Childhood's End (1953)
By: Arthur C. Clarke
Spaceships appear over the every major city on earth and just sit there. Some countries fire missiles at them, but the missiles have no effect. After a time the alien Overlords announce that they will supervise earth so that it doesn't destroy itself. The ships end animal and human cruelties, but otherwise leave things alone. They have contact only with the U.N. Secretary-General Rikki Stormgren. But what are the Overlords ultimate intentions and why do they never show themselves to anyone?
This skirts alien apocalypse territory, but I wasn't able to get ahold of several novels I originally wanted. This book takes place over three parts with surprising developments in each. The mystery of the Overlords is fantastic and definitely worthwhile. All the strangeness has great explanation. and the end is both emotional and thought provoking.
Rikki Stormgren is the Finnish U.N. Secretary General. He is the first man to have direct contact with the Overlords. He governs earth in a time of great peace, but underlying strife. He must deal not only with the Overlords, but human opposition groups and even his own fears and insecurities. He is my favorite of the human characters and certainly the most interesting.
Jan Rodricks longed for a career in space, however the Overlords have shut down the space program. After being at a party where he gets a strange lead on the planet, he creates a plan to travel to the Overlord's home planet. Jan annoyed me when he first appeared, but I grew to like him through his story in part three. He witnesses the most interesting sections of the novel.
Kalleren is the leader of the Overlords and the only contact with humanity until their reveal in the Golden Age. He is characterized as a great statesman and a persuasive speaker. He was pprobably my favorite character as an exemplary member of an alien species.
George and Jean Greggson are a pair of upper class people who've grown up under the Overlord's rule. They are among the first to host an Overlord and are our window into the true suffering at the end.
Rashaverak is a more scientific Overlord who is a guest of George Greggson. He gives us our first look at how the Overlords act in social situations. He provides us with some interesting views on social customs and of course depens the mystery.
The writing does a great job of establishing a retro-furture, well that's what it is now. The thing is that it is easily extrapolated into our own future. I especially liked the descriptions of the Overlord planet.
In the End
I predicted what was going to
happen at the end of part one and even most of part two. Part three is one of the most bittersweet endings I've ever read. However, it is a perfect end to the tale.
C. Clarke does social Sci-fi and gets it right. This book manages to be both hopeful and
grim. I applaud its treatment of the Overlords as a complex and
mysterious species. Their motives and civilization are brilliantly
rendered and I often found them more relatable than the human
characters, aside from Rikki Stormgren and toward the end Jan. I
thought the humans were overly simplified and a bit dull. The end of
humanity was the one thing that really prevented me from giving this a ten. I
might just be too much of an optimist, but I don't feel all of humanity
would go out int he manner he describes. Anyway, this is a fantastic
read and I think it is probably even better than 2001: A Space Odyssey.
So, that's my apocalypse preparation reading list. I hope you have a great end of the world. My personal list of things to do:
- Decapitate a zombie with a katana
- Ride a mile high tidal wave
- Fist-bump Jesus
- Add some 'sword game' swords to my collection
- Play a bass line to the seven trumpets and Gjallar horn
- Ride a giant wolf
- Survive a nuke by getting in a refrigerator
- Beat an alien at paper, rock, scissors
- Spear a mutant monster
- Hold up a lighter as the sun goes out
- Get a quick tan
- Show Vishnu my awesome plans for a recreated L.A.
- Attempt to cast a replica of Sage of the Halo's armor as hot metal covers the earth
I hope you complete your end of the world checklist! See you tomorrow!