Saturday, December 19, 2015

Audiobook Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

In preparation for my upcoming review of Syfy's Childhood's End mini-series, I am rerunning my review of the audiobook. 

Book Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: Childhood's End delivers an epic and masterful tale, though there are times that Clarke could have fleshed out the ideas more fully.

This classic tale by Arthur C. Clarke takes place during the late 20th century (though still in the Cold War era from the book’s perspective) when the United States and the Soviet Union are each competing to be the first nation to launch a ship into space. But before either succeeds, large alien spaceships appear in the sky over most of the world’s major cities. The aliens, known as the Overlords, contact the people of Earth but do not reveal their appearance. They take control of international affairs and abolish war across the planet as they also work on setting up a world government. Eventually, a near utopia emerges on Earth, but it has its consequences. The elimination of strife has also stifled creativity throughout the population and the people of Earth still want to know why the Overlords will not appear to those they watch over. But that moment comes eventually and sets in motion events that will change the direction of the human race.

And while that synopsis is  rather vague and mostly covers only the first half of the book, I wanted it to be as spoiler free for those who have not read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (and now a warning that this Review/Commentary section does have some minor spoilers). Because even though the novel is relatively short by today’s standards (a little over two hundred pages in length), it has plenty of revelations to unfold. Clarke, of course, is well known in the Science Fiction community and widely regarded as one of the genre’s best authors, having penned such masterpieces as 2001: A Space Odyssey (the novel and the screenplay, though the later with some help from Stanley Kubrick) and Rendezvous with Rama. But Childhood’s End is the one considered by many to be his best and it is actually one of the author’s personal favorite. I actually consider the other two superior (just by a notch or two), but still have high regards for this book.

As I mentioned, Childhood’s End is relatively short in length, and I usually appreciate this because too often these days (and usually at the prodding of publishers), authors pad out their stories to increase the page count which can turn a book into a rather plodding affair. As an example, Dan Simmons’ Hyperian, which has a very interesting story at its core, could easily have been whittled down by a third or even a half, making it into a much better read. Childhood’s End on the other hand is one of the few instances where I actually believe the author could have fleshed out the story more without padding it. Quite a number of world shattering (literally) events occur in the novel, but Clarke never fully delves into all of the repercussions. Of course his aim is to tell the larger story of humanity’s next step in its cosmic evolution, so he is not as concerned with exploring the details of these various parts of his story. But there is more than one occasion in the book where I would have liked more instead of less. For example, humanity seems to accept the rule of the Overlords a bit too easily—I believe the Earth people would have put up more resistance. Also, the rule of the Overlords seems a bit too idealized and utopian. And I believe that when humanity finally saw what the Overlords looked like, the impact would have been much more far-reaching, especially among the world’s religions (which also seem to succumb too easily following the arrival of the aliens). There’s more along these lines that I felt Clark left for us to fill in the blanks, and perhaps he decided to do this because these elements were not his main focus for the novel. The progression of the human race from a petty, bickering people to a oneness with the cosmos is the main theme of this book. In any case, the novel’s finale, as one man gives a play by play description of the end of the Earth brings everything together and helps make this a very powerful tale and a must read for all Science Fiction fans.

Childhood’s End has actually been on Hollywood’s radar several times since its publication, and this was the story that Stanley Kubrick originally wanted to bring to the big screen before deciding to do 2001: A Space Odyssey instead. But I actually believe this book would make a better television mini-series than a movie (and a stab was made at this in the late 70's, again see the link above). In that extended format, they could actually expand upon the original story and delve into some of the areas the Clarke just glossed over. The book is broken into three sections and I believe they could easily get a two hour segment or more out of each. That would only work artistically, though, if the creative team respected the source material which is always a crapshoot when movie and/or television executives get involved. But with the CGI technology available today, this book could definitely shine if adapted into a well-made mini-series.

The audiobook version of Childhood’s End is narrated by Eric Michael Summerer who has a fair number of other genre audio books to his name as well. His narration is quite excellent and he does a great job with accents and distinguishing one character from the next. The audiobook has little else in the way of enhancements like music or sound effects, but with Summerer’s excellent vocal work, that’s not really needed. He delivers a great reading for a great book that should be on the radar of all sci fi fans.

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