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Childhood's End

Childhood's End

4.2 58
by Arthur C. Clarke

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Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. Manned by the Overlords, in fifty years, they eliminate ignorance, disease, and poverty. Then this golden age ends—and then the age of Mankind begins....


Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. Manned by the Overlords, in fifty years, they eliminate ignorance, disease, and poverty. Then this golden age ends—and then the age of Mankind begins....

Editorial Reviews

First published in 1953, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End quickly earned enthusiastic reviews and impressive word-of-mouth sales. Soon regarded as a sci-fi golden age classic, this ambitious tale about a global alien takeover attracted the attention of numerous filmmakers, most famously Stanley Kubrick, whose unsuccessful attempt to secure its rights forced him to detour to his 2001: A Space Odyssey project. In December, these directors' dreams will find fulfillment with a six-part Syfy Channel mini-series. This mass-market paperback film tie-in edition will mark the occasion.

From the Publisher
“A first-rate tour de force.”The New York Times
“Frighteningly logical, believable, and grimly prophetic . . . [Arthur C.] Clarke is a master.”Los Angeles Times
“There has been nothing like it for years; partly for the actual invention, but partly because here we meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim on humanity than its own ‘survival.’ ”—C. S. Lewis
“As a science fiction writer, Clarke has all the essentials.”—Jeremy Bernstein, The New Yorker

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

The volcano that had reared Tratua up from the Pacific depths had been sleeping now for half a million years. Yet in a little while, thought Reinhold, the island would be bathed with fires fiercer than any that had attended its birth. He glanced towards the launching site, and his gaze climbed the pyramid of scaffolding that still surrounded the “Columbus.” Two hundred feet above the ground, the ship’s prow was catching the last rays of the descending sun. This was one of the last nights it would ever know: soon it would be floating in the eternal sunshine of space.

It was quiet here beneath the palms, high up on the rocky spine of the island. The only sound from the Project was the occasional yammering of an air compressor or the faint shout of a workman. Reinhold had grown fond of these clustered palms; almost every evening he had come here to survey his little empire. It saddened him to think that they would be blasted to atoms when the “Columbus” rose in flame and fury to the stars.

A mile beyond the reef, the “James Forrestal” had switched on her searchlights and was sweeping the dark waters. The sun had now vanished completely, and the swift tropical night was racing in from the east. Reinhold wondered, a little sardonically, if the carrier expected to find Russian submarines so close to shore.

The thought of Russia turned his mind, as it always did, to Konrad and that morning in the cataclysmic spring of 1945. More than thirty years had passed, but the memory of those last days when the Reich was crumbling beneath the waves from the East and from the West had never faded. He could see Konrad’s tired blue eyes,and the golden stubble on his chin, as they shook hands and parted in that ruined Prussian village, while the refugees streamed endlessly past. It was a parting that symbolized everything that had since happened to the world—the cleavage between East and West. For Konrad chose the road to Moscow. Reinhold had thought him a fool, but now he was not so sure.

For thirty years he had assumed that Konrad was dead. It was only a week ago that Colonel Sandmeyer, of Technical Intelligence, had given him the news. He didn’t like Sandmeyer, and he was sure the feeling was mutual. But neither let that interfere with business.

“Mr. Hoffman,” the Colonel had begun, in his best official manner, “I’ve just had some alarming information from Washington. It’s top secret, of course, but we’ve decided to break it to the engineering staff so that they’ll realize the necessity for speed.” He paused for effect, but the gesture was wasted on Reinhold. Somehow, he already knew what was coming.

“The Russians are nearly level with us. They’ve got some kind of atomic drive—it may even be more efficient than ours, and they’re building a ship on the shores of Lake Baikal. We don’t know how far they’ve got, but Intelligence believes it may be launched this year. You know what that means.”

Yes, thought Reinhold, I know. The race is on—and we may not win it.

“Do you know who’s running their team?” he had asked, not really expecting an answer. To his surprise, Colonel Sandmeyer had pushed across a typewritten sheet and there at its head was the name: Konrad Schneider.

“You knew a lot of these men at Peenemünde, didn’t you?” said the Colonel. “That may give us some insight into their methods. I’d like you to let me have notes on as many of them as you can—their specialties, the bright ideas they had, and so on. I know it’s asking a lot after all this time—but see what you can do.”

