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Old 05-04-2012, 06:33 PM
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Deep Black Deep Black is offline
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Default Re: Book Club 76: Childhood's End

Just finished this in the bath today (but you guys don't need to know about that), it had been sitting on my shelf for a while awaiting a read and what better opportunity than this...

At the kick off I was thinking "Independence Day", but it rapidly (& thankfully) gravitated away from that initial premise.

We are introduced to various characters, but due to the novels tendency to skip ahead through time we rarely get to know anyone in detail, until about the last third or so of the book.

For such a short book it certainly rattles along, I was always thinking to myself - if a story like this had been written today each section would have been expanded into a door stopper, but there's non of that here. It's all on a need to know basis & that's your lot.

The book goes into some (for me anyway) unexpected areas, we have - Paraphysics, Taxidermy, Deep sea exploration &, for any better phrase, a Hippy commune... Then we have the Overlords themselves, an enigmatic folk if ever there were any. What are they really after & why are the constantly so secretive?

The bit that really amused me what when Clarke was talking about Television & the dumbing down of society - people are exposed to "50 hours of TV & Radio a day" - we get way more that that now by a long way. The "average viewing time is up to 3 hours a day" - people now watch that before breakfast. And my favourite "no wonder people are becoming passive sponges" - and Jeremy Kyle hadn't even been born then.
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Old 07-04-2012, 11:47 AM
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hammard hammard is offline
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Thumbs up Re: Book Club 76: Childhood's End

Wow, that was not what I was expecting. In many ways it felt like the anti-Clarke. To explain, my previous experience with ACC was through Renedezvous with Rama and 2001, and I had heard this book was a precursor. Now whilst in some thematic ways it is true, but to me it felt like the complete opposite.

It is hard to succently explain my feelings so I'm going to go through it step-by step:

What I liked about it:

The Title: Whilst I do also have a love for "slutty" titles, this worked so well as it describes so many different elements in the story. It also fits in very well with the quasi-Christian elements (despite itself, the story is very Occidental) with the Corinthians:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known
Which seems to me to be the inspiration behind the story.

The Writing Style: The book flows in a way I didn't find with his late works. Interestingly this seems to be done by being less straight forward. The other works I read felt like accounts of a scientific experiment. This feels more like a collection of short stories or scenes put together, closer to I-Robot and the Martain Chronicles, than Day of the Triffids or Fahrenheit 451. As well as allowing different perspectives it moved the story on without getting gunked up with detail.

The Atmosphere: Throughout the story there is a strange note optimism until the end. Even though Earth seems to be under the control of a space version of the East India company, we trust that it is for our own good. Whilst it made me kind of uncomfortable throughout the tale it is well crafted enough to work.

Characters: Okay, most of them weren't great, but some at least had glimpses of personality. The most interesting was certainly Karellan, who is essentially assigned to a job of an administrator, a role which he doesn't really love, but has to do it with no choice. The sadness he felt at the end of the book was the only time I cared about a character.

What I did not like:

Characters: See above. In particular some discussion will have to relate to Jan. Whilst I understand the decision to make him Black (and in love with a chinese woman) was interesting for the time, some of the writing has dated very badly, for example:
The inevitable reaction which had given early twenty-first-century negroes a slight sense of superiority had already passed away. The convenient word "nigger" was no longer taboo in polite society but was used without embaressment by everyone.
Though I would not blame Clarke for this (though can anyone explain why George in the same chapter says "Ain't nobody here but us Chickens, Massa!"?) I'm sure he was just being of his time. (More stereotypical is probably making his father a Scottish man who died of drink).
What I would say on Jan is that he is a bit of a thin characters, in that he seems to just display extreme emotions whenever a scene requires it, being described as hopelessly romantic, extremely driven, full of terror, containing a loneliness which threatens to overwhelm him etc. I know it's a series of extreme situations but I don't ever get much of a sense of him as a person.

Inconsistency: I won't go through all the examples but different ideas keep coming out of the story which make no sense with other ideas. Here are a few examples:
1,The Overlords seemed largely indifferent to forms of government, provided they were not oppressive or corrupt. Earth still posessed democracies, monarchies, benevolent dictatorships, comunism and capitalism.
Now without being too political how do we square this circle? Both communist and capitalist governments criticised the other on the grounds that they were oppressive and corrupt. Indeed when you consider the book was written whilst Stalin (est. responsible for 10-60 million dead) and Mao (est. responsible for 70 million dead) were still in power, it seems rather bizarre today.
2. The Eastern countries...were undergoing...spasms of national pride. Some of them had been independent for little more than a generation.
He had been born in Israel, the last independent nation to come into existence
Now Israel became an independent nation in 1948, yet the story is set in the 21st Century. No one today would desribe World War 2 as being little more than a generation ago, surely?
3.If you want a single proof of the...benevolence of the Overlords, think of that cruelty to animals order which they made within a month of their arrival stating if you slay, except for food or in self-dence, the beasts that you share your world with you - then you may be answerable to me.
Jan looked at the elephant...caught by the skill of the taxidermist in the moment of challenge or salutation.
So in what situation were the overlords allowing people to kill here? Were special mandates issued for their museums? Indeed, with what happens later, could they not have collected them live for a zoo of sorts. With all their technology I doubt it would have to be cruel and live specimens are surely more interesting than dead?
And so on. You may think I am being pedantic here but I noticed these every few pages and it really began to grate after a while.

