Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Childhood’s End begins with this unusual statement: “The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.” Although Clarke’s books usually promote space exploration, this one shows that humans are not ready to travel to the stars.
Many writers have speculated about the first encounter between the human race and extraterrestrial beings and what the relationship between those two races will be. Childhood’s End begins with a description of just such an encounter. Some thirty years after the end of World War II, just as the Americans and the Russians are both about to launch their first rockets to the Moon, spaceships appear over every major city on Earth. The Overlords, as the extraterrestrials come to be called, are intellectually and technologically superior to humans and quickly assert their authority.
The directives of the Overlords result in an improved standard of living for all the creatures on Earth. Some object to their domination, mostly because the Overlords are secretive and have never explained why they have come to Earth. No one has ever seen one, and only Rikki Stormgren, the secretary general of the United Nations, ever speaks to them. Karellen, the head Overlord, explains to Stormgren that he is not a dictator but “only a civil servant trying to administer a colonial policy in whose shaping I had no hand.” He does not say who sent him. After fifty-five years, the Overlords finally show...
(The entire section is 779 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
Reinhold Hammond watches the Pacific island of Taratua in the fading light. Though the volcano that created Taratua has been extinct for thousands of years, it will soon be ablaze with the flames from the take-off of “Columbia,” the spaceship bound for outer space. Reinhold loved the island; it saddened to know that it would be devastated by the ignition of the spaceship’s engines.
Out in the ocean, the “James Forrestal” carrier stands guard, watching for any Russian submarines that may approach the island. Reinhold thinks back to the end of the Second World War in 1945. He and his friend, Konrad Schneider, had watched the downfall of Germany and had faced the decision where their future would lie. Reinhold chose the West, while Schneider traveled to Moscow and joined the burgeoning space program of the Soviet Union.
Colonel Sandmeyer of Technical Intelligence had been the one to tell him of Schneider’s involvement in the Russian program. Reinhold had assumed that his friend had died long ago. Sandmeyer tells him that the Russians have developed a new kind of atomic drive, which might be as effective as that of the Americans. Sandmeyer gives him a list of Russian scientists involved in the program, and Reinhold sees Schneider’s name at the top of the list. He wonders what technological marvels Schneider has created with the resources of the Soviet Union at his fingertips.
In the Soviet Union’s space base at Lake Baikal, Konrad Schneider attend the testing of their new atomic drive. Grigorievitch, the Assistant Commissar for Nuclear Science tells Schneider that soon they will surpass the Americans, but Schneider is not so optimistic. Schneider hears the soldiers and workers shouting out. He wonders what could have disturbed the strict Soviet discipline. He looks out the window. What he sees causes him to despair for the first time in his life.
On Taratua, Reinhold walks down the hill, looking at the aircraft carrier sweeping the sea with search lights. The “Columbus” is lit up. Reinhold hears dance music coming from the living quarters. He feels some premonition when he comes to the bottom of the hill. He glances from the land and back to the sea, but sees nothing. Then he looks up. At that moment, Reinhold Hoffman, like Konrad Schneider, knows that he has lost the space race. He sees the space ships shutting out the light from the distant stars. The entire world sees the ships...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Rikki Stormgren, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, waits for the arrival of Alexander Wainwright, the head of the Freedom League. Wainwright and his followers object to the actions taken by the Overlords, the alien beings who had arrived in the spaceships five years previously. Stormgren points out that the Overlords have brought peace, prosperity, and contentment to Earth since their arrival. Wainwright objects that these things have been bought at the price of their liberty. Only Stormgren has ever had direct contact with Karellen, the Supervisor of the Overlords in charge on the maintenance of Earth, and even he has never actually seen the alien face to face. Stormgren sees Wainwright’s objections as having a religious basis. Wainwright, as a former clergyman, believes that only God can guide human beings, giving them the freedom to control their own lives, unlike the Overlords.
When they first arrived, the Overlords floated silently over the Earth’s major cities. They seemed to be observing the reactions of the human beings below. On the sixth day, Karellen’s voice came over every radio frequency on the planet, speaking in perfect English. The Overlords took over all international affairs. Each nation was allowed some measure of local control, but otherwise all decisions were made by the aliens. One nation fired a nuclear missile at one of the ships, but the missile evaporated. The Republic of South Africa refused to give up its policy of discrimination against its white minority. In response, the Overlords cause the light of the sun to disappear over South Africa for thirty minutes. The government immediately implemented full civil rights to all of its peoples. Though peace reigns for the next five years, everyone has a sense of expectancy, constantly looking over their shoulders for what the Overlords would do next.
Stormgren is taken up to Karellen’s ship by a silver bubble. He does not see Karellen, only hears his voice. He tells the alien that there is increasing dissatisfaction in the Overlords’ continued secrecy as to their physical appearance. Karellen asks about Stormgren’s meeting with Wainwright. The Overlords knows that Wainwright’s Freedom League fears how much the aliens know about the truth or untruth about the world’s religions.
Karellen agrees to ask his superiors about his revealing his physical appearance. In the meantime, the people of Earth see little change in...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Stormgren has trouble sleeping. He has become obsessed with discovering what the Overlords look like. He is retiring from his position as Secretary-General in four months and someone else will be the means of communicating between humans and aliens.
The next morning, Assistant Secretary-General Pieter Van Ryberg is surprised when Stormgren does not show up at the usual hour. By noon, he becomes alarmed and tries to contact Stormgren’s home. Soon the news agencies tell the world that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has disappeared.
