You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Childhood's End

Childhood's End is a short science fiction novel written by Arthur C. Clarke and published in 1953. Reading this book is an experience in history as well as fiction. The story is a snapshot of ideas of what the future would look like from the fifties. Adding to the experience is that realization about a third of the way through that I had read it before.

In the first part of the story aliens come to Earth in vast spaceships and enforce peace among humanity with mysterious powers. The Overlords, as they are referred to by humans, are very secretive and only communicate directly with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Stormgren. I found the widespread acceptance of this policy--that of imperial power or even slave master--to be a bit unbelievable, especially given the paranoia rampant today. There is a minority of people who are against the Overlords but they are gently neutralized. In general the people of the world are pleased with the outbreak of peace.

Part two takes place fifty years later, when the Overlords have established widespread peace and harmony and finally reveal themselves. The fact that they look like the devil is explained as a function of racial memory and the fluid nature of time. A couple, George and Jean, are at a party with an Overlord where there is a seance. Strange answers come out, including an apparently accurate answer to the question of the Overlords' home plant. Jan Rodricks, the man who asks the question, figures out a way to stow away aboard an Overlord starship and becomes the first person to leave the solar system. This section introduces the concept of parapsychology which is an important theme in the last section. It becomes apparent that there is something extra going on with the human race that the Overlords are not talking about. While the Overlords are mysterious, humanity becomes complacent.

In the third part, George and Jean's children start to change. It begins with nightmares and proceeds to telekinesis. The Overlords reveal that while they themselves are seen as powerful beings, they serve a much more powerful being. Humanity is being groomed for something higher. The end, while extraordinary bordering on the unbelievable, is quite astounding. The story is a fine piece of science fiction from a time of classic sf. The characters are mostly pretty thin and largely serve the purpose of the plot. But there is a grand sense of wonder, from the first appearance of the alien ships to the tour of an alien world that Jan Rodricks gets. The concept of humanity being transformed is an intriguing one. It brings out a sense of wonder as well as a sense of quiet loss. It's quite an achievement. B+

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