“Konrad Schneider is the only one who matters,” Reinhold had answered. “He was brilliant—the others are just competent engineers. Heaven only knows what he’s done in thirty years. Remember—he’s probably seen all our results and we haven’t seen any of his. That gives him a decided advantage.”

He hadn’t meant this as a criticism of Intelligence, but for a moment it seemed as if Sandmeyer was going to be offended. Then the Colonel shrugged his shoulders.

“It works both ways—you’ve told me that yourself. Our free exchange of information means swifter progress, even if we do give away a few secrets. The Russian research departments probably don’t know what their own people are doing half the time. We’ll show them that Democracy can get to the moon first.”

Democracy—Nuts! thought Reinhold, but knew better than to say it. One Konrad Schneider was worth a million names on an electoral roll. And what had Konrad done by this time, with all the resources of the U.S.S.R. behind him? Perhaps, even now, his ship was already outward bound from Earth. . . .

The sun which had deserted Taratua was still high above Lake Baikal when Konrad Schneider and the Assistant Commissar for Nuclear Science walked slowly back from the motor test rig. Their ears were still throbbing painfully, though the last thunderous echoes had died out across the lake ten minutes before.

“Why the long face?” asked Grigorievitch suddenly. “You should be happy now. In another month we’ll be on our way, and the Yankees will be choking themselves with rage.”

“You’re an optimist, as usual,” said Schneider. “Even though the motor works, it’s not as easy as that. True, I can’t see any serious obstacles now—but I’m worried about the reports from Taratua. I’ve told you how good Hoffmann is, and he’s got billions of dollars behind him. Those photographs of his ship aren’t very clear, but it looks as if it’s not far from completion. And we know he tested his motor five weeks ago.”

“Don’t worry,” laughed Grigorievitch. “They’re the ones who are going to have the big surprise. Remember—they don’t know a thing about us.”

Schneider wondered if that was true, but decided it was much safer to express no doubts. That might start Grigorievitch’s mind exploring far too many torturous channels, and if there had been a leak, he would find it hard enough to clear himself.

The guard saluted as he re-entered the administration building. There were nearly as many soldiers here, he thought grimly, as technicians. But that was how the Russians did things, and as long as they kept out of his way he had no complaints. On the whole—with exasperating exceptions—events had turned out very much as he had hoped. Only the future could tell if he or Reinhold had made the better choice.

He was already at work on his final report when the sound of shouting voices disturbed him. For a moment he sat motionless at his desk, wondering what conceivable event could have disturbed the rigid discipline of the camp. Then he walked to the window—and for the first time in his life he knew despair.

The stars were all around him as Reinhold descended the little hill. Out at sea, the “Forrestal” was still sweeping the water with her fingers of light, while further along the beach the scaffolding round the “Columbus” had transformed itself into an illuminated Christmas tree. Only the projecting prow of the ship lay like a dark shadow across the stars.

A radio was blaring dance music from the living quarters, and unconsciously Reinhold’s feet accelerated to the rhythm. He had almost reached the narrow road along the edge of the sands when some premonition, some half-glimpsed movement, made him stop. Puzzled, he glanced from land to sea and back again: it was some little time before he thought of looking at the sky.

Then Reinhold Hoffmann knew, as did Konrad Schneider at this same moment, that he had lost his race. And he knew that he had lost it, not by the few weeks or months that he had feared, but by millennia. The huge and silent shadows driving across the stars, more miles above his head than he dared to guess, were as far beyond his little “Columbus” as it surpassed the log canoes of paleolithic man. For a moment that seemed to last forever, Reinhold watched, as all the world was watching, while the great ships descended in their overwhelming majesty—until at last he could hear the faint scream of their passage through the thin air of the stratosphere.

He felt no regrets as the work of a lifetime was swept away. He had labored to take man to the stars, and, in the moment of success, the stars—the aloof, indifferent stars—had come to him. This was the moment when history held its breath, and the present sheared asunder from the past as an iceberg splits from its frozen, parent cliffs, and goes sailing out to sea in lonely pride. All that the past ages had achieved was as nothing now: only one thought echoed and re-echoed through Reinhold’s brain:

The human race was no longer alone.

From the Paperback edition.

Copyright 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
—The New York Times

—Los Angeles Times

C. S. Lewis
There has been like it for years; partly for the actual invention, but partly because here we meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim on humanity than its own "survival."

