Tag Archives: Childhood’s End

Childhood’s End: “The Children” is a fitting (and welcome) end to this flawed adaptation

After the complete disaster that was the middle part of this mini-series, I adjusted my expectations for “The Children” way down, and this was probably a good thing as it allowed the more or less decent finish to the show to leave me pleasantly surprised instead of disappointed again. I was happy to see things finally start to come back together in about the last hour of part three, and I’m glad to be able to say that Childhood’s End comes to a close with some semblance of dignity.

“The Children” continues to struggle with the task of just filling all of the time allotted to it, and as in “The Deceivers” there’s a truly unfortunate amount of completely superfluous material that distracts from and obfuscates the main story and confuses the message. Unlike the bittersweetly profound ending of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, the ending of this adaptation feels deeply pessimistic, injected with a nihilism that rather contradicts the idea that humanity’s ultimate purpose could be to basically become one with the universe.

Far too much time in “The Children” is taken up by checking in on the Stormgrens and watching Ricky slowly die from whatever space cancer he picked up on Karellen’s ship. Ellie and Ricky are the most boring imaginable couple, and Ricky’s still being haunted by his dead first wife, who is even more boring. Both Ellie and Annabel seem to exist only to have feelings for and about Ricky, and he only seems mildly-to-moderately irritated that they exist at all. All of the dullness and lack of characterization of all of these characters is on display in this episode, where they literally have nothing to do but die (or still be dead, in Annabel’s case). Ricky and Ellie are completely disconnected from any of the rest of the characters, most of the time they spend on screen is dealing with Ricky’s impending death, and even the few moments we see of them actually interacting with each other are basically the exact same shots we were shown in previous episodes.

Another major part of this episode deals with the Greggsons and their creepy children. They move to New Athens, supposedly the “last free city on Earth,” but this plot goes nowhere, as the kids’ ascension to a new level of consciousness is something that can’t be stopped. There’s some creepy stuff with children showing up to Nazi salute Jennifer Greggson, and there’s plenty of concerned face-making and futile angry speeches, but there’s not much actually going on. What little does happen over the course of this episode is ineffectual and pedestrian at best—nonsensical and unintentionally funny at worst. I laughed aloud more than once at the Greggsons’ antics.

What I found most striking about these sequences, to be honest, was the failure of world building. We don’t get to see much of New Athens, and the purpose of the place is highly simplified compared to the way Clarke describes the place in the book. In the novel, New Athens is a refuge for creative people, trying to recapture something of the culture that dwindles over the course of a couple of hundred years after the Overlords’ arrival. It’s also a large scale intentional community intended to try and put some of the ideas of Plato’s Republic into practice and create a place of industry and art as a sort of cultural revival. While I don’t agree at all with the premise (in both book and mini-series) that peace and plenty would cause human creativity to atrophy, the exploration of these ideas in the novel was done with an intelligence and nuance that is totally absent from this adaptation, in which New Athens is presented more like some kind of objectivist wonderland where people can go to avoid the peace and plenty brought by the Overlords.

The only story line that has consistently worked throughout this mini-series has been Milo’s, but even that one faltered a bit early in this final installment. I want to love the romance between Milo and Rachel. The thing is, it’s cute, but it never quite feels real—probably because, like Stormgren, Milo seems perpetually irritated by his lover’s mere existence. The important thing, though, in the end, is that Milo fulfills his role in the story. While there’s some weird stuff early in this episode where astrophysicist Milo is supposedly researching what’s going on with Earth’s children—which seems rather outside Milo’s area of supposed expertise—the last hour of Childhood’s End is dominated by Milo’s journey to the Overlords’ planet, where he learns what Earth’s ultimate fate is going to be, and his return home, where he ends up giving the final testimony that we saw part of at the beginning of “The Overlords.” I can’t say that this is perfectly executed, but it’s definitely done creditably enough that I got a little teary before the credits rolled.

