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Childhood's End

Arthur C. Clarke

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Plot Overview

Sir Arthur C. Clarke was born in 1917 in the coastal town of Minehead, England. He was interested in science from an early age and built his first telescope at the age of thirteen. As a teenager, he was an avid fan of early science fiction authors such as Jules Verne, author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and H.G. Wells, author of The War of the Worlds. He was also a great fan of the pulp magazine Astounding Stories. He served in the Air Force through World War II, during which time he also published his first science fiction stories. After the war, Clarke entered King's College, London, and took his degree in physics and mathematics. His first published novel was Prelude to Space (1951).

In 1951, Clarke published another short story called "The Sentinel." This story greatly interested director Stanley Kubrick, who then collaborated with Clarke on what would become the screenplay for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke also published a novel based on the screenplay, with Kubrick's help. The film catapulted Clarke into iconic status as one of the most important science fiction authors of the twentieth century. Clarke wrote two sequels to 2001, one of which was also made into a film, 2010.

But a year before "The Sentinel," in 1950, Clarke published the story "Guardian Angel" in the magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries..Three years later he published the novel Childhood's End, which incorporated most of "Guardian Angel" into its first chapters with very few changes. Childhood's End became one of Clarke's most successful novels, and, to this day, it is still considered by many to be his greatest work.

Clarke was a strong advocate of the idea that humans were meant to explore space. He believed Earth was a "frog pond" where humans were meant to grow and develop, but eventually they were meant to move out into the stars. Much of Clarke's fiction deals with this idea. However, Childhood's End represents an exception to the rule. Unlike most of Clarke's novels and other writings, Childhood's End presents a world where humanity does not slowly move out into space; instead, it makes an evolutionary leap into a mystical, almost transcendental new form. Several characters in the novel even express the idea that "the stars are not meant for man." This may be why Clarke chose to add a note to the paperback edition of Childhood's End: "The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author." Despite the warning, the novel has remained one of Clarke's most enduringly popular works, perhaps because of its very uniqueness among the rest of Clarke's works.

Since the 1950s, Clarke has continued to publish dozens of novels, further cementing his status as one of the most important science fiction authors of the twentieth century. His 1973 novel Rendezvous with Rama won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, the most important awards in science fiction. Since 1957, Clarke has lived in Sri Lanka. He is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was knighted in 1998.

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