First let me shortly recall, that the novel is less well known in the popular culture than Stanley Kubrick's famous movie, that has been and continues to be — one of the best movies ever done. I'm sure not many of my readers would disagree. However, both the movie's screenplay and the novel were created almost concurrently, and the novel was published after the film public release. So, while the movie's visual and verbal narrations have their own life and are great achievement of the great writer and the great filmmaker — the narration of the novel extends the main message of the film and goes much deeper.
The final sequences of the famous movie show the transformation of the main character into an older and older person, and then upon the influence of the monolith — to the child. The very last scenes reveal the symbolic „return” of the child to the earth or its orbit.
The novel is more textual at its climax: we know that the mind and memory of the main hero are being transformed from his physicality into a „mind” which, while still incorporated in the child, is clearly the omnipresent mind with the deep insight and awareness about everything it/he wants. In the last scenes of the novel the child (mind) comes back to the earth at the right moment, at a brink of a nuclear war and saves the world by destroying the warhead of death.
The last sentences of the novel read:
„He had returned in time.
Down there on that crowded globe, the alarms would be flashing across the radar screens, the great tracking telescopes would be searching the skies - and history [as it had hitherto been known] would be drawing to a close.
A thousand miles below, he became aware that a slumbering cargo of death had awoken, and was stirring sluggishly in its orbit. The feeble energies it contained were no possible menace to him; but he preferred a cleaner sky.
He put forth his will, and the circling megatons flowered in a silent detonation that brought a brief false dawn to half the sleeping globe.
Then he waited, marshalling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers.
For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next.
But he would think of something.”
On the surface, and out of context it sounds naive, but when you read the book — it is not. Clarke's parable is in fact a philosophical speculation on the idea of linking religion with external intelligent life. While I'm not in favour of such speculations, it is hard not to see the elegance and wisdom which Clarke puts into his allegory. Just muse over the penultimate sentence: „For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next” ....