Stormgren awakens in complete dark. He realizes that he is not at home but in some underground room, perhaps a mine. A man enters and introduces himself as Joe. He is not an agent for Wainwright, but Stormgren suspects that Joe is part of a militant wing of the Freedom League. Joe takes Stormgren to another room where more men are sitting. Joe explains that they knocked Stormgren out by filtering noxious gas through his air conditioner. The Secretary-General was then carried out to a car, which drove him out through an underground tunnel to be met by large trucks. The car that had carried Stormgren went on to Canada as a way to sidetrack Karellen.
Stormgren asks if he is a hostage. Joe tells him that they will look after him, but they are expecting some visitors in a few days. Until then, they will entertain him with poker, since Stormgren is known to be an avid player.
Ryberg hesitates to contact Karellen, in awe of the alien Overlord. He sends him a fax, but Karellen sends him a reply that the matter is left completely in Ryberg’s hands.
After a few days, Stormgren is taken to another room where the visitors have gathered. The leader, who has blank grey eyes, tells him that they want information about Karellen and the Overlords. Stormgren tells them what he knows, though there is little to tell about what the aliens look like. He draws a picture of the setting of the room in which he talks with the hidden Karellen, including the one-way screen behind which sits Karellen. When he passes the picture over to the grey-eyed man, he realizes that the man is blind.
Stormgren tries to reassure his captors that the Overlords are harmless, despite their benevolent dictatorship of the planet. He points out the measures taken to prevent cruelty to animals, which was demonstrated on a crowd at a bull fight in Madrid. The captors try to...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Stormgren contacts Pierre Duval, the Chief of the Science Bureau to help him in his plan to find some way to see what Karellen looks like. Duval states that it is probably not a TV system that Karellen uses to communicate with Stormgren but a one-way mirror. If he could devise some way to make a light that will shine through the mirror, Stormgren could at last see the physical appearance of the Overlords.
On his next trip up to the spaceship, Stormgren carries a radar device along with the draft of the World State government that he is to deliver to Karellen. The alien senses nothing as Stormgren activates the radar. Karellen tells the Secretary-General that he has asked his superiors about showing themselves to the people of Earth. They have decided that in fifty years, when mankind as evolved enough to accept it, Karellen will come down to Earth and show himself. He warns that people will experience a “psychological discontinuity” at their first look, but they will adjust soon, much sooner than their grandfathers would.
Stormgren delivers the radar to Duval. They look at the readings to discover that Karellen is a physical body in the small room. On the next trip, Duval will send a light with Stormgren. He suspects that what Karellen has to hide is that there is nothing to hide. The aliens will look like human beings.
On his final conference with Karellen, Stormgren takes the light. After they discuss Stormgren’s replacement, Stormgren gets up to leave. He jumps to the mirror and flashes the light into the room beyond. He sees an empty chair and Karellen’s form disappearing through the door. But he did see what the Overlords look like.
Thirty years later, a reporter comes to interview the ninety-year-old Stormgren. He tells the former statesman that there was a rumor that someone had invented a device by which Stormgren could see the Overlords. Stormgren says this is true, but he saw nothing. When the reporter leaves, Stormgren thinks back on the form he saw. Karellen said that the Overlords had experienced some failures. He wonders if it was Karellen himself who failed, and this has led to the legend being passed down for generations to haunt the childhoods of every race of man. He thinks that it will indeed take some adjustment for human beings to get used to the appearance of the Overlords. He hopes that, in twenty years’ time, Karellen will visit the grave of the human being who was...
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
After fifty years, the day has finally arrived when mankind will see what the Overlords look like. Radio stations spread the word that this is the day. There is only a single ship now, over New York City. Though the supply ships had been real enough, the ships hovering over Earth’s major cities had been illusions. They had simply dissolved the day before. The only real ship had been Karellen’s. No one knows how the illusion was carried out, since radar had detected the ships, but the need for this psychological weapon and the display of force has passed.
As the people watch and wait, they see the ship begin moving westward toward the plains past New York City, moving downward at over a thousand kilometers an hour. All over the world, people watch their television sets, eager to see the aliens after two generations of anticipation. The ship lands, and amazingly the ground does not crack or tremble under its massive weight. Whatever force drove it across outer space is keeping it from resting too heavily on Earth. A curving wall twenty meters above the ground shimmers, revealing a large opening. Nothing is visible inside. A wide, glittering gangway descends. It has no steps but is as smooth as a playground slide. The world waits to see what descends.
Karellen’s voice is heard. He says that there are some children by the foot of the gangway. He would like two of them, a boy and a girl, to come up and meet him. Two children eagerly approach the gangway. Others try to follow, but Karellen chuckles and tells them that he will only need two. A miracle seems to happen as the children are lifted up the slope, their legs motionless and their bodies at right angles to the gangplank. They wave to their parents below, who belatedly think of the Pied Piper. The children disappear into the ship.
The crowd waits silently until Karellen appears at the opening, carrying a child in each arm. A few people faint as they finally see the Overlord. He has black, ebony skin, with leathery wings, small horns, and a barbed tail. He is the very picture of Satan that generations of human beings have visualized as the embodiment of evil. He is tall, and the sunlight gleams on his massive body. The children rest trustingly in his arms, playing with his wings.
(The entire section is 404 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Karellen had told Stormgren that all political problems could be solved by the correct use of power. Stormgren thinks this is cynical, but the Overlord repeats that it is the "CORRECT" use of power. For example, any dictator, such as Hitler, could be neutralized by having a voice saying things in his ear constantly, or a single note playing so as to prevent him from sleeping. It would swiftly drive the madman literally insane and thus prevent him for controlling anyone else.
