Author Arthur Charles Clarke is renowned as one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. His "2001: A Space Odyssey", written with and filmed by Stanley Kubrick, is viewed as one of the seminal works in science fiction history. Obviously, Clarke didn't make his career out of one single book (and movie). He has been quite a prodigious, and proficient, writer. In addition to writing three sequels to the "2001" saga, he also wrote the best-selling "Rama" series, numerous single novels like "Hammer of God" and "Songs of Distant Earth", and untold numbers of short stories. His stories have won just about every conceivable award for this genre and have achieved the dual goal of garnering critical praise and popular approval. Of all his novels, though, it may be one of his earliest that still stands as his best.
"Childhood's End" was first published in 1953, a time when the cold war was in full form and people were beginning to truly look towards the stars for other life and possibilities for exploration. "Childhood's End" tapped into that fertile imagination to craft a story of profound scale and meaning. It begins one day when numerous spaceships suddenly appear in the sky above Earth. They are flown by an alien species referred to as the Overlords. The purpose of their journey to third planet of the Solar System is subject to much speculation and fear. These aliens seem to be a benevolent race that only wants to help humanity solve the problems that plague it. In fifty years, these Overlords will end ignorance, poverty, war, and disease. To what end do they do this, though? The absence of any obstacles and struggles renders humanity complacent and inert. Is this designed to make Earth pliable for invasion, or is there a greater, more benevolent purpose behind these actions by the Overlords?
"Childhood's End" is an appropriate title as it references the end of humanity's childhood. The Overlords are on a quest to condition the people of Earth for it's new role in the order of the Universe. Current humanity will not be able to handle what is asked of them, but through the generations they can be evolved to be prepared to take their next step. "Childhood's End", in the space of a mere 224 pages tells the stories of the different steps of this evolution in an episodic manner that is rich in detail and profound in meaning. Clarke is fascinated by the potentials of human destiny. Sometimes, as with "Light of Other Days", he is not as successful in realizing that destiny as he is in other stories. "Childhood's End", though, extraordinarily realizes what humanity can become and its importance to strive towards that. "Childhood's End" is as relevant and compelling and novel in 2003 as it was in 1953.