Childhood's End

Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke - is a moderate length novel set in the modern day. Although he wrote the book in the late 50's, his prescient style incorporated most of the elements of modern life to paint a picture that with minor modifications - remains resonant. For example, instead of a 'radio teleprinter' readout , we are probably going to either be getting a mail (email), or a fax (fascimile transmission).

That said, with very few exceptions the story would call for an adaptation to screen. But it has a dark secret. The book touches on themes encountered in religion, and it is a somewhat dark story. I am not all the way through it yet, but surprisingly - despite the allure of the big iron HD sitting in my living room I've actually been more interested in this book than the blues I've been collecting.

The story is told from the perspective of the Secretary-General of the UN, and a member of the race of beings that contact us and go into a geo-synch orbit around us - a race called the Overlords. These beings are largely a mystery - physical contact occurs 50 years after their arrival - owing in part to their physical appearance. They communicate by means of one-way glass and loudspeaker up until that point.

Interestingly, at or about the 2/3 mark in the book both religion and science are sent into a tailspin. This is due in part to technology given down by the overlords - but it makes me wonder if in fact there is a connection.

For example, in America today - the churches are slowly dwindling out of sight. Pass by them and one after another you can almost see them fading. By and large the current generation does not see participation on Sunday Morning at 11:00 as something they need to schedule into their 60 hour work week. At least two generations were brought up in the church, but did not return.

Does this parallel a loss of scientific acuity? America now ranks around 43 in the world, educationally. We have dropped behind many second world countries - more and more of our children's fascination rests in the synthetic - the streaming video, or portable MP3 that replaces the audio track of the world with play for pay.

Religion seems to force us to question things we thought we'd figured out - and recognize the connection to the world around us. It builds within us a sense of perspective - God's work seems to be able to play out within us or without us and the framework of religion wrests from society the feeble sinew of shared worship and belief - a shallow and archaic medium played out from the 11:00 service that allows one person the ability to bring into highlight spiritual questions that would have otherwise found themselves buried in the workweek. The sense of community within that group of churchgoers , spread thing against the demands of attendance. In forced commute design of our American cities - the loss of the third place provider is evident. What was once the mom and pop corner shop is now replaced with a neighborhood marker and a zoning ordinance for residential only.

Craigslist is a site that maintains forum, and connection. Not unlike Ebay - where I have bid on a Scanning Electron Microscope and sold an ancient Bible recovered from the Hatfield and the McCoy's - Craigslist is designed to be a medium in which the expression of things useless becomes the profitable, and useful.

The Internet can behave, at least in part - as if it were the 'Overlords' of the book 'Childhood's End'. Political blogging out of Burma keep dictatorships in check. Communist China attempting to censor and hack into Gmail account - get their wings clipped. Google returns valid search results, and separates the commercial ones away so we can search, explore and learn. Wikipedia builds the massive database of human information into a searchable index. And Craigslist lets us experience community. But it can only show us the way. The endless copying that occurs off the net acts to destroy faith and science.

We seek meaning in both - albeit different forms of meaning. But meaning nevertheless. A long time ago , curiosity was seen as a kind of quest for faith. And those that were able to articulate and explore things we would otherwise take as common sense - purposefully crippled themselves out of normal society into a place where they could serve a purpose. We made huge scientific strides in those days.

Now, it seems, we are more focussed on technological progress. Is the IPad that much different from the IPhone, different from the Palm Pilot? And the sciences that involve making catalogue - Biology, for ex. - are rapidly advancing.

There is a secret to the book 'Childhood's End' - one that I believe, kept it from ever being made into a really cool movie. Perhaps the appearance of the Overlords. Perhaps the ending. I'm looking forward to finishing it.