The shock of people’s first sight of the Satanic aliens eventually fades. It is assumed that, far in the ancient past, human beings had an encounter with the Overlords that thus imprinted this vision in their minds, creating a racial memory. Now that they have shown themselves, the Overlords rarely leave their ship, never appearing in a group larger than five. It is not known how many aliens live in the spaceship, but it could be hundreds or thousands.
Life on Earth has become a virtual utopia. War has disappeared, soon to be out of living memory. Cities are transformed as factories are run by robots. No one works except for luxuries, since everyone is given food and water. Everyone speaks the same language (English), everyone is educated, and everyone is within easy access of television. Crimes of passion are rare, since no one needs to steal what is already available for free. Life is more leisurely, but no one is bored as yet. Education is continual, with people going back to school to learn more about whatever interests them. With the invention of a reliable oral contraceptive and the ability to determine the father of any baby, the sexual mores change and are more relaxed. Transportation is easy and readily available, especially through air cars. Religion fades away as a device that allows people to look back at any moment in the past five thousand years of Earth’s history destroys the divine foundations of all faiths; a purified Buddhism is all that remains. With the decline of religion, oddly, science also fades, as no one has a curiosity to discover things that they assume the Overlords already know. There is no new art, as people have the leisure time to enjoy the creative works of the past. Though people appreciate what the Overlords have accomplished during their time on Earth, no one knows what the ultimate goal of the aliens is. There are still a few people who wonder if the Overlords will always be concerned about the welfare of...
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Rupert Boyce is throwing a house party at his home in the midst of the African jungle. George and Jean, along with about thirty guests, arrive at the Boyce home in air cars. Jean thinks that Rupert’s house is ugly, but George points out that the view from the ground may be better. They are greeted by a holographic projection of Rupert, who takes their orders for drinks and urges them to hurry and join the party inside. Jean and George speculate on the holographic device and how Rupert was able to obtain Overlord machinery.
They are greeted by Maia, the current Mrs. Boyce. She is stunningly beautiful mixed race woman, to whom George is immediately attracted. Irritated by George’s infatuation with Maia, Jean drags him away, telling him she would like to explore the house. They find their way to the library, where Rupert has a huge collect of books on magic, psychic phenomena, and paraphysics. They are startled to see one of the alien Overlords sitting on the floor, absorbed in a book. He introduces himself as Rashaverak. He is fascinated by the human psychology that he finds in the volumes that make up Rupert’s personal library. The three of them rejoin the party, with Rashaverak towering over everyone. When he finally sits, the room seems to be less claustrophobic.
Rupert explains that his new job is as a "superveterinarian." With the aid of the holographic device, he is able to travel over the jungle and treat the large animals, such as lions and elephants, without having to journey from his home. Rupert stuns George and Jean by referring to Rashaverak by the informal name of “Rashy.” They wonder how long Rupert’s new wife will stick around. Benny Shoenberger, one of George’s oldest friends, explains that he introduced her to Rupert. He says that she is a very nice person and so will probably be good for Rupert. They discuss how Rupert made the acquaintance of an Overlord, since they do not usually interact with ordinary citizens. George wants to talk to Rupert alone, but the crowd prevents it. He decides to go up on the roof for some fresh air. There is a young man there, who introduces himself as Maia’s brother, Jan Rodricks. After some casual conversation, George gets the impression that Jan would like to be alone, so he retreats back downstairs. When George leaves, Jan feels very much alone, which is what he wants. He also feels very frustrated, which he does not.
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
On the rooftop, Jan Rodricks looks up at space, hoping to see one of the Overlords’ ships leaving for their distant home. Jan has long has a love for space exploration, but this field has disappeared with the arrival of the alien ships. Hundreds of people have been to the moon to build a space observatory, but the ship in which they travel is beyond investigation or replication. No one has any interest in developing rockets that are inadequate to those of the Overlords’ technology. Jan is finally rewarded as he sees a streak of light, signifying the departure of one of the ships beyond the Moon to the home planet. It is assumed that this streak is caused by the distortion of light by the strong gravity of the ships’ acceleration.
Descending to the house below, Jan discovers that the party is over. Most of the guests have left, with the exception of Norman Dodsworth, a poet who is too drunk to move and now laid out on the lawn. George and Jean are still present, though George does not know why. He resents Jean’s friendship with Rupert, especially their shared interest in psychic phenomena, which George thinks is silly. Rupert proposes and activity and invites everyone to participate, including Rashaverak. The Overlord refuses, sitting down to observe. The others gather around a table, from which Rupert removes the top to show ball bearings, contained inside the table by a raised rim containing letters, numbers, and the words “Yes” and “No.” It is a giant Ouija board. Rupert asks, “Who are you?” The table replies, “IAMALL,” or “I am all,” according to Rupert’s interpretation. The guests begin by asking silly questions, such as “What is my favorite color?” George is sure that there is no paranormal explanation; it is simply a response to their unconscious muscular movements. He asks the board its name, but all he gets is the letter “G” with a bunch of “nonsense,” as he sees it. Some other messages are “Believe in man; nature is with you,” and “Remember, man is not alone, near man is country of others.” This is obvious to everyone, so no one is impressed. Jan asks, “Which star is the Overlord’s sun?” The reply is “NGS 549672,” which is an astrological coordinate for a specific star. Ruth Shoenberger, another guest, asks what it means, but George asks for help, for his wife Jean has fainted.
