Archives for posts with tag: Arthur C. Clarke

I recently grabbed an e-book of Arthur C. Clarke‘s classic SF novel Childhood’s End on a whim. I remember being fascinated by the final sequence and it’s one that has stuck in my head since I was about 14.

The story holds up even if the prose doesn’t so well. The characters and their motivations are often flat. The rigid gender roles and racism are especially striking. While they may be reflective of the early 50s when it was written, they’re jarring now.

The plot is possibly well known. Aliens (‘Overlords’) come to Earth and stop humans in their tracks just as the space age begins. You won’t go into space, they’re told, but we’ll end the wars and the cycle of poverty. All of this in advance of an epochal change in humanity.

Weaving around the lives of four characters, Karellen, the Overlord supervisor; George and Jean Greggson, a couple whose children are the first exemplars of the change in question, and Jan Rodericks, a doctoral student of mixed heritage who manages to stow away on an Overlord ship to their home planet, the novel offers multiple perspectives on humanity’s last days and decades.

From the opening conflation of Earth’s first proposed journey to Mars with the arrival of the Overlords, we’re at every moment on the verge of something great that is subverted by the overarching history playing out.

As I came to the end, I was most struck by how Clarke’s story reflects how all of our predictions for business or security or war in any coming period are subverted by how reality plays out – think of our headlines about how we might support the world’s population or protect the wildlife we have left. What we thought the future would hold a decade ago or half a century ago bears no resemblance to the present we have.

Dutch edition of Childhood’s EndThe failures of the book also include an awful lot of exposition used to get across the science necessary to the plot, but these are overshadowed by the poignance that interweaves the lives of these characters. Kerallen tells us that his race has overseen the apotheosis of several other races at the behest of what he calls the Overmind, but that the Overlords will themselves never achieve the same. George experiences a double loss, that of his children to the the change that overcomes the last generation of humans and that of the possibilities with his own wife.

‘George looked down at her with sympathy, but nothing more. It was strange how much one could alter in so short a time. He was fond of her: she had borne his children and was part of his life. But of the love which a not clearly remembered person named George Greggson had once known towards a fading dream called Jean Morrel, how much remained?’

When Jan prepares to leave Earth, he sends his sister a letter in which he expresses how little holds him to the people he know, who will all be dead when he returns in 80 years. With this storyline, Clarke cleverly engineers both a witness to the Overlords position in the cosmos and a human narrator for the end of the story. If you’ve never read it, I don’t want to give anything away, and if you have read it, I urge a rereading.

The organ is the strongest instrument on Still Life, dominating large sections of most of the tracks. Interestingly, the opening track, Pilgrims, is lyrically of a piece with the closing epic, Childhood Faith In Childhood’s End. While the latter takes its theme most obviously from the Arthur C. Clarke novel to which its title refers, the former, with lyrics such as ‘The time has come, the tide has almost run / and drained the deep: I rise from lifelong sleep’ does as well. Pilgrims ends beautifully without a resolution and the title track picks up with a gentle vocal backed by simple organ chords which are maintained until the third verse when the rock and roll kicks in. Lyrically Still Life extends a metaphor of marriage to encompass death, decay, and despair. I guess it’s a little late to suggest that Hammill’s poetry is not of the light and fluffy variety. (Here’s a live version from 2011.)

vdgg-slThat said, but this album has a much greater pop sensibility than its predecessors. It helps that two of the five songs clock in at less than 8 minutes and two more at less than ten. Yes, I’m stretching the definition of ‘pop’, I know.

La Rossa is the most distinctly metal song on the album, though the musical styling seems very much at odds with the lyrical content (yeah, I know, what else is new) in which the narrator tries to harness his desire for an object, but knows he must succumb.

My Room (Waiting For Wonderland) opens side two with soprano sax, drums, and vocals. However, the gentleness of the delivery belies the harshness of the lyrics which describe (perhaps, as always with this band) a person succumbing to depression, loneliness, and anxiety. Possibly the most cohesively beautiful thing they’ve done to date.