I first saw this book two years ago and the cover (as you can see in the photo opposite this review) was so captivating. It was this particular book that jump-started my hunt for other SF Masterworks (I have 12 of them in my collection so far). I have no regrets about buying this book, and reading it at a point in my life where I'm also voyaging through new horizons while saying my goodbyes to past lives.
I always read the introductions when a book has one so I was spoiled earlier on about the staggering revelation concerning the alien "overlords" who have come to Earth and, instead of invading the planet, the overlords launched a long-term strategy to save it from falling into its own nuclear destruction. If anyone has watched the sci-fi series V, the second chapter of that event resembled the first scenes of the pilot episode of that show, and perhaps Clarke's book was the inspiration for it. But that's the only thing this book and that show share. Childhood's End stands on another level of storytelling altogether. And it's one so subtle in delivery that when it expanded across the pages without warning, I almost wanted to clutch at my chest just to make sure it's still beating.
I don't take it lightly whenever I describe a book as "beautiful" and most of the time, I would use that general description to convey beauty not as an abstraction but more of an expression of spiritual fulfillment that such a story can only cause. I'm not sure if that is enough of an appraisal for Clarke's masterpiece, so perhaps I could do one better by saying that not since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen had a literary piece left me raw and reeling from the experience. In just 237 pages, I was transported into a world that is ripe with possibilities which is the endgame of a genre like science fiction. Clarke's story was beautiful not because it revealed some apocalyptic wasteland so often depicted in futuristic stories that also serve as cautionary tales that deal with everyone's fears concerning our world's mistakes and negligence.
No, Childhood's End, despite of its misleading, ominous title, is about a future that leads inevitably to transcendence. Human beings will evolve even if it means ending the chapters of greatness that humanity was recognized for. It's also a reassuring message that we should not fear our mortality for every ending always leads to new beginnings and that in itself should be comforting enough.
The build-up to this pay-off was suspenseful enough though there are times you would think it would be uneventful. I felt like Clarke played a cruel trick on me, too. He would alternate between focusing the camera lens of his writing with the general atmosphere/environment of what the future looks like thanks to the Overlords's continuous supervision among human nations, and then zoom in to the focus characters that help contextualize and humanize the events and changes that the planet is undergoing. I was almost ready to believe that nothing so astounding will happen once the story nears a conclusion--and I was dead wrong.
Since the illuminating final moments of the book caught me off-guard, all I could do was close my eyes and imagine if whatever Clarke has created in Chilhood's End will ever happen someday--and I actually want it to. There's just a sense of wholeness, of balance and equilibrium, in the way the story reached its climax. It was then that I was also thankful that I read the introduction because I was able to appreciate the way Clarke approached and weaved the concepts of parenthood and childhood in his story with a discerning and poignant interpretation. I do recommend, however, to just go read the story first then come back to the introduction to avoid the spoiler therein.
Childhood's End enabled readers to experience not just scientifically but philosophically what exactly happens when children outlive their parents; how generations in the past need to decay in order for future landscapes to be had. It certainly made me think about the way my parents raised me. It made me wonder if they see me not really an extension of their genes but as the death to their own existence and relevance--and it must be so terrifying that we just don't acknowledge it.
Still, as cruelly eye-opening that epiphany was, I was glad it happened to me because of this book, and now I can love my parents more fiercely than before, knowing fully well now that my survival means that their lives ultimately will not be in vain.
*YOU NEED TO READ THIS, WHOEVER YOU ARE.