Okay, since your reply is the only one at the moment, I'll respond to it, but then I'm gone.
Some of my points would have to do with separating criticism of the films from criticisms of the books. I think that right there is where some of our disagreement has originated. In particular, my criticism of the film 2010, doesn't necessarily apply to its novel, or to the novel of 2001. Similarly with you and your criticisms of the film 2001.
Yeah, a lot of this has been talking past each other about which version we were discussing. I've always come at the Space Odyssey
universe from the books first, since I was a Clarke reader long before I saw either movie. And for decades now I've seen plenty of people mistaking the explanation in the film 2010
for something that the film made up, not realizing that it was basically the original explanation from the beginning. So I'm big on the idea that people should read the books in order to know what the original ideas really were. And since I prefer the Clarkean approach of clarity and detail -- as readers of my own fiction are surely aware -- I'm frankly not too sympathetic toward Kubrick's decision to leave everything all weird and mysterious.
A second point worth restating and elaborating on is that my criticism of the technobabble in the film 2010 in part has to do with the shift in tone, relative to the first film, in absolving one group on the project while blaming the other.
Okay, if you're just criticizing the way the movie handled it, that's fair (though I don't recall the movie's explanation being that different from what the 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two
had to say; aside from the added Cold War stuff and the removal of a number of subplots, I recall the film being fairly close to the book). But I think of the explanation in terms of what Clarke wrote in the original novel, and in the second novel which was basically an elaboration on the same principle. And since that was all about HAL's character and situation, I really didn't understand your description of it as "technobabble." I guess we were talking about two different things -- you in terms of the movie's explanation in particular, me in terms of all three iterations of the explanation (both books and the second movie) as being basically a singular whole.
The dichotomy of splitting humanity into two groups is a theme repeated in at least four points in 2001: the two tribes of apes, the Russians and Americans, Frank and Dave, and then finally (in a broader sense) HAL and Dave. Arguably, the dichotomy of the Monolith and Dave is a fifth and even broader instance. In 2001, this dichotomy is universal. In the case of programming HAL, humanity is split into scientists and bureaucrats. I argue that it only makes sense if both are at partial fault. If the main function of an explanation is to shift blame entirely to one side or the other, then it is to be criticized as going against theme, even if in and of itself the explanation is otherwise fine.
Well, I didn't see it as absolving the human scientists so much as absolving HAL himself. I don't see HAL simply as a product of human technology, but as a person in his own right, and I feel sympathy toward his plight -- an innocent being created only to gather and present knowledge and to take care of his crew, but then forced to lie to them and unable to cope with the conflict between that imposed behavior and his fundamental nature. Which group of humans is or isn't to blame is beside the point to me; I'm approaching it more from HAL's own perspective. To me, the key takeaway is that HAL was more victim than villain, that he wasn't a stereotypical "evil computer" but, like most machines that go wrong, a victim of human error or human misuse.
I guess it's because I was always an outsider growing up and thus tended to sympathize with nonhuman characters in fiction. I've always had an affinity for AI characters, and I prefer it when fiction portrays AIs as sympathetic characters who deserve understanding rather than evil monsters. I like
HAL, and I want him to be innocent. And the explanation Clarke gave in the original book, the explanation Chandra gave in the sequel book and movie, absolves HAL. And that's important to me.