childhood's endArthur C. Clarke
Ballantine Books

Man was, therefore, still a prisoner on his own planet. It was a much fairer, but a much smaller, planet than it had been a century before. When the Overlords had abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure.

Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. They are manned by the Overlords…mysterious creatures from an alien race who soon take over control of the world. Within fifty years, these brilliant masters have all but eliminated ignorance, disease, poverty and fear. Then suddenly this golden age ends…and the end of Mankind begins!

I first came to know about Arthur C. Clarke’s classic novel Childhood’s End in the same way I came about a bunch of literary classics back in the day: Having a late night discussion with my college roommate, we were somehow discussing the classics in science fiction literature, and he described for me the general story behind Childhood’s End. Which, of course, blew my mind. The idea of aliens conquering and wiping out humanity as we know it by way of bringing about peace and utopia was…well, not unheard of, but still rather intriguing in my over-active imagination. I immediately put it on my Must Read Before Death list.

The problem was, unlike some other better known works by Arthur C. Clarke–like, say, that other book about aliens meddling with human evolution like drunk kittens, Two-Thousand Something-Something or other, I can’t recall at the moment–it took me a while to locate a copy of Childhood’s End to read. Like, over twenty years, if you can fathom that. But, I recently managed to snag a good mass market paperback reprint from 1991 through the Del Rey imprint, apparently re-released in conjunction with the publication of Clarke’s sequel novel 2061: Odyssey Three. Which is the cover image we’re using here, natch.

Originally starting life as the short story “Guardian Angel” back in 1946, Clarke expanded this into the novel version as the first part of the overarching narrative, subtitled “Earth and the Overlords”. The story begin by the aliens showing up at the hight of the Cold War, right before we’re all about to wipe each other out by way of Mutually Assured Destruction (we all go “boom”), and bring about peace and stuff among us all. Only thing is, they’re a bit shy about showing their actual mugs to us humans, claiming it would be too much for us all to handle. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, even after they’ve set up a nice peaceful existence among us as our new overlords. They give us 50 years or so, before they show us what they actually look like. And when they do…well, let’s just say it was probably a good idea. But even decades after they all find out who these benevolent aliens are, the question still remains: Are they really benefiting humanity? Or is there some kind of underlying sinister motive behind everything? Which leads some guy to sneak aboard one of the supply ships and catch a ride to the home planet…only to be brought back to find–thanks to time relativity and and space travel and all that fun stuff–that the population of Earth was indeed depopulated with normal human beings after an entire generation became super-evolved beings no longer in need of Earth. The whole thing ends in a downer. The end.

So, Childhood’s End was, indeed, a rather interesting book to read. Even now, several weeks after having read it, I’m still chewing on the story, and the implications and such. What if we did achieve enlightened peace? How would we grow and enrich ourselves, not only physically and mentally, but also spiritually? What if that comes at the price of identity? Am I reading too much into this? Fine. Childhood’s End was also a rather good read, from a straight science fiction sense. Now that I’ve read this one, maybe I can talk myself into finally cracking into 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, not just yet. As far as Childhood’s End goes, I know I’ve been saying this a lot in my reviews, but I would recommend looking into this book, and owning it outright. And not only because it’s written by one of the Big Three of sci-fi literature’s early Modern Age, either.