There are two things I like to do which usually give me a somewhat eccentric aura if seen by strangers: hug trees and, out of nowhere, stop and look at the sky.
The cosmos always fascinated me. Not only its colors, its stars, its movements, but also what I can only see with my imagination. So, nothing more obvious than my interest in sci-fi.
I am part of a book club with some friends and Childhood’s end was the first book that we read in 2017. Written in 1953, by a very well-known Arthur C. Clarke, it’s also the book club first sci-fi novel. The story begins during The Space Race and advances 200 years into the future. Which, today, allows an analysis of both the future imagined by our past and the future imagined by our present.
When the Overlords, and their ships, arrive, they find a planet on the verge of collapse, with wars, hunger, hatred and destruction defining its only “intelligent” species. Nothing much different from today, by the way. They are greeted with fear and anxiety, which increases with their refusal to meet with humans. But all worry dissipates when their intention is to make Earth a better place. There are some rules, of course, including ending all space programs and the desire to know the universe. After all, space is not for men.
The author’s perception of the future and what it would take for us to have a functional society is very interesting, even though most of the technological advances described in the book, reflections of the time the book was written, are considered obsolete today. But when the author muses about what we know today as contraceptive pill and DNA paternity testing, both still far from being true in 1953, show how the author was aware of the scientific waves that would shape the next years.
We wanted [want] peace and the Overlords gave us. What happens in the second part of the book brings [to the reader] a bit of bitterness about the consequences of this better future. The way the author claims that the consequences of a peaceful world without wars and adversity is boredom and conformity, leaving behind everything that is creative and innovative, is very disturbing. When we face a world in which leisure and fun are all that is left, we find ourselves facing this future negatively, thinking how the result of peace is boredom. And that’s not a very nice thought to have.
Calling the visitors Overlords says a lot about how we view our position in the universe, and is a reflection of how we see ourselves before other cultures. Whenever we imagine a confrontation with aliens, we believe that they are the leaders of the outer space. Why there wouldn’t be some kind of hierarchy in the universe?
When all the children begin to behave strangely, first dreaming of unknown places (the descriptions of other planets are rich and imaginative and they surprised me because the author is not confined to anthropomorphic versions of the aliens, something that always bothered me in representations of the genre), and then showing signs of telekinesis and paranormality, is a sign that something wrong is going on. And finally we discovered the real motive of the arrival of the Overlords: they reveal that they were only following orders and that they always knew that this moment would arrive and mankind as we know would face its end.
The orders come from a higher being, the ever expanding Overmind, that sends the Overlords through the universe in order to prepare species for the moment when they can join it. It is visible a certain melancholy in the interactions of the Overlords, after all they spend eternity preparing races to align with the Overmind, but, while superior to us, they are bound in their condition, not being able to evolve beyond that. They even envy men.
Some in the book club did not like the outcome of the book, claiming that once again mankind is seen as the only valid part of the Earth, while others did not like the influence of mysticism, since, in a rough way, there is a rapture. In my view, the most pertinent question is how we imagine the future of our species, considering our entire existence. Of course it is a difficult analysis because we only take into account the extent of our own lives. But for a species, in its longevity, would evolution be so bad? Even ending with what we know as mankind? I do not see it as something negative, after all, to transcend what we are opens up infinite possibilities for the future, even if it is something that we do not understand now.
Being the unknown must be terrifying, but after all, amazing.
Reading Info: Childhood’s end was written in 1953, by Arthur C. Clark. The version I read is the Brazilian edition published by Aleph, specialized in science fiction. For book club reviews, I want to put a general idea of what the group thought, but at the end, the review is about my opinion.