Childhood’s End

Wednesday, 9 July 2003

I’ve been burn­ing my way through the Top 50 Science Fiction books of the last 50 years. I’ve re­cent­ly read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Williams Gibson’s Neuromancer, and Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. Currently I am read­ing Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I am 28% fin­ished with the list.

Last evening I fin­ished Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. It was a fab­u­lous book.

After fin­ish­ing the last page, clos­ing the book, and sit­ting up straight, I was over­come with awe. Truly, this book was like no oth­er sci­ence fic­tion I had ever read. Was the end­ing pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive? Bittersweet per­haps? But I get ahead of my­self.

Once up­on a time, at the be­gin­nings of the Cold War, man was poised to thrust him­self with reck­less aban­don in­to the cold em­brace of out­er space. Before he could do this how­ev­er, earth was vis­it­ed by what man came to call the Overlords.

The stew­ard­ship of the Overlords changes Earth for­ev­er.

The nov­el tells this sto­ry in an in­ter­est­ing way. Clarke is not that con­cerned with stick­ing with one pro­tag­o­nist in par­tic­u­lar through the en­tire sto­ry. Indeed he can­not for the sto­ry cov­ers over a cen­tu­ry of hu­man en­deav­or. But what struck me was his abil­i­ty to switch from char­ac­ter POV to char­ac­ter POV from para­graph to para­graph and make it work. For Clarke, it seems to me the POV, the thought process, is what should be fo­cused on, not the de­vel­op­ment of the char­ac­ter, which ac­tu­al­ly ap­pears to be mean­ing­less lat­er on.

It was by no means a dif­fi­cult read. I buzzed through it in sev­er­al hours, but it is en­gag­ing in its world­view. Science, and rea­son tend to dom­i­nate the world of SF writ­ing, but Clarke mix­es in mys­ti­cism, and para­psy­chol­o­gy, and meta­physics in­to his world, and makes the un­known of the hu­man mind more im­pres­sive than the any tech­nol­o­gy or cul­ture we know or dream of.

I do not want to spoil any of the twists, for the sim­plic­i­ty of the sto­ry is its great­est strength, and that which makes the book so poignant. It feels like some­one re­al­ly cared for the sto­ry, if you know what I mean. I would rec­om­mend it even if you do not like sci­ence fic­tion. If you do like SF then def­i­nite­ly read it read it read it.