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Childhood's End is a novel by Arthur C. Clarke, originally published in 1953 (but based off of a 1950 short story of his). The plot concerns the Benevolent Alien Invasion of a race called the Overlords. After stopping the Cold War and establishing a world government, they maintain peace on Earth, but refuse to show themselves for fifty years. Humanity enters a golden age, before spoilery events happen. Yeah, you can't read much more than that without the entire plot being given away.

As suggested by the title, the main theme of the book is the end of humanity's "childhood" into a new era.

Shout Outs to it in fiction are not uncommon, ranging from some in Stargate SG-1 and Xenogears to the cover of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy", and the Genesis song "Watcher Of The Skies".

Tropes Used:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The first part of the novel is basically a slightly-altered retelling of Clarke's short story "Guardian Angel". The second and third parts are original, about what happens after.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The myths aren't from memory, but precognitive visions of the aliens.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The current generation of humans will be the last one and with them human civilization will cease to exist, as all their children born from that moment on are no longer human and will mind-meld and ascend into a higher form of consciousness that transcends material bodies. Ultimately, that is the fate of all sentient races, except those that are "stuck"
  • Assimilation Plot
  • Bittersweet Ending, bordering on Downer Ending
  • Bizarre Baby Boom: Aliens show up shortly before a bizarre new generation of humans appears, but they didn't cause it.
  • Blue and Orange Morality
  • Creepy Child: The telekinetic children.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The demon-like aliens were actually the good guys... The reason we thought they were evil and used them in our mythologies as such was mostly because of a sort of species-wide premonition - we now realized that their very appearance would be a sign of our 'end as a corporeal species'.
  • End of an Age: Following a variation on the theme, the setting is Science Fiction instead of the usual fantasy.
  • Evolutionary Levels
  • Gainax Ending: Indeed, probably one of the most direct inspirations for the Trope Namer.
  • Genetic Memory: Discussed then inverted.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Semi-averted, see Orwellian Retcon below.
  • Hive Mind: A big galaxy spanning one.
  • Humanoid Aliens
  • Last of His Kind: Lampshaded. "He had always been a good piano player, and now he was the best in the world."
  • Older Than They Think: Clarke joked in his updated prologue that new readers will think that the opening scene with the fleet of alien ships blocking the sun was ripped off from Independence Day (despite this being written in 1953!). In fact, Clarke himself knew of an even earlier story with the same scene.
"...I am also informed that its opening is identical to that of Childhood's End (1953) and that it contains every known science fiction cliché since Méliès' A Trip to the Moon (1903)."
Arthur C. Clarke, in the Sources and Acknowledgments section of 3001
  • Old Shame: He mentions in the Millennial edition that he wrote this when he still had a belief in the paranormal.
  • Ominous Floating Spaceship most likely the Trope Maker, certainly a contender for the Ur Example, were it not for Clarke's own comments that the Trope is older.
  • Orwellian Retcon: Clarke wrote a new first chapter after the Cold War ended.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Every religion besides Buddhism is then discredited.
  • Psychic Powers: The new generation of babies start showing various forms of these. Most notably, Telekinesis.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Earth and everything on it become energy for the new generation's journey to join the Overmind
  • The Singularity
  • Space Whale Aesop: Stop killing animals and ruining earth's environment because you're evolving into a new form that will eventually ruin the Earth anyway!
    • And oddly enough, a sperm whale diorama sent into space figures into the plot. It doubles as a Trojan Horse.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: They send another race to do their bidding.
  • Title Drop: Not directly, but the last third of the book is about the the end of both individual children's lives and the end of childhood for humanity as a species, as they ascended to a higher plane of existence.
  • Vichy Earth: Crossed with One World Order, but ultimately subverted.