Super awesome aliens that look just like the devil come to Earth to give us everything we ever wanted except the things that we didn’t realise we’d miss the most.
|Arthur C. Clarke in 1953|
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s actually refreshing, and very interesting, to see what general kind of predictions about the future he made when writing in the 1950s. But Childhood’s End is not solely about Clarke’s vision for the future. It’s also an interesting study into how humanity as a whole would react if we all got what we wanted.
Humans are about to test nuclear propulsion, which will allow relativisitic speeds and put the nearest stars within reach. Except one event changes all of those plans. The Overlords arrive over Earth and puts those plans on hold. The Overlords, led by Karellan, stops the advancement of star travel, but gives humanity peace and equality in the truest sense.
Initially, as expected, there are doubts, fears and suspicions about Karellan’s motives. If you’ve ever watched Independence Day (which came out after this book, obviously), then it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination where humans can be suspicious or downright afraid of what they don’t understand. But Karellan never employs force, only the threat of outright technological power, which is more than enough to ensure humans live by the new rules of the game.
The Overlords promise a full and happy life with no worries, no poverty, disease or war. In return, don’t blast off the planet atop a giant nuclear rocket and don’t kill each other. Seems like a good deal.
While the book does spend some time elaborating on the consequences of life without any need to work hard for material desires, it’s actually not what the story is about. That it sort of delves into other, slightly more esoteric themes kind of brings it undone. This book is not nearly as good as 2001: A Space Odyssey. But then, that series also goes a bit left field the further you read.
This is not to take away from the prose itself, which is its usual Clarke-ness, a clear and succinct story told in such a way that it’s pleasant to read. At least if you enjoy reading the writing, some of the more strange aspects of the story could be forgiven.
If Childhood’s End were a cricket ball, it would be the kind of inswinging yorker that bamboozled a certain opening New Zealand batsmen at the MCG. You think it’s doing one thing, but then out of left field comes the Plot Device that changes everything. Sometimes, when I think about the ending, I think it’s complete and utter tripe. But then other times, I think it’s the only possible way for the story to have ended. I just wish there was a way to make up my mind on the issue.
Brilliant everywhere except the end, which seems preposterous and left field. But I struggle to find any other possible outcome.
Read this if you…
Haven’t gone through the entire Arthur C. Clarke catalogue.
Skip this if you…
Think that books shouldn’t go on a tangent to trick you with its plot.