Childhood's End by Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Surprising Science Fiction Novel
Beginning to read Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, I felt bizarrely familiar with the story line.
It was not the prognostication of 100% infallible oral contraceptives and blood typing for paternity determination or the slight suggestion, in 1953, of DNA analysis. Arthur C. Clarke, had, after all, forecast the use of satellite sin the upper atmosphere long decades before the USSR's Sputnik broke the skies of the space ceiling. I was pleased to not that he had made biological forecasts as well as meteorological and telecommunications predictions..
What fun! - It was as if Clarke had had, no a Wayback Machine from TV's Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, but a FastForward Machine. He just needed a smart dog to go with the imaginative boy that he still was. Indeed, he was both the boy and the genius canine all in one. Apparently, few would listen to Clarke's forecasts of satellite communications in his youth. I wonder if he later said, "I told you so"?
I know that I had not read the book previously, but felt myself walking through a familiar dreamworld woods through which I had set at least one foot before. Not deja vu, but recognition of a path.
It was this that startled: a race of alien Overlords kept their physical appearance veiled by a screen from the humans that they oversaw through Supervisor Karellen. This Karellen used a Wayback TV set through which the Overlord race showed humans most of the real history of their planet form the 21st century back through 4004 BC. However, the Overlords blocked out short parts of the presentations for the "humans own good." Is censorship ever really good? Each must decide that for himself. Thus, on page 74 out of 222, I was startled into a memory.
Superstition or Revisionist History or The Truth?
Where was this history-by-television repeated in literature? - The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. An exciting futurist novel written in the 1997s, it shows that the WayBack TV set did not censor anything in the modern time period of the novel. Human beings were taught through history-by-television that all of the people and events upon which humankind's myriad religions and faiths have been built were make believe, legends, myths, nonexistent, or lies. The TV did not replay films, but was said to actually look in on history as it was happening. The foundations of human life were uprooted by it.
Thus, I was working backward in the literary timeline, having read The Light of Other Days first, followed by Childhood's End later on. Amazing - much as when I discovered that Star Trek's ® Q and an earlier, similar character and their stories were based on Journey to a Small Planet. I have been digging out of literary ignorance for some years now, literature and arts being wasteful pursuits in schools that need budget cuts...but I did dig and will continue to dig through the archaeology of literature to my last day in this life. If I cannot be a mapmaker, then I will map the pathways of literature that I can connect. Good enough and maybe better! The hobby will last a lifetime.
In Childhood's End, Karellen uses the Wayback TV to wipe superstitious religion from the minds of the human beings, all of which he held in high regard. In fact, the narrator in the story states that only a form of Buddhism remained after all other belief was eliminated. However, it is difficult to tell from this statement whether the author promotes Buddhism and discards all other belief, because on the copyright page is the statement The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.
A Giant Superhero
Karellen, behind a screen, communes with the Secretary of the United Nations, Rikki Stormgren, for several years and gives him instructions while planning life for humans. However, he abruptly cuts off communications with Stormgren after telling him that it will require 50 more years for humans to mature to the point at which they can accept the Overlords' physical appearance.
The Overlords first appeared as a flotilla of giant starships that threatened the Earth from the skies. In the first section of the book, called "Earth and the Overlords", The Overlords proved their altruism toward humanity, but seemed to exert suppression of individuality and creativity in them as individuals. This led to minor uprisings that came to no purchase. Fifty years after Karellen cut off communications with Stormgren, Earth had become Utopia - no problems, no hunger, no crime, no needs, no challenges, actually. First, the illusion of many ships was reduced to the reality of one ship only, and The Overlords to a simple Crewe of 5, although they were at least 7 feet tall in their black armor. Only a few people fainted at first sight of them, but the children loved them.
The 21st Century Predicted
Chapter 8 of the second book section that is titled "The Golden Age" begins thus: NO UTOPIA can ever give satisfaction to everyone, all the time. This chapter describes people becoming bored and wanting more. It goes on to describe a new protagonist, Jan Rodricks, an African American the author calls a "Negroe" (a 1953 term). Jan is described as fortunate to live in a world where the word "n *** er" is no longer offensive to anyone in the mid-21st century. He is also described as never having seen his Scottish father either drunk or sober.
In the final section of the book, The Last Generation," Rodricks becomes the final witness to humankind's ascendance to a higher plane in order to join the hive mind that The Overlords call the "Overmind." The Overlords prepared four populations across the galaxy to ascend to join the Overmind before they approached humans, although the black-armored race could never themselves ascend. They were trapped in a physical existence. The concept of ascension and hive minds have been copied throughout literature and the media for quite some time, notably in modern times in Star Trek ® Borg stories and Star Gate I ascending intergalactic races. Many children in the mid-21st century proved to be telepathic and these were separated out to join the Overmind. Their parents likely committed suicide and no other children were born. The telepathic children become naked beings waiting to ascend.
Rodricks, a physicist, travels through space-time to The Overlords' home world and back to learn about ascension, but returns to Earth in time to witness the ascension of the naked children into a pure energy status. The Overmind used their physical manifestations as fuel. Rodricks acts as a radio broadcaster live on the scene in his ship until he and the ship are also consumed. At the same time, Karellen looks on sadly, turning to the Overmind for new instructions, still trapped in a body and unable to ascend, as he would like.
Coincidence and Quirk
In the first section of Childhood's End, Stormgren is able to catch a glimpse of Karellen through the trickery of an electronic lighting device applied to the alien's screen. He catches the immense size of the alien's chair and perhaps the tip of a barbed tail or a horn or a wing. In "The Golden Age," we see the entire figure of Karellen, including black armor as well as horns, wings, and tail. This massive individual could be either a representative of an alien race or the devil of humankind's history.
Karellen blocked all of the Wayback TV footage of himself and the other Overlords, because humans would not accept their appearance yet - not for another 50 years. During those 50 years, Karellen and his Crewe erased all history of the devil and his own race from human history. This speaks to the later revisionist histories plotted by certain political regimes in Japan, Korea, and elsewhere. Regardless, it is interesting that Karellen would never be able to attain his one desire: ascending to the plane of the Overmind, in the same way that the devil could never meet his wish in scripture: "I will be like the Most High."
Childhood's End provides dozens of topics for discussion and examination surrounding the literature, history, science, religions, and arts of the 1950s Cold War Era, as well as those of all the years through time into the real 21st century.
This is a classic futurist work. Adults will enjoy it and teens will likely have a lot of questions as they read through it.
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