Seth Miller on "Childhood's End"
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Seth Miller is a high school student in Michigan who read Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End" for the first time in 1999. His comments provide some insight into how a new generation perceives the impact of this seminal work of science fiction.
An ESSAY on Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END
By Seth M. Miller (send Seth an e-mail)
One could never believe that such a piece as Arthur C. Clarke's
"Childhood's End," was written nearly 50 years ago. The story itself was
far ahead of its time and will probably remain so forever. There are
some who dislike or would rather not read science-fiction because of its
highly idealistic writing and plot outlines. This novel is the greatest
I've read of science-fiction as of yet. Taking consideration into the
fact that I am a novice science-fiction reader, one could dismiss my
statement as being naive. However, even if I am mistaken, Childhood's
End will remain inside my mind and heart as being the very best at
playing out what contact in our world with a sufficiently advanced
extra-terrestrial civilization and our purpose with them and the rest of
the universe would be like.
In the introduction Clarke wrote in 1989, he gives an account of
a time when he and his late friend Val Cleaver were driving to London
when they saw an awe-inspiring sight of silver barrage-balloons anchored
above London. They were protecting against, "the present peril." I'd
like to think Mr. Clarke has not lost the appreciation for fiction and
the human instinct to imagine incredible things since that time. I've
heard recently that he has lost his interest in fiction and instead is
concentrating on reality. How ironic that as Mr. Clarke is ascending (or
descending) into the more realistic universe, the young 18 year-old kid
is going in the complete opposite direction. I suppose Sir Isaac Newton
has something to do with this.
I am not denouncing Mr. Clarke's realization of the fraudulence
of humanity's dabbling into the so-called "paranormal." He is very much
right. But I was glad to see that even he believes that there is
something to it. "Today, I would like to change the target of that
disclaimer to cover 99 percent of the 'paranormal' (it can't all be
nonsense)." One of things I had to tackle after reading Childhood's End
was what made humanity so special as to surpass the Overlords? Then it
hit me. The one thing that made us special, the one thing that separated
us from them...our ability to comprehend what was not logical, possible
or even sensible. The Overlords, with all of their massive intelligence,
vastly advanced technology and their ability to learn at a much faster
and more efficient rate, still didn't attain something we did. I'm not
sure if it was just one thing as it is many parts of one thing.
Imagination I suppose best describes it. The Overlords were practical,
efficient beings. One could relate them to the Vulcan civilization.
However this was not your average star trek.
Oddly enough, Clarke to me seems to be the best at giving both
sides of the story. As one sees the story unfold in his books, they get
the feeling that they are receiving a very detailed, scientifically
accurate account of everything described. Good, but sometimes hard to
relate. He then redeems his genuine fiction writing by putting in the
creative and wondrous ideas and descriptions of what the reader sees and
the characters experience. He still remembers to make his stories
interesting, in other words.
At first glancing at the words, "The end of strife and conflict
of all kinds had also meant the virtual end of creative art. The world
was still living on the glories of a past that could never return," I
began to think that Clarke was wrong and beginning to get a little too
idealistic. Then, I realized that just as humanity in the book is coming
out of its childhood ways, I too must realize what can or can't be. One
must take the good with the bad. I found myself relating to the novel on
a whole new level. I had to learn to understand why this was happening,
and that ultimately, it was for the greater good.
Clarke mastered the outline and sequences of the story so well
that virtually any reader would find themselves in the exact same
position as any person on Earth would, in the event that something like
that would happen. Almost as if the book was Karellen's captain's log on
his ship, dispelling everything that occurred and leaving the most
enlightening part for the end. I truly believed that I was reading
something that was beyond anything I had read before. Surpassing even
the insight the late genius Carl Sagan made into Pi at the closing pages
of "Contact." While the descriptions of the Overlords' home planet were
somewhat trifling for my abilities to imagine inside my head, I had to
re-read a few of the passages Clarke wrote. I'm sure even the character
of Jan had difficulty taking it all in.
I have, under much consideration, contemplated the production
of this story into a full-fledged motion picture event. Each page keeps
the reader addicted. I found myself reading the third chapter after ten
minutes, at first only intending to read the first couple of pages. What
an incredible movie it would indeed make! Very idealistic and daring,
but so were many blockbusters in the past...Star Wars, Close Encounters
of the Third Kind, Titanic, and the beautiful 2001: A Space Odyssey.
(This young man hopes one day to see this on the big screen.) I'm sure
Mr. Clarke is very interested in trying to make it into a movie.
However, he gives his reasons why he might not happen, "According to
information I've just received from the Hollywood Gulags, the current
asking-price for Childhood's End is more than two hundred times that of
the perfectly satisfactory fee I received in 1956." Money, of course is
always the ultimate consideration in Hollywood. What is needed are
sources in Hollywood that transcend the suits with their past creative
successes. Such people include Clarke's friend, Steven Spielberg, and
collaborator Stanley Kubrick. Even I began to envision each of the
scenes in a Kubrick way. Once done by Robert Zemeckis with Carl Sagan's
Contact, I to hope to see this film started before the set of Arthur
Clarke. If this book is every made into a movie, I sincerely hope the
screenwriter and director leave virtually every part intact. In the
unlikely event that this essay is ever read by the great author himself,
I'd like it known by him that his books and ideals carry on into the
next millennium and that the young man writing this essay has made it a
personal goal to do his best to show the story of Childhood's End on the
big screen. I say its time for Clarke to be recognized once again on
The ending of the book, and I'm sure others would agree with me,
had the greatest effect on me. I was able to envision every minute
detail and emotion. The dreams and experiences of Jeffery, the
realization of his parents that their child is no longer human, the
gathering of the children going away. What an incredible vision I saw!
It was so bold and so real that many times I found myself perspiring all
over and even shedding a tear or two at how beautifully the story seemed
to me. Jan, reporting back to the Overlords of what he was seeing and
feeling...the mere thought of what might be going through his head was
enough for me to stop reading. Yes, I'm sure that wasn't Clarke's
intention. I found it too good to be true. The story continuously
evolved onto a new level of comprehension and experience. The
goose-bumps on my body now began to hurt after each page I turned. This
was what science-fiction was all about! This is why I love
science-fiction! Incredible events that captivate and entangle us unto a
new level of comprehension and understanding. Jan was the last man on
Earth and it was up to him to give his account of the end of the world.
How impossibly exhilarating that would be. Seeing your own world
disappear before your eyes, and you with it. But this isn't a tragedy of
mankind. Instead, I thought long and hard about how this book ended.
About how humanity ended. A very noble and respectful way for mankind to
end. Knowing that each event in the past was not spent in futility.
Instead as a milestone on the ascending hill to infinity. Each step a
part of the ultimate destination that was reached. True, one could say
it wasn't us that attained that final step, but it was. Perhaps not
physically or psychologically, but it was our voyage that made it
happen. The whole time, protected by those who see us shine and fly past
them on their way to the top. Incredible! How symbolic of any young
person's voyage into the real world. At fist protected by their parents
and mentors, they are taught how to deal with the powerful forces that
lie beyond them. They are taught to accept the fact that old games and
childish actions of their youth must leave them. They are taught that
they have a destiny, and they would have to construct it on their own
one day. Just think of how a young man, just beginning his voyage into
the real world, can see this as being almost allegorical.
For these reasons, and I'm sure many more I will learn in the
future, (hopefully by the author himself) I believe Childhood's End is
the most impactful, insightful and ultimately my favorite reason for the
existence of science-fiction, and the human ability to... "imagine."
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