Every so often one stumbles upon a book that is absolutely fantastic you can't help but wonder why you never read it before. Usually, you hear about the book through a small article or website, in a random conversation, or when speaking to a friend or family member. Well, I was recommended Childhood's End through the latter source. My father, who enjoys different books than I (science vs. politics, fiction vs. non) recommended this in a recent conversation. Like most folks who recommend a book, he absolutely 'loved' it and thought it was 'one of the best books he's read'. I was immediately apprehensive. He told me Arthur C. Clarke might be the best science fiction writer ever; I didn't know him from Adam. But, as they say, father (or is it mother?....well, whatever) knows best.
Childhood's End is a perfect novel. I don't even know where to start in describing it. A quick synopsis: quasi-aliens come to Earth and sort of take over but not completely. Life gets better for humans. It moves forward about 50 years, they do some other things then it gets crazier, and then there is a really cool ending.
That's about all I can reveal without giving it away. See, it's in the genre of science fiction, but it's not hardcore science fiction. I hate science fiction, this is good stuff. In fact, the novel is much more about the human civilization and how individuals struggle within a society. It also questions the importance of humans in the grand scheme of the world/universe/galaxy thing. It reminds me more of a 1984 and Brave New World then a science fiction book.
Anyway, back to may raving. The novel is superb. It is quite short, but Clarke does such an unbelievable job with the story that every page, every sentence, every word is critical. I found myself rereading passages and paragraphs again, not because they were confusing or cumbersome (like some writers) but because he said so much with so few words. In fact, that was what I found most surprising and enjoyable about this novel: how much I enjoyed his writing style. Simple, yet deep and so crisp and easy to follow.
The novel also had so many overarching existentialist thoughts and musings. The great part, unlike many authors, Clarke never takes a real view; he just presents both sides and the reader can interpret as he sees fit. Clarke will present the one side, of the smallness and how inconsequential the human race is and then quickly show another side, which values people's work in the arts, literature, music, etc. Really, it was quite well done.
Now, one might wonder how it's possible that this short book could garner a 5 star rating. Does it have any weaknesses one might ask? Well, the one thing that Clarke does not do well, is character development. There is no real depth to the characters, and they are introduced and removed fairly quickly. But, as I said earlier, it's a perfect novel. I believe that is all quite on purpose. This book is NOT about people and individuals, its about society and humanity as a whole. It's written with the focus on the BIG picture, not simple, minuscule human individuals.
All in all, it truly is a great novel and wonderful book. Easily up there with the likes of the other 5 star novels I have reviewed: East of Eden, The Godfather, and Pillars of the Earth. It's a book that says something. It's a book that is incredibly fun to read (I finished it in 3 days). It's really well written. The ending is honest to the novel and unexpected. I don't know what else to say about it, but you should go get it. Like I said originally, every once in a while a book comes along that you don't know why you haven't read it before but after you do you are so happy you did. This is that book!