Meet the Author

Arthur C. Clarke has long been considered the greatest science fiction writer of all time and was an international treasure in many other ways, including the fact that an article by him in 1945 led to the invention of satellite technology. Books by Mr. Clarke—both fiction and nonfiction—have more than one hundred million copies in print worldwide. He died in 2008.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 16, 1917
Date of Death:
March 19, 2008
Place of Birth:
Minehead, Somerset, England
Place of Death:
Sri Lanka
1948, King's College, London, first-class honors in Physics and Mathematics

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Childhood's End 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
Stevey More than 1 year ago
Childhood's End is my third favorite of Clarke's fiction books behind Rama and 2001. What I think makes Childhood's End and the rest of Clarke's books so great is not only the picture he paints in the reader's head, but also how he can make the reader think deeply about the role of humanity in the Universe. I actually do not like most science fiction because many have no themes or messages behind them, making the book simply an imaginative image with no purpose, but Clarke's books are an exception.
The Overlord ships may remind you of the ships from Independence Day or a few other movies that consist of aliens coming to Earth and stationing themselves over the major cities. But keep in mind, at the time it was written, none of these movies existed, making this book entirely original.
The book is split into three parts, the first and the last seem more exciting. It spans over a long period of time, more than 50 years, making character development a little rushed in its 240 pages. I like the quote on the back of the book, "will the Overlords spell the end of humankind...or the beginning." because that is really what Clarke tries to get readers to think about.
The book is a must-read for anyone who has enjoyed any of Clarke's other works, and hopefully a mind-expanding read for people who have not yet been exposed to any of Clarke's work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best science fiction stories I have ever read. The story is told as a mystery, which slowly unravels as it progresses. I couldn't stop reading it once I had started. The story offers an alternate view on the progression of mankind. The style is similar to the movie 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' in that the characters are trying to find out what's going on, and with an ending which satisfies the wait.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you have seen the movie Armagedon you will recognize the beginning of this book and the short story that preceeded it, are almost identical to the beginning of the movie. As I sat in the movie theater I was shocked, and asked myself if Arthur C. Clarke got any credit for the inspiration of the movie. It is a good book, and it will make you think, 'What would I do?'.
review4U More than 1 year ago
Set in the not so distant future a large reptilian creature that has an unfortunate (from its viewpoint) resemblance to mankind's traditional symbols for for the devil is the guest of honor at a suburban cocktail party. This is a strictly A-list affair and the host family is thrilled to be hosting such a celebrity but mom is not so sure why she has been chosen for such a singular honor. The creature and the family's oldest son become the main protagonist in this story about the end of time as we know it. It is a spiritual gem and a real page turner.
psychonaut More than 1 year ago
This is Arthur C Clarke's first published novel, and, according to many (including myself), his best. Like most Clarke novels, it focuses on the "big picture." Like the characters? Too bad: they're not important. Clarke doesn't want you to care about the characters; he wants you to care about the message. The message in this story is that our time on this planet is short, we are destined for great things, and we need to stay calm and level headed even in the most extreme of circumstances. This story is more relevant now then when it was written more than 50 years ago, and always makes a good gift to someone on the verge of adulthood.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I decided to read this book based on positive reviews. Within itself it was an OK read, much like hundreds of other books. But in the end I found it unremarkable and a bit disappointing. I was discouraged to see Clarke use parapsychological phenomena the way he did. His usage didn't make me think 'Hmm, maybe that could work' but instead I thought 'Gee, that's pretty lame.' There was really nothing thought-provoking in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All the illustrations and book covers that I've seen about this book, have made it appear like a Human Race versus Alien Invaders type of story. It is not this kind of story, but for lovers of Authur C. Clarke's work such as 2001, there will be little disappointment. The Overlords are treated as a source of distrust in the first 2/3rds of the book, but then their role in the story is altered greatly in the last 1/3rd of the book. It is - quite frankly - a surprising ending that keeps the reader going, but for me it was a bit of a letdown. A good read, but not a great one for this Sci-Fi buff.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For all of you sci-fi lovers out there, this book will not disappoint you. The book is seperated into three parts, each in which new characters are introduced. The ending is great and it is something you never would have thought of.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some books make a lifetime impact on the reader. Some books are so proufoundly inspiring that they alter the course of the evolution of society. This is not one of those books. In fact, it seems like this book has degraded our society rather than imroved it. I liked it, though. It started out slow, but had a surprise ending, which i liked. :). I read it in 4 days!!!1 non stop.!!@ You should read this book, because it will change your life!!34
