The Overlords appeared suddenly over every city—intellectually, technologically, and militarily superior to humankind. Benevolent, they made few demands: unify earth, eliminate poverty, and end war. With little rebellion, humankind agreed, and a golden age began.
But at what cost? With the advent of peace, man ceases to strive for creative greatness, and a malaise settles over the human race. To those who resist, it becomes evident that the Overlords have an agenda of their own. As civilization approaches the crossroads, will the Overlords spell the end for humankind . . . or the beginning?
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke was one of the most important and influential figures in 20th century science fiction. He spent the first half of his life in England, where he served in World War Two as a radar operator, before emigrating to Ceylon in 1956. He is best known for the novel and movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he co-created with the assistance of Stanley Kubrick.
Clarke was a graduate of King's College, London where he obtained First Class Honours in Physics and Mathematics. He is past Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, a member of the Academy of Astronautics, the Royal Astronomical Society, and many other scientific organizations.
Author of over fifty books, his numerous awards include the 1961 Kalinga Prize, the AAAS-Westinghouse science writing prize, the Bradford Washburn Award, and the John W. Campbell Award for his novel Rendezvous With Rama. Clarke also won the Nebula Award of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1972, 1974 and 1979, the Hugo Award of the World Science Fiction Convention in 1974 and 1980, and in 1986 became Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He was awarded the CBE in 1989.
Kurt Vonnegut said of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End that it is one of the few masterpieces in the science fiction genre. Vonnegut went on to say that he, Vonnegut, had written all the others.
As humorous as that is, at least the first clause of that declaration I feel to be true. Written simply but with conviction and persuasion, with an almost fable-like narrative quality, Clarke has given to us that rarest of literary achievements: a science fiction masterpiece.
The genius of Clarke’s achievement is compounded by the fact that his accomplishment remains so unique, how have later artists failed to match or even make an attempt at duplication? I especially liked the racial memory (or racial premonition) ideas and the ideas of collective consciousness. Interestingly, Clarke’s concepts could be seen as having a theological transcendent theme, perhaps even an allegory for awakening to a collective ego.
Clarke’s ingenuity remains untouched and this work stands atop the science fiction canon, comparable to only a handful of other science fiction classics, including the novel that won the Hugo Award in 1954, the same year Childhood’s End was nominated for that award, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
2023 reread -
During this reading I considered the political and social climate of the time when this had been written and first published. World War II had ended, but the Korean War was beginning and there was still much global fear and anxiety and the full extent of totalitarian atrocities was still being grasped and understood. When a reader examines Clarke’s great work but also similarities with other books written during the same period - 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 - we can see the dehumanizing themes prevalent in all of these works.
While this is a thought provoking book, full of science fiction themes but also philosophical musings about the meaning and the purpose of life, this time I also considered this as a political allegory, especially regarding collectivism and the role of the individual - and again noting comparisons with other works during this time.
Finally I am again reminded of how important this work is in the genre but also as a landmark in our literary history. The layers of religious and philosophical allusion and reference were impressive.
On a very short list of greatest science fiction stories of all time.
“No utopia can ever give satisfaction to everyone, all the time. As their material conditions improve, men raise their sights and become discontented with power and possessions that once would have seemed beyond their wildest dreams. And even when the external world has granted all it can, there still remain the searchings of the mind and the longings of the heart.”
The United States and the Soviet Union were in the midst of a military space race when large ships appeared in the skies over all the major cities. The aliens have come to keep humans from annihilating themselves.
An act of altruism? Or do they have another agenda?
The press dubs them THE OVERLORDS, but they much prefer to refer to themselves as The Guardians. They allow humans to govern themselves by whatever means they feel comfortable unless policy decisions involve hurting people. “Man’s beliefs were his own affair, so long as they did not interfere with the liberty of others.” The Overlords also did not approve of hurting animals for sport. In Madrid, when the Spaniards insist on continuing to hold bullfights, a lesson is administered. Every time the bull is stabbed, the pain the animal is feeling is transferred to the audience.
No more bullfights.
Robotics and computers are advanced to the point that humans are only needed as overseers. Work weeks are cut down to twenty hours a week. (OMG sign me UP.) People are encouraged to go to college, to develop hobbies and skills, and even go back to school several times over their lifetimes to learn something completely new. ”The existence of so much leisure would have created tremendous problems a century before. Education had overcome most of these, for a well-stocked mind is safe from boredom.”
And for a while the excitement of improving themselves keeps the humans on a spectacular track of not only bettering themselves, but also evolving civilization. Murder has become almost nonexistent, and when passion inspires such aggression, it is only the matter of turning a dial for The Overlords to find the perpetrator.
When I google NSA, the National Security Agency of course comes up, but so does No Strings Attached, which I found very ironic. Given the range and the depth of what the NSA knows about all of us, not just US citizens by the way, maybe we should start applying the term The Overlords to the United States government. It would be nice if they would convert all this information into something practical, like catching murderers. Knowing how these things work, they may not want us to know that they are capable of doing that.
We might get fearful of our government.
Barrage balloons over London during World War II. Clarke observed balloons like these floating over the city in 1941. He recalls that his earliest idea for the story may have originated with this scene, with the giant balloons becoming alien ships in the novel.
It seems to be the fate of all Utopias to turn leisure into sloth and turn unlimited possibilities into boredom. Interesting that Arthur C. Clarke uses the advancement of Television technology to be a major contributor to the degradation of a perfect society. People became passive sponges--absorbing but never creating.” Clarke mentions that people in this society started watching television three hours per day. Rookies! The latest statistics that I saw mentioned that Americans now watch five hours of television a day on average.
Obviously, I don’t watch television five hours a day as can be ascertained by how many books I read a year. If the Kansas City Royals are playing, I do watch about three hours, but I’m also still reading and researching while the game is on. Baseball is the perfect background noise for doing just about anything, including taking a much needed nap to rest the noggin for a few minutes.
When people ask me how I read so many books a year and still work full time, I usually ask them how much time they spend watching television or playing with their cell phone or playing games on their iPad? Everyone has the same number of hours in their day; it just depends on how you choose to use them. I choose to read. People who read fewer books than me are making different choices or in some cases may have more obligations. Of course, this is relevant only because I see reading as the best way to evolve the mind. I’m old fashioned that way.
“There were some things that only time could cure. Evil men could be destroyed, but nothing could be done with good men who were deluded.”
There are concerns voiced by various religious groups and also by people who are not thrilled about humans losing their ability to govern themselves, but for the majority of people the lack of responsibility and the lack of ambition to succeed are concepts they readily embrace. A society that was evolving to the greatest heights of artistic and progressive achievements starts to prefer apathy.
The Overlords are very careful to control what the humans learn about them. A man named Jan Rodericks stows away on one of their ships and sees a world he can barely comprehend.
“And in its sky was such a sun as no opium eater could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams. Too hot to be white, it was a searing ghost at the frontiers of the ultraviolet, burning its planets with radiations which would be instantly lethal to all earthly forms of life. For millions of kilometers around extended great veils of gas and dust, fluorescing in countless colors as the blasts of ultraviolet tore through them. It was a star against which Earth’s pale sun would have been as feeble as a glowworm at noon.”
In one of those time travelling, mind bending events that I always have trouble fully comprehending, Jan only ages a few months, but has missed eighty years on Earth.
The Overlords make allusion to the fact that science can destroy religions, but that science is not the top of the mountain, but only a stepping stone to a much greater understanding of life. They search through our archives looking for information on the paranormal and other elements that have been written about outside the realm of science. When the children of earth start to develop telekinetic powers, the true reasons for The Overlords being our guardians becomes clear. We also learn that the Overlords defer to another power much greater than their own capabilities called The Overmind.
I caught a commercial for the six hour miniseries that the Syfy Channel is planning to launch in December and realized that I have hauled a copy of this book around with me for a couple of decades without reading it. Sometimes we need one more push. As always I’m impressed with Arthur C. Clarke��s ability to tackle the bigger issues and to be somewhat controversial in his presentation of the best and worst of being human. It does seem that we are incapable of possessing true happiness for very long. We are designed for strife, for pain, for joy, and ambitious achievement. When any of those elements are removed from the equation, we start to falter. Joy can only be fully appreciated if we experience pain. Ambition can only be relished if strife was overcome to achieve it.
As The Overlords fix all the problems, there is a huge cost, too big of a cost, in that we lose what makes us unique. It is disappointing to think that harmony and lack of fear will turn us into beings unworthy of admiration. When defense is no longer a primary objective, it is disheartening to believe that the energy previously expended on security can not be transferred to higher levels of achievement in the arts, philosophy, music, and literature. To be the best that we can be, we still need the growl of the Sabretooth tiger coming from just beyond the edge of the firelight. We still need to be capable of picking up a club and saying “here kitty, kitty, kitty.”
