Garbage Collector

The little space of a writer, tinkerer, and a coffee addict

Childhood's End

Childhood's End
© Rocket Publishing Ltd., 1953 - © Bragelonne 2013 (French Translation) - Cover by Manchu

Childhood’s End, also known as Les Enfants d’Icare in its French translation, is a 1953 novel written by Arthur C. Clarke. Following 2001 : A Space Odyssey, this book was my number two in my Clarke works discover. And I wasn’t disappointed. The story revolves around a peaceful alien invasion, which is quite unusual regarding to the average stories of the kind.

In the late 20th century, the United States and the Soviet Union were competing to launch the first spacecraft into orbit. However, their mutual objective got extinguished by the sudden arrival of several alien spaceships above Earth’s major cities. After a short time, the aliens established a new order to prevent humanity’s destruction as the nations were threatening each others with nuclear weapons. Progressively, the Overlords, as the humanity called the aliens, transformed the human societies into a peaceful utopia where wars, deceases, and poverty disappeared. At the cost of several parts of the human identity and culture. But the biggest mystery regarding the Overlords remained what is their actual objective, and moreover, what do they look like as they never showed themselves.

For a 70 years old novel, I was impressed to see how several parts of the story were still up to date. Basically, the novel didn’t anticipated the communication network expansion such as the Internet, using the TV and radio as the main broadcasting system for information. However, various changes in the human society can be transposed into our modern era. For instance, the book tells the Overlord have not really interest into arts. And with the economic system being stopped, the story states that artistic creation got less motivated and developed. Today, it’s a contemporary topic with the Generative Artificial Intelligence that could « creates » Art from a statistical model and raise questions about its place in our society (copyright, originality, training material usage, etc), and the place of artistic creation. The question of the place of science into the society was also mentioned, but as a purpose and a goal. Since the Overlords possess a prodigious intelligence and developed unbelievable technologies, what’s the point to study and do research ? It’s a question the book asked at a moment.

Another topic I’ve noted during the reading that is terribly modern is the passivity of the new generations of humans. At some point, the humanity became a basic consumer of contents, stopped to be artistically interested, or interested by anything else actually, with too much distraction and entertainment instead. An example given in the story is « radio and television provide 500 hours of daily content », pointing the fact that there is an overproduction of distraction turned the people into « passive sponges that absorb but not create ». When I’ve read that, the first thing that popped into my head was a comparison with the abundance of contents available on the Internet and the endless scrolling social medias have to keep their user captive. So, if the book kept the idea of TV and radio as the main media, the consequence and the usage is eventually the same as today with the social medias.

As introduced, the story of the Childhood’s End is far different from the usual science fiction alien invasion kind. Instead of murdering aliens like the War of the Worlds, for instance, the story tells about good-willed aliens that put an end to the humanity’s misery and elevated it into a peaceful culture under a very strict supervision. But a big question with a story like this, with no clearly defined « bad guy » would be : how to end a story about aliens transforming an almost self-annihilated Earth into a pacific utopia ? Without spoiling, the end is very good actually. I must say it was a nice surprise and development with several point of views from different characters to develop them. Also, the story uses science background such as the relativity theory to explain some parts of its scenario.

I have the feeling too that Clarke liked the idea of helping the humanity to grow by using alien tutors. So far, the work I’ve read from this author is very optimistic actually. The idea was also a part of 2001 : A Space Odyssey with the monolith that helped to develop the ape-men’s intelligence, and later opened a new gate of the human’s evolution. However, I must admit I’m quite confused about the French translation of the title, Les Enfants d’Icare (Icarus’ Children). I see the meaning with the context of the book, but actually, the idea of the original title, Childhood’s End has a very strong signification for the story. In French, the title would have been La Fin de l’Enfance but maybe there was another book with this title.

So, yes, I’ve really enjoyed this story. It’s very inspirational and optimistic with a nice timeline explaining the humanity’s evolution under the guidance of the Overlords. Also the Overlords being very mysterious at the beginning got nicely developed and very consistent in their construction. As an amateur novelist - damn, I always think it’s awfully pretentious for me to say that - passionate about science fiction stories, so far, I would say I like Clarke’s work because it’s different from the usual stories, and also very detailed with a strong scientific background.

Following this book, I’ve started reading - and almost finished - another one from Clarke, Islands in the Sky, as a part on the Space Trilogy also including The Sands of Mars and Earthlight. Actually, I must say I deeply regret to have waited all of this time to read these books. I’ve always been interested by Clarke’s work but reading wasn’t something I’ve ever enjoyed (I don’t like holding a book - yes I know, confusing for a guy who likes writing stories, isn’t it ?). Thanks to the e-book reader I’ve bought in 2020, I’ve been able to compensate and finally discover all of this. But damn, I should have done this earlier !

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