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 film.

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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