This is a short book, power packed with ideas and concepts, and certainly deserving of inclusion in the list of classic, influential, science-fiction books.
I've done a lot of odd jobs over the years. At one point, back before I got my degree and I was still working to put my wife through school, I worked as a delivery driver for a company that sold construction supplies - 50 lb boxes of powdered Kool-Aid, portable generators, hammers, safety harnesses, 2x4's, circular saws. It was one of those barely above minimum wage jobs generally populated by people who for whatever reason find themselves unable to get anything else and competing against a large number of similar people where the decisive advantage is often no more than you show up everyday.
My colleagues were an interesting mix: an ex-door gunner on a SOCOM gunship, a teenage kid dreaming of rapping his way off the street, the musician whose real job was Jazz and who’d played everywhere in N’awlins, a bow-kneed redneck that could still remember fondly when racism was acceptable but couldn’t manage to make his hatred stick because he didn’t really believe it, and the black racist ex-boxer would be preacher who once told me with an apologetic smile that white people couldn’t get into heaven because they had no souls. One of my colleagues was an aging chain smoking gray haired country boy missing half of his teeth and so learning disabled as to need my help with basic addition.
He probably knew more about literature than many of the professors I've had, or at the least he was more interesting to talk to and his opinions were less rote. I found this out after he came in one day aglow after seeing 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. He absolutely needed someone to talk about the experience with, and by that time I was unable to hide the fact that I was an "egghead" so I was probably the only person he knew that was qualified. Turns out, he'd lived a rather interesting life. He was fluent in Spanish and had spent his youth working construction on hotels up and down the Central and South American coasts. And, he'd read everything. As I came to realize that this redneck knew something about books, despite as best as I could tell never completing high school, I started inquiring into his tastes. What I found remarkable was not so much that he'd read everything I'd ever read and then some, but that on those things we'd both read he shared much of the same opinion. At some point in one of the conversations Arthur C. Clarke came up, and he said, "Well, I liked 2001, but I really think that 'Childhood's End' is his real masterwork."
Not only do I agree, but I lack the ability to give a better recommendation.
I don't recommend the works of Clarke in general, and certainly not to anyone who isn’t a fan of science fiction. His works - even the better ones - always suffer from seeming to be short stories turned into novels. He also displays a strange combination of fascination with but complete incuriosity towards religion and spirituality that can probably be infuriating at times to the religious and non-religious alike. But this work rises above its defects and is well worth your time.
Overlord and Overmind come to open up many questions about the meaning of life and stuff.
The main underlying theme is how much of the presents given during a first contact event should be used or not and this trope grew to a redwood tree size and may evolve to a planet tree in the future with all the subfields, new interpretations, use in a mainly Social Sci-Fi setting, etc.
How Sci-Fi was written those days would be close to unsellable today because each agent would just step back as wide as possible while his panicked eyes that are screaming: "Not enough bucks to make due to far too high complexity."Although this might be limited to the philosophical, complex, and far over my poor little mind concept works many of the behemoths of classic and golden age sci-fi used to deal with these bad, old days. Bad cause human evolution = technological progress moves on, being the only thing distinguishing us from apes. Not feeling sorry for telling the truth.
The science part, on the other hand, has exploded to ultra hardiness in many new works and can often easily be skimmed and scanned without losing much of the inner plot logic and red line. Subjectively I deem that the reason why science got big and higher philosophy got lost in the genre, because the ideological concepts have to be integrated into the whole thing and one can´t just jump over the difficult parts. Feels too much like work rereading many passages to get it.
It´s really, brrr, shivers, sometimes more feeling than learning, getting knowledge or, in general, nonfiction and not like easygoing, funny, and quick entertainment. Be warned, because it hits hard to find out that one has invested time in something that is called fiction or formula literature and suddenly one opens the book again and finds out that one is completely off track and undertands nothing anymore. But maybe I´m just slow on the uptake, not the sharpest knife in the shelf, biasing and cognitive dissonancing my way around that sad, self- made incompetence and unconsciously fake newsing about my favorite genre. Maybe, or very probably, sorry for that.
Clarke and Lem are definitively the worst in this case of overachieving in sophisticated mind game complexity, it blows little minds like mine on a general level. Lem is the only one, I know so far at least, who comes close to Clarke and has a much darker, sarcastic, and pessimistic underlying tone. The cynical, disillusionized uncle who makes one laugh while Clarke is sitting in the other corner of the sci-fi family meeting and is still wanting one to believe in a quick realization of a positive outlook on humankind and life in general. Not absolutely, but still optimistic in contrast to the grumpy, black comedy alternative.
It's really quite tricky to read Clarke (and Lem and some parts of Heinleins´work that aren´t too weird), compared to the much more easy-going and more plot-driven and space opera style Asimov, Herbert, etc. because it´s so fully packed with this amazing language and so many characters talking like college professors that, without full focus, much of the additional value and the understanding gets lost.
But being left with many philosophical thoughts about life, death, immortality, the future of humankind on earth and in space, alien invasions, visits, visitation, medical examination (yes, that thing), etc. is fully worth it.
you think you're so fucken smart, don't you mark? ha, think again. all your little plans and goals, your little community of friends and family and colleagues, your whole little life... what does it matter in the long run? not a whole fucken lot. grow up.
take this book for example. a classic of the genre, written by a classic author. you thought you knew what you were getting into; you've read countless examples of the type. you sure are a well-read little scifi nerd, aren't you? for the first half, maybe longer, you were right. a well-crafted central character, flavorful supporting characters, intriguing aliens, a spicy mystery to solve. it was all laid out as expected and the pleasures were of a familiar sort. when the mystery of the aliens' appearance was solved, you were a wee bit surprised. but it was a comfortable sort of surprise. it's not like it blew your mind. it was clever. but everything up until then was as you expected. well fucking Congratulations, chump, your predictions came half-true. you want a medal? you don't get one. there aren't any half-medals.
there are some fucking spoilers that follow!
you weren't expecting what came after. those revelations came out of the blue for you, didn't they? you didn't expect to be made to feel so small, to get a little depressed, to have your expectations pounded all to pieces. it was kinda beautiful in a way, kinda mind-blowing. but mainly it was fucken sad. oh you poor baby. you have your own private little dreams of widespread empathy and the future of children and the future of humanity and our future place in the world and - at the most secret, sentimental heart of you - some corny spiritual post-life higher consciousness transcending type shit. you didn't expect that to be a part of the novel, did you? you didn't expect it to all come out, be laid out on the page like a body in a morgue, your body, and then just get eviscerated. your dreams of some sort of future beyond this present, where you are still you, a wistful dream that you like to think is both delicate and profound like one of those origami things you like to do. what's your favorite one? a pinwheel. well you get to watch that pinwheel of a dream get smashed and turned inside out and torn up into bits. revealed as a typically naive and childish fantasy. ha! so much for that. grow the fuck up, chump.
Childhood's End is a 1953 science fiction novel by the British author Arthur C. Clarke.
The story follows the peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival begins decades of apparent utopia under indirect alien rule, at the cost of human identity and culture. In the midst of the US-Soviet rivalry for space, unknown spaceships appear over all major cities on Earth, ending the race. Spaceship crews avoid showing their faces, but they bring peace, well-being and security to humans. Unknown visitors to the planet have advanced technology to such an extent that their abilities are like magic to the human eye. Resistance to their will and determination is useless. Although their ultimate goal is hidden from humanity, they are openly helping the earth and its inhabitants, and even fighting violence against animals ...
عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «پایان طفولیت»؛ «پایان کودکی»؛ نویسنده: آرتور سی کلارک؛ انتشاراتیها: (سپهر، چکامه)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز نوزدهم ماه فوریه سال1983میلادی
عنوان: پایان طفولیت؛ نویسنده: آرتور سی کلارک؛ مترجم: رسول وطن دوست؛ تهران، سپهر، سال1362؛ در285ص؛ داستانهای خیال انگیز از نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده20م
عنوان: پایان کودکی؛ نویسنده: آرتور سی کلارک؛ مترجم: جهانگیر بیگلری؛ تهران، چکامه، سال1363؛ در336ص؛
پایان طفولیت داستان به تکامل رسیدن معنوی انسانها، و در نهایت پیوستن آنها، به ابرذهنها است؛ انسانها این تکامل را، به یاری موجوداتی که ظاهری شیطانی دارند، و در واقع نمود شیطان، در افسانه های انسان هستند، به دست میآورند؛
چکیده: درست در کشاکش مسابقه ی «آمریکا» و «شوروی»، برای تسخیر فضا، سفینه هایی ناشناخته، بر فراز تمام شهرهای مهم کره ی زمین، ظاهر میشوند؛ و نقطه ی پایانی، بر آن مسابقه میگذارند؛ مسافران سفینه ها، از نشان دادن چهره ی خود، پرهیز میکنند، اما آنها صلح، و رفاه، و امنیت برای بشر، به ارمغان آورده اند؛ بازدید کنندگان ناشناخته ی کره ی زمین، به چنان پیشرفت تکنولوژیکی رسیده اند، که تواناییهای آنها از دید بشر، چیزی شبیه به جادوست؛ مقابله کردن با خواست، و اراده ی آنها، هیچ فایده ای ندارد؛ اگرچه قصد و هدف نهاایی آنها، بر بشریت پوشیده است، با اینحال آنها آشکارا به زمین، و ساکنان آن، یاری میکنند، و حتی با خشونت علیه حیوانات نیز، مبارزه میکنند...؛
تاریخ ب��نگام رسانی 08/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 29/11/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
This is a strange and beautiful novel. Written in the early 1950s (some 15 years before 2001: A Space Odyssey), it is, with Asimov’s (overrated) Foundation, Bradbury’s (superb) The Martian Chronicles and a few others, one of the significant works of sci-fi’s “Golden Age”. Oddly enough, apart from a few plot irregularities and the outlandish author’s naivety regarding the paranormal and the occult, Arthur C. Clarke’s story doesn’t feel dated.
The plot is based on a few episodes scattered in time. It starts with a situation that has since become commonplace in SF literature and film: alien UFOs descend from space and park themselves over the major cities on Earth — a vision inspired by the barrage balloons Clarke had seen hovering above London during the Blitz in 1941. However, there is neither destructive attacks (cf. The War of the Worlds, V, Independence Day), nor strange signs coming out of these spaceships (cf. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Arrival/Stories of Your Life). In this instance, the aliens bestow utopia upon humanity. Later on, after a few leaps forward in time and across generations, we understand how this new heaven on Earth is, in fact, humanity’s swan song.
Arthur Clarke’s style (like that of many other SF writers of the day) is explicit, plain, nondescript, almost flat. He manages nonetheless to make his story perfectly lively and suspenseful. But the real masterstroke of this novel is the ending. As we witness the last moments of our planet, the story takes a genuinely Dantesque and sublime dimension, evocative of the majestic and unfathomable vistas of Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker and Last and First Men, or Teilhard de Chardin’s Le Phénomène humain. This is, in essence, a true masterpiece within its genre.
Edit: Syfy recently released a four-hour miniseries, based on Arthur Clarke’s novel. As someone prophetically puts it in the book, it has become “a full-time job keeping up with the various family serials on TV!” Still, I have managed to watch this one. It is, roughly speaking, true to the novel's structure: three episodes, one for each section of the book, and a plotline that thins down but doesn’t deviate too much from Clarke’s vision. The imagery is reminiscent of Kubrick (2001), Spielberg (Close Encounters) and Carpenter (Village of the Damned). However, the screenwriters have obviously considered appropriate to elaborate on the main characters’ romantic lives (Stormgren, Rodricks and Greggson, particularly) and indulged in a melodramatic tone that, unfortunately, bogs the whole thing down.
For an avowed atheist, Arthur Clarke had a great deal to say about God, and not all of it negative. Childhood’s End is a tale of the theological roots of politics and how religious belief simultaneously stimulates and inhibits human society. Clarke’s view is subtle, complex, and appropriately ‘cosmic.’ As a commentary on the centrality of religion to human existence - for its opponents as well as its adherents - Childhood’s End is hard to beat.
If I read Clarke correctly, his view is that God is not the product of frightening illusion but of loving emotion. God is the idea we use to describe the wholly irrational but irresistibly compelling force of human affection. Fear is merely a derivative emotion brought about by the threat of loss of affection, not something positive, therefore, but an absence of love. The force of love is invisible, immaterial, unmeasurable, enacted everywhere and at all times; but it is, without any doubt, real. What Clarke does in Childhood’s End is provide a voice for such philosophical realism.
Love in all its forms - sexual, familial, communal, special, and inter-special - is only minimally an instinct, that is a motivation or drive. Rather it is a learned ability, a capacity which increases with experience and practice. Childhood’s End opens with conflict; moves to feelings of trust and friendship by one individual towards a powerful alien; and develops, under alien direction - which is effectively omniscient and omnipotent - into general peace and harmony among all of humanity. The capacity to love evolves over a century such that personal jealousy has disappeared, crime is almost unknown, involuntary or oppressive human toil has been eliminated, economic abundance and equality have been substantially achieved. In other words: paradise has arrived.*
Love is also a metaphysical condition. That is, it cannot be demonstrated to be beneficial, or even to be at all, except through a commitment to it. It is self-validating just as its antithesis, fear, is self-validating. Love and the world is loving; fear and the world is fearsome. The alien Overlords bring the whole of humanity to the metaphysical revelation of love through their tutelage and discipline. Only when love has been created as a reality can it be perceived and appreciated as a reality. This is a metaphysical paradox which is known to the Overlords, but must be demonstrated by human beings to themselves.
“But the stars are not for man,” the Overlord Supervisor proclaims. Human beings are not sufficiently competent in the skills of love to include anything outside their rather insignificant world. They may never be. They are therefore denied by the Overlords - in the name of love - the knowledge which would allow them to travel to distant worlds. This constraint is annoying and incomprehensible to many, mainly scientific types - not unlike the prohibition of eating from the Tree in the Garden. And the Supervisor could foresee the consequences, just as the book of Genesis had described - a loss of the Golden Age of innocence.
Theology considers love as a gift which is received from elsewhere. It can’t be produced on demand, only received when made available. We have no right to it and it dissipates when it is presumed upon. More important, it can be taken away by whoever or wherever it came from. It can disappear instantly as both an emotion and a practice. Love is a mystery about which Homo Sapiens has no clues. Therefore, when love is lost, we are wont to deify and pray to it as well as for it. Hence the remark of one of the characters early on in Childhood’s End: “Basically, the conflict [between the Overlords and humankind] is a religious one, however much it may be disguised.”
So the reason for the Overlords refusal to enlighten humankind eventually is made clear “The road to the stars was a road that forked in two directions, and neither led to a goal that took any account of human hopes or fears.” There may be an Overmind which is superior to the Overlords and calls the shots in the universe; there may even be an intelligence, or many, which are superior to the Overmind. It matters not at all. Oblivion is inevitable. Love as we know it will likely be destroyed since it doesn’t really seem to conform to any cosmic purpose. This is a brutal religious truth and one we’d rather not deal with: There is no reward for love, except love itself. Recognition of this truth is the real end of childhood and marks an entry into grown-up thinking.
*There is substantial theological precedent for the idea of an evolving capacity for human beings to not only behave with each other, but also to behave, as it were, when confronted with divine revelation. The medieval Joachim of Floris, Nicholas of Cusa, and the modern Teilhard de Chardin are Christian examples. Jewish Kabbalists like Akiva, Luria, and Abulafia held similar views. Interestingly, it is the Mormons who hold this view most explicitly in their doctrine of the progressive divinization of humankind. Clarke is clearly tapping in to a long-held cultural tradition in this story. See here for more on the theology of sci-fi: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
As a sci-fi fan, I've been trying to go back and read some of the classics and it's been... interesting.
The book manages to have some very captivating concepts while being quite tedious to read.
The book felt dated when mentioning POC and women which, while not surprising, did still take me out of the story at times.
Overall I'm glad I read it, at least I can consider that an achievement as I look at all the "top 100 sci-fi books to read in your lifetime" type of lists but, contrary to popular opinion, I don't think it's something you must read.
If you're curious go for it. If you're not feeling it, it's fine to skip it.
I read this long ago, just when I was becoming a teenager and my tastes were changing, you might say I read it at childhood's end.
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11. But we cannot do this without the help of our parents and teachers . And so it is the Aliens come.
The story is essentially the one of zen buddhism told as scifi-fantasy. Its climax is nirvana. Nirvana for all, for the Earth.
Nirvana is the liberation from the repeating cycle of birth, life and death. It is the extinguishing of desire, affection, aversion, delusion and ego. All that makes us individuals evaporates in the uniting with divine power of the universe in perpetual bliss. And on that note, the book ends.
If science fiction usually treads the fine line between mere speculation and actual scientific feasibilities, then Arthur C. Clarke can be accused of taking a cosmic leap of faith into the realm of highly unrealistic speculation, in this book.
