Childhood’s End – Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood’s End is my first read of a work by Arthur C. Clarke. Being not an enthusiast of the science fiction genre, I wasn’t inclined to try him out. But this year I decided to try out the genre and started first with Asimov. That experience gave me the confidence to try out another author, so I set my mind on Arthur C. Clarke. He is a genius writer, no doubt. I do agree with it having read this work now. But I chose to read him simply because I felt ashamed of not having read an author whose renowned worldwide and who lived in my country all his adult life. So, in a way, reading him was also paying tribute.

The storyline of this book is a fantasy. The earth is ruled by aliens who call themselves the Overloads. With their rule, the earth has become a peaceful place to live in with no wars and equality among all the species. Overloads have introduced new superior technologies to secure the forward progress of the earth and its inhabitants. In short, a sort of utopian world is created. But humans aren’t totally content. They feel the absence of creativity and adventure, and they fear that their restricted position will soon make them lose their human identity. So, they rebel subtly not knowing what the future holds for them.

I’m not privy to the thoughts of Mr. Clarke in writing this work. But we know that he was a known futurist. So, I couldn’t help making the following observations. First, I felt that Clarke wasn’t too happy with the too technological forward progress. This is not to mean he was against it. On the contrary, he was very much interested in the technological inventions which made the human exploration of the universe possible. While he sanctioned the progress toward exploring the unknown, he also feared that humans will become slaves of their own inventions. He feared that the creativity the world once knew will slowly come to an end with this 20th-century technological revolution. But, towards the end, however, I sensed a thematic change and felt that Clarke was trying to say something more than what I initially grasped. He was certainly questioning the self-proclaimed superiority of the human race. In his story, the humans are overpowered and ruled by the Overloads. That shows that humans are just another race and no need for them to demonstrate any superiority and that the ego of “I” is meaningless. And his introduction of the all-powerful Overmind raises the interesting question of the ultimate ruler of the universe. Arthur C. Clarke believed in the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, a state of no-self, where there is neither suffering nor desire, a transcendent state in which the cycle of death and rebirth is broken and replaced by an eternal state of consciousness. I felt that the Overminds in the story were Clarke’s representation of this eternal state of consciousness.

The story is one that goes deeper than what one comprehends on the surface. I didn’t dream that I could find so much philosophy in a fantastic science fiction. I was surprised and pleasantly so. I believe it’s the thought-provoking nature of this novel that attracted me much to the story. I’m glad to have finally read Arthur C. Clarke. I can never be an enthusiast of this genre, but Clarke interested me enough to try another work of his.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.