Childhood's End

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The Overlords seemed largely indifferent to forms of government, provided that they were not oppressive or corrupt. Earth still possessed democracies, monarchies, benevolent dictatorships, communism and capitalism. This was a source of great surprise to many simple souls who were quite convinced that theirs was the only possible way of life. (Ch.2)

Childhood's End (1953) is a science-fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke about the peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival begins decades of apparent utopia under indirect alien rule, at the cost of human identity and culture.


Note: A new first chapter was substituted in 1990, owing to anachronisms in the opening scene. Editions since have appeared with the original opening or including both alternatives. Except as noted, quotations are from the original 1953 edition.

  • The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.
    • Disclaimer on Copyright page
  • He had lost his race. And he knew that he had lost it, not by the few weeks or months that he had feared, but by millennia. The huge and silent shadows driving across the stars, more miles above his head than he dared to guess, were as far beyond his little "Columbus" as it surpassed the log canoes of paleolithic man. [...] All that the past ages had achieved was as nothing now: only one thought echoed and re-echoed through Reinhold's brain:
    The human race was no longer alone.
    • Prologue
  • When this book was written in the early 1950s, I was still quite impressed by the evidence for what is generally called the paranormal, and used it as a main theme of the story. Four decades later, after spending some millions of dollars of Yorkshire Television’s money researching my Mysterious World and Strange Powers programmes, I am an almost total skeptic. I have seen far too many claims dissolve into thin air, far too many demonstrations exposed as fakes.
    • Prologue (1990 edition)
  • Science can destroy religion by ignoring it as well as by disproving its tenets.
    • Ch. 2, Supervisor Karellen
  • "If you want a single proof of the essential—how shall I put it—benevolence of the Overlords, think of that cruelty-to-animals order which they made within a month of their arrival. If I had had any doubts about Karellen before, that banished them!"
    • Ch. 3, the blind Welshman
  • Evil men could be destroyed, but nothing could be done with good men who were deluded.
    • Ch. 4
  • It was a tribute to the Overlords' psychology, and to their careful years of preparation, that only a few people fainted. Yet there could have been fewer still, anywhere in the world, who did not feel the ancient terror brush for one awful instant against their minds before reason banished it forever.
    There was no mistake. The leathery wings, the little horns, the barbed tail—all were there. The most terrible of all legends had come to life, out of the unknown past. Yet now it stood smiling, in ebon majesty, with the sunlight gleaming upon its tremendous body, and with a human child resting trustfully on either arm.
    • Ch. 5
  • Fifty years is ample time to change the world and it's people almost beyond recognition. All that I'd required for the task are a sound knowledge of social engineering, a clear sight of the intended goal- and power
    • Ch. 6
  • "All political problems," Karellen had once told Stormgren, "can be solved by the correct application of power"
    • Ch. 6
  • Crime had practically vanished. It had become unnecessary and impossible. When no one lacks anything there is no point in stealing.
    • Ch. 6
  • Western man had relearned-what the rest of the world had never forgotten-that there was nothing sinful in leisure as long as it did not degenerate into mere sloth.
    • Ch. 6
  • The instrument he handed over on permanent loan to the World History Foundation was nothing more than a television receiver with an elaborate set of controls for determining co-ordinates in time and space. [...] One had merely to adjust the controls, and a window into the past was opened up. Almost the whole of human history for the past five thousand years became accessible in an instant. [...]
    Within a few days, all mankind's multitudinous messiahs had lost their divinity. Beneath the fierce passionless light of truth, faiths that had sustained millions for twice a thousand years vanished like morning dew. All the good and all the evil they had wrought were swept suddenly into the past, and could touch the minds of men no more. Humanity had lost its ancient gods: now it was old enough to have no need for new ones.
    • Ch. 6
  • The evidence is confused with mysticism—perhaps the prime aberration of the human mind.
    • Ch. 9
  • A well-stocked mind is safe from boredom.
    • Ch. 10
  • What finally decided him was the thought that, if he neglected this incredible opportunity, he would never forgive himself. All the rest of his life would be spent in vain regrets—and nothing could be worse than that.
    • Ch. 12
  • It had been the Golden Age. But gold was also the color of sunset, of autumn.
    • Ch. 14