For at least 75% of the narrative, I remained largely clueless about where the story was heading and for the remaining 25% I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the ludicrousness of it all.
Aliens, who are referred to by a fancy name like 'Overlords' (*eyeroll*) to boot, come down from a distant galaxy in the universe and establish their rule over Earthlings. Earth transforms into a kind of utopia in a hundred years during which disease, poverty, hunger, crimes, social inequality, threat of nuclear wars are permanently eliminated thanks to the diplomacy and benevolence of the Overlords. And then comes the shocker or the real reason for the Overlords colonizing our cherished planet - turns out the almighty Overlords are no more than mere agents in the service of an even higher form of intelligence called the 'Overmind' (*more eyeroll*) who seek to tap into the reserves of metaphysical power of the mind of man and help mankind transition into the next stage of evolution.
Don't bother trying to make sense of that last part. It didn't make much sense to me either and I generally keep an open mind while reading science fiction. And what happens at the end sounds way more ridiculous that what I wrote for the sake of this review.
In his effort to explore a subject like existential crisis (why are 'we' here? what is the meaning of life?) and ponder on phenomenon Science has still not been able to explain convincingly enough, Clarke has taken a tumble into the abyss of sheer absurdity. Not even willing suspension of disbelief helped endear me to your theories Mr Clarke.
Neither is Childhood's End event-driven nor does it contain the heart-stopping suspense that I have come to associate with Clarke's creations. And to further intensify my lack of interest in the book, none of the characters made an impression.
I guess Clarke's aim was only to propound a theory (albeit a far-fetched one) rather than to weave an intriguing tale revolving around space exploration/travel. And I was clearly not among the target audience of this book.
But this does not in any way diminish my love for Clarke. My science-fiction adoring soul, will come back to this man time and again, in search of a story as fascinating as 2001: A Space Odyssey. I just hope I find something better next time.
**Originally posted on:-April 3rd, 2013**
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Esto es una maravilla de libro.Me ha sacado las lágrimas. Y no precisamente por ser yo aquel romántico; todo lo contrario! Soy tan...practico,se dice? Nada, son cuestiones orgasmo-sinapticas de un ser ajeno a este mundo,como lo soy yo.
Este libro es una obra de arte. Cómo se puede escribir un libro así y haberlo publicado hace más de 65 años?! De qué manera evoluciono yo ahora “lo tuyo”,Arthur? Jajaja, tranqui,en eso estoy! Ya veis? Una vez más me encontráis hablando a solas 😆
Como autor de ciencia ficción he leído bastante ya del género, sus estilos, la prosa de uno del otro etc etc. Estoy convencido de que Clark no era solo un visionario, sino alguien que sabía más de cuatro cosas, aparte de haber sido “contactado”. Era masón, pero no estoy seguro si solo llegó al grado de Maestro, o incluso alcanzó el grado 33. Posiblemente.
„Allá lejos estaban las montañas, donde moraban el poder y la belleza, donde el trueno sonaba alegremente por encima de los hielos y el aire era claro y penetrante. Allá, cuando la Tierra ya estaba envuelta en sombras, brillaba todavía el sol, transfigurando las cimas. Y ellos sólo podían observar y maravillarse. Nunca escalarían esas alturas.“
Se puede ser visionario como lo han sido muchos, pero a veces se te hacen tal futurismo, y en este caso por parte de algunos otros autores, como que...”tropezado”? No sé. Tendría que ponerme a conferenciar y, aquí sabemos que no estamos para ello.
Este libro, en mi opinión, ni se queda corto, ni se pasa. Te expone lo justo, la fusión entre una prosa/pluma elegante, una historia lógica, plausible, y elementos científicos si bien no razonados hasta el desquicie técnico, lo mínimo al menos para darle su credibilidad racional merecida. Es místico y filosofal, y quizá sea por ello que me gusta tanto. Apocalíptico, pero, nos obstante lo ha sido luego de haberle dado la oportunidad al ser humano de disfrutar de lo que tanto anhela: Justicia y bienestar pleno en lo que ha igualdad social se refiere.
La historia ha demostrado que hasta incluso después de lo antes mencionado, tanto “paraíso” es capaz de acabar con nuestra paz/vida. Y es que necesitamos siempre de los matices de la imperfección, los defectos y competencia para darle sentido y motivo de existencia a nuestra vida humana.
In Dante’s Inferno, there is a place wherein the virtuous pagans dwell. It is here that Virgil spends eternity. Here there are none of the gruesome punishments to be found in the lower circles of hell. But it is a dreary afterlife.
This place exists because the virtuous pagans do not deserve the punishments that are inflicted upon the vicious, yet they lived before Christ redeemed mankind, so they cannot enter heaven. It may seem unjust that they are condemned to hell at all. It’s not their fault they were born before Christ. But the fact remains: They were not redeemed and the unredeemed cannot enter heaven.
Is this not the fate of Man in Childhood’s End? To be banished from heaven due to bad timing?
The Overloads are an “evolutionary cul-de-sac” (177). Man was not. I can appreciate the Overlord’s envy, for Man, at least, was not a dead end. Nevertheless the race of Man must die utterly. There will be no immortality, no paradise, no nirvana for Homo sapiens. Man’s progeny will gain heaven, but Man will die utterly.
I do not think this is what Karellen meant when he said: “The stars are not for Man.” I do not think this is what Arthur C. Clarke meant when he wrote this brilliant novel. I think Clarke found his vision of the future inspirational. I do not. I see a heaven with the gates barred to me just as they were barred to Dante’s virtuous pagans.
And the Overmind: Is this the universe knowing itself? Is this the universe evolving? Consciousness and cosmos becoming one and the same thing?
Imagine there is a purpose in the universe and the human race is merely a means to that end: Homo sapiens meaning no more in the grand scheme of things than Homo neanderthalensis. All of our culture amounting to nothing. Science and art, the monuments of history, noble sacrifices—all so that the human race could be the genetic vehicle of a new and superior race.
This is not atheism. This is religion with a capital “R.” The difference between the Overmind and the Christian God is that the Christian God is not indifferent to the fate of individuals.
The Christian God loves each individual. In contrast, this atheistic religion is loveless. Not loveless as hateful. But loveless as the absence of love or hate. Beyond love and hate. Thus “beyond good and evil.” This is the God of “The Star.” And it is unbearable. It is crushing. The “benign indifference of the universe” is not benevolent. It is neither benevolent nor malevolent. It is “beyond” all that. It is indifferent and that is unbearable. The indifference of God is worse than the nonexistence of God.
Who could find solace in this fate? The Overlords could. But the Overlords are not human. It is no coincidence that their culture has no art. This is a fundamental trait of their species, a fundamental trait of an “evolutionary cul-de-sac.” But art, that product of the human imagination, is integral to the human condition. So is the suicidal despair of individuals suddenly bereft of meaning.
The genius of Clarke’s book culminates in the story of the Last Man. It is not redemption, but it is closure. After being condemned to oblivion, to at best a memory in the Overmind, it is at least satisfying to see the noble death of the Last Man, for in the end, that is all there is and all there can ever be—the noble death, the acceptance that consciousness is just some sort of “stage” in evolution: from nonconscious ape to conscious man to supraconscious whatever, consciousness being like a vestigial tail that drops away in time, obsolete.
The last Australopithecus did not know it was the last. It died never having known itself. It is the death of consciousness that is an existential horror. With the death of religion came the knowledge that individual death was oblivion. Immortality for the atheist is one’s legacy—the discoveries, the inventions, the art, the contributions one makes to future generations. But oblivion for the species! With only the consolation that we have been superseded! It is the second death. The death suffered by Dante’s virtuous pagans.
The Last Man witnesses the end of the Earth ~ the Earth as a lake of fire.
“... the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
Childhood’s End is sublime and visionary. Clarke’s writing is beautiful. His story is subtle and masterfully told. But it is a terrible fate. An appalling fate. And after reading the tale of the Last Man, I can name the feeling this book inspires: nostalgia for the human race. It is bittersweet and humbling and deeply meaningful, but no less appalling for that.
“The stars are not for Man.” Heaven is not for Man either. Neither paradise nor nirvana. Just oblivion. Heaven is peace. But oblivion is not peace. Mere extinction is not peace.
From my vast expertise of having read all of two, count them, two, Arthur C. Clarke books, I am seeing a common theme. I don't know if it extends beyond that to his other books, but here it is: The universe is a very, very big place. And humans might just be irrelevant to it. What is going on out there is so vast that it's an immense piece of egotism to think of ourselves as central, or even incidental, to it.
Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.
