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Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's End (original 1953; edition 1953)

by Arthur C. Clarke

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6,502129588 (3.94)210
Title:Childhood's End
Authors:Arthur C. Clarke
Info:Del Rey (1987), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Read, Owned

Work details

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

  1. 50
    Nightfall by Isaac Asimov (weener)
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    Lilith's Brood by Octavia E. Butler (Medellia)
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    The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Contains the short story upon which Childhood's End is based.
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    More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (rickyrickyricky)
    rickyrickyricky: Similar philosophy, stronger writing, & less dated by mid-century sci-fi cliches and ignorance.

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English (121)  Danish (4)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (129)
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An alien species, the Overlords, arrive from the stars just as Earth is on the verge of achieving spaceflight. Equipped with overwhelming technological superiority, they benignly colonize the planet, eliminating war and want, shepherding the human race into a golden age of peace, prosperity, and sanity - but also toward a shattering and horrifying transformation. Clarke's 1953 story is on many must-read lists of 20th century SF, and it's one of his better books, but still shows its age.

I read this short novel for the first time when I was very young. The paperback I just reread is from 1964, bought by me in that year, but I'm sure I read the book (first published in 1953) in a library copy before then. So this is a nostalgia reread - although [Childhood's End] is a much better book than many of the others I loved as a child.

Prediction is not the business of science fiction, but it's fun to note Clarke's performance anyway. He was dead on that the contraceptive pill, then a bit less than a decade away, would cause a revolution in "patterns of sexual mores". On the other hand, he represents a futuristic glut of entertainment by figuring that the world might someday broadcast 500 hours of radio and television per day. More like 100 hours per minute for Youtube alone, apparently. And ending racism in under 100 years? Lovely thought. Clarke does deserve credit for including an interracial marriage, in a story written at a time when that marriage would have been illegal in many parts of the US. He also writes an African-descended major character, very rare in US/British SF of the era. But I suspect even the very competent Overlords would have more trouble with building the post-racial society of the novel than Clarke shows here.

And all the actual agency in the story belongs to men; women exist as lovers, mothers, and conduits for alien influences.

The plot turns on the assumption that psychic/paranormal phenomena - telepathy, telekinesis, and the like - are real. This premise is an absolutely standard element of science fiction written from the 1920s through the mid-1970s or so. A genre of fiction concerned with science and its impact on society drew much of its imaginative juice from prescientific notions. What drove this tendency, and our more-recent turn away from it, is an interesting question, but outside the scope of this review. This aspect of the book is part of what dates it.

In the six decades since its publication, the sort of ideas Clarke plays with have become routine in SF, making this a bit of a historical relic, unfortunately. We get a tour of grand possibilities, then a flash into transcendence. [Childhood's End] may be one of the first books to use this trope; there have been many more, and the book is more interesting today for its historical importance than as a story. ( )
2 vote dukedom_enough | Jan 31, 2016 |
Why are the Overlords helping mankind? What is their end game? Each step of the way I couldn't wait to see what came next. ( )
  nx74defiant | Jan 23, 2016 |
I am no big fan of sci-fi, but I love this book. I find that I think of it when I am not reading it, and have it on my list to read more often that I want to admit. I can't tell you what draws me to it, but I do know it's powerful. ( )
  CarmenMilligan | Jan 18, 2016 |
Please read the full review on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It...

In a way, this book is the opposite of Rendezvous with Rama. In both books big stuff from outer space approaches, and whereas in Rama ultimately nothing happens to Earth, in Childhood’s End ultimately everything happens to Earth. Childhood’s End is 20 years older than Rama, and I found it much harder to like. Although the novel starts promising, the biggest problem I experienced was my growing disbelief. Clarke acknowledges this in his 1989 preface:

When this book was written in the early 1950s, I was still quite impressed by the evidence for what is generally called the paranormal, and used it as the main theme of the story. Four decades later (…) I am an almost total sceptic. (…) It has been a long, and sometimes embarrassing, learning process.

Seen in this light, (...) ( )
  bormgans | Dec 29, 2015 |
It's a little disturbing to reread a favorite book from middle school. It's still a terrific book, but I didn't remember that he used the N word at one point. It was jolting. I know that he released a revised version of the book in 1990, so I hope that he took that passage out.

The context was his comment that people were no longer prejudiced against blacks so that people were no longer offended by "the convenient word 'n***er'" It was one of his least successful prognostications! That phrase "convenient word" really baffles me. I know the book was written in 1953, but still...

The fact that I had no recollection of that passage disturbs me about myself. I read the book in the deep south in the early 70's, so I guess that I shouldn't be surprised. It was the deeply twisted culture in which I was reared. *shudder*

The book also has one of Clarke's more interesting prognostications. He comments that society's attitudes toward sexual mores were deeply changed by two developments: a truly reliable oral contraceptive and an effective paternity test. The FDA didn't approved the first oral contraceptive until 1960, seven years after he wrote the book. (Although doctors were working on it at the time that he wrote.)

Childhood's End is an odd book for Clarke. The book is his homage to Olaf Stapledon's eon spanning writings such as Last and First Men. He tells a story that spans over a hundred years, so there is a lot of exposition covering the changes to human society caused by the advent of a utopian plenty.

This is the book that Stanley Kubrick wanted to turn into a film when he first began working with Clarke, but he couldn't get the movie rights to it. That's such a shame. It would have been interesting to see what he made of the book. But I guess that we wouldn't have had 2001: A Space Odyssey if that had happened. ( )
1 vote fredbacon | Dec 27, 2015 |
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I'm not sure Childhood's End is the first book my dad gave me, but it was one of the first, and it's certainly the one I remember most vividly. And it's probably a book that changed my life.
added by RBeffa | editDaily Kos, DOM9000 (Jul 8, 2011)

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arthur C. Clarkeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bacon, C.W.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bing, JonForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bringsværd, Tor ÅgeForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Csernus, TiborCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deutsch, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ellis, DeanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fernandes, StanislawCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haars, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kempen, BernhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover Artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sawyer, Robert J.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schjelderup, DaisyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Summerer, Eric MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The volcano that had reared Taratua up from the Pacific depths had been sleeping now for half a million years. (Original)
Before she flew to the launch site, Helena Lyakhov always went through the same ritual.  (1989 Updated Version)
This was the moment when history held its breath, and the present sheared asunder from the past as an iceberg splits from its parent cliffs, and goes sailing out to sea in lonely pride. All that the past ages had achieved was as nothing now; only one thought echoed and re-echoed through Mohan's brain: The human race was no longer alone.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345347951, Mass Market Paperback)

Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. Manned by the Overlords, in fifty years, they eliminate ignorance, disease, and poverty. Then this golden age ends--and then the age of Mankind begins....

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:34 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The author questions the survival of mankind in this science fiction tale about Overlords from outer space who dominate the world.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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