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Childhood's End

Arthur C. Clarke

Chapters 9–11

Chapters 7–8

Chapters 12–14

Summary

Chapter 9

On his ship, Karellen meets with Rashaverak, who reports on his observations at Rupert Boyce's party. Rashaverak tells him that Boyce himself is rather uninteresting and that, while Boyce has the world's largest library of paranormal research, he is as much a skeptic as any scientist. This is important to the Overlords; they are about scientists actively exploring things like telepathy and telekinesis. It turns out that the Ouija board was correct: the star of the Overlords homeworld is NGS 549672. Rashaverak says that Jean Morrel must have been "the channel through which the information came." The Overlords do not say who--or what--this information may have come from. Rashaverak suggests that Jean be watched closely, because "she may be the most important human being alive." The two Overlords also discuss Jan Rodricks, who asked the question about the star. Though he now knows where their homeworld is, Karellen dismisses him as a threat. Jan has no way of independently verifying the information--humans are not allowed to build spaceships that can travel any further than the moon.

Meanwhile, George has been shaken by Jean's fainting spell. He realizes how much he loves her, and so he proposes they join in a marriage contract. Jean agrees. Elsewhere, Jan quickly investigates NGS 549672. He discovers that it is exactly in line with the direction the Overlord ships take when they leave the solar system. His biggest problem now is figuring out what he can do with this information.

Chapter 10

The human race continues to enjoy its blissful peace and prosperity. At the same time, small problems are beginning to emerge. For instance, the narrator notes, the headlines in the newspapers are rather dull compared to those of a century before. Without war, murder, and exploration, there is little to put on the front page. Robots run all the production, while men expand their minds through education. Education is the primary way that humanity now fends off boredom. Nearly a quarter of all human activity is now expended on sports, resulting in so many good athletes that professional sports are all but eliminated. After sports, the greatest single industry in the utopian Earth is, of course, entertainment. Due to the fact that money is no longer a major factor in determine which films are made, as well as the fact that most people were generally well educated, films are now very "highbrow," high-quality films. But in the midst of all this happiness and contentment, humanity cannot help but wonder "where do we go from here?"

Chapter 11

Jan meets again with his brother-in-law, Rupert Boyce. Boyce is preparing a stuffed elephant to be sent to the Overlords, who collect specimens of exotic alien life forms for their museums. Boyce mentions that another scientist, Sullivan, is preparing a sperm whale and a giant squid for the Overlords. This gives Jan an idea. Soon after, he travels down to Sullivan's laboratory, where he asks for the doctor's help in achieving his dream of reaching the stars.

Analysis

In Chapter 9 the reader begins to get some clues as to what the Overlords are really doing on Earth. Now that a utopia has been achieved, their presence almost seems superfluous, although chances are good that society would eventually break down if the Overlords left. But clearly the Overlords have some sort of agenda, one that has something to do with Jean Morrel and her surprising mental powers. It was Jean who "channeled" the information that came out on the Ouija board. The Overlords determine that while she is too old to be a "Prime Contact," someone very close to her will be—as it turns out, her future children.

The next chapter takes a break from the characters and, again, describes the state of Earth society. Again, it is hinted that boredom is beginning to set in, as is a sense of being without purpose. When there is nothing to strive for, what is the point of life? By working harder, more money can be made for luxury items, but this is a hollow pursuit. Without religion and without suffering, life has started to lose its meaning for much of the world. Everything that mankind had hoped to achieve in the last few thousand years—peace, prosperity, and health for every human on the planet—has been accomplished in a hundred years by the Overlords. Quite rightly, humans begin to ask, "where do we go from here?" They suspect that the Overlords know, but the aliens are not telling them what it is.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote several stories that dealt with such utopian societies. In several of them, there is usually some character that decides to rebel against his world, claiming that it has made everyone boring, complacent, and purposeless. In a way, that is what Jan Rodricks is doing: resisting the pleasures of a utopian existence simply because it is a closed system. There is nothing to fear or lose, but there is nothing to look forward to or strive for either. In many of Clarke's stories, humans eventually escape from the "frog pond" of Earth and begin to explore and colonize space. They become, in a way, Overlords themselves. But Childhood's End is unique among Clarke's novels because this is not what happens. Rather than mankind learning to build spaceships and reaching out into space, they are denied all access to space by the Overlords for no apparent reason. While the reasons will be explained later in the story, for the time being people like Jan Rodricks must suffer in a utopia that is, for all its benefits, going nowhere. Clarke's utopian Earth is a somewhat cynical one, but more significantly, it is an artificial one. A utopia as Clarke imagines it in Childhood's End would be virtually impossible without the "divine intervention" of the godlike Overlords, whose powers seem limitless. Of course, the novel still has one great irony: the revelation, at the end of the book, that for all their power, the Overlords are a stagnant race and that humans have a potential far greater than they.

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