Childhood’s End is a 1953 science fiction novel by the British author Arthur C. Clarke. The story follows the peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival begins decades of apparent utopia under indirect alien rule, at the cost of human identity and culture. When vast alien spaceships suddenly position themselves above Earth’s principal cities, the space race ceases. After one week, the aliens announce they are assuming supervision of international affairs, to prevent humanity’s extinction. They become known as the Overlords. In general, they let humans go on conducting their affairs in their own way.
The Overlords began improving the health and overall well being of humanity. There ares no more wars and fights are rare. It is a bit overwhelming for most people especially since they cannot see the Overlord. Five decades after their arrival, the Overlords finally reveal their appearance: large bipeds that resemble the traditional Christian folk images of demons, with cloven hooves, leathery wings, horns, and barbed tails. After they get used the appearance of the aliens, humanity enters a golden age of prosperity at the expense of creativity. Although humanity and the Overlords have peaceful relations, some believe human innovation is being suppressed and that culture is becoming stagnant. One of these groups establishes New Athens, an island colony in the middle of the Pacific Ocean devoted to the creative arts.
Well over a century after the Overlords’ arrival, human children, beginning with the Greggsons’, begin to display clairvoyance and telekinetic powers. Karellen reveals the Overlords’ purpose: they serve the Overmind, a vast cosmic intelligence, born of amalgamated ancient civilizations and freed from the limitations of material existence. The Overlords themselves are in an “evolutionary cul-de-sac (dead end)”; unable to join the Overmind, they serve instead as a kind of “bridge species”, fostering other races’ eventual union with it. The time of humanity as a race composed of single individuals with a concrete identity is coming to an end. The children’s minds reach into each other and merge into a single vast group consciousness.
No more human children are born and many parents die or commit suicide. The members of New Athens destroy themselves with an atomic bomb. One of the humans named Jan had previously stowed aboard a supply ship that was headed back to the Overlord’s home planet and due to the time dilation effect, 40 years had passed by for earth while it was only a few days on the ship. the Overlords take him to see the sights and permit him a glimpse of how the Overmind communicates with them. When Jan returns to Earth, approximately 80 years after his departure by Earth time, he finds an unexpectedly altered planet. Humanity has effectively become extinct and he is now the last man alive. Hundreds of millions of children – no longer fitting what Rodricks defines as “human” – remain on the quarantined continent, having become a single intelligence readying themselves to join the Overmind.
Jan asks to be left on earth while the Overlords head back on their ship as the planet destructs. By radio, he describes a vast burning column ascending from the planet. As the column disappears, Rodricks experiences a profound sense of emptiness when the children have gone. Then material objects and the Earth itself begin to dissolve into transparency. Jan reports no fear, but a powerful sense of fulfillment. The Earth evaporates in a flash of light. The Overlords looks back at the receding Solar System and gives a final salute to the human species.
Superb story and as for the question of had the Overlords met humans in the past, which would explain why we describe demons the way that the Overlords look, Jan is told that the primal fear experienced by humans was not due to a racial memory, but a racial premonition of the Overlords’ role in their metamorphosis. Fascinating stuff and a must read. 8.5 outta 10!