pleasingly sci-fi in appearance – bound in printed art paper, blocked in holographic foil, with a metallic slip case. Seven colour interior illustrations by Joe Wilson, make a spectacular companion to Kubrick and Clarke’s timeless text.

Above: Illustration by Joe Wilson from Folio Society edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey ©Joe Wilson.

The edition includes the foreword written jointly by Clarke and Kubrick, as well as Clarke’s ‘Back to 2001’ preface written in 1989. Michael Moorcock, a long-standing colleague of Clarke’s and an award-winning author, has provided a new introduction revealing much of his friend’s personality, as well as casting a new light on the fractious relationship between Clarke and Kubrick.

The Folio Society edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, introduced by Michael Moorcock and illustrated by Joe Wilson is exclusively available from