Childhood’s End was first published in 1953. However, it is just as readable and current as if it were written in the 2000s. This is the second fiction work by Clarke that I have read and was expecting greatness. One of the most significant things about this novel is that in just over 200 pages, Clarke tells a sweeping story that is thought-provoking and curious. It is somewhat about a first contact situation, but it expands to a much larger timeline. This is a tough bit of writing to manage, but Clarke does it to perfection.
The novel is divided into three sections:
- I. – Earth and the Overlords
- II. – The Golden Age
- III. – The Last Generation
A really great thing about this novel is that it is not possible to predict where it’s going. Sometimes plots are so transparent that the whole novel seems a bit obvious. Not so with Childhood’s End. I read the first section and loved it. It is exciting and builds the novel’s tension quite a bit. In fact, I really began to like the character Stormgren. His interactions with Supervisor Karellen build the tension nicely because the reader is kept in the same wonderment as Stormgren. What is Karellen, really, and what are his motives?
The second section introduces Rupert Boyce and the alien Rashaverak. The reader also meets the characters Jean and George – who will remain with us through most of the book. In fact, they end up being the actual main characters. The second section is the bulk of the novel and it requires close reading. However, I felt when I read it that I would rather go back to the storyline involving Karellen and Stormgren. Still, I was invested in the story and read onward.
The third section is aptly named as it describes the last generation on Earth. More or less, the point of the story is revealed, the purpose of the Overlords, and the significance of George and Jean’s children. However, I have to say, the story – while well written – just was not exactly what I was hoping for. I mean, it’s definitely interesting and thought-provoking, but maybe it’s just not my cup of tea. Jan Rodricks is not as interesting a character as he could be, I think. I wanted to enjoy his exploits off-world, but in the end he is a tool-character; used by Clarke just to provide a method to explain the strangeness and power of the Overlords. Clarke does manage to provide a good dose of eeriness to make the reader’s blood chill just slightly.
Ultimately, the ending of the book reminds me slightly of some of the plot threads in the TV series The 4400. Also, because I am a fan of comic books, I felt something similar to Galactus when the topic of the Overmind came up. (Galactus was created by Marvel Comics in 1966 – after this book was published.) Now, I know Galactus is a world-devouring being, but something about being that much more beyond humans and even Overlords made the Overmind seem like Galactus. So, whenever I read Overmind, I pictured Galactus, even if the analogy isn’t quite accurate. Maybe if I had no referent for The 4400 or Galactus I would be way more astonished and impressed with this novel. Overall, it’s not bad. It just was not my style. Still, this is a very worthy read.