Datedness: There are two dimensions to this:
1. Predictive: You may think so what, but this is Clarke, he was famous for some of his predictions. Yet this has all very 1950s technology e.g. they communicate via teleprinters.
2. Victorian hangovers: He seems to continually accept commonsensical Victorian social theories and ideas as fact which have now been about 90% dismissed (at least by the academics who taught me and I've known). In particular theories related to societal evolution, stratified diffusion, dialectics and symbolic universality, and his inherent ethnocentrism. I filled my entire copy with scraps of paper about it but I won't go through them. One interesting example, however (which is central to the story), is the universal demon image, which doesn't really make sense. The wings, horns and pointy tale is largely a late medevil European image. Whilst their are men with horns in mysticism around the world, not many are viewed "through a mist of fear and terror", and I am not aware of any which posess all the qualities as described. If you look around different groups at the embodiment of evil it varies greatly, covering mammals, reptiles, birds, fire, darkness etc. For me it just makes a central point just bizarre.
Again, I'm not sure if it's fair to blame Clarke though. I think a lot of the revisionist work wasn't as well known outside of academic departments yet. Still, it weakens the book for me.

What I am still unsure about:

How entertainment works in their world: Okay, we are in a situation where:
1. Art is disappearing due to the utopian quality of life.
2. Around 25% of the world's population work in entertainment
3. Hollywood productions would be considered be high-brow by today's standards
4. Most people are passive sponges and spend around three hours a day (I know, the horror!) watching family sagas.
5. Musical virtuosos regularly perform concerts of great work for free
Am I missing something here or do these facts not seem to work together? I've tried work out what people would be watching and the closest I could think is some kind of pretentious Eastenders\Dallas cross which works on either schadenfreude ("oh, weren't people's lives so terrible before the Overlords came") or where nothing happens and people then just discuss with each other (presumably whilst waiting in the enormous queues for use of a sports area, what with no internet) what each indiviual movement meant. But neither seems to sit very well.

The Ending: Okay. Now without wanting to spoil it too much, the ending was really strange. I suppose there was a sense of melancholy optimism. But I also felt other emotions, confusion and dread in particular. Perhaps it is a Rorschach ending (where it tells you about yourself) because I also didn't understand a lot of the new information they added nor did I trust the Overmind.

The Influence: By this I mean what influence it had on the genre overall. In many ways ideas in the story seem to exist in a lot of TV and film e.g. Earth Final Conflict, V, Independence Day, Doctor Who: The Daemons etc. However, the main image of the story, Clarke himself (in my intro anyway) says was done in 1947 by Sturgeon in "the sky was full of ships". And it seems to me it is a natural evolution from a lot of the ideas explored by Wells.

So in conclusion I liked it. It is well written, with an interesting concept and an unexpected ending. It, unfortunately, has dated rather badly and the inconsistencies could to be ironed out. But it is still a good read.
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Old 11-04-2012, 04:34 PM
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Rising_ape Rising_ape is offline
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Default Re: Book Club 76: Childhood's End

This is one of my favourite Arthur C. Clarke books, I wasn't expecting who and what and when I realised what was going on it was thought provoking and made me once again realise how great a writer he was-just what you want from your SF.
"I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all"
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Old 14-04-2012, 05:11 PM
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Gaspar Gaspar is offline
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Default Re: Book Club 76: Childhood's End

Incredibly, for the person who generally is more adept of coming here and write about his favorite books, I forgot to write about the excellent "The Midwich Cuckoos", but this time I surely won't forget to write about "Childhood's End"...

"Childhood's End" is one of my favorite books ever, and in the corpus of Clarke's great works, it stands proudly along with "2001", "Rendezvous with Rama" and "The City and the Stars".

In terms of music-related curiosities, I turn my fellow forumites to the great David Bowie song, "Five Years" (in the Ziggy LP), which was (confirmedly) inspired by this book.

I read it in college, in an English translation, and it's, for me, a very unClarkian book, chillingly describing the Overlords' intentions, deftly "hiding", like a conjurer, the twist of their appearance and their similitude with the Devil of ancient lore, and in the end of the book, with the "alchemy" of turning Earth's youth into the Overmind, conveying the sense of loss, of despair, but also of hope, that the rest of mankind faces.

Was "Childhood's End" in itself a (sort of unintentional) futuristic sociological message that Clarke was transmitting to his readers, the one that mankind only could survive if the Children were to be elevated to a higher plane, battling along the way against hierarchies and conservative and prejudicial society (like they did in the sixties)?
In this sense, I think Clarke's book will always be a very profound and insightful book, and also easy to relate, whether you read it in your twenties (like the first time I read it), or if you subsequently read it in your late thirties, watching with sorrow the younger generation saying "farewell to the human race" (has we know it...).
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
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