Study Guide

Childhood's End Science

By Arthur C. Clarke


The science of science fiction is more than the trappings of faster-than-light travel, strange alien species, and technology that makes smart phones look like something a caveman wouldn't be caught extinct using. Don't get us wrong, these trappings are all pretty awesome, but they aren't the point. The point of science in science fiction is more a philosophical way to look at life—which is exactly what we find in Childhood's End.

For example, Jan Rodricks feels an intense scientific desire to explore the unknown, and he makes his life decisions based on that desire. He's also extremely rational. Characters like Stormgren and Jeffrey also exhibit these traits. What the novel is saying, then, is that science isn't just a way people discover awesome new things; it's also the way people should look at the world.

Questions About Science

  1. How does the relationship between mysticism (or religion) and science play out in the novel? Do you think this is unique for the genre?
  2. Which character would you say is the most scientific in the novel? How do they promote science as a philosophy to live by? Alternatively, do they show the downside to living a scientific life? Something between the two extremes?
  3. How about the least scientific character? What about this person makes them so unscientific, and what does this suggest about the theme?
  4. How does the addition of futuristic science and actual science (such as alien technology and the Relativity Theory) relate to the theme of science in Childhood's End?

Chew on This

To join the Overmind, the Overlords had to instill in mankind the adventurous spirit of science, not just the rationale, egg-heady parts.

Too much of anything can be a bad thing—just ask the Overlords. Having gone too far down the reasoning side of science, and not balancing it with the artistic side of life, they can no longer transcend to the Overmind.