Friday, November 21, 2014

Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke)

I started this blog seven years ago.  WTF?!?  I was almost 20 years younger innocent and unknowing of the cold, callous ways of the world.  And now, having read 59 1/3 of the 105 books I originally intended to read, what have I actually learned along the way from this blogging/reading project?  Well, I've learned, relearned actually, just how delicious some alcoholic beverages can be (yes, I'm talking to you, aged rye whiskey).  And I've learned that it takes fucking forever to read 105 books, especially when you're reading them with an addled middle-aged mind.  I've learned that some books quickly fade from memory once they're finished...I'd tell you which one(s) but I can't remember them.  And yet, I've learned that some books not only stay with you after you've read them, but seem to grow in importance long after their covers have been closed.  In particular I'm thinking of Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War".  As readers of this blog may recall (assuming there are readers of this blog, which seems highly unlikely) Thucydides was not the definition of an easy read, and although his book was quite interesting, it was not a page turner.  And yet, I think back onto this book almost daily.  I'm somewhat of a news junkie, and I follow current events and politics fairly closely, and I'm blown away by how the problems of the Greek world of 400BC as described in Thucydides so closely parallel many of the problems faced by our global society today.  The tension between aristocracy and the common people, and the pressures on democracies to become oligarchies, are themes very relevant to society in 2014.  And the rise of demagogues in Athens, and the penchant for such politicians to make decisions that are not in the best interests of the country in the long run, well these seem depressingly similar to the political scene in America today.  History indeed repeats itself.  People are the same as they were 2400 years ago, making the same mistakes and coming to the same dysfunctional ends.  Ugh.  The human race is not evolving, it's just on a stationary treadmill.

But this is not what's going on in Arthur C. Clarke's novel "Childhood's End".  Arthur C. Clarke was a science fiction writer, best known for his book (and the Stanley Kubrick movie based on it) "2001: A Space Odyessey".  "Childhood's End" was an earlier science fiction novel of his, written in 1953.  No, it's not on my list of 105 books for this blog, but I once again veered off the list because I fucking wanted to, and because I haven't read a science fiction novel since maybe the sixth grade.  Plus after a big bite of Plutarch I wanted to read something completely different...a quick read and a page-turner.  Anyway, where was I...oh yeah, this book is all about the evolution of humankind into something higher and better, very similar to the theme of "2001", actually.  And like "2001", aliens are involved.  At the novel's opening, super intelligent aliens in huge spaceships come to Earth.  Their ships hover over all the major cities, and they announce that from now on there will be no more war or violence or unnecessary cruelty towards animals (yay, animals!).  The aliens are unbelievably technologically advanced and don't even need to show themselves, although they eventually agree to after 50 years.  Meanwhile, relieved of all their misery and troubles causes the human race to become, for the most part, relaxed and unmotivated under the new regime of the aliens whom they refer to as "The Overlords".  Why make art or do research when you can just chill out and let The Overlords deal with shit.  So what happens...Are The Overlords good or evil?  How can humans evolve under such circumstances?  Well, I can't really go into much more detail without spoiling it, because there are lots of plot twists and curves.  Some of them are great, while others are kinda meh, but still the fun of this kind of book is having no idea what comes next.  So I will leave you hanging until you read it yourself.

But, barring aliens coming down and hovering over our cities, I fear that Thucydides really nailed the human condition over 2400 years ago.  Times change but human nature does not, as much as we like to think it has.  Maybe someday, but not today.  We're waiting for those aliens, just like they waited for Godot.  Waiting...waiting...

1 comment:

Viktoria Berg said...

"(assuming there are readers of this blog, which seems highly unlikely)"