Saturday, September 24, 2011

Childhood’s End

Arthur C. Clarke
Del Rey, 1953 (my copy is from Del Rey, 1987)
Size: Short (my copy has 212 pages)
Theme: Alien races
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Stormgren and George Greggson
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Childhood’s End follows a very basic yet interesting concept: what if a powerful alien culture, instead of arriving to Earth to conquer the planet, nor to peaceful establish a cooperation with humans or inviting them to a large federation of planets, instead arrived to demand that the human race starts behaving. Interfering the least possible with small scale decisions, and allowing each individual to follow their own convictions and religion, the aliens dictate some major changes for humanity. Yet, they refuse to show themselves. Thus, for many years, rumors spread and, in some, distrust grows. What motivates the aliens? How far and how long will they drive the fate of humanity, and for what ultimate purpose?

As usual, Clarke delivers a robust story, where scientific details are not ignored. The plot includes a little interstellar travel, multiple alien races at different evolutionary stages (up to near-omniscience), psychic phenomena, and more. There are only a few characters of some importance, but they are well explored and convincing. The novel is short, yet provides a complete story, with sufficient detail to leave the reader satisfied (even if possibly desiring the book was several times longer). The narrative is fluid and essentially focuses on a few major events along its several decades of time span. It is divided into three key stories, and each essentially has its own main characters. Very little is explained of the aliens throughout the entire book, and only one of them is featured prominently.

*** Spoiler Alert ***
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

The purpose of the aliens is finally disclosed in the last section of the book. A race which has reached an evolutionary dead-end, they are interstellar caretakers, at the service of a powerful race which has transcended past physical manifestations. For each of the races they are tasked to supervise, their goal is to observe and assist the race survive long enough for psychic powers to emerge. They have done this task with several other species before humans.

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