Chy's Reviews > Childhood's End

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
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's review
Mar 06, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Read in February, 2008

Short Summation

Copyright 1953, just so you know. Think Independence Day with the ships coming and hovering over every major city in the world, but the aliens actually make contact, though they never show themselves. Yet, within five years they’ve managed to help Man eliminate most of his problems with crime, war, and famine. Within fifty, it’s all gone and man lives in a Utopian society, and that’s when the aliens finally show themselves.

The blurb on the back cover and another tidbit within my copy claim that “suddenly the golden age ends . . . and the end of Mankind begins!” Gah. Such melodrama. The fact of the story is so much better than that.

Why this book?

I like Arthur C Clarke and I came across this one in the used book store. The end.

How did it go?

I have to say the first part of the book with Secretary General of the United Nations, Rikki Stormgren, was my favorite. His thoughts as he has his meetings with the speaker for the “Overlords” on Earth, Karellen, and his friendship with this being he’s never laid eyes on are very engaging. But don’t get attached to it. This is a story. By that, I mean that Clarke uses whichever character at whatever time that will get you the story. Since Stormgren is sixty and the story spans fifty years, well, you can guess why we leave him. The Overlords, however, have a much longer lifespan.

After leaving Stormgren behind, the story jumps ahead to when the aliens show themselves and come down to Earth to mingle and study. Okay, everybody made a big deal about the fact that they wouldn’t show themselves and Karellen told Stormgren repeatedly that it wouldn’t be a good idea until two generations had passed. The idea being that most of the people alive by that time would remember them as the keepers of the human race—all goody-good and whatnot.

Dude, I expected something mind-blowing when we finally got to see them. They kept saying that Man would have psychological problems with their appearance. They never said Man would necessarily fear or loathe them, so I was coming up with all kinds of great theories. I hated that my first guess, before I went idea-trolling through my mind, was the correct one. (In my opinion, Clarke could have gone the exact opposite way and had much better results and just as many potential complications. Just...more interesting ones.) Clarke’s way was good, too, though. And probably far more interesting during the generation in which he wrote this novel. I just really want to know what it would have been like if it had been different. Of course, if it had been that way, I’d probably want to know how it’d be this way.

Ah, but anyway. I really hate that the back of the book had me thinking the Overlords were going to sit around for fifty years and then up and squish the human race. I went through the book, trying to decipher why they were going to do it, rather than just enjoying the story and wondering what they were up to. I’m going to tell you right now: they didn’t help mankind create a Utopian society just so they could crush it.

The technology of it was amazing, by the way, considering it was written in the 50’s. That’s all I’m going to say about that because I know just enough about the history of technology to know that I’m dumb.

The scope of the story is what really amazed me. I mean, I’m a character person. Give me a character I can love and I’ll battle my way through the shittiest heap of a story. Clarke doesn’t give the opportunity for latching onto a favorite, however, unless you want to count Karellen. But we never know him nearly well enough for that. The cool part is that I didn’t mind not having someone to latch onto. I latched onto the story. I wanted to know the answers and I was willing to follow whoever was going after them or in the path of them. I totally put myself in Clarke’s hands to get me to those places and was never sorry for doing that.

Another thing I loved was the ultimate goal of the Utopian world. We’ve all read about Utopian societies in science fiction, have we not? We know it always ends up having a loose bearing. All I’m going to say about this one is that it doesn’t. And that impressed the hell out of me.


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