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Karellen asks Rashaverak about Rupert Boyce. They do not speak in English but rather in a series of rapid sounds like high-speed Morse code. They stare out at the Grand Canyon as they "talk." Karellen wonders if humans will still take the trouble to travel down in the primitive fashion on donkeys, which is uncomfortable and hazardous. Rashaverak describes Rupert as a supervisor of animal welfare. The Overlords gave him the full projection device so that he can get the animals used to seeing him before he appears before them in person. Rashaverak speculates that he will still probably be attacked and killed by his patients eventually. This was also to make him more cooperative, so that Rashaverak might examine his library. He tells Karellen that most of his research has led to disputed research, but there have been genuine cases of psychic phenomena. He does not know why Jean Morrel fainted, or why she is the channel that has obviously been chosen. She is only twenty-six, so she is too old to be a Prime Contact. There are not many more years to wait, Rashaverak tells Karellen, and advises that Jean be transferred to Category Purple. She may be the most important human being alive. Karellen asks about Jan. Rashaverak says that they should make some checks about him soon, since his career should be interesting. Karellen encourages evaluation of both Jean and Jan.
After the party, Rupert is unsure what actually happened, as he is still influenced by alcohol. He feels that Jan is probably to blame for asking the question, but he is not sure exactly how it is his responsibility. Ruth’s notebook containing the messages from the Ouija board has disappeared. Rupert assumes it was taken by Rashaverak.
George is worried about Jean. He hovers over her as she recovers, but she assures him that she is fine. She says that she does not remember anything. She had heard Jan ask his question, but the next thing she knew was that people were hovering over her. They decide to sign a marriage commitment contract for ten years.
Jan travels to London for International Astronomical Union conference. London is less populated now, but it still looks essentially the same. Jan investigates the significance of the star the Ouija board had revealed: NGS 549672. It is an insignificant star in the constellation Carina. He knows that, despite its insignificance, it must be the home of the Overlords. Jan knows how far it is from Earth, but that...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
It is a time of peace and prosperity. Though human beings have always aimed for an age of reason, this is the first time that one has actually taken place; there are drawbacks, however. The newspapers are exceptionally dull. There is no crime, no mysterious murders to be indignant about; in fact, they are reenacted on television so there is no mystery about it, since the Overlords have the ability to see and record all human activity. This technology was not available to the common public. Rupert Boyce’s full projection machine was limited to the boundaries of his animal preserve. In the rare cases where there is serious crime, no one is so ill-bred as to want to find out about it.
The average working week is twenty hours long. Most production is done by robots. Humans are needed only for trouble-shooting, making decisions, and planning new enterprises for the manufacturing world. Education has taken away the fear of boredom. The standard of Earth’s culture has risen considerably. The average human intelligence has not increased, but for the first time everyone is given the opportunity to use what brain he or she has.
Most people have two homes, since travel is easy and science has tamed the wildest areas of the Earth. Two of the most popular regions are the Arctic and the Antarctic, where people travel back and forth to take advantage of the extended daylight of the summer days. Deserts, mountains, and even the oceans are sites where people now build their homes. Some people dwell in exotic locations, such as the summit of Mount Everest or behind Victoria Falls. Inevitably, accidents will happen, but it has become almost a game to watch the rescue efforts.
The military forces of the world have been dissolved, so this has doubled the amount of time and money that the nations have. The necessities of life are free for the taking, so no one hands over money for things such as food or shelter. The average human being has earned this right by being a productive member of society. There are very few idle people, and it is less expensive to deal with them than to provide mundane unskilled jobs whose sole purpose was to transfer items from one ledger to another.
Nearly a quarter of the total activity of the human race is spent on sports. This has resulted in the extinction of the professional sportsmen, since common amateurs have excelled in their skills. Entertainment has also progressed, though the...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Jan visits his brother-in-law Rupert to see the stuffed animals that the Overlords will be taking on their ships back to their home planet as examples of life on Earth. He leans against a giant stuffed elephant and asks how many animals Rupert has sent up so far. Rupert replies that he has sent at least fifty, but the elephant is the biggest one yet. Most have been small, such as butterflies, snakes, and monkeys. Jan wonders if they have a stuffed human being among their collection. Rupert indifferently says that this would be easy to arrange through hospitals. Still thinking, Jan wonders what would happen if a live specimen of mankind went up to the Overlord ship. Rupert laughs and asks if this is an offer he should put to Rashaverak. Jan says no, that he was just thinking out loud.
Jan wonders how an Overlord reconciles his science with his interest in the occult. Rupert suspects that his brother-in-law is poking fun of his own fascination with the paranormal. He tells Rupert that Rashaverak is interested in all areas of human psychology. Changing the subject, Rupert tells Jan that an ichthyologist friend of his by the name of Sullivan is procuring a sperm whale and a giant squid for the Overlords’ collection. Jan wonders how the aliens get the large specimens up to their ship. Rupert says that one of their cargo ships will pick them up.
Jan accepts Rupert’s invitation to go down to Sullivan’s lab at the bottom of the southern Pacific Ocean. He is amazed at the variety of wildlife below the ocean surface. He sees the floor is not flat but littered with as many hills and mountains as the dry land is up above. Rather than silence, the sea is filled with the cries of the whales calling out to each other. He is taken to the laboratory, dodging a pet giant squid on the way. Sullivan welcomes him, curious as to why a confessed space fanatic has come the opposite direction to the ocean floor. Jan can see that Sullivan is as obsessed with his environment as Jan is with space. He asks the ichthyologist what he would do if the Overlords were to forbid him from coming to the ocean. Sullivan states that he would find a way. Jan sees that Sullivan would understand his request. He tells him his request and Sullivan smiles. He does not commit himself but asks Jan why he should help him carry out his plan.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Professor Sullivan runs a very expensive operation at the bottom of the sea, so he has a lot to lose if he helps Jan, even in this new Age of Reason. He does not commit himself yet, but he knows that he will eventually do so. He realizes that he will never know the result; however, this is true in many aspects of the sciences.