As a feminist, I feel compelled to comment on what was, for me, if not the biggest failure of the mini-series, certainly its most annoying flaw—namely, its piss poor use of its women characters. Arthur C. Clarke’s novel had a women problem—he could imagine world peace and free love, but he couldn’t seem to imagine a woman who didn’t fit comfortably into the shoes of a 1950s housewife. Indeed, Clarke only imagined one woman in his book who could even really qualify as a character at all. This adaptation seemed at first determined to address these issues, and it was gratifying in the beginning to see so many women being included in the story at all. Unfortunately, none of these characters turn out to contribute anything to the events that unfold on screen, with the debatable exception of Rachel.

At the very least, it definitely can’t be argued that any of the show’s women got anything resembling a character arc of their own. Peretta perhaps comes the closest, if only because she’s the only female character in Childhood’s End whose story wasn’t entirely centered around a man, but Peretta’s characterization is uneven, and her ending is so cynical and abrupt that it’s profoundly unsatisfying. Of the rest of the ladies, Rachel is the one who is most like an actual character, but her character development is decidedly subordinated to Milo’s, and she dies off screen after he abandons her on Earth. Ellie is obsessed with motherhood and Ricky, to the degree that she has any goals or desires at all, and Amy is little more than an empty (-ish, and only figuratively, since she spends most of her time on screen pregnant) vessel who makes nurturing noises at her husband and children, who all get more lines than she does. Annabel, of course, isn’t even that much of a character; she’s only a figment of Ricky’s imagination, where she smiles gently, barely speaks, and mostly just poses in angelic white so Ricky can feel sad and guilty about her.

Overall, I have to say that I think the mini-series would have done much better to just hew closer to the source material. By trying to right some of the wrongs in the book (and I feel like that’s a generous assessment of the show writers’ motives), the show has actually managed to only compound the problems of the novel. I can forgive Arthur C. Clarke—a gay man in the early 1950s—for his retrograde ideas about women, but I can’t feel that charitable towards in a show that in 2015 is actually even more regressive than its sixty-year-old source material.

All that said, though, Childhood’s End is a largely successful and moderately enjoyable adaptation of a sci-fi classic. Perhaps it’s single largest problem is that it’s wildly over-long. Many of the most boring and rage-inducing parts of the show wouldn’t have existed at all if it weren’t for the decision to drag the story out to nearly six hours. Underneath a lot of extra nonsense, there’s still the core of a good story, and the adaptation got enough things right that it more or less communicates the best and biggest ideas of Clarke’s novel.

Childhood’s End: “The Deceivers” is the opposite of what I hoped it would be

Well, that was a fucking disaster. Enough so that I want to take back everything positive I implied about this miniseries after the first installment, although I’m still slightly hopeful that the third part will make a bit more sense of things. “The Deceivers” is, ostensibly, all about revelations and the hunt for truth. However, probably a full half of the episode can only be described as filler material that has little or nothing to do with the overarching story or themes of Childhood’s End.

The character that I had the highest hopes for in this episode was Peretta, who seemed intended to represent the plight of religious believers after the arrival of the Overlords, but her storyline ended up going nowhere. Indeed, it felt as if the show’s writers just didn’t quite know what to do with her or, perhaps, as if they had written (and maybe even filmed) more than made it into the final cut of the episode. In any case, Peretta’s story, especially her supposed “friendship” with Ellie Stormgren, feels half-baked at best. Peretta’s connection to Jake and his family and her job as a counselor don’t make much sense, and Peretta comes off as irrational and paranoid.

Portraying Peretta’s religious beliefs as unreasonable seems to be the whole point, and this material is presented in a manner so completely without sensitivity and nuance as to make it uncomfortable to watch, even for a mean old atheist like myself. While there are certainly some strange and unsympathetic religious people in the world—and I can only imagine how they’d behave in a first contact situation—this show’s treatment of Peretta is, frankly, just cruel. Her suicide at the end of the episode is not unexpected, but it does feel meaningless. Perhaps it is meant to be tragic, but by creating the character as such an unlikable presence throughout the preceding hour and a half, the show squashes any gentle feelings the viewer may have about Peretta’s death.

