Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End.

NY: Harcourt, 1989.

Clarke, of course, is one of the Big Three in science fiction, the other two being Heinlein and Asimov. These gentlemen, while not necessarily the best writers, or even the best storytellers, and certainly not on all occasions, are generally agreed to have had the greatest influence on the subsequent development of the field over the past half century or more. And this book is widely regarded as one of Clarke’s two most important, along with 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Keeping in mind that it was originally published in 1953, in this edition the author went back (in 1989) and rewrote the first chapter somewhat, pushing the setting farther into his own future — and he still was not sufficiently optimistic when it came to making technological predictions.

The first section of it also is the peak of one of SF’s key tropes: “The sky was full of ships.” Not an alien invasion, that is, but the sudden demonstration to humankind that we are not alone. In this case, however, the aliens take control. They don’t interfere much in human affairs, actually, except in the matter of weapons development, active warfare, and cruelty to others. But in those matters, they save the Earth from itself, and apparently just in the nick of time. Creativity suffers, especially in the sciences, and some people are upset by the loss of their “freedom” to make disastrous decisions, but humankind in general rapidly enters upon a Golden Age of peace and plenty.

But that’s just the beginning of the story. The Overlords, as humans have quickly come to call them, may be benign dictators but they have a deeper purpose in taking control of Earth. Because homo sapiens has begun to evolve in possibly dangerous ways. And when it all resolves itself at the end, you may find it a bit depressing. Clarke is better known for intellectual engagement with the reader than for galloping action scenes or overpowering drama. This is a book to think about and to reread every decade or so.

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Published in: on 26 March 2014 at 6:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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