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Childhood's End (Clark, 1953)

Updated: Jan 22

In the opening pages of Arthur C. Clark’s 1953 sci-fi classic, ‘Childhood’s End,’ mankind looked up and saw its new masters, the ‘Overlords.’ For the first fifty years of the occupation, no human being knew what they looked like. Some wondered if they had a physical form. Some didn’t care at all what they looked like, only what they represented: subjugation. This was made clear when Karellen, the Supervisor of the Overlords and humanity writ large, said, “The stars are not meant for man.”

During the century spent on earth, the Overlords keep chaos of men’s worst impulses at bay and create a utopia. War had been banned by the flying ships from the stars. Energy and food had become so cheap that they were provided as a public service. This freed up mankind to pursue the better angels of their nature. Each man an amateur professional of one sort or another. Each hobbyist a Plato, Galileo, or Gutenberg unto themselves. But not with each other. There was no one to correlate the scientific data because nothing humanity could produce would begin to rival the Overlords.

An astrophysicist named Jan Rodricks grew up in a world that knew nothing but the Overlords. He understood the peace they brought but bristled at the boredom that came with it. Jan wants to prove to Earth’s masters that the humans are more than domesticated savages, so he stows away on an Overlord ship headed towards their home base more than forty light years away. It’s there that Jan learns the stars are meant for more. There is a group mind that dominates the galaxy. A higher being that is incomprehensible to lower life, much like a human to a fly. As alien races mature throughout the galaxy, evolution hits a critical mass and the children of each race leave their corporeal forms and join the group mind.

But not all join the group mind. A secret sadness lives in each of the Overlords. Knowledge that their race has run its course and will not evolve to join the group. So, the group mind uses them as midwives for each planet that is on the cusp. The humans make the leap themselves. Children under the age of ten ascend to this higher plane of existence, leaving their parents, the planet Earth, and the Overlords behind. Jan sees this first hand at the end of the world, when he returns home to a nearly empty Earth eighty years later. As the children of man move past the corporeal form, they extract the energy from the Earth, causing it to dissolve. The Overlords evacuate the imploding planet while Jan Rodricks stays behind to narrate the last moments. A final favor to the Overlords, who spend eternity desperately studying each species they incubate to beg reality for the secrets of evolution.

Source: Childhood's End - Wikipedia Childhood's End - Wikipedia

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