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.