A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
I was once told never to read this book by a fellow librarian and passionate SF reader. He told me it was a plotless lead up to a gimmicky twist ending, and then promptly spoiled the twist for me. I decided to read other Arthur C. Clarke novels instead, and loved them. 2001, 2010, Rendezvous with Rama, The City and the Stars, they’re all among my favorite SF novels. Finally, after reading the glorious Fountains of Paradise, which is about the engineering of an elevator into space, I decided that if Clarke could make that plot exciting he must be able to work wonders with a gimmicky twist.
Turns out, I take issue with both of the points my friend raised. First, the twist isn’t that gimmicky after all. You might see it coming a chapter or two ahead, but it’s certainly not in Shyamalan territory. Second, it’s hardly plotless. It’s about earth’s reaction to the sudden appearance of extraterrestrials who begin to take part in human politics, smoothing out discord and making life generally better for everyone. We follow developments over a few generations, meeting multiple characters effected by the aliens and even a few of the aliens themselves. It might be a little short on action and adventure, but Clarke turns the conflict between humanity’s happiness and it’s freedom into compelling, page turning stuff.
I won’t go on and on until I end up spoiling it for you. If you’re in the mood for thoughtful, idea heavy SF then Clarke is always a good recommendation, and Childhood’s End is among his best.
Review by Matthew