Arthur C. Clarke resides in the pantheon of science fiction gods. That might seem like a melodramatic thing to say, but it’s absolutely true. The guy was utterly amazing. Not only did he give us 2001: A Space Odyssey(among a slew of other books), he dreamed up the GPS system and discovered ruins of an underwater temple—and that’s just for starters. While 2001 is his most famous work, my favorite has always been Childhood’s End, which I’ve both read and taught a number of times. So I’m both excited and nervous to hear that SyFy has picked up the book as a miniseries. I sure hope it’s better than Helix.
Childhood’s End was published in 1953, before humans went to space or even sent satellites beyond our atmosphere. The book opens with an arresting premise: Earth is suddenly visited by alien ships who take residence over the planet’s major metropolises. The mysterious aliens, Overlords, keep their agenda a secret, but they start influencing humanity, largely in positive ways. They eradicate cruelty to animals with a high-pitched scream in the ears of would-be abusers, and they generally introduce a utopian age without poverty and crime. But of course, they can’t be entirely benevolent, or else the story would be pretty dull. When the humans figure out what the Overlords are after, there’s not a whole lot they can do. Clarke sets up a David vs. Goliath theme, but twists it in unexpected ways. I have long discussions in class about the ending—not only does it support multiple interpretations, but it strikes some people as unbearably sad and others as gloriously uplifting.