Jan is having second thoughts. But Sullivan realizes that if he decides not to go through with it, he will regret it for the rest of his life. When Sullivan tells Jan that agrees to help, Jan decides he now must go through with it.
Jan writes a letter to his sister Maia to be delivered by Sullivan when it has become clear that his plan has worked. He tells her that when she receives the letter, he will no longer be on Earth, though not on the moon, as so many people are now doing. He explains that he has always wanted to go into space, but the arrival of the Overlords has stopped all human space exploration. He regrets the lost opportunities for humanity, who might have matured into discoverers of Mars or Venus by now, though it is also likely that mankind would have destroyed itself with the weapons that it had been creating in the twentieth century.
Jan tells Maia that it all started at Rupert’s party, when he realized that the Ouija board’s answer was a number from the star catalogue. The home planet of the Overlords is roughly forty light years away. A trip to the planet would take forty years of Earth’s time, but Jan assumes that the aliens can move close to the speed of light, so it will be only two months of shipboard time. Jan, with the help of Sullivan, has accumulated food and oxygen to last for two months and intends to stowaway on one of the Overlords’ cargo ships. He will inject himself with narcosamine, which will put him in a sleep-like state for six weeks. At the end of that time, he will be close to the end of his journey. Even if the Overlords immediately put him back on a return ship, it will be eighty years before he returns to Earth. All the people that he knows will be dead. He bids Maia farewell, asking her to tell her grandchildren about the uncle who might be coming home when they are old.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Jan and Sullivan look at the metal skeleton of the sperm whale in which Jan would fly to the alien world of the Overlords. Sullivan explained that the skin covering the metal frame would be artificial, since it would be impractical to use real whale skin, which is layered with several centimeters of blubber. Jan thinks that it would have been more sensible for the aliens to take photographs of a real whale and make the model themselves once they reach their home planet.
Sullivan stands on Easter Island, looking at the ancient statues that have never been understood. The model of the sperm whale locked in conflict with the giant squid stands ready for pick-up, surrounded by a supporting metal construction frame. The entire exhibit is more than thirty meters long. One of the workers comes to Sullivan with the exciting news that Karellen is coming to observe the model before it is loaded. This makes Sullivan nervous, fearing that the alien will detect the hidden chamber inside the whale model. Yet Karellen sees nothing, or at least does not reveal it if he does. He makes mention of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, asking Sullivan if a man could truly survive inside one of the great sea monsters. Sullivan tells him of an account of a man who did just that, but only for a few seconds. Sullivan fears that this is a hint that he knows what is inside the whale model before him.
Sullivan tells Jan that, if he had known what he was going to go through to help Jan carry out his plan, he would never have agreed. Jan promises to dedicate a book to him, if he ever gets back to Earth to write one. Sullivan says that he will have been dead for years by then. He suddenly realizes how attached he has grown to Jan in the past few weeks. He hopes he is not participating in some elaborate suicide.
Six hours before the model is lifted to the space ship, Jan climbs into the capsule. He lies back on the rubber couch and thinks about his plans. He knows he will feel nothing once he is asleep. He hopes that there will not be a significant difference in air pressure when he finally leaves the capsule, since this could be fatal. He injects the narcosamine into his veins and falls asleep. He does not feel the metal framework being lifted up into the cargo ship, nor the start of the Stardrive as he heads off into deep space.
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Reporters gather in the conference room, waiting for Karellen. They have received no announcement of a press conference, but these things become known as fast as a rumor. They grumble that they are not allowed to bring in any recording devices, only paper and pencil. In the past, some have tried but have found that the machines melted. No one ever makes the same mistake twice.
The lights dim, and the doors split open to reveal Karellen coming forward to the dais. He greets the reporters pleasantly, joking that it must be a slow news day to have so many of them present. They respond that this is something that they hope he will rectify.
Karellen announces that there has been a stowaway on board a cargo ship that just recently left Earth. He does not give any details of how this person got on board the ship. He assures the human beings before him that it will not be allowed to happen again. One of the reporters, Golde, asks if the stowaway will be returned to Earth, but Karellen says that this decision is out of his jurisdiction, but he expects the person will be returned on the next ship.
Karellen addresses the frequent complaint of some of the younger inhabitants of Earth that journeying into outer space has been closed to them. He says that the Overlords have a purpose in this. To explain, he asks what would happen if a Stone-Age man were to be transported to a modern city. A reporter protests, saying that human beings now have some understanding of science, so they would be able to accept the advanced life on the Overlords’ planet. Karellen doubts this. He asks what a Victorian engineer would do if he were to examine a television set or computer. The gulf between the technologies of Earth and the Overlords’ planet is so great that it could be lethal. He shows them an image of the vastness of the Universe. He says that there are hundreds of millions of suns in the galaxy, many with planets around them.
Karellen tells the reporters gathered before him that eventually the aliens will leave, letting human beings rule their planet that they were on the verge of destroying when the space ships arrived. They may even expand to other places in the solar system. He tells them, however, that the stars are not for Man. In the silence that follows, Karellen knows that he alone in the room is aware that the Golden Age of Earth is rapidly coming to a close.
