I’ve been on a reading roll lately (unfortunately for my schoolwork). I just finished one of the classic works of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. It was a very short novel, hardly more than 200 pages, and its most incredibly achievement, I think, was telling a story on a scale covering the whole universe in so short a time. Most authors now spend 3 or 4 books telling a story that the same sense of scale and majesty that Clarke did in one short volume.
The writing was slightly archaic and cheesy, which was unsurprising given the time it was written and the way science fiction looked at the time. However, this just added to the novel’s charm in my opinion. Because the novel was so short and did not really have any central characters per se, there was very little obvious character development going on. We are used to, as readers, seeing individuals grow and learn as characters. There was very little of that in this book, and where it did happen it seemed somewhat secondary. However, I would argue that there is tremendous character development in the novel. The characters are not individual humans, however, but rather the central character is humanity.
A significant portion of the novel does not focus on individual characters, but instead describes the way humanity has changed in reaction to the coming the alien Overlords, who brought peace and prosperity at the cost of ingenuity. The novel was really a medium for Clarke to explore philosophical ideas, which he did very well; Childhood’s End is probably the most thought-provoking novel I have read to date. However, some of the metaphors he drew made me wince, especially his seeming ringing endorsement of colonialism running throughout them.
The ending of the book was its most interesting feature. I could not tell if Clarke was going for a happy ending or a sad ending; he seemed to be hinting at a happy ending, as humanity’s goal in life had finally been realized, but it came at such a cost that I was unsure of whether or not he truly intended it to be happy. I did not consider it a happy ending, and to me the ending came across as humanity having been used by a more powerful force with no thought for humanity itself. It was, in a way, somewhat Lovecraftian; the novel told us that “the stars are not for man,” and hinted at things that mankind could never comprehend. What was hinted at seemed both majestic and terrible.
In the end, Childhood’s End was well worth the read, and I would recommend it to anyone.