In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
As I read this book, there is a part that led me to believe that the picture that They Might Be Giants found to use for their album Apollo 18 had to have been inspired by this book:
Sadly, I was expecting more from this book. I had heard lots of good things and seen many positive reviews, but it didn’t strike as much of a key with me as other Clarke novels have. While there was some food for thought and a few cool sci-fi concepts, it was a bit too out there and disjointed for my tastes. I know that sci-fi is supposed to explore the unknown in the universe, but I didn’t really feel like a lot of the story was making any coherent points. In fact, a perfect example is the movie Kubrick made for 2001 where there is somewhat of story that descends into a very long montage of eerie images set to music.
For me, breaking the book up into the smaller vignette stories is what made it better. There are about 6 or 7 smaller stories that tie together to make up the bigger one – and if you take those each on their own they have some really neat things to think about. This including why we are here, perceptions of heaven and hell, the potential issues of space travel, and how we might interact with alien life.
Hardcore sci-fi fans will probably enjoy this. Sci-fi fans who don’t need a coherent story, just the bizarre potential of the cosmos, this is right up your alley. But, casual sci-fi fans who are looking for Star Wars/Star Trek or something of that ilk, this is not it.
I always feel so terrible when I read, or attempt to read, Arthur C. Clarke. But I also feel terrible when I don't. I like fantasy. I like science fiction. Arthur C. Clark is a genius, a pioneering, farsighted sci-fi icon. I should like reading his books. And so I try every once in a while, in the same spirit that I eat half a banana once or twice a year. I like fruit. Bananas are good for you. But I have yet to finish either a banana or an Arthur C. Clarke book.
It's me. It must be. So I'm giving myself the one star as a reader, not this book. But so help me,every time I get to page nine or so of Athur C. Clarke I feel myself reverting into exactly the same mindset as when my (much more intelligent snotty twenty-year-old) brother sat me down in front of 2001. I just sort of go right into crisis mode and let it all wash over me without trying to string together events, identify characters, or extort meaning from any of it. Oh look, the cavemen are fighting. That's a neat space ship. Poor Hal. Ah, Dave is apprently in a Best Western in Flint, Michigan. Oh good, the credits. I did exactly the same thing up until page 41 of Childhood's End, which was when I closed it because all I could think of was, predictably, the book's end. I need help. I admit it. Maybe I could read it with one of those things in my ear like at the UN, with somebody smarter than I am explaining what the heck is going on, page by page.
As I write the TV adaptation of Childhood's End is being promoted by the cable channel Syfy (goddam silly name). Given how much I like this book I will probably watch it but before I do I want to reread the source material first, as it’s been decades since I last read it. Childhood's End is — to my mind — Clarke's best novel. It is very unusual among his works in term of plot and setting. Most of the book is Earthbound and the story starts in the present day (year not specified). Very little time is spent on the space voyage and the minutiae of spacefaring is not dwelled upon.
The opening scene of gigantic spaceships suddenly appearing in Earth's sky, casting massive shadows over cities, has been ripped off by the 1996 movie Independence Day, two versions of “V” TV series*, and probably other media I am not aware of. The movie and TV shows just use Clarke’s vivid imagery but did not do anything particularly creative with it. Another concept “V” may have lifted from Childhood's End is the idea of a seemingly benign alien invasion. V soon switches to the conventional evil reptilian aliens route, whereas Clarke has a far more ambitious tale to tell.
At the beginning of Childhood's End the world is on the verge of another world war, with the superpower nations still engaged in an arms race. Suddenly the aliens show up and put a stop to all that and other human destructive tendencies, they also eliminate crime, poverty, hunger, and even cruelty to animals. Then they go on to unite mankind under a literal united nations where different countries and governments are made unnecessary. The sort of thing John Lennon imagined (and no religion too). These are all wonderful things of course, but there is a price for this global utopia. Basically subjugation of the human race in the nicest possible way, the mysterious aliens are even called “Overlords” by the humans. These Overlords also have an ulterior motive for their guardianship of mankind which is not revealed until the last few pages of the book.
Clarke’s depiction of the human race before the advent of the aliens gives the impression that Earth is a planet run by children, a little like Lord of the Flies on a global scale. Left to our own devices, we would eventually self-destruct (looking at the news headlines these days Sir Arthur seems to have the right idea). So whatever the Overlords’ endgame is they are doing us a favor. The human society after a few years under the alien administration reminds me of the post-scarcity society of Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, with the same result of ennui and loss of creativity.
“As their material conditions improve, men raise their sights and become discontented with powers and possessions that once would have seemed beyond their wildest dreams. And even when the external world has granted all it can, there still remain the searchings of the mind and the longings of the heart.”
Another unusual feature of Childhood's End in comparison to Clarke’s other books is that it is fairly light on hard science. Of course what little science expositions there is is quite rigorous and beautifully explained but Clarke unusually relies more on handwavium science in this book, like this description of the Overlords’ mysterious “stardrive”: “They leave the Solar System under such tremendous accelerations that they approach the velocity of light in less than an hour. That means that the Overlords must possess some kind of propulsive system that acts equally on every atom of their ships, so that anything aboard won't be crushed instantly.”
The time dilation effect of an interstellar voyage is put to good use though. The fate of mankind at the end of the book is mind blowing (I wonder what Clarke was smoking when he wrote this). It is so awesome that Led Zeppelin used the imagery from this part of the book for the cover of their album “Houses of the Holy”.
As with all the Clarke books I have read there is not much in the way of characterization, the humans, and even the Overlords are there to move the plot forward. Somehow Clarke always makes it works, the lack of emphasis on characters development is even a virtue as the storyline is so engrossing. I even enjoyed Clarke’s prose in this book which verges on lyrical at times: “The ground should have cracked and trembled beneath that tremendous weight, but the vessel was still in the grip of whatever forces drove it among the stars. It kissed the earth as gently as a falling snowflake.”
I hope Syfy can do a good job adapting this stupendous sci-fi classic, though their past "achievements" don’t inspire much confidence. Regardless, this is one of the few sci-fi books that I would not hesitate to recommend to everybody. If you are going to watch the TV show read this first, I cannot imagine the show improving on the book, but I can imagine it ruining the book all too well.
Notes: While Childhood's End clearly inspired the aforementioned film and TV shows, I think it may have been — in turn — inspired to some extent by John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos and The Chrysalids.
Syfy's Childhood's End trailer. That hysterical screaming woman already makes me dread what other changes they are going to make. There is no hysteria in the book, well except one guy who screams like a little girl for a moment when he spots something weird in a museum.
"And yet, what most intrigues me about Arthur’s work is something else – his ongoing fascination with human destiny – a term seemingly at odds with the scientific worldview.
But there is another Arthur C. Clarke. The one who sent David Bowman through the monolith in his great classic, 2001. The author who gave us Childhood’s End. One who frets that we may not be wise enough to survive the next few generations of tense immaturity, let alone become worthy of joining more advanced communities of mind."
Old SF sometimes has a kick to it that nothing modern can quite manage. There's a speed and economy of words, of action progressing so quickly that I feel like I'm on a roller-coaster ride and it's all downhill.
This is what Childhood's End feels like.
It's hard not to write about this book without giving away spoilers, so I'll just warn you now and get right down to business.
It starts out with damn old tropes and bit of spunky adventure, but it quickly becomes obvious that all that was a lark. The real story wasn't glamorous in the traditional sense. It was certainly glamorous in a few instances, but it did manage to do was pull off both tragedy and glory. Or the old definition of Romance, if you so prefer.
Who are the overlords who have disrupted and forced humanity to behave? They hid their faces for good reasons. Our race has had an old premonition of its end, and these tragic figures figure heavily.
But wait, is this a novel about them, or humanity?
Humanity has had its last hurrah. Our childhood is done. It is time to move on and discard everything we might recognize as *our* lives.
There's no sense of the life we known continuing. It's certainly the end of the novel. There's no hint of anything resembling future conflict, no hook to give readers further meaning or interest beyond a "Hey, look at those pretty lights!" moment.
Of course, the point is that when we're ready to put down our toys and pick up the mantle of adulthood, we'll not understand a damn thing from this side of the veil, and that's just fine from a story standpoint, and it definitely has a lot of impact. It doesn't pull any punches with me. I like that.
But then, I'm handed a full-stop.
There's no where else for this novel to continue, even in my head. There's no further wondering or amazement. When it's done, it's completely done.
Even our tragic overlords sit and pity themselves, never having changed as a people from page one. They're stuck in the same cycle forever, living out the same story, guarding and watching other's children grow up and leave home, without ever once having a taste of something truly grand.
Of course, that's the point.
The fall from heaven, always being cast out, learning that the greatest hell is the one in your own mind, always separate from the state of grace. Yes, they are a tragic race.
