Arthur C. Clarke is 90 Today

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If you don’t know who that is, even by name popularity, then you have been asleep and should wake up. Arthur C. Clarke was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century writing books like 2001, Rama, and Childhood’s End, with dozens of books and short stories to his name. And he is 90 years old today. Happy Birthday!
You can see his YouTube video here, in which he talks a little about life and the three things he wishes would happen before he dies. They are all good wishes I think. I got the video from Robert J. Sawyer. Thanks Mr. Sawyer!

On a side note, Dave Itzkoff at the NY Times wrote this article. In it he said that Arthur C. Clarke’s novel (formally a serialization) Childhood’s End is about “An advanced intelligence arrives from above, creating a utopia by integrating all of humanity into a single mind that thinks and acts as one.” This isn’t actually 100% true and I think it deserves going on the record what the story is actually about.
Childhood’s End is about an advanced alien species arriving on Earth and assuming control of everything by displaying amazing feats of power that force all of mankind to suddenly stop bickering and give in to the demands of the Overlords. In fact, by the time the integration of humanity into the next evolutionary stage, which is a hive mind as Itzkoff suggests, occurs, mankind has already entered into a utopian world where everyone has just about everything they need. There is no violence and no war. The worst human trait, according to the Overlords, is human curiosity. So, while the basic premise is true and they do become a hive mind, this doesn’t occur until after a utopia is created by the Overlords. In fact, if you want to be picky about things, from a human perspective, the ending isn’t a utopia at all because it involves the complete extinction of the human race in exchange for a collective of minds that cannot think individual. All individuality is lost in exchange for awesome power. Think of it as humanity turning into the Borg from Star Trek.
On a humorous note, I read the first sentence of a Wikipedia article on this book and it too is wrong, only more so. This is why I don’t use Wiki at all, for anything other than very basic knowledge. This is the first sentence on Wiki:

Childhood’s End is about humanity’s transformation and integration to an insterstellar hive mind the Occult, man’s inability to live in a utopian society, cruelty to animals, and the idea of being “The Last Man on Earth”.

The first part is true up until the Occult part. I don’t know where the whole Occult came from. The way the story plays out it’s almost as if humanity merges with what could be considered God. It’s this powerful single mind / entity that the Overlords cannot join because they can’t evolve anymore, but humanity has the potential, if it doesn’t destroy itself, to reach that plateau. It turns out to be a dirty trick by the Overlords though because they don’t come out in front about what they are up to, which I think would have sparked nuclear war.
The second part about man’s inability to live in a utopian society is really very wrong. Actually, this is far from true within the story. The one thing that the Overlords, however, fail to do is remove human curiosity, but in the process they do remove war, famine, and art. Art, it turns out, is a human curiosity, and the only reason the Overlords get rid of it is because they don’t understand it. But there is, at one point, a human colony that takes on art once again and the Overlords show up and sort of analyze it to figure out what the big deal is. They still don’t understand it, but this has nothing to do with not living in a utopia, but far from it.
Cruelty to animals? What exactly does that mean? Do you mean kicking puppies for fun? Or food? That is such a vague statement and it can either be a statement laced with personal bias or a statement that doesn’t make sense to the story. The story isn’t about cruelty to animals at all, at least not from my perspective on what that phrase means. Nobody in the story kicks puppies for fun.
The last bit is basically true, but it’s sort of misguided. The story isn’t about what it’s like to be the last man on Earth so much as being the last human being in the Universe. When the character that statement refers to actually returns to Earth after sneaking onto an Overlord ship and finding out all the stuff that exists out there, he basically is presented an option: he can continue traveling with the Overlords doing what they do, or he could sit down on Earth’s surface with a recording device and tell the Overlords what’s happening as the Earth is destroyed. Why he chooses the latter route I don’t know, but regardless it has nothing to do with being the last man on Earth, but more to do with being the last man in the universe. That’s a lot more complicated than the former.

Anyway, that’s all from me for tonight. Happy Birthday Mr. Clarke!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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