That’s only the beginning of this episode’s problems, though. While I was feeling optimistic after “The Overlords” did so well at capturing some of the spirit of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, it quickly became obvious that most of the problems I had originally foreseen having with this adaptation were just pushed off into this middle part of it. There really are just two serious issues with this miniseries, though:

  1. There’s not enough source material to fill nearly six hours of television, and the way the source material is being supplemented is clumsy (at best).
  2. Condensing the source material’s multi-century timeline into just a couple of decades diminishes the impact of the story by reducing the book’s more epic scale into something much smaller and more personal, but not in a good way.

Peretta and her added story is the biggest way so far that the show has tried to expand upon the source material with terrible results, but “The Deceivers” also includes a new subplot—about Ricky Stormgren being sick and not being able to have children—that is also a colossal waste of time. It’s through this subplot that the show comes closest to revealing what is actually going on with the Overlords and their mysterious presence on Earth, but the whole episode is frustratingly coy about the matter, and the actual revelation is being saved for the final installment of the miniseries. This episode ends with Peretta’s death and the birth of a baby with creepy glowing eyes.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The only parts of “The Deceivers” that really worked were the scenes with Milo and Rachel, though I mostly just ended up feeling bad for poor Rachel.
  • It’s a shame to get Julian McMahon to act in this and then waste him so entirely on a completely forgettable role.
  • The translation of the “dinner party” may be the worst book-to-film scene/sequence adaptation I’ve ever seen.
  • Why make a magic space Ouija board at all if it’s not going to be used in any way like a Ouija board?
  • The one way in which I think Childhood’s End is completely successful is in creating the look of Karellen. Charles Dance looks amazing in the makeup and prosthetics. I’m only sad that they couldn’t spring for more Overlords to show up. Probably they shouldn’t have blown their budget on that stupid Ouija board.
  • I literally cackled at the glowing baby eyes.

Childhood’s End: “The Overlords” is a mix of brilliant and bizarre adaptational decisions

I was not at all sure that this adaptation would be even remotely good. The promotional material and trailers looked slick, but the obvious changes that were being made from the source material weren’t encouraging ones. Having actually gotten to watch the first installment of the mini-series, though, I’m glad to say that most of my biggest fears about Childhood’s End were unfounded. That said, while “The Overlords” manages to mostly capture the spirit of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, it’s also deeply flawed and often at odds with itself as it tries to translate Clarke’s 1950s vision of the future for consumption by a post-postmodern audience.

Right out of the gate, the adaptation makes its first misstep, and it’s a big one. Rather than opening, as the book did, with the arrival of the Overlords’ spaceships, we’re introduced right away to Milo Rodricks (Osy Ikhile) recording his final testament at the end of the world. Obviously this isn’t a spoiler for anyone who’s read the novel, but it basically gives a whole story away for those who haven’t. Unfortunately, the story that this opening scene tells isn’t the story that is going to unfold over the next several hours. I suspect the show’s writers thought this would be a clever way of setting up and demolishing the audience’s expectations, but it really just ruins the surprise. Worse is that it spoils the ending without really telling the audience anything useful. Instead, it functions as an immediately “shocking” cold open that is more a cheap trick to generate interest than an intriguing taste of things to come.

The next character introduced is Ricky Stormgren, played in all his Mid-Western dullness by Mike Vogel. I’m honestly just confused by the decision to replace Arthur C. Clarke’s U.N. Secretary-General Rikki Stormgren with this slice of mayo-covered white bread from Missouri, and it’s a major adaptational change that works chiefly to undermine Clarke’s original message by, quite deliberately, making the United States the center of the world for the purposes of this miniseries. Clarke’s decision to make Karellen’s ambassador an officer of the U.N. was a meaningful one, and while the U.N. isn’t viewed today with the same optimism as it was in 1953, the idea that a white farmer from middle America would serve as a unifying figure for all humanity is just plain laughable. This casting choice and story change reveal a decidedly US-centric agenda that ignores half a century or more of history and reproduces a particularly boring science fiction trope that Clarke himself deliberately subverted in his novel. As if to add insult to injury, that Karellen’s other choice was a Korean woman—a much better option in many, many ways—is something of a running joke throughout “The Overlords.”

I’m getting ahead of things, though.

After the first two brief—very brief in Ricky’s case—character introductions, Childhood’s End jumps straight into the story. The opening sequence of the Overlords’ arrival is really incredible. It perfectly captures the momentousness of the event and introduces several more major characters before returning to Milo and Ricky. We spend some time with Hugo Wainwright, the cynical media mogul (played by an extremely dour Colm Meaney) who coins the term Overlords to describe the aliens and then becomes a vocal opponent of the changes the world is undergoing, before returning to Ricky and Milo.

While Ricky is busy serving as Karellen’s ambassador to humanity—in a profoundly silly sequence of press conferences and meetings with foreign dignitaries—Milo is growing up in a rough part of town, a wheelchair-bound boy genius with a loving, but drug-addicted mother who struggles to relate to her brilliant son. I understand the necessity of beefing up the character’s backstory, but I don’t see why Milo couldn’t have just been a college-educated black South African like his book counterpart instead of this condescendingly stereotypical story of a disadvantaged black boy in the U.S. I suppose we can be grateful that the character wasn’t just whitewashed altogether, but this is another failure on SyFy’s part to really bring Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of the future to life.

Interestingly, the only major character introduced so far that isn’t U.S. American is Peretta, a highly religious Brazilian girl whose mother committed suicide during a crisis of faith after the appearance of the spaceships. While it seems almost certain that Peretta will be a more interesting character than Wainwright and present better opportunities for exploring the series’ themes surrounding faith and spirituality and their conflict with science and progress, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I realized that of course the extremely religious character is a Latino woman. And of course she’s set up in opposition to the progressive white male Midwestern farmer. If it’s not cynical, it’s certainly a disingenuous set-up.

The thing about Childhood’s End, though, is that it somehow manages to more or less retain most of the spirit of the classic novel in spite of some not insignificant adaptational decisions. For those of us who love the book and its vision of a globalized progressive future, this U.S.-centric adaptation may be a disappointment in some ways, but it also may not be a bad thing in this day and age. Certainly white male Midwesterners in 2015 aren’t exactly known for progressive thinking, but perhaps Ricky Stormgren will serve as an inspiration.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The melancholy cover of “Imagine” over scenes of the world’s suffering was a little too on the nose in the opening.
  • Charles Dance has the most amazing voice. He is a perfect Karellen.
  • Excellent use of classic alien invasion and abduction tropes. I about lost it when Karellen first sends the ship for Ricky. This stuff helps to lighten up material that is actually quite serious.
  • I adored the #freedomleague ads. They’re exactly the kind of awful crap I would expect to be made by the type of people who get angry about things like world peace and the end of hunger.
  • Maybe Ricky would be less insufferable if he would put on a shirt that’s not plaid.
  • All of the stuff about Ricky’s dead wife was a waste of space and time that could have been much better spent on literally anything else. It’s incredibly boring and moderately sexist, to boot.
  • Wainwright and his Freedom League could have been used more smartly. I liked that the show kept in the kidnapping of Stormgren, but Wainwright was never a proper antagonist, and the group was too easily defeated in the end.
  • The final reveal of Karellan was amazing. I’m so glad they’re using makeup and prosthetics instead of CGI for this.

What I will be (and you should be) watching this fall

So, it took me most of a summer of watching light fare to recover from this last season of Game of Thrones, but I think I’m more or less ready for watching and writing about some new television this fall. I won’t be writing about everything I watch, obviously, and there are a couple of things I intend to write about that I don’t know if I’ll be able to stick with–that could end up like my watching and posting about Killjoys did this summer; I still haven’t watched the last two episodes of that show, I was so bored/frustrated with it.

Here’s the plan:

The Mindy Project – Tuesdays on Hulu starting 9/15. I honestly love this show, and I will watch it til the end of time, although I rarely write about it outside of a line or two on Tumblr. The first episode of season four is excellent, and the first three seasons are available to stream on Hulu as well so it’s not too late too catch up if you’re really dedicated.

Doctor Who – Saturdays on BBC America starting 9/19. Doctor Who is another show I just can’t quit. It’s also one that I intend to write about this year, although I haven’t had much positive to say about it during Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner. I’m not making any promises about this one, though. Right now, my goal is to have my Doctor Who post up on Monday mornings, but I’m not going to destroy myself over this show the way I do over Game of Thrones. If it gets too insufferable, I will likely switch to just watching it.

Minority Report – Mondays on Fox starting 9/21. Frankly, I’m already bored by this series, but I’ll probably check out the first episode or two just to confirm my suspicion that it makes no sense. I’m pretty sure the whole point of Minority Report was that the whole pre-crime thing is a terrible idea and this show seems to be presupposing that–maybe it isn’t? Okaaaay.

Scream Queens – Tuesdays on Fox starting 9/22. This show is relevant to basically all of my interests. And it has Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m currently planning to write about this one on Wednesdays.

Heroes Reborn – Thursdays on NBC starting 9/24. This show is basically not relevant to anything. No one wanted or asked for it. But it’s a thing that is happening. Since I loved the first season of Heroes as well as anybody, I will be watching this, but I’ll only be writing about it if it’s really good or really comically terrible.

Bob’s Burgers – Sundays on Fox starting 9/27. Love it. Watch it with my family. Will almost never post anything about it except gifs of Tina on Tumblr.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Sundays on Fox starting 9/27. Also love, but also won’t write about unless something major happens.

iZombie – Tuesdays on the CW starting 10/6. The first season of this show was a little uneven, and I wasn’t totally thrilled with the way it ended, but I plan to tune in again this year and write about it some more. Depending on how things pan out, I may end up choosing between this and Scream Queens to write about, though. Just, realistically, I’m not sure I have it in me to write about more than one show a day, especially as I’ve got a lot of reading that I want to do over the next few months as well.

Jane the Virgin – Mondays on the CW starting 10/12. I won’t write about this show (mostly because it’s basically perfect), but it’s another one that we watch as a family and I can’t wait.

Supergirl – Mondays on CBS starting 10/26. I kind of dislike most super hero stuff, but this show looks completely charming. I’m currently planning to write about it.

Ash vs. Evil Dead – Saturdays on Starz starting 10/31. This show is definitely what I am doing on Halloween. I’m not sure if I will write about it or not. It depends on how good this show is and how bad this season of Doctor Who is.

Into the Badlands – Sundays on AMC starting 11/15. This show is almost certainly awful, but I’m kind of interested in it anyway. No plans to write about it.

The Man in the High Castle – On Amazon Prime starting 11/20. I haven’t read the Philip K. Dick novel this series is based upon, but the trailer for the show looks promising. I’m hoping to read the book sometime over the next couple of months, and then I might watch the show.

Jessica Jones – On Netflix starting 11/20. Another Marvel show. I’m somewhat looking forward to this one, but I haven’t even finished Daredevil yet, so there’s no telling when I’ll get around to it. I do really like Krysten Ritter, though.

Childhood’s End – On SyFy starting 12/14. I read this book over the summer, and I totally understand why it’s one of the great sci-fi novels. I also totally have no faith in this adaptation of it. It looks legit awful, and I’m a little embarrassed for SyFy about it. I’ll definitely be watching it, though. And I expect that I’ll write some about it, too. I think it’s going to be just that enraging.

The Expanse – On SyFy starting 12/14. I’m somewhat more optimistic about this show, although I haven’t read the source material (and don’t really intend to unless the show is really good). I’ve no idea whether I’ll write about it or not. It depends on whether I have any feelings about it strong enough to be worth sharing.

I’m really disappointed that the new shows that seem intended to capitalize on the popularity of Game of Thrones-esque, gritty, dark medieval European settings (The Bastard Executioner and The Last Kingdom) both look boring as shit. I’m actually a pretty big fan of the gritty medieval stuff, but I have no desire to watch shows that look to be almost entirely devoid of women. Game of Thrones might hate its women, but at least they exist there.

In all honestly, the shows I’m most looking forward to this fall are all returning favorites. The new stuff that’s coming out isn’t that exciting, with a couple of exceptions, and a solid half of it looks actively bad. I figure I’ll try a few new things, though. Worst case scenario, everything is terrible and I end up reading more books instead.

The SF Bluestocking 2015 Summer Reading List Report

Well, perhaps predictably, I have not managed to finish my own summer reading list. Best laid plans, and all.

Breaking my foot back in May and being laid up with that most of the summer sounds like the sort of thing that would have given me all kinds of extra time to read, but instead I’ve found myself in a bit of a reading slump and spent most of the first half wallowing in pain and self-pity. The last month or so since getting my cast removed has been a significant improvement. Though I’m still not 100% better, I’ve started working out again, and this week I think I’m going to start walking daily to try and work back up to doing 2-3 miles a day like I was before the broken foot–ideally before it gets too cold and unpleasant for me to be out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to enjoy the last bits of summer that are left, going to outdoor plays, checking out food festivals, hitting farmer’s markets, and just generally trying to be out of doors as much as I can.

The good news is that I think I’m coming out of the funk I was in most of the summer. The bad news is that I’ve so far been doing other stuff besides reading, and I’m also behind on some writing stuff as well. While I’m finally catching up on my reading some, I’ve not yet gotten back on track with writing book reviews, though that’s changing as well. I should have reviews coming out this week and next for The Fifth SeasonNimonaRat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery, and The House of Shattered Wings. By then, I should also be done with The Dark Forest, and hopefully that will get me more or less back on track with what I’d like to be doing in terms of output.

So, here’s what I did manage this summer:

  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – This one was on my list, and I finished it. Review here.
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton – List, finished. Review here.
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – List, finished. Review here.
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – List, finished. Review here.
  • The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – List, finished. Review soon.
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – List. Currently reading.
  • Spindle by W.R. Gingell – Self-published by the author. ARC received through NetGalley. Finished. Review here.
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Borrowed from my 12-year-old. Review here.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery – Not on my original list. Review soon.

I actually didn’t do too bad, all things considered. Fifteen books in the last two months. Ten of the fifteen from my original reading list, plus five that weren’t on there. Of the five books that I didn’t get to, one I’ve sort of lost interest in due to mediocre reviews (The Invasion of the Tearling), one is an ARC that I will definitely be reading within the next month (The Heart Goes Last), two are more literary works that I really could read anytime (Station Eleven and The Buried Giant) and one (The Magicians) is the basis of a tv show that I’m looking forward to, but that won’t be starting until at least February of 2016, so it’ll keep, too.

Probably a couple of these will make it on to my fall reading list, which can be looked for this week as well. It looks like I probably won’t be as lucky with ARCs this fall as I was over the summer, but there are plenty of upcoming releases that I’m pretty excited about that I’m sure will keep me busy. Which doesn’t even touch on the new fall shows I plan on checking out, which will be another separate post in the next week.

Book Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Confession time: I’ve not read very much classic science fiction. As a kid, I was always more into dragons and wizards than space ships and aliens, and as an adult I find I’m just not often interested in reading books that are older than I am. Still, Arthur C. Clarke is one of the greats, Childhood’s End is one of my partner’s favorite books, and it’s getting a miniseries on SyFy later this year, so I felt like it was time to read this one.

I’m glad I did, although it was many of the things that I expected. It’s somewhat simplistic, the characters are rather shallow, and its politics are dated at best. I can see why Childhood’s End is a classic, though. It’s an excellent novel, a fairly quick read, and has some ideas that stand the test of time really well. This makes it an all around worthwhile read for anyone who really loves science fiction.

So, to start with, I hadn’t realized exactly how old this book was. When I started it, I was thinking it was from the 1960s, but it was actually published in 1953. This explains some of the weirdness early in the book, which almost reads as if it’s about the Cold War and the Space Race, but which couldn’t have been. While 1953 was early in the Cold War, the Space Race wouldn’t start for another two years, although apparently in 1953 Clarke didn’t see humanity making it to space before the mid-70s.

Although I don’t read much sci-fi from this period, I always find it entertaining to see what these older writers thought the future would look like then. The flip side of this, though, is that sometimes they were just dead wrong. For example, in a kind of throwaway mention early in the book, Clarke describes white people in South Africa as an oppressed minority by 1975, and I would love to go back in time and pick his brain about what made him think that. By 1953, South Africa was already five years into the apartheid that wouldn’t end until 1994.

