Thursday, March 25, 2010

Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke

In the future we'll work less and less thanks to automation which will leave us more and more time for entertainment. Most of the routine jobs will be done by machines which leaves us to do the thinking. Thanks to the machines we'll have more time to sport and we'll manage to watch three hours of TV a day. Factories will produce enough goods so that the basic necessities of life are cheap. We'll all be able to travel to any other place in the world in less than one day. It's the golden age of mankind and also the start of our childhood as we spend more and more time playing and watching games.

Arthur C. Clarke's vision from 1953 seems prophetic today. Sadly, we now watch an average of four hours of TV a day while most people don't do any sport at all. And not everyone is at our western level of prosperity. Most people can hardly pay their rent.

In Clarke's book this golden age of mankind is delivered by a species called the Overlords. One day they came and they put us at a great level of prosperity. Of course, there's always a catch. The Overlords are in control of our world and can everything they want thanks to their superior technology. The big question is of course: why are they helping us? The responses to the Overlords are mixed, they did provide us everything we need... except for freedom. Besides that there's also a great reduction in our science and art. What's the use in searching for anti-gravity devices when the Overlords have already invented it? I personally find this hard to believe, I'd imagine that this would just cause the opposite effect. If they can build it, it proves that physics allows us to do it so we can build it too! But in times where the majority of people sport and watch TV most of the time I'm not surprised to see that there's not much time left to do research.

The book follows multiple characters through the ages. It starts directly after the alien landing with the UN governor who is our only contact with the Overlords. He's curious about the Overlords goals and sets out to find these out. The second part moves us fifty years in time and follows Rupert Boyce as he and his wife are in the golden age of mankind. Yet they're not entirely happy, Rupert wants to create art, not sit in front of a TV all day. They set off to join a small community who wants to restore our science and art progress to the times before the aliens interfered. The book concludes as mankind meets its final destiny.

Reading the first part I was enjoying a great book. Sadly, the book starts to fall towards the end. Clarke excuses himself in the foreword for his use of paranormal activities which seemed acceptable at the times. It's never a good sign if an author apologizes for his book. And it's hard to believe that an alien species having superior intelligence would be interested in it. Rupert Boyce himself is convinced that no scientist should believe in it and I fully agree with him. Mankinds destination is also a tough pill to swallow. We all accept our faith without a fight? Seriously?

Maybe we have to see the book in own time. The paranormal might have been more acceptable back then. The link to colonialism also isn't far off. The British were invading the entire world bringing peace and their 'superior' lifestyle through the use of their technology and military power. Is it better to impose your culture on others providing them a better life at the cost of their freedom? The book doesn't answer it but it's giving us food for thought.

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