Josh: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Recently, I finished reading a 1953 science-fiction novel called Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Arthur Clarke was a British writer, and one of the most famous science-fiction writers in the twentieth century. His book Childhood’s End is one of the classic science fiction stories that influenced many later books, and even inspired TV series and movies (there is a TV series on the Syfy channel that started in 2015 and is still going).

The first half of the story is about mankind’s first encounter with an alien civilization called the Overlords, who are much more technologically advanced than human beings, but come to Earth not to conquer and bring destruction, but to rule and bring peace. This is special; stories about meeting aliens tend to be about kill-or-be-killed, but this story is about a powerful alien civilization that comes to bring peace on Earth. The second half of the story is about mankind’s ‘evolution’; once all people were living in a world of peace and prosperity, the children began to change, and show supernatural powers. These children were becoming more than human, but at the same time, they were all mentally becoming one person with one mind. This ending, with human beings evolving, was very crazy and fascinating. It definitely made me think. The aliens say that they came to bring peace and prosperity so that mankind would evolve into this new thing. But this ending also made me uncomfortable. It really seems weird to think of two people having one mind; there is something human, something special about how two people are different, with different desires, thoughts, preferences, emotions. I think this is something that makes us human: each person is someone utterly special and unique.

If you’re interested, here is a more detailed summary of the story: (spoiler alert!)

The book begins in the Cold War era, when US and Russia are competing with each other in the ‘space race’ to be the first to get to the moon. They try to leave Earth to get to space, but in a twist, the engineers of US and Russia watch in shock as space comes to Earth instead – alien spaceships arrive in major cities around the world. However, rather than bring war and destruction (as we see in the movie Independence Day), the aliens want to rule over mankind and bring peace and prosperity instead. The aliens, whom people call the Overlords, are represented by one particular alien called Karellen, who stays in regular communication with the United Nations Secretary General. Through the UN leader, Karellen communicates to all people on Earth. Empowered by their advanced technology, the Overlords give rules and regulations for all people to follow, and as a result, people of all nations begin to experience peace and prosperity. This is the part of the story that I find special; stories about meeting aliens for the first time tend to be about kill-or-be-killed, but this story is about a powerful alien civilization that comes to bring peace on Earth.

While the arrival and rule of the Overlords is already quite interesting, it is the later part of the story that is really fascinating. The story shifts focus, from the UN Secretary General to a seemingly random pair of lovers. To keep this blog post brief, I can summarize really quickly what happens: it turns out that the lovers’ children are, in some ways, supernatural. The son begins to experience visions of planets and stars from far away in the universe, and the daughter begins to make things move with her mind. When the parents ask the Overlords what is going on, they learn that their children are ‘evolving’, becoming something beyond human. This begins to happen to children all around the world. They are evolving to become something beyond human, and all of their minds are coming into something called the Overmind. The twist of the story is that the Overlords (the aliens who came to rule Earth and bring peace) could not evolve into this kind of being. These aliens are super smart, but they could not evolve into this Overmind, so instead, they did whatever the Overmind commanded them to do.


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