I’ve always known that Arthur C. Clarke has earned his place among the masters of science fiction, but reading Childhood’s End has shown me that Clarke is also a master of prose, vivid imagery, and cultivating an expressive sense of wonder, hope, and tragedy all within the pages of one relatively short novel. Deservedly, in 2004, Childhood’s End retroactively won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for 1954.
I knew the general premise of the story going into this, however I was pleasantly surprised with the multitude of directions the plot takes throughout, and the varying themes expressed through the diverse set of characters. While there are several characters through which the story is told, it is mainly through the titular and mysterious Karellen – the supervisor of Earth – that we see the most individual development take place over the course of the novel’s 100 years. It is also through Karellen that we witness the true scope of the story. Even though the book is over 63 years old at this point and spoilers probably aren’t a major concern, I still don’t want to delve into all of the plot points and twists of the story. If you haven’t read it, I believe that coming into it with fresh eyes and an open mind will make for a significantly more enjoyable reading experience.
While Clarke is undoubtedly a great story-teller and master of the genre, his writing is lacking a bit in individual character development. This, however, is not a huge distraction as it is humanity itself that takes center stage in the role of the overall protagonist. Childhood’s End explores the concept of humanity, what it means to be who we are, and our true place in the vastness of the universe. Further, the story tackles themes of belief, philosophies of leadership, the spirit of exploration, and countless other concepts within it’s short page range.