Another interesting, if expected, thing about this book and Clarke’s vision of the future is that, like many of the men who wrote science fiction in the mid 20th century, Clarke seems perfectly capable of imagining a future in which humanity sheds all its puritanical sexual mores, but he didn’t imagine a future where women’s liberation happened. There are only a couple of women in Childhood’s End, and they are barely even characters at all. Maia Boyce’s single trait is being really beautiful. Jean Morrel is somewhat more important, but she’s basically a sort of 1950s housewife whose husband can’t be bothered to be “in love with” until the world is literally ending. Apparently post-1990 publications of the book have made one of the astronauts in the first chapter a woman, but not the copy of the book that I read.

Regarding race, Clarke’s dream of the future is even more frustrating. Like many sort of clueless white dudes, he seemed to think that racial slurs would survive into a post-racism world but that they would somehow just kind of magically lose their negative connotations. Which is just not how language works, and betrays a really weird fantasy, in my opinion, of being able to still be just as racist as ever except no one complains about it anymore.

At the same time, though, perhaps the most important character in Childhood’s End is a black man, Jan Rodricks, who is the only human to see the Overlords’ home world and survives to chronicle the last days of the planet Earth. Jan is written in a way that is non-stereotypical, and by the end of the book one definitely gets the feeling that Jan comes closest of any of the characters in Childhood’s End to being Arthur C. Clarke’s ideal of manhood. While the author may have some ideas about race and gender that seem archaic over sixty years later, he was certainly progressive for his time.

The thing about Childhood’s End, though, is that it’s really not a character-driven book. It doesn’t even have a particularly strong plot. Very little actually happens, and if one were to consider the story Clarke tells in this book against the whole backdrop of time, his portrait of humanity is akin to taking a snapshot of a 90-year-old person just moments before they die. Childhood’s End is a book about ideas, and the characters and story are almost incidental to the big things that Clarke wanted to think about in 1953.

In Childhood’s End, Clarke imagines a utopia, then the dystopia inside it. He dreams up a perfect world, then he picks it apart, and then he tells us that none of it matters anyway. I can’t tell if Childhood’s End is profoundly optimistic about humanity or if it’s deeply pessimistic, but it’s definitely given me some things to think about.

One thing I will say unequivocally, though, is that SyFy is definitely going to screw up the adaptation of it. Which is sad, because Charles Dance will be a perfect Karellan and I hate to see him wasted on whatever the nonsense is that SyFy is going to air with the same title as this lovely book.

The SF Bluestocking 2015 Summer Reading List

I feel like breaking my foot in May derailed everything I’d planned for the summer, and I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump ever since that wasn’t helped by dealing with Game of Thrones and a nice bout of straight up depression that has left me just constantly exhausted. However, I think that’s mostly over now. The cast should be coming off my foot soon, I’m mostly recovered from Game of Thrones, and I’m ready to get back to some of what I had planned to accomplish.

This is still a slightly tentative list that might change order or expand if I get through things faster than expected, but here’s what I’ve got in my queue right now.

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
I finished this one today, so it’s not technically “in the queue” I suppose. A proper review will be incoming in the next day or two. Annihilation won the Nebula for Best Novel a few weeks ago, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you follow awards. I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I sat down to read it, but it’s definitely something special.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
I just got approved for an ARC of The Heart Goes Last from NetGalley, and I’m super stoked about it. I love Margaret Atwood with a deep and abiding passion, but I never did get around to reading her Positron shorts on Byliner before it went bust. This is apparently those, but rewritten and with more. However, I’ve got til its release date (Sept 29) to read and review it, so I’m not in a huge rush. I figure it will end up filling in sometime this summer when I’m in between other things.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tabir
I’ve mostly gotten away from reading much YA stuff, but this book has gotten a good deal of positive buzz. It’s apparently a standalone novel, although I see that there is a sequel in the works. I’m hoping to burn through it in a day or two so I can move along to some of the more exciting new releases that are coming up.

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton
Jo Walton’s The Just City was one of the first books I read this year, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating its sequel since January. It comes out tomorrow, but I probably won’t reasonably get started on it until the weekend. Apparently there is also a third book planned in this series, which has me all aflutter, even though there’s no cover or release date for it yet.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
This is the second of the very few YA works I intend to read this year, and it’s another book that has been getting a ton of advance praise. Urban fantasy isn’t my usual thing, and I’m a little skeptical of anything that is being so heavily compared to Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, but I try not to put too much stock in that sort of thing. Promising Caribbean magic in Brooklyn and with an absolutely gorgeous cover, there’s basically no way that I ever wasn’t going to read this book. It comes out tomorrow along with The Philosopher Kings, which means I have a tough decision to make about which to read first.

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
I had a hell of a time dealing with the ridiculous name of the heroine (“Kelsea”) in The Queen of the Tearling, but I ended up rather liking the book in the end. I won’t say I’m particularly excited to dive back into this series, but I have a hard time leaving any series unfinished. I figure this will also be a nice, easy read in between some of the more difficult stuff on this list.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven won the Arthur C. Clarke and was a 2014 National Book Award finalist. It also comes highly recommended by George R.R. Martin. It’s got a ridiculously long description on Goodreads, which would normally make me think that it’s either going to be big and beautiful and complex or an overambitious mess. With its awards nominations and general critical success, though, my expectation is very much that it will be the former.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Speaking of Arthur C. Clarke, I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. As part of my general wanting to become more well read in the genre, I’ve begun sort of slowly working through the SF and Fantasy Masterworks collections. While my progress in this has really been very slow, Childhood’s End became a priority when SyFy announced their miniseries adaptation of it. While there’s no air date yet for the show, I want to be sure to finish the book before then, so I can’t put it off too much longer.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
I’ve been putting off reading this series for years, mostly because I, frankly, haven’t been that excited about it in spite of all the attention it’s gotten. It just sounds like a hipper, edgier Harry Potter for adults. I’m a little old to have ever really gotten into the Harry Potter phenomenon, so that’s always been more unappealing than otherwise to me. However, this is another book that’s being adapted for television (SyFy again!), and the first trailer looks pretty good.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
I liked Never Let Me Go quite a bit, and I find it fascinating when more mainstream literary authors dabble in genre fiction. As a longtime fan of Arthuriana, I’m also very interested in the post-Arthurian premise for the story.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I read this self-published gem earlier this year already, but I loved it so much that I’d like to reread it and give it a proper review in time for the hardcover release of it on August 13. I still can’t decide if I love or hate the new cover, though. It’s very pretty, but it looks so serious for a book that is actually quite funny. I really think I prefer the sort of pulpy charm of the original’s spaceship illustration, but the book is so great that I’m mostly just happy to see it getting a bigger release.

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán
This book has a knight riding a dinosaur on the cover, and it’s a medieval fantasy based on 14th century Europe. It’s a book by a man who is known for writing libertarian science fiction, which would normally be a huge turn off for me. However, there is no universe in which I’m not going to always read a medieval fantasy called The Dinosaur Lords with a dinosaur-riding knight on the cover, because that is rad as hell. If you agree about the total radness of this cover and the book’s premise, it comes out on July 28.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book forever, even though it’s probably only been a year. N.K. Jemisin has been one of my favorite authors since I first read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and I can’t wait to see what she’s got for us this time around. Just judging from the book description, it sounds pretty epic. The Fifth Season hits shelves on August 4.

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
I really liked The Three-Body Problem, so of course I will be reading the second book in the trilogy. I don’t read much translated fiction, and The Dark Forest has a different translator than the first book did so I’m curious to see how much difference that makes. I’m also looking forward to the promise of more action in The Dark Forest as that’s basically the one thing The Three-Body Problem could be said to lack. The Dark Forest will be available on August 11.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
I think I read something that Aliette de Bodard wrote a couple of years ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. So I was thrilled to rediscover her this year when I read her fantastic On a Red Station Drifting. I followed that up with her Obsidian and Blood trilogy, a sort of noir detective story in 16th century Mexica, which was a ton of fun and a really refreshingly original setting. I’m very excited about The House of Shattered Wings, which will  be released on August 20.