Book Review: “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke

Before I left the states a friend gave me this book to borrow. It’s moved from the country side of rural South Korea with me to the city. It’s traveled across the ocean a couple of times with the goal of leaving it in the states last time I went for a wedding, I failed. But I got some nice pictures of the book in various places, eventually finishing it back in Korea. (My fault for believing I could finish 3 books during a three day trip, where I only spent maybe a little over 24 hours on the ground.)

I remember my friend telling me of several books he suggested I read, many in the vein of science fiction and the plot that I assumed matched the book he gave me didn’t actually match up at all. Now I just have this subtle mild horror-ish sci-fy piece of plot floating around in my brain with no book to tie it to.

Because I assumed the book was in the vein of science fiction horror I spent the entire book waiting for the other shoe to drop which I think made the subtle suspense of the novel more intense.

What the book actually is is what I categorize as a dystopian novel hiding in an utopian science fiction. Something we don’t get much of anymore since the majority of our science fiction now a days is no longer that shining bright hope for a better tomorrow but the grim promise of the path of destruction we’re already on leading towards a dystopian future. And in this case, the book is arguably both.

Childhood’s End, like all good science fiction starts with a what if. What if during the cold war space race instead of making it to the stars aliens made it to us first. And what if these “overlords” took control of humanity and pushed us towards a peaceful utopia, curbing out disease, war, famine and most crime?

It does one thing that I’m not a big fan of. I’ve never really enjoyed big time jumps. If you introduce me to a character I want to stick with them. I want to follow them through their journey. But since the overlords and the Earth have a longer lifespan then a mere human, to watch the progress of all three, meant we had to swap out our narrating humans fairly quickly, from first landing, to adjusting, to acceptance.

There is some suspense in the novel that my belief it was horror only added to, this feeling of suspicion towards the overlords, after all why would aliens come down to Earth to force humans to be better? What’s the purpose? And most of the narrators the novel follows ask similar questions, especially since they’re banned from going beyond the moon when it comes to space travel.

I wasn’t expecting the novel to head in the direction it did, mostly due to false preconceived notions but when I got to the end I had one of those delicious book hangovers, where you have to just quietly close the book and set it aside, pondering all that the book has given you to think about. It’s a bit rare for me to find books like that so I’m always happy when I do. Now I just have to see if my friend remembers he loaned me the book five years ago and see if he wants it back. Wonder how much it’ll cost to ship it back to the states.

What would you do if you were the last person on Earth? The one to witness the end of everything?

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