Fortunately for us, the readers, Clarke doesn't expound. He weaves a simple tale from start to finish and ends it on a full-stop.
Am I the only one that wishes that such a story might have been teased into something much greater, and have avoided that dreaded full-stop? If SF is in a constantly shifting conversation with itself, including the other writers of the craft and the public that reads it, then this book is an utter conversation-stopper. There's no where else to go unless we change the nature of what is written.
It's a great story. Don't get me wrong. But it's about as subtle as an SS boot on my neck.
Still, this is a classic for a very good reason, and it will always be memorable, even if there are a lot of imitators. I think this one is going to remain superior, even if I think some of the old cultural quirks (such as referring to blacks as negros) really needs to be edited out, and damn "literary integrity." Leaving that stuff in at this late date serves absolutely no purpose to either the story or the character. It only serves to date the novel and pull it out of an argument that it should be considered one of the "Great SF Masterpieces".
But even so, it still deserves to be on that list, even with its faults. :) Truly a great re-read.
I read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End many years ago. I also read it to my son when he was eight. So why did I come back to a book that was originally published in 1953, read it yet again, and feel it necessary to write a review?
What got me thinking about Childhood’s End again is the emergence of the Internet as force for change within the Global Community. Also, my limited experience teaching university students impressed upon me the impact that the Internet is having on the minds of our young people.
As a novelist myself and an author of a book on how to write a novel, I first must say that Childhood’s End is marvelously plotted. It starts off with a startling revelation: Earth is not only being visited by extraterrestrials, called Overlords, but they have come to take over the world, prevent our annihilation, and impose restrictions on human activities that will insure not only our survival but also that we prosper. This then locks the conflict (first plot point) between humans and ET, and as with so much of Clarke’s fiction, the conflict is at a relatively low level. ET, or the Overlords in this case, is here to help.
When one group, the Freedom League, wishes to oppose the Overlords more forcefully, they are soon subdued, non-violently. The one thing the Overlords will not do is show themselves. Humans make an attempt at seeing one of them, but don’t get away with it. As a result, the Overlords agree to let them see them, but not for another fifty years, two generations. This then is the second plot point, which occurs 20% of the way through the story, a little short of where you’d expect it.
As time drags on, humanity loses its edge. We are no longer as creative as we once were, and culturally we have stagnated. Utopia is never all it’s cracked up to be. And the time finally comes when the Overlords reveal their physical selves, and a strange sight they are, and yet immediately recognizable. They are the very image of Satan, red skin, horns, and pointed tail, leathery wings. No wonder they’d been so secretive. However, since they had shown their goodwill through the years, little was made of their “coincidental” resemblance to an ancient symbol of evil. This revelation comes at the 1/3 point and a little beyond what we’d think of as the second plot point and well short of 1/2 point that we’d think of as the third plot point.
At the mid-point of the novel, we get a true reversal. At a party, guests play a game similar to a Ouija Board. One of the participants asks, “Which star is the Overlords’ home?” And the answer they get back is “NGS 549672.” Only one of the guests realizes that this is a database entry for a star forty lightyears away in the constellation Carina. This person then starts making plans to stowaway on the next Overlord spaceship to their home. The Overlords have subdued the humans up until this point, but now one of them is on the hunt to find out more than the Overlords wish them to know. This is plot point three.
Just before the three-quarters point, one of the earthlings stows away on the Overlords’ spaceship and leaves earth with them. His journey there and back will take eighty years, Earth time, but just a few months in relativistic time above the rocket traveling at close to the speed of light. Just a little later, at the three-quarters point in the novel, a strange event occurs. An Overlord saves one of the human children. For some reason the Overlords believe he is special. And then children all over the world start having strange dreams and developing telekinetic powers. This is what the Overlords have waited for all this time.
At the end of the novel, we learn that what the story has been about all along is the children. The human race is entering a new phase, one that will only manifest in our children. They are becoming something other than human beings and metamorphosing into something that transcends human existence. It’s as if the worm finally becames a butterfly. And we learn that those who have been known as the Overlords are actually only caretakers of the human race while it undergoes the transformation into something spiritually superior to human beings. The children no longer relate to their parents, and the parents have no knowledge of their children. It’s a clean break.
As it turns out, the Overlords are a tragic species. They cannot and never will make the transformation to this higher plane. And they take their orders from yet a higher power, the power that then comes for the children of mankind. The Overlords are a dead-end species from another world and can only witness the process, foster it, but never undergo it themselves.
The denouement comes with the man who had hitched a ride on the Overlords spaceship and gone to their home planet. He returns after eighty years, having seen the home of the Overloads and what a magnificent species they are. But he is the only human being left on earth, and he witnesses the end of the human race.
One other interesting facet of Clarke’s novel is that, since the story is spread over 150 years or so, he uses a series of third-person limited narrations. He skips from character to character as his story dictates. He even uses a couple of the Overlords as point-of-view characters. This he does with skill, so it never seems artificial or lacking knowledge of craft. Always professionally executed.
Perhaps you can now see why I was so interested in taking another look at this story. Our children of today are growing up in the presence of the Internet, something no science fiction writer saw coming. And yet, it seems to me that Arthur C. Clarke did, in a sense, see it coming in this story. Our texting, blogging, FaceBooking neophytes to the human race are a strange species with unusual powers developed by virtue of the Internet. They are leaving us behind, and heaven knows what they’ll become in the future. It does appear that they are making a clean break from what the human race has been. Let’s just hope that they can store away a little of our humanity for future reference.
I see that a lot of my GR friends have read this fine book. I just wondered if any of you have had the thought that's occurred to me several times over the last two or three years.
One of the things I find most confusing about the current state of the world is that you can view it in two diametrically opposed ways. On the one hand, there's the terrifying stuff you see most days in the paper. Not only are we using up our irreplaceable natural resources, we're doing it in a way that's well on track to destroy most of our planet's ability to sustain life. People keep saying that we better do something about it, and no one does. The Western world spends trillions of dollars sorting out the largely artificial banking crisis, but when it comes to finding a few tens of billions of dollars to do something about climate change, it's mostly excuses. At least, so far.
So that's one side of the story. On the other side, we have people like Ray Kurzweil, who point out that, over the last fifty thousand years or so, technology has moved forward at an exponentially increasing rate. Each advance takes half the time of the preceding one. It follows that we are now close to the Singularity, when machines will become smarter than people, and it is no longer possible for us to guess what will happen next. I think that Kurzweil's concrete figures are wrong, but I am much less certain that I disagree with his basic argument. The story so far in Artificial Intelligence has frequently been that people make optimistic predictions and get laughed at, but do in fact deliver in the end. The clearest example of this pattern is computer chess. As recently as 1985, I remember all sorts of very clever people, both computer scientists and chess players, explaining why machines would never even reach Grandmaster standard. It's now clear that they are stronger than any human players.
But, when I think of Childhood's End, I wonder: is it possible that both sides are right? Maybe we're destroying the Earth, but it doesn't matter any more than it does at the end of this book; the next stage of evolution, which is almost here, will have completely different priorities. Once the tree has grown, who cares about the seed it sprouted from?
If you're one of the people currently negotiating in Copenhagen, please don't pay any attention to me. I'm just free-associating.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
At one point while reading this I was reminded of astronaut Dave Bowman from 2010: Odyssey Two, when he was telling everyone, "something is going to happen, something wonderful". Something does happen; whether it is wonderful or not is a matter of debate. In 2010 the message was of new beginnings, in Childhoods End it is something quite different. You can't go wrong reading Arthur C. Clarke, just a brilliant writer with a wonderful imagination.
I am a fan of science fiction, and I wanted to read Childhood's End after hearing it is supposedly one of the best novels in the sci-fi genre. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I just didn't enjoy it.
I won't belabor this review by posting a synopsis; I'll just summarize my general impression of the book (SPOILERS ahead).
First off, the characterization is extremely weak. I understand that some science fiction is more plot driven than character driven, but I still think it is important to write good characters. None of the characters in this book were all that dynamic or multi-layered. The human characters were very similar to one another. The same can be said of the aliens (the overlords).
Prior to reading this novel, I was unaware that Clarke was an atheist. However, his disdain for God and religion in general becomes clear throughout the novel. The overlords are described as having horns and a tail. It's interesting that the race that comes to save the humans from themselves is given the physical attributes of the devil. After the overlords come to Earth, all religions are eliminated as false by the overlords (who are apparently omniscient themselves). Here is a direct quote from the book regarding religion: "Within a few days, all mankind's multitudinous messiahs had lost their divinity. Beneath the fierce passionless light of truth, faiths that had sustained millions for twice a thousand years vanished like morning dew."
Despite showing a level of condescension toward people who believe in God, Clarke seems very interested in the paranormal. Despite the overlords having dismissed all religion as fantasy, they are extremely interested in psychic phenomenon. At one point during the book, an overlord is sent to a man's home to stay so he can study the myriad of books the man has on the topic of the paranormal. In the same chapter, this man has a party in which he and his guests use a Ouija board. I found the whole scene (complete with a woman fainting) to be silly and it took away from the seriousness of the rest of the novel.
My final complaint is with the book's ending. We learn that humanity's final stage in evolution is for its children to join the overmind. In joining the overmind (a vast cosmic intelligence), the children become essentially mindless zombies. They lose all aspects of individuality and uniqueness. Oh yeah, and the earth is destroyed. I'm not sure how this is supposed to be humanity's triumphant evolution, as it just seems sad and fatalistic to me.
While there were some interesting ideas in the book, it was just not an enjoyable reading experience for me. I didn't relate to any of the characters (or care about them for that matter), I didn't agree with the author's dim view on religion and God, I thought the plot progression was slow for the majority of the book, and the ending was anti-climactic and downright depressing. All in all, I would not vote for this book to be considered one of the best science fiction has to offer. I might give Mr. Clarke another try, but this one certainly did not impress me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Childhood's End is my first read of a work by Arthur C. Clarke. Being not an enthusiast of the science fiction genre, I wasn't inclined to try him out. But this year I decided to try out the genre and started first with Asimov. That experience gave me the confidence to try out another author, so I set my mind on Arthur C. Clarke. He is a genius writer, no doubt. I do agree with it having read this work now. But I chose to read him simply because I felt ashamed of not having read an author whose renowned worldwide and who lived in my country all his adult life. So, in a way, reading him was also paying tribute.
The storyline of this book is a fantasy. The earth is ruled by aliens who call themselves the Overloads. With their rule, the earth has become a peaceful place to live in with no wars and equality among all the species. Overloads have introduced new superior technologies to secure the forward progress of the earth and its inhabitants. In short, a sort of utopian world is created. But humans aren't totally content. They feel the absence of creativity and adventure, and they fear that their restricted position will soon make them lose their human identity. So, they rebel subtly not knowing what the future holds for them.
I'm not privy to the thoughts of Mr. Clarke in writing this work. But we know that he was a known futurist. So, I couldn't help making the following observations. First, I felt that Clarke wasn't too happy with the too technological forward progress. This is not to mean he was against it. On the contrary, he was very much interested in the technological inventions which made the human exploration of the universe possible. While he sanctioned the progress toward exploring the unknown, he also feared that humans will become slaves of their own inventions. He feared that the creativity the world once knew will slowly come to an end with this 20th-century technological revolution. But, towards the end, however, I sensed a thematic change and felt that Clarke was trying to say something more than what I initially grasped. He was certainly questioning the self-proclaimed superiority of the human race. In his story, the humans are overpowered and ruled by the Overloads. That shows that humans are just another race and no need for them to demonstrate any superiority and that the ego of "I" is meaningless. And his introduction of the all-powerful Overmind raises the interesting question of the ultimate ruler of the universe. Arthur C. Clarke believed in the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, a state of no-self, where there is neither suffering nor desire, a transcendent state in which the cycle of death and rebirth is broken and replaced by an eternal state of consciousness. I felt that the Overminds in the story were Clarke's representation of this eternal state of consciousness.
The story is one that goes deeper than what one comprehends on the surface. I didn't dream that I could find so much philosophy in a fantastic science fiction. I was surprised and pleasantly so. I believe it's the thought-provoking nature of this novel that attracted me much to the story. I'm glad to have finally read Arthur C. Clarke. I can never be an enthusiast of this genre, but Clarke interested me enough to try another work of his.
The “childhood” of humankind ends – and a daunting move forward into a new phase of human evolution begins – in this highly influential classic of science-fiction literature. Novelist Arthur C. Clarke, over the course of a long and illustrious literary career, accurately predicted a number of important developments, in science and in other fields of human endeavour. But I don’t think even he knew the influence that Childhood’s End would wield in the decades after the novel’s original publication in 1953 – as this book would provide the creative seed that, more than a decade later, inspired Stanley Kubrick’s landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Clarke is a good example of the sort of science-fiction writer that devotees of SF (not “sci-fi”) refer to as “hard science” – meaning that the author takes care to make sure that all of the speculative elements of his or her work correspond, as closely as possible, to accepted, data-based scientific theory. Writing “hard science” SF means, for example, that one cannot cavalierly disregard the currently accepted scientific consensus that no object can travel faster than the speed of light, no matter how convenient it would be for storytelling purposes if a spaceship made a quick, Star Wars-style “jump into hyperspace.” In Clarke’s brand of science fiction, an author must find a scientifically responsible way around storytelling problems.
Clarke was indeed a serious scientist – an early paper of his popularized the idea that satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit would provide an excellent means of relaying telecommunications around the world – and Childhood’s End shows both his thoroughgoing mastery of relevant scientific concepts on the one hand, and his storytelling verve on the other.
The first part of this three-part book, “Earth and the Overlords,” sets forth a scenario that will be familiar to viewers of science-fiction films from Independence Day (1996) to District 9 (2009): massive spaceships have appeared in the skies above every major city on Earth. By the time of the novel’s main action, the mysterious inhabitants of the spaceships (referred to by the people of Earth as “Overlords”) have established de facto sovereignty over the planet, and have used that sovereignty to end the wars that once plagued the Earth, and to end poverty and disease as well.
I can’t help but think that Clarke had Plato’s Republic in mind when he wrote Childhood’s End. After all, Plato in The Republic posits an ideal state administered by “Guardians” of superior wisdom and training, who are given full power to administer the affairs of the state. The all-powerful and benevolent Overlords of Childhood’s End certainly remind me of Plato’s Guardians. And the proper name of The Republic, in Greek, is πολιτεία, Politeia, or The Ideal State; and the very idea of an "ideal state" has always involved speculation regarding how a society that is free of war and poverty and disease could be created. Such is the kind of philosophical richness that one can look forward to when reading Childhood’s End.
Communication between the Overlords and the people of Earth is mediated by one Overlord, Karellen, who communicates regularly with the Secretary General of the United Nations, a Finn named Rikki Stormgren. (This book is, by the way, one of the few novels I can think of where a representative of the U.N. plays a prominent role.) Stormgren is impressed by Karellen’s unfailing courtesy, but distressed at the Overlord’s unwillingness to reveal his appearance; indeed, the Overlords have specified that they will not reveal themselves to the people of Earth until 50 years after their initial arrival in the skies above the planet. For one of his visits to the Overlords’ spaceship, Stormgren, overcome by curiosity, devises a plan to use technology to get a look at Karellen’s face – “If, of course, Karellen had a face” (p. 51).
Part 2, “The Golden Age,” begins at that 50-year mark after the Overlords’ first appearance in the skies above Earth; the Overlords finally reveal their appearance, and the reason why they felt that the people of Earth would need time to get used to the Overlords’ appearance becomes clear. But the people of Earth do get used to it, as does the reader. By this time, the Overlords’ administration of Earth is a long-accepted fact; small groups like the “Freedom League,” which had opposed the Overlords’ rule on religious grounds, have all but gone out of existence.
But complications occur at a spiritualist party hosted by the socially prominent Rupert Boyce and his new wife Maia. George Greggson and his ladyfriend Jean Morrel attend the party (she’s interested in spiritualism; he is not), along with Maia’s younger brother, Jan, a sharp-minded student of science. Seated at a futuristic sort of Ouija table, with an Overlord named Rashaverak in attendance, the guests ask questions. When it is Jan’s turn, he asks, “Which star is the Overlords’ sun?” They receive the reply “NGS 549672” (a recognizable star coordinate from the National Geographic Survey). Jean faints, and the mystery deepens – fascinating Jan so much that he ultimately concocts a successful plan to stow away on an Overlord ship for the 40-light-year journey from Earth to the Overlords’ home world.
The ways in which Childhood’s End looks ahead to 2001 and its sequels become clear in Book III, the forebodingly titled “The Last Generation.” By this time, George and Jean have married, have had two children, and have settled in the Pacific Island community of New Athens, a utopian community dedicated to the idea of rekindling the human creativity that has stagnated in the war-free, poverty-free, disease-free Earth of the Overlords.
The seemingly miraculous delivery of George and Jean’s young son Jeff from a tsunami that struck the island awakens the parents’ suspicions that both Jeff and his baby sister Jennifer are undergoing changes of an unknown but dramatic nature; and as Jeff and Jennifer’s superhuman powers become ever more evident, the ways in which Childhood’s End looks ahead to 2001: A Space Odyssey become clearer.
