Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review: Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

It's been over two years since I blogged a book review, which is odd, because I've actually been reading a lot more lately.
Book Review
Do you like the new graphic? I made it myself. Yes, that is my hand, foot, and Spider-Man Tervis tumbler.

How I Stumbled Upon this Book

For most of my life, I'd never been a "genre guy" when it came to books; by which I mean that I wasn't a huge fan of mystery, adventure, or horror in particular. Instead, I was a fan of authors. After being told at 13 years old that Stephen King was the best writer of our generation, I ended up reading a lot of his books but never felt drawn to horror itself. Similarly, many of the books I've read I'd only discovered after first seeing or hearing about the movie adaptation - which led to my love of Chuck Palahniuk and Stieg Larsson, but not to the genres of satire or mystery, respectively.

As I've grown as a writer, however, genres have intrigued me, partially because of my desire to write some genre fiction myself. As such, I began reading through Michael Connelly's excellent Detective Bosch series, of which I'm currently five books into the now 21 book series.

But a strange thing happened a few months ago. I got really, really interested in science fiction.

I blame this on the hype over the video game No Man's Sky, having watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, and downloading the soundtrack to Interstellar all within a few weeks of each other. During the height of my obsession, I downloaded wallpapers of the cosmos for my phone and computer, I looked up and added several science-fiction movies to my Netflix queue, and started looking online for suggestions for the best hard science-fiction books around.

While Childhood's End wasn't one of the particular books that I was suggested, author Arthur C. Clarke was. I went to the library, found the science-fiction section (which is frustratingly combined with the fantasy section), and decided to try out Childhood's End after concluding that going straight for 2001: A Space Odyssey would be like having ice cream before dinner. I had never heard of this book, so I was going in completely blind.

My Review of Childhood's End

It should be noted that Childhood's End was not the first hard sci-fi book I read during this time, and that I actually read it immediately after first reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, and so my review will contain comparisons between the two.

Childhood's End Book Cover
Childhood's End
Arthur C. Clarke
Published 1953
2016 Paperback Syfy TV Tie-In Edition


Childhood's End begins with the United States and Soviet Union competing to launch the first space ship into orbit when several gigantic space ships quietly position themselves above every major city in the world, putting a sudden and immediate end to the space race. The ships do nothing but hover in place, until a week passes and the aliens announce in perfect English via audio transmission that they have been sent to supervise and guide the human race through its next several generations of progress. This is met with resistance at first, as many people feel threatened by these new visitors, but resistance proves totally and literally pointless, as the aliens don't even flinch at even the boldest attempts to overpower them; to such an advanced alien race, we are merely ants.

After a generation has passed, with the quality of life slowly improving, but the aliens, now known as the Overlords, not yet revealing their end goal or even their appearance, humans have gotten accustomed to the Overlords' presence as just another facet of everyday life. The last human resistors and all those who remember the world before the Overlords' arrival have died of old age, and with them, humanity's sense of freedom, religion, and drive to explore new worlds has died as well. We have become totally complacent. It is only then that the Overlords decide to reveal their appearance and allow us to glean what their true intentions may be, and it just may be too good to be true.


Childhood's End is a short but brilliantly-told story of mankind's slow but willing assimilation to a bold universal truth. Whereas I found Philip K. Dick's writing to contain many big ideas sloppily supported by meandering and often awkward language, Arthur C. Clarke effortlessly tells a simple but compelling story with sharp and to-the-point language while fluidly presenting the reader with intriguing philosophical conundrums.

The story is told in three parts, each one drastically different than the others and connected by decades of time in-between, shifting perspectives from generation to generation as life on Earth changes drastically with the Overlords' help. What was especially surprising for me as a reader and writer was not only how gripping, realistic, and intelligently each part was written, but how the relatively slow pace of the book did absolutely nothing to cripple my desire to turn to each next page. The Overlords don't actually do much, and each human character serves only as a subject through whom to see the state of the slowly-changing planet, yet the simple curiosity of what the Overlords' end goal is drives the entire experience from beginning to end.

Momentum is something I struggle to understand when writing, and Arthur C. Clarke keeps it going in full force with minimal effort. Aside from the big mystery that lies on the last pages, the momentum is helped by a cast of realistic, well-rounded characters - despite them being replaced at the outset of each new part - as well as beautifully-detailed descriptions of each new location and change to the status of the planet. Clarke's description of the book's utopian golden age had me absolutely yearning for such a world to exist within my lifetime.

The Final Verdict

Childhood's End is a must-read for any fan of science-fiction and/or mystery. Despite being written and published during the Cold War, its style holds up to modern standards, its themes are just as relevant today as they were in 1953, and it is a rare story that remains creative and unique within its premise even decades after it was first published. This is one of my new favorite books.

For those who want to be further engrossed in the world of Childhood's End, there is a 2016 SyFy miniseries based on the book which I have not yet seen but I've heard is quite good. There are also a few songs based on the book by the likes of Genesis and Pink Floyd, titled "Watcher of the Skies" and "Childhood's End," respectively.


No comments: