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Childhood's End
Arthur C. Clarke
Victor Gollancz / Del Rey, 200 pages and 256 pages

Childhood's End
Childhood's End
Arthur C. Clarke
Born in 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England, and living in Sri Lanka since 1956, Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), based on his short story "Sentinel of Eternity." His Against the Fall of Night (1948) and Childhood's End (1953) are also among his best titles. Clarke was voted Grand Master at the 1986 Nebula Awards. His short story "The Star" (1955) won him a Hugo award, as did the movie adaptation of 2001. A writer of hard SF, though not without some elements of mysticism, Clarke has also written a large volume of science-popularizing non-fiction for which he has won UNESCO's Kalinga Prize (1962) and a non-fiction International Fantasy Award in 1972 (for The Exploration of Space). Clarke has also received many honours from the scientific community, in particular for his work in the development of today's geosynchronous communication satellites.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Collected Stories
SF Site Review: The Fountains of Paradise
SF Site Review: The Light Of Other Days
SF Site Review: The Light Of Other Days
SF Site Review: Profiles of the Future
SF Site Review: Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
Arthur C. Clarke Tribute Site
Arthur C. Clarke Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Maddox

Imagine humanity on the verge of universal travel, space crafts primed to break the final barrier and open up a cosmos full of mystery and wonder. Then imagine that in one moment it's all taken away. A technologically superior race descends from the heavens to become our keepers. Life as we know it ends.

The opening scene of Grandmaster Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End is probably the most recognizable of SF introductions. The vision of gigantic Overlord space ships appearing over every major Earth city is so phenomenally powerful that it has been recreated and honoured in countless science fiction films, such as the classic TV mini-series V as well as the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day.

The LA Times states that the novel is, "A frighteningly logical, believable, and grimly prophetic tale..."  Childhood's End has recently been re-released as part of the SF Masterworks line from Orion Gollancz (UK) and from the Del Rey Impact (US) line, both book series that give genre classics new life. Although originally published in 1953, Childhood's End has a timeless quality that makes it relevant and poignant today.

Unlike standard alien invaders, the Overlords have not come to enslave humanity. Instead they usher in a golden age, solve hunger, homelessness, war and even cruelty to animals. Although allowing no one to see them, at first, the benevolent visitors truly seem to want the best for us. However, they will not allow us to venture into space. As their enigmatic leader Karellen continually states, "The stars are not for Man."

Humanity ceases to aspire to anything and becomes mired in physical pleasure and entertainment. People begin spending an average of three hours watching television per day (in reality it is believed the current average number of hours watched is four... how prophetic) and many become mired in excessive avarice. As the years float by, a few select people begin wondering just what the Overlords are planning for the residents of Earth.

The story spans 200 years of human history after the Overlords' arrival. There is no specific central human character; instead humanity itself is represented through different individuals: Stormgren the fatherly leader; conservative and materialistic George Greggson; adventurous Jan Rodricks. They are all aspects of humanity.

The underlying theme of evolution and enlightenment has inspired many other great novels to utilize the concept, like Dan Simmons' Hyperion series. The loss of individuality is another important and controversial theme in Childhood's End and certainly the heaviest in the story. Clarke is attempting to encourage people to think beyond their current preconceived notions, much like he attempted with the original Rendezvous with Rama novel. With linear thought and physics we simply cannot understand how aliens think.

The Del Rey Impact book does suffer from a lackluster cover, but it and the Gollancz edition do have a few bonuses. Clarke himself has written an introspective introduction and it features an alternate beginning. Originally, when Clarke wrote the book in 1953, the Germans seemed our natural rivals in the space race. Then when the novel was re-released in 1989 the Russians were at the forefront, so he revised the opening. The Del Rey Impact edition starts with the original beginning, but also features the rewritten opening that also appears in the UK version.

In essence Childhood's End is about transcendence and the next step in humanity's evolution. It has earned a place in the SF pantheon and remains a brilliant vision of mankind's potential in the next level of perception.

Copyright © 2001 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been many things, including Star Trek characters and the Riddler in a Batman stunt show. He holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University, and has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories as well as acting in any venue he can. Residing in Los Angeles, he continues to be part of this wacky business called show.

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