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The last time I read this book was when it was assigned to my English class in eighth grade, and it was a pleasure to come back to as an adult and re-experience the same emotions I did back then. This is science fiction about the wonder and awe of discovery, the bittersweetness of letting go of the primitive past, and the ultimate destiny of the human race. It's not a dystopian or cautionary tale, as so much science fiction, but a book about what it means for our species to reach adulthood -- and a sacrifice that that may one day demand of us.
The story begins, in classic form, with the visitation of beings from the stars. The Overlords arrive on Cold War-era Earth in immense, silver starships, and immediately establish themselves as vastly superior, but benevolent masters. Yet, they refuse to reveal themselves in person (at least not right away) or explain their ultimate purposes. Here, one might guess, as some characters do, at sinister intentions.
But, nothing so crude comes to pass, and Clarke proceeds to a new generation of characters, as the Overlords usher in a new era of peace and worldwide prosperity for the human race. Not to mention a certain amount of ennui and loss of purpose, as mankind finds that most of its traditional problems are solved. Yet, a few people continue to puzzle over the mysteries about the Overlords and chafe against the restrictions they still impose. What are the reasons? Several intrepid explorers begin to find out.
The writing is simple and unadorned, and the characters not particularly complex in their construction (not to mention a bit 1950s), but there's a subtle eloquence to the way the story unfolds, each stage in the human race's progress revealing a little more about the fate that must eventually come. And Clarke's writing is still a pleasure to read for its vision, its thoughtful ideas about the forms that different alien races might take, the capabilities of advanced technology, and how human society might continue to function when the primary need is that of avoiding boredom. Though a few assumptions are showing their age (newspapers, radio), much of this 1953 story still speaks to the 21st century. Clarke continues to remind us of how little we know about what's out there in the universe, or how limited our evolution has been compared to what's possible.
Read it, if you haven't yet. Or read it again. Childhood's End is one of the works that sets the template for great science fiction, and will likely still contain meaning for new readers in fifty years.
39 of 40 people found this review helpful
Great dialogue and deeply-drawn characters were never Arthur C. Clarke's strengths. Instead, what makes him an all-time great are his IDEAS. And CHILDHOOD'S END is as good a novel of ideas as sci-fi has seen. The story is somewhat simplistic: a powerful alien race descends upon Earth and dominates the peoples of the planet, ostensibly for their own good. Earth, essentially, accedes to the Overlords - and a Golden Age ensues. But Man's ultimate fate is not necessarily the one we'd choose for ourselves. This was an especially resonant theme for the 1950's, when the Nazi threat of WWII was a fresh experience - and the Cold War loomed. But it's no less urgent a message for today.
The book does take a while to get going, and the latter half is far more satisfying and better written. (Thankfully, Eric Michael Summerer's narration more than makes up for the sluggish pace early on.) If some of the characterizations and technology seem archaic, that's actually perfectly consistent with the story - after all, the immediate impact of the Overlords' rule is that Mankind stops advancing - technologically, artistically and spiritually. The world of the future remains the world of the 1950's.
In a contemporary author's hands, the same story would be told with more elegant prose. But the ideas are as fresh as ever - and CHILDHOOD'S END gave me much to think about.
53 of 56 people found this review helpful
I guess the true beauty of this book is not so much the journey but the thoughtfulness it provokes when finished. It made me want to join a book appreciation society that i might find someone to discuss it with. In the end i annoyed my friends on facebook until they read it too. i'm pleased to see that everyone has a different stance on it and everyone had their own person/race to empathise with. The book can be heart-breaking but only if you are the sort of person who dwells on a book on completion.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I enjoyed this book. It was well written and thought-provoking, but the ending seemed somewhat empty and hopeless, although I expect other listeners will interpret it differently. It is certainly worth listening to and is well narrated, and I can understand why it is regarded as a classic, although some of the plot-lines seem a bit higgledy-piggledy and unsuccessfully shaped to fit.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful