Childhood’s End

April 24, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

endChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

—–

I’ve read other Clarke classics over the years. Rendezvous with Rama stands out in my mind because it was such a let-down. I remember it being very dry, namely because it felt like Clarke was writing a scientific paper, not a book. I was hesitant going into Childhood’s End, because I didn’t want it to be another experience like that, but I had heard such good things about the book, I couldn’t resist reading it. Unfortunately, this book didn’t connect with me, either.

Childhood’s End begins with the arrival of aliens, much like the beginning of the movie Independence Day, but without the disastrous consequences. Instead, these aliens are benevolent, bringing the societies and cultures of Earth together over hundreds of years. They’re also dictators of sorts, since there are a few things they will not allow, murder and crime being some of those things. The book takes us through the events of their visit, from the beginning to the end, which occurs hundreds of years later.

The story starts out with more character, which helped me think the book wouldn’t be a repeat of Rama, but by the end of the first section of the book, the characterization had fallen apart. Clarke doesn’t give enough time to develop the characters beyond being a device through which to portray how the events would affect people, so it’s hard to get emotionally invested in what’s happening in the story. He makes an effort, by having the Overlords live long enough to bridge the span of time that separates the start of the book from the end (and relativistic time effects help one character return several hundreds of years later), but it never feels genuine. The book is divided into three distinct sections, set in different times, and I couldn’t help but feel like a trilogy of books, one for each section, would have been better. At the very least, it would have given Clarke more time to develop his characters.

The ideas behind the book are interesting, but don’t feel as revolutionary as they likely did in the 1950s when this book was first published. An important part of the story involves the people of Earth having all their needs taken care of at no personal cost, allowing them time to develop significant works of art and technology. It feels like a celebration of communism and socialism, which must have been shocking to its original readers.

Speaking of technological developments, one of the rules the Overlords is that the people of Earth cannot develop interstellar travel. As they tell us several times during the book, the stars do not belong to us. It’s a tiresome refrain, but by the end of the book, we at least know the reason why. Just don’t expect it to be an uplifting conclusion.

Like Clarke’s other works, Childhood’s End is a good idea, wrapped up in a mediocre story. I think this book will wind up being more memorable than Rama, thanks to how its ideas resonated with me at this time in my life, but it’s not a book I feel like I can recommend. Reading a summary of the story on Wikipedia would give you all you need to know about the ideas, without having to trudge through a less-than-impressive story. I guess I can see why it’s considered a classic, but it lacks the timelessness that other classics have.

Started: February 4, 2018
Finished: February 11, 2018

2 Comments

  1. nawfalaq said,

    Yes, I felt similarly about this one. I have yet to read Rama – but I have no motivation for more Clarke-reading.

  2. bormgans said,

    I’m not sure about that “significant works of art” part. Clarke’s point was that in absence of strife culture and art becomes stale and flat, merely entertainment.I think that’s misguided by Clarke, a mere Romantic illusion.

    If you read a comment on communism and/or socialism in that part of the story, it seems more like critique than a celebration.

    I wrote about it a bit more at lenght in my own review.

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