There are parts that are interesting, but I would not have missed this doomsday novel had I never laid my hands on it.
This book is essentially a reiteration of the idea of moksha as the ultimate purpose of life - as preached by any number of Hindu sects over the millennia. See note below.
Story summary (spoiler).
One fine day in 21st century (or is it 2oth - I forget) massive alien ships appear over major cities in the world. These aliens quickly subdue humanity, preach Clarke's morals, unite all the world's countries in one big government, etc. And are referred to by mere mortals as "Overlords". That is the first part. I generally found in totally pointless.
This first part is an expanded version of the short story "Guardian Angel" (1950), according to Clarke's introduction to this story in "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke". It's nearly the same text, but uses far fewer words; I found the shorter version a better reading.
Later half is where you have the sole tiny interesting story in the entire book - a smart mortal rebels, figures out the location of Overlord's Sun, & manages to board one of the Overlord commuter ships as a stowaway to visit their world.
Much of the second half can be seen a two separate stories.
- A fantasy where our stowaway lands on the Overlords' world, & sees sights that are supposed to be eye-popping.
- Other story is essentially of moksha - any number of Hindu sects have preached it over the centuries. There is an equivalent of Hindu Brahm - a kind of universal all capable mind that is essentially infinitely capable. We are told it was this universal mind whose bidding the Overlords do (more Hindu mythology); I think Clarke uses the term "Overmind" for this universal mind. And that Overlords have come to earth to prepare humans over the age of 10 for the doomsday that will see the end of humanity as a separate species. Through a what can be seen as miracle, kids below the age of 10 merge with universal mind. Adults lose interest in life & die out. End of the book is quick evaporation of whole earth into oblivion.
Moksha is essentially a merger of a living entity, including humans, into brahm - a kind of infinitely capable universal presence or mind - after death.
So you will be freed from the cycle of reincarnations - said to be a desirable goal, because it saves you the effort of living. Any number of sects in India preach this everyday, often using very colorful imagery, along with a recommended code of living that will help you attain this objective.
Note that brahm is also known by many other names.
The Wikipedia article on the subject is far from authoritative, but gives a general feel of the subject in a more learned language & in more detail.
Childhood's End, novel, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
First published: 1953
- "Guardian Angel" (1950): Short story that is the starting point of "Childhood's End".
- "The Light of Other Days": Another second rate story that attempts to define a different variant of hive intelligence as the ultimate purpose of human existence.
- All Clarke stories with aliens, or doomsday as theme
- All stories with religion as a theme.