Published in 1953, Childhood’s End is one of the earliest science-fiction novels by Arthur C Clarke. The novel is divided into 3 parts, with the appearance of alien spaceships over all the major cities of the world in Part 1. The aliens are ironically named the Overlords and they come in peace. Monitoring almost all human communication and activities with their advanced technology they soon end all crime and poverty and bring about peace and prosperity to all humans. Only heard through the voice of Karellan, the benevolent Overlord superior for Earth, they promise that they will show their physical form to humans when their minds are ready in a few decades.
In Part 2, the D-day comes around and humans finally see the alien form of Karellan and other Overlords in the flesh. Overlords from the spaceships start visiting Earth on administrative purposes. On one such visit by an Overlord named Rashaverak, a psychic game at a diplomat’s party reveals the home planet of the Overlords. Jan who attended the party uses that information to stow himself away on one of the cargo ships heading back to their home planet.
In the final part, we find George and Jean, a couple from that party moving to a new island of Athens. It is here that the couple start discovering that their son Jeff and their infant Jean both are developing special powers. We finally realize that the Overlords true purpose on Earth was to foster the safe birth of these special humans, who collectively form a cosmic Overmind. Meanwhile Jan is given a tour of the home planet of the Overlords and sent back to Earth. He arrives just in time to witness the collective Overmind of all human children gain powers to effect Earth and leave the Solar System.
There are many unique facets to this novel, which is so old (much older than 2001: A Space Odyssey), yet so futuristic in its reach. Written before the age of computers and internet, Clarke is able to envision technologies that we today know as oral contraceptives, DNA testing to verify the father, virtual reality and sculptures that move. Also featured is the first appearance of faster-than-light travel, called Stardrive, which is how Overlords move among the galaxies.
Parts 1 and 2 are a bit slow, but I loved how methodically Clarke deals with the topic of aliens administering Earth. There are also a few parts which were probably not needed, like the kidnapping of the UN secretary general. But part 3 is what is mind blowing in its scope and vision. There are some beautifully moving sections on parenthood here. Once the Overmind makes an appearance, we are witness to some of the most awe-inspiring visions of space and time (somewhere and somewhen) and its possibilities. The novel has some dated opinions on race, British Raj and colonialism, which I can forgive considering it was written almost 70 years ago. I have read some Clarke novels and this one, in especially the third act, shines like a star.