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a very entertaining book. It is hard to believe that somebody that long ago was able to think up a story that was so futaristic. I also liked it because of its surprise ending. The only downside this book had was that it was somewhat confusing. Characters would always be coming in and out of the storyline for no reason sometimes. I do, however, recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great easy read book that i had to read for my 8th grade book report. The beginning was boring, but i eventually got into the book and couldn't put it down. I would love to read other books by Arthur C. Clarke!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 8hours. That's how good it is, I couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book, that I read 2yrs ago in 8th grade and loved. It will be above most people under 16 but if you enjoy surprise endings and the freedom to use your imagination then this is a great choice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful example of a sci-fi writer who did his work. However, this book is much bigger than just a sci-fi work. This book is the frightenly educated prediction of the future. Who might the over-lords be? After having read this book alongside many others by authors who had the same agenda, I realize that Clarke is not just trying to write a piece of compelling science-fiction; he is trying to send a message to the world about societies structure and about our belief systems.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first i thought, how boring. I'm really not a fan of sci-fi but as i continued reading it, my attention was grasped.After reading this book, it made me wonder about the possibilities. It combined fact and fiction which i thought was great.It's a bit sad but i recommend this story to those who like to wonder and think.It takes your imagination to further depths.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read this book three times over the last 20 years. The best science fiction book I've ever read. Lots going on, twists and turns, unexpected situations, surprise ending, very sad if you are a parent. My 14-year-old read it and loved it. So much more than a book about aliens!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is not one of those that are all played out boring about aliens, and thier invasion but this book is actually worth reading and it will lure you in as you go along!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book and it so logically brings to a close the questions about our origins and about God and the universe. I read it at least once a year and pick up something new. I highly recommend the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been lucky enough to enjoy the very best of science fiction since I was a third grader in 1966. Of all the novels in this genre, 'Childhood's End' has been my favorite, so much so that I've lent out at least five copies to share my wonder, and never gotten a one of them back. If you enjoy allegorical prediction, and have ever wanted to read a sci-fi novel that addressed the schism between science and religion, then this is the novel you want to read. Clarke's '2001' series is remarkable, but this early Clarke novel serves as the diaspora of so many modern sci-fi threads that it stands alone as a modern classic. If you enjoy this genre, you will laugh, you will cry a bit, but you will end this read feeling good about the future of mankind. #1 on my list of the Best of the Best. crcox
catburglar More than 1 year ago
Genre: science fiction. Begins with a prologue. A unique and fascinating story; well-written; full of surprises; Mr. Clarke has a great writing style.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Erin_Denk More than 1 year ago
My favorite of Clarke's novels aside from 2001, and one of my favorite sci-fi books ever (full disclosure: I'm not a big sci-fi fan.)  Clarke painted some wonderful images in my head with this book, and often, when I'm looking at images coming back from the Hubble Space Telescope, I think, "wow, this looks like Clarke's descriptions."  Except he wrote that stuff long before Hubble was launched.  'A true visionary!
marsshine29 More than 1 year ago
I'm 51 years old now, and I read this book when I was about 12. I think it is one of the all time best science fiction stories ever written...although there have been many.It's a great read...amazing. Even Mr. Clarke thought it was one of his best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Book! Beautifully written. A fantastic description of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity and the blessings or courses that go along with such incredible thinking. 
lizasarusrex More than 1 year ago
This novel tells the tale of the last generation of mankind on Earth. All man's development in space and travel are stopped by alien "overlords" who take over Earth, establishing a benevolent dictatorship which eliminates poverty, ignorance and disease. This golden age ends abruptly as the overlords bend to the will of a superior intelligence which demands Earth's destruction. This may seem like a nerdy book but I read it in school and fell in love. I normally don't like "alien" books but this one was just so different then the typical scifi books you imagine. Why can't the overlords show themselves when they first come to earth? Well that's the whole point of the book. You have to read this book! It's a classic Read it and tell me what you think! I would love to discuss this book with you!