  • The group of artists and scientists that had so far done least was the one that had attracted the greatest interest --and the greatest alarm. There was the team working on "total identification." The history of the cinema gave the clue to their actions. First sound, then color, then stereoscopy, then cinerama, had made the old "moving pictures" more and more like reality itself. Where was the end of the story? Surely, the final stage would be reached when the audience forgot it was an audience and became part of the action. to achieve this would involve stimulation of all the senses, and perhaps hypnosis as well but many believed it to be practical. When the goal was attained, there would be an enormous enrichment of human experience. A man could become --for a while, at least-- any other person, and could take part in any conceivable adventure, real or imaginary. He could even be a plant or an animal, if it proved possible to capture and record the sense impressions of other living creatures. And when the "program" was over, he would have acquired a memory as vivid as any experience in his actual life --indeed, indistinguishable from reality itself.
  • “I've invented a new definition for TV,” he muttered gloomily. “I've decided it’s a device for hindering communication between artist and audience.”
  • Few artists thrive in solitude, and nothing is more stimulating than the conflict of minds with similar interests.
    • Ch. 15
  • Far, far away on the horizon was something that was not of Earth—a line of misty columns, tapering slightly as they soared out of the sea and lost themselves among the clouds. They were spaced with perfect precision along the rim of the planet—too huge to be artificial, yet too regular to be natural.
    ("Sideneus 4 and the Pillars of the Dawn," said Rashaverak, and there was awe in his voice. "He has reached the center of the Universe."
    "And he has barely begun his journey," answered Karellen.)
    • Ch. 18
  • A century ago we came to your world and saved you from self-destruction. I do not believe that anyone would deny that fact—but what that self-destruction was, you never guessed.
    • Ch. 20
  • Across that abyss, there is only one bridge. Few races, unaided, have ever found it. Some have turned back while there was still time, avoiding both the danger and the achievement. Their worlds have become Elysian islands of effortless content, playing no further part in the story of the universe. That would never have been your fate—or your fortune. Your race was too vital for that. It would have plunged into ruin and taken others with it, for you would never have found the bridge.
    • Ch. 20
  • Your mystics, though they were lost in their own delusions, had seen part of the truth. There are powers of the mind, and powers beyond the mind, which your science could never have brought within its framework without shattering it entirely. [...] During the first half of the twentieth century, a few of your scientists began to investigate these matters. They did not know it, but they were tampering with the lock of Pandora's box. The forces they might have unleashed transcended any perils that the atom could have brought. For the physicists could only have ruined the Earth: the paraphysicists could have spread havoc to the stars.
    • Ch. 20
  • All these potentialities, all these latent powers—we do not possess them, nor do we understand them. Our intellects are far more powerful than yours, but there is something in your minds that has always eluded us.
    • Ch. 20
  • We believe—it is only a theory—that the Overmind is trying to grow, to extend its powers and its awareness of the universe. By now it must be the sum of many races, and long ago it left the tyranny of matter behind. It is conscious of intelligence, everywhere. When it knew that you were almost ready, it sent us here to do its bidding, to prepare you for the transformation that is now at hand.
    • Ch. 20
  • It starts with a single individual—always a child—and then spreads explosively, like the formation of crystals round the first nucleus in a saturated solution. Adults will not be affected, for their minds are already set in an unalterable mould.
    • Ch. 20
  • What you have brought into the world may be utterly alien, it may share none of your desires or hopes, it may look upon your greatest achievements as childish toys—yet it is something wonderful, and you will have created it.
    When our race is forgotten, part of yours will still exist. Do not, therefore, condemn us for what we were compelled to do. And remember this—we shall always envy you.
    • Ch. 20
  • one of intelligence resents the inevitable.
    • Ch. 23
  • "The buildings round me, the ground, the mountains—everything’s like a glass—I can see through it. [...] The light! From beneath me—inside the Earth—shining upward, through the rocks, the ground, everything—growing brighter, brighter, blinding—"
    • Ch. 24
  • There was nothing left of Earth: They had leeched away the last atoms of its substance. It had nourished them, through the fierce moments of their inconceivable metamorphosis, as the food stored in a grain of wheat feeds the infant plant while it climbs towards the Sun.
    Six thousand million kilometers beyond the orbit of Pluto, Karellen sat before a suddenly darkened screen. [...] The weight of centuries was upon him, and a sadness that no logic could dispel.
    • Ch. 24

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