As in the landmark film that Clarke and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick gave to the world in 1968, the idea is set forth that humankind is about to undergo a new evolutionary change, into some new form of life that will be as far above humans as humans are above the animals. Karellen states that “this is a transformation of the mind, not of the body. By the standards of evolution, it will be cataclysmic – instantaneous. It has already begun” (p. 177). And Jan will have the chance to return from his visit to the Overlords’ world, to see the results of this next stage in human evolution, and to confirm that the end of humankind’s “childhood” has indeed occurred.
Fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey, reading Childhood’s End for the first time, will think at once of the film’s rectangular black monolith, crafted by some extraterrestrial entity incomparably more powerful than humankind, that guides human evolution at a couple of crucial points. They will also recall Richard Strauss’s C-major cadence from Also Sprach Zarathrustra, and the appearance of the Star-Child at the conclusion of 2001. The instrumentality of humankind's transformation in Childhood's End is different from what one sees in 2001, but the outcomes of the two stories have decided similarities.
Clarke, in a 1989 foreword to the reprint edition of Childhood’s End that I have before me, emphasizes that over time he abandoned the one-time interest in spiritualism that influenced his writing of this book in 1953; but it seems to me that those works of his that have generated the greatest reader interest outside the SF community have derived particular power from exploring potential intersections of science and spirituality.
That can be said of Clarke’s story “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953) in which a group of Buddhist monks in a Tibetan monastery diligently categorize every name they can find for God – believing that when they have completed their task, humankind's work will be done and the Universe will end. It can be said of “The Star” (1955), the story of a space explorer and devout Jesuit priest who makes a horrifying discovery regarding a supernova that destroyed an enlightened extraterrestrial civilization thousands of years ago. And of course, it can be said of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Fifteen years before the film 2001, and half a century before the year 2001, Clarke made with Childhood’s End an inspired and influential foray into science fiction that would ask tough philosophical questions regarding the Universe and humankind’s place in it.
I know I'm a little late on reading this (it was published in 1953), but as an avid lover of science fiction, in both the literary and cinematic sense, I am so happy that I did choose to pick up this timeless story. My initial motive for deciding to read Arthur C. Clarke's novel was the fact that in about a month, SyFy (I watch almost everything SyFy airs) will be premiering a mini-series based on the work bearing the same name, and I subscribe to the read-the-book-before-you-see-the-movie belief. But I digress; the most straightforward way to construe the sentiment of Childhood's End would be to liken it to an episode of The Twilight Zone, minus the omnipresent voice of Rod Serling guiding the audience toward the actuality of the plot, of course. Since Clarke is also the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I am not surprised at his ability of futuristic foresight as much as I am impressed by it. His ability to perceive an impending future of which he could not possibly have had any knowledge is simply stunning. This story is ageless; it is easy to believe that it could have been published alongside current bestsellers, or even 25 years from now, given that by then we as a race are still questioning the existence of intelligent alien life. The story begins in the mid-20th century and ends about a century later. There is no main character, and this alone exposes Clarke's avant-garde literary style. Divided into 3 parts, the story follows the lives of 3 separate people while being presented in the third-person omniscient narrative. The parts are seamless, and while they span a century, their cohesion is tangible. The alien visitation trope is not new to literature, not now and not during Clarke's time. Yet, out of all the science fiction I have watched or read, this story was able to leave an impact incomparable to any other no matter how similar the plot. As humans, we have no reason to question our existence as Earth's most intelligent life-form; it is as it has always been, and in our remembered history there has been no competition. While our questions about human existence may be limited to how and why, the fact that man rules the Earth is indisputable. Since there is so far no observable evidence to prove the existence of any alien life, we have no discernible reasons to query into the continuation of the reign of man. But what if there was? How quickly would our galactic perspectives change if alien life was introduced to Earth? Enter the plot of Childhood's End, where an alien race has in fact traversed billions of light-years to visit our precious planet. With a sense of altruism unmatched in any species, the Overlords abruptly end war, hunger, pestilence, and all other forms of suffering man has brought upon itself. Through economic, political, and social reform, the mysterious Overlords provide the foundation for a united planet. While the human race is thankful for these reformations, the reason for such benevolence is continually masked by our alien shepherds. Why have the Overlords arrived? Where have they come from? Why now? Why us? Childhood's End provides resolutions to all these pressing concerns and more. In shining light on many of the most notorious of mankind's existential questions, ranging from the truth of religion to the intricacies of parapsychology, the Overlords also reveal the purpose of human existence. The conclusion of Childhood's End calls into question a familiar idiom: is ignorance truly bliss?
”He felt no regrets as the work of a lifetime was swept away. He had labored to take man to the stars, and now the stars — aloof, indifferent stars — had come to him. The human race was no longer alone.”
Out of the authors emerging from the golden age of science fiction, Isaac Asimov is undoubtedly the greatest, but after reading this, I think Arthur C. Clarke might be my favourite.
Childhood's End is a stone-cold Science Fiction classic.
No seriously, Read it. if you're at all interested in SF you should read this, and read it soon. Don't leave it for decades like I did.
Oh, are you still here? Ok. If you still need convincing that Childhood's End is worth your time, read on.
Arthur C. Clarke's novel is a haunting, thoughtful story that betrays few of its many years (it was published in 1954!) and still reads like fresh SF. Sure, there are a few glimpses of its era- some hints of dated gender relations, some tech that isn't as magical as it would have seemed in the 50s - but in the main this is still a relevant, exciting book.
Humanity is on the verge of true space exploration, with both the USSR and USA readying their own space vehicles, when huge alien spacecraft appear without warning over all the major cities of Earth. A voice, transmitted to everyone on Earth and naming itself as 'Karellan', informs the world that the new arrivals are going to supervise human affairs to prevent us from causing our own extinction.
Peace descends on Earth. Cruelty to animals is outlawed. National governments fall, and are replaced with greater cooperation between the many peoples of Earth than ever before. With no money being squandered on militaries the world enters a golden age of prosperity and health, where everyone is safe, no one starves and with advanced automation, no one need even work. It's a paradise, of sorts.
Karellen and his species are soon named The Overlords, and the world settles into its new reality, the lives of the great mass of people massively improved.
Creativity, however, suffers. Without struggle and threat, and with the psychological influence of all-powerful aliens watching over humanity, artistic expression falters and stagnates. No new artistic movements emerge. No new great artists.
Science and technological research too suffers, as humanity loses motivation to create technologies that could never match the wonders of the Overlords, to create things the alien watchers clearly discarded centuries or even millennia ago. All research into spacefaring tech ceases, as does research into anything else that The Overlords' presence has rendered primitive by comparison.
Fuelled by fear that humanity is being stifled, and despite the seeming benevolence of the Overlords, anti-alien resistance and lobby groups spring up. The fact that The Overlords refuse to reveal their appearances, to even hint at what they look like, and rule via decree from their ships only strengthens this resistance.
The decades begin to pass, with the great ships hanging over Earth, seemingly content to watch and make small interventions, but their ultimate purpose remains a mystery, a mystery that eats at certain ambitious people, leading one of them - Jan Rodricks - into an audacious and risky plot to find out what the Overlords are doing.
That's the basic plot, but this outline doesn't do it justice. There's a tantalizing sense of mystery in the story Clarke tells, and it tugged me through the narrative like a hare before a greyhound. Who are the Overlords? What are their plans? What do they even look like? Why are they hiding themselves? These are the questions the characters in the novel obsess over and they are so skillfully handled that I obsessed over them too.
So where does this story of mystery go? To somewhere unexpected is the simple answer. This is no pot-boiler tale of a doggedly noble human resistance, or even a tale of species-wide uplift, of humanity being given technological gifts and joining the myriad races of some galactic federation a la Star Trek and the like. Instead it's something very different, something both sad and beautiful. I was genuinely surprised at the direction Clarke sent his story, and the thoughtful, poignant ending is one that stands high and tall as a genuine original in Science Fiction.
This is a great book, a landmark of its genre. You really should read it.
Postscript: One of my colleagues, while growing up in Sri Lanka, used to see Arthur C. Clarke taking his strolls along the beaches near Colombo. I must confess to being envious of my friend for having been in the presence of one of the greats of SF.
If you're in the market for a solid, dependable sci-fi story, this old gal will get you where you wanna go. Like many older models, she's functional but not very flashy.
3 stars out of 5. Genre enthusiasts will certainly appreciate the robust philosophical underpinnings, the mix of fear and optimism evoked by deep dives into speculation. But newer generations of readers will probably want something sleeker, speedier, and sexier.