Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink

Personal blog of freelance writer MGMason

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

In a century plagued with violence, intolerance, political and religious conflict, destruction of the environment and exploitation of the poor by the rich, humanity suddenly finds the planet Earth subject to a peaceful invasion. Every major city finds itself under the watchful eye of a ship from the stars.

There is no violence from the alien invaders but their power is obvious. “Live in peace with you neighbours, be good to one another and work for the greater good of your species and your planet… or face dire consequences.”

Many years pass under this benign dictatorship with random acts of organised violence of a largely ineffective ‘resistance’ movement until the day the planet’s spokesman is abducted. But eventually even they succumb to whatever plan the Overlords have for humanity. As they begin to explain their motives, it seems the truth has many more layers than is obvious at first.

Amongst the best-known of Arthur C. Clarke’s work, though short it is an intriguing tale. Why are they here? Why is world peace so important to the new arrivals? Why do they not use violence to achieve their goals? What do they look like and most importantly, what do they want?

Despite being such a short book, it asks some intriguing questions about how we perceive the world, how fragile our social constructs sometimes can be (especially nationalism and religion), the extent to which we are manipulated by the powers that be and the fine line between leadership and rule.

It would be difficult to describe it as an enjoyable book; it lacks the sense of wonder of Rama and the galaxy-spanning scope of 2001 but like Rama it is philosophy heavy and like 2001 it hints at great powers in the universe beyond our comprehension. It is not page turner but it does make you think and that’s what Clarke was best at.

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