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
George Greggson comes home, complaining to his wife Jean about the reviews for the television program for which he designed the sets. It is not that the reviews are negative but that they are wrong as to the details of the set. Jean asks him if he wants to go back to live theater, which leads George to mention a letter he received recently about New Athens, a colony on an island in the Pacific Ocean. The colonists have returned to the days before the arrival of the Overlords, and George is interested in investigating it. Jean fears that it will mean cooking over a fire and dressing in skins, but George dismisses this. He suggests that they go for a visit, taking their young son and daughter.
On New Athens, the guide shows them that the colony consists of two islands: the one on which they are standing and Sparta, which is rugged and primitive, built on an extinct volcano. The guide tells them that there is an optimum number of people that will make the colony viable, and they are close to that number. They are looking for people with a variety of talents who will fit into the cultural atmosphere of the island. Since the arrival of the Overlords, the world’s culture has stagnated, with nothing new being created. Here on New Athens, the artistic traditions have been revived. Each applicant is subjected to psychological tests, with about a third of them being rejected. Those who pass go home to settle their affairs and return. Some change their minds, but most settle in and become a part of the community. George is assured that, should they choose to leave, they are free to do so.
Six weeks later, George and Jean move to the colony with their two children. Jean is a little nonplussed at the sight of the kitchen. There is no automated Food Service, but she soon learns to enjoy cooking her own meals as a creative outlet. There are no private cars on the island, since the greatest distance is only fifteen kilometers, so the primary mode of transportation is the bicycle. George struggles to get used to bike-riding, but he is sure that eventually he will manage with no trouble. He is taking part in the community theater and loving every minute.
The colony was started by a Jewish man, who died before it was actually founded. While appreciating what Karellen has done for the human race, he was still unhappy about the future plans for mankind. He wanted to preserve the creative nature of human beings. He convinced a...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Jeffrey Greggson enjoys his new life on the island. His constant companion is Fey, a golden retriever that George had bought. George resents that the dog seems interested only in the boy, but he resigns himself to wait for the new litter due soon. Jean is not sure she wants more than one dog in the house. Fey follows Jeff everywhere, except when the boy goes bike-riding.
One day, Jeff decides he wants to go swimming with his friends. Jean has become used to the water and feels no fear for Jeff’s safety, so long as he does not swim alone. Jeff and his friends bike over the causeway to Sparta. Jean’s heart clenches when she hears the tsunami warning siren, knowing that Jeff is across the channel on Sparta. Jeff is alone on the beach, his friends having climbed up the hill. He feels a slight movement beneath his feet, and the water swiftly recedes toward the ocean.
It is some hours later that Jeff is found; he is safe. The causeway had been broken by the tsunami, stranding him on the island. There had been minimal damage and no loss of life on New Athens. Jeff had been thinking about swimming across the channel when he was rescued.
That night, as he lies in bed, Jeff imagines himself telling his parents that he had heard a big man’s voice goading him to run up into the hills. When Jeff climbs up the path, he comes across a huge boulder blocking his way. The voice tells him to cover his eyes, which he does. He feels an intense flash of heat. When he opens his eyes, the boulder is gone. Jeff wants to know who the voice belonged to. So does George. Jean, who has not been interested in “paranormal” activity since the party at the home of Rupert Boyce, fears that there might be something psychologically wrong with Jeff. The next day, she takes him to a psychiatrist, who tells her that Jeff has an active imagination that he is using to deal with his frightening experience.
When the causeway is repaired, George bikes over. He follows the path that Jeff took up the hillside and finds a place where the rocks have been fused by an intense heat. He wonders who or what was there to protect Jeff. First, Jean had had her experience at the Boyces’, and now Jeff has this. He wonders if Karellen had anything to do with Jeff’s rescue.
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Karellen requests to visit New Athens, which is unusual since the Overlords have not shown any interest in most human affairs that are not considered “dangerous.” The colony simply wants intellectual and artistic independence, which could be considered subversive by the aliens. Twenty years ago, the Overlords had announced that they no longer used surveillance devices to keep track of humans’ activities, but they still exist and could be used if the aliens really wanted to use them.
Some of the colonists welcome the visit as an opportunity to discover the Overlords’ attitude towards art. Charles Yan Sen, who is the chairman of the council, is determined to make the most out of the visit to show the Overlords that man still had plenty of initiative in artistic endeavors and had not yet been “domesticated.” George is the head of the reception committee. Not only do the Overlords want to study the colonists of New Athens, but George wants to study the Overlords. Jean is not happy about the visit. Since the night of her fainting after the experience with the Ouija board at the party, she has viewed the aliens with hostility.
When the Inspector arrives, the islanders are not sure if it is Karellen or one of the other Overlords, since all the aliens look alike. Since his name is Thanthalteresco, they simply call him the Inspector. After the first day of the visit, Mrs. Sen asks her husband Charles if it was a success. Charles says that he thinks so, but one can never tell with the Overlords. They were interested in the statistics of the production on the island. The following day, they are going to visit the schools and the Academy. Charles tries to find out about how the Overlords educate their own offspring (if they have any). The Inspector says that his experience with the planet Earth is similar to the British Empire’s with India. Britain was never comfortable having an empire, he says, until they got rid of it. Charles asks if the Overlords will get rid of their own “empire” when the time comes, and the Inspector says that they will do so without hesitation.
