Author Arthur C. Clarke is probably best known for the novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey. His writing always seemed to me to be more “science” than much science-fiction.
Clarke contributed to the idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays and the geostationary orbit is now sometimes known as the Clarke Orbit or the Clarke Belt in his honor. Clarke, who died in 2008, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and he is the only science-fiction writer to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Childhood’s End was a novel I taught several times and read very closely with students. It was written in 1953 and set in the late 20th century. Its plot, thankfully, did not occur by the end of that century. Well, it didn’t occur in the way Clarke described.
This novel was an early example of the “first contact” with aliens story. When he was writing, it was the time of the United States and the Soviet Union competing to be the first in space and building rockets to fight nuclear war. That conflict was often portrayed in science fiction as aliens, nuclear mutants and “body snatchers.”
Childhood’s End opens at a time when we are preparing to launch the first spaceships into orbit for military purposes. That is when huge alien ships appear over Earth’s biggest cities. The “space race” immediately ends as we unite in our defense of the planet.
It only takes a week before the aliens announce that they will take over all international affairs. But the Overlords, as they call themselves, are doing this for our own good. They see that we are on the verge of destroying our planet and humanity.
The Overlords never appear, but Karellen, the “Supervisor for Earth,” is their representative speaks directly only to Rikki Stormgren, the UN Secretary-General.
Karellen says, “Your race, in its present stage of evolution, cannot face that stupendous challenge. One of my duties has been to protect you from the powers and forces that lie among the stars—forces beyond anything that you can ever imagine.”
The plan is that the Overlords will reveal themselves in 50 years, when humanity is used to their presence.
Rather than the aliens of War of the Worlds and other novels, the Overlords don’t try to destroy Earth. They plan to make it better. Earth prospers. The end of war. A kind of utopia.
Things seem good, though not everyone is trusting. Spoiler alert: When the Overlords are finally seen, they look very much like our image of the Devil.
When Clarke died in 2008, no one had been able to bring his novel to the screen. Clarke unsuccessfully tried to adapt his novel back in the 1960s with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick moved on to 2001: A Space Odyssey which started with Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel.”
This year Childhood’s End finally came to the smaller screen in a three-episode series on the SyFy channel.
So, the Overlords didn’t come to Earth. Or did they? I wrote earlier today about how many of us are willingly giving up control of our lives for the sake of convenience. Maybe the “overlords” are here in the form of algorithms and technology.
Take that idea a step further and some have suggested that the technology was put here by aliens. Okay, this moves beyond science fiction into fringe science, but there are believers.
Clarke’s Overlords are very interested in psychic research. At a party, guests play with a Ouija board. They ask where the Overlords came from and the answer is a star-catalog number that matches the direction the Overlords’ supply ships come and go.Do they want us to know?
Without giving away the plot, I’ll say that psychic abilities and the children of Earth are keys to the Overlords’ ultimate plans.
Even the Overlords give up control to the Overmind. The Overmind is the interstellar Hive Mind that Clarke said dominates the Milky Way Galaxy.
Is the Internet and all its technology the Overmind? The Internet launched in the 1980s. If the Overlords decide to reveal themselves to us, it would be in the 2040s. Beware the Overmind.