George is pleased that the Inspector seems to enjoy the theatrical production planned for his visit. After the Overlord leaves, Jeff says that the Inspector voice is similar to the voice he heard telling him to run when the tsunami was approaching. When the Inspector makes his report, he says that there is nothing to be concerned about from...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Jeffrey Greggson begins to have dreams six weeks after the tsunami. George wakes up in the middle of the night and sees that Jean is not in bed. He finds her in Jeff’s room, saying that she awakened knowing that Jeff needed her. Jeff describes his dreams, which are not terrifying. He sees a place with a blue sun and tall mountains that are not volcanoes but still are on fire with blue flames.
Karellen and Rashaverak discuss Jeff’s dreams, which they have been observing. They think they know what planet he is seeing. They do not dare question Jeff yet, nor will they interfere in any way. Jeff continues having dreams, but he is fine when he is awake. He continues to dream about other places. He is no longer lonely in his dreams, nor is he afraid. It was only on that first night that he had subconsciously called out to his mother. Karellen and Rashaverak begin to have trouble identifying the planets in Jeff’s dreams, but they know he is going further into the center of the galaxy. Soon they see that he has left the galaxy altogether.
George meets with Rashaverak at his own request. They speak of their first meeting at Rupert Boyce’s party. When Rashaverak asks George why he requested this interview, George tells him that he thinks he already knows. Rashaverak agrees, but wants to hear it from George, stating that the Overlords do not know everything. This surprises George, who thought the aliens were almost omniscient. George begins by speaking of Jeff’s visit to the island psychologist. George never believed that these dreams were just the product of a child’s vivid imagination. He knew there was a rational explanation for it. Rashaverak says that it all started at Rupert’s party, when Jean made contact with her yet to be conceived son. George asks the Overlord why he broke his promise that he would no longer use his observational technology to spy on humans. Rashaverak says that they did not break their promise; they were observing George and Jean’s children, not their parents. George is shocked and asks what exactly his children are. Rashaverak replies that this is why the Overlords are trying to discover. George explains that one time his daughter Jennifer Anne was shaking a rattle, but she was not touching it. Rashaverak believes that she will soon know as much as her brother. He explains that the Overlords are able to observe and guide the evolution of human beings because they have reached an endpoint...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Soon, Jeff’s dream world becomes indistinguishable from his waking world. He no longer goes to school and his parents stop seeing their friends, knowing that it will not be long before no one will have any sympathy to spare for them. They go off for quiet walks at night when there are fewer people out. They feel that their children can take care of themselves, and they are being guarded by the Overlords as well. They have grown closer to each other (more than at any time in their marriage), united in the uncertainty and the tragedy that they know will soon come.
Jennifer Anne, though still a baby, grows in her ability to mentally control her physical surroundings and personal needs. Jean no longer tries to feed the baby, since food seems to disappear from the kitchen, even though Jennifer Anne never leaves her crib. The furniture in the nursery is moved into interesting patterns. The paint on the wall begins to glow brighter. She is beyond relying on her mother and father or needing their love. Jean can no longer bear to enter the nursery. Since the baby no longer needs them, George and Jean cling to Jeffrey, who still at times seems to be normal. Many times, however, he seems not to be aware of them or his surroundings. He does not appear to have the ability to manipulate objects as Jennifer Anne does. He sits quietly for hours on end, his eyes closed as he listens to sounds that only he can hear. The dog Fey watches him constantly, obviously confused as to what is happening to her young master.
Jeff and Jennifer Anne are only the first children to experience this jump in evolution. Soon there are more, and it is not long until almost all children have passed beyond the normal human experiences of their parents. Practically no one over the age of ten is affected, however. It seems to be the end of civilization. In only a few days, all that humankind has striven for has become irrelevant. There is no panic, as there would have been before the Overlords arrived. The world seems to be in mourning of what has gone. For the last time, Karellen speaks to mankind.
(The entire section is 378 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Karellen announces that his work on Earth is done. He regrets the secrecy that has lasted for the hundred years that the Overlords have been guardians of the planet. Knowing that the aliens’ purpose has long been a topic of speculation, he apologizes that the secret was not theirs to reveal. The Overlords saved the Earth from self-destruction. It is true that nuclear proliferation was halted, but that was not the major fear among the races of the universe. Mankind’s greatest threat was what they had only begun to investigate in the twentieth century: paranormal phenomena. Psychic powers were dismissed by human scientists as superstition, a belief that could have spread like a cancer throughout the universe. Therefore, the Overlords were sent to Earth to lead mankind to the next step in evolution.
Karellen surprises human beings with the revelation that the Overlords do not have these powers themselves. Their minds have ceased evolving. So have those of mankind, at least in their present form. The Overlords are on Earth to guide humans to the next level beyond Homo sapiens. This is the last generation of mankind as it has long been on Earth.
As the people of Earth call the aliens “Overlords,” so there is a far superior power that Karellen calls an “Overmind.” It is theorized that the Overmind is trying to grow and extend its powers over the universe. It is not confined to a material existence. It is conscious of intelligence everywhere, and so it sent the Overlords to prepare mankind for the next stage in evolution. All previous changes of the human race took a long time to occur. This final step will be almost instantaneous. The Overlords do not know how the change is produced, only that it begins with a single child and begins to spread like the formation of crystals. Adults will not be affected, since their minds are already formed. The change will have been completed within a few years. The adults will never understand their children, who have evolved into another race of beings. They will not even possess minds as their parents know them. They will be a single entity within the Overmind. The crisis point will occur in a few hours. The Overlords will remain to protect the children, who might be destroyed by the previous generations, even by their own parents. The Overlord ships will begin to evacuate the following day. Karellen begs mankind not to condemn the Overlords, for they shall always envy humans.
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
Jean and George wait on the island as the Overlords’ ship approaches. Jean remembers when, not long before, Jeff had been saved from death by the Overlords. However, she thinks that at least death is something she could understand as a part of the cycle of life. Men had died before, but at least the human race survived. But not this time.
Below, the children cluster in groups without sound or movement. They have no more interest in each other than in the homes and parents they are leaving behind. Some of the children hold babies that are unable to walk. George wonders why the ships are collecting them at all, if they can move inanimate objects with their mental powers. He thinks back to a newsreel showing the children of London being evacuated during the Second World War. He remembers how they waited to load onto the trains as the parents, whom they would never see again, wait for their departure. But George knows that history is not repeating itself. Those who are leaving now are no longer children, and there will be no reunion.
The ship lands at the water’s edge, and the panels rise and the gangways extend. George at first sees the children as lonely figures but realizes that only individuals can be lonely. The children are part of a single entity. Jean squeezes his hand and tells him that she can see Jeff. As they watch, their son turns around and looks, but they cannot tell if he is looking at them. As the ship’s doors close, Fey the dog begins to moan, separated from her master. George realizes that he no longer has a rival for the dog’s affections.
The adults who are left have many choices to make. Some decide that the world is still beautiful, so they will enjoy it until they are forced to leave it by death. Others had set their hopes on the future, which has disappeared with their children. Alone or in groups, they leave this life by their own will. The island of Athens has decided to end their experiment together. No one is supposed to know when the end will come, but Jean, with her heightened consciousness still in action, awakens out of a sound sleep and reaches for George. They go to the nursery, where Jennifer Anne’s toys still lay scattered about. They hold each other as the nuclear bomb explodes and obliterates the island.
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
The Overlords' ship, carrying Jan Rodricks, returns to Earth eighty years after it left, though it has seemed like only six months to Jan. He stands behind the three pilots and watches as they work their way through the solar system. He is glad to be back home, even though he had worked so hard to leave it. He had slept through the outward journey to Carina, the Overlords’ home planet, awakening just as they were entering the Carina system. There had been no surprise when he appeared. They land on one of the satellites where there was a transport. He journeys down to the surface of the planet.
Jan discovers that the planet is larger than Earth but with lower gravity. He learns that this is not the Overlords’ original home, but a place that they had conquered and adjusted to meet their needs. He is contained for a few days until the Overlord Vindarten, who speaks some English, comes to meet him. Vindarten escorts Jan through the city, which is focused on the study of alien races. Jan can tell that this place is designed with the Overlords’ ability to fly in mind. Doors are often at the top of the buildings, and there are often sudden chasms that are meaningless to someone with the power of flight. The city is featureless, and Jan thinks that if a person from Earth’s medieval period were to see it, he would immediately identify it as Hell.
Jan spends several days being observed by the Overlords, functioning as a scientific specimen though he is not harmed in any way. Vindarten takes him to a museum to see the other alien races that the Overlords have encountered. Jan is terrified when he looks down into a shallow pit and sees a giant eye, which Vindarten assures him is true to life-size. Vindarten has Jan observe several Earth objects, but Jan is not able to identify their uses, even though they are from his own planet. Vindarten takes Jan to the top of one of the highest buildings. Jan can see a mountain whose base is beyond the curve of the planet’s horizon. It seems to be alive, though it is not organic. From a blue cloud at its base rises a ring which expands as it goes up. It passes overhead, and Jan tries to take a photograph, but Vindarten stops him. Jan then understands that, whatever the mountain is, it seems to be connected somehow to a power that is master over the Overlords.
When Jan reaches the orbit of Earth, he is disturbed to see that there are no city lights shining up from the dark side...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Karellen tells Jan of the last days of humankind. In the early days, it had been safe for the Overlords to go among the children who would be the last generation. They gathered humans onto a continent of their own and then watched them. Karellen shows Jan a video of the past years. At first, the children had wandered through the forests, dirty and naked as savages. Jan can tell that they range from five to fifteen years old. It is their faces, however, that haunt him. They are as emotionless as those of snakes. The Overlords appear to be more human than these children. Karellen tells him that they are no longer single entities but part of something greater than themselves. The children keep moving in what Karellen calls the Long Dance, though he does not know what its purpose might be. He explains that at first the children ate whatever fruit and game they came across as they danced across the land, but soon they had an energy source from someplace else.
Karellen speeds the video to a later time. The animals and plants have been destroyed, leaving only the bare landscape. Even so rudimentary minds as those of the plants and animal are distracting to the children’s purpose. They are testing their powers, and the Overmind still seems to be training them, but for what the Overlords do not know.
Jan asks why the Overmind needs the Overlords as guardians and midwives, since it seems to have limitless powers. Karellen says that the Overmind does have its limits. In the past it had tried to make mental contact with races but failed. Jan asks what the purpose had been for the Overlords to come to Earth in the distant past to imprint their image on humanity as the personification of evil. Karellen says that they had not come to Earth. He suspects that there is some racial memory that can see forward as well as backward. Ancient man had seen the Overlords as connected to their doom, the end of the human race.
Jan has difficulty with the concept of himself as the Last Man. Jan finds a deserted villa and acquires a keyboard. He finds solace in his music, especially Mozart and Bach. He thinks of what a fool he had been to sneak aboard the Overlord spaceship, but he does not regret it. He now learns the answers to questions that human beings had been asking long before the Overlords had arrived.
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Rashaverak brings Jan the news that the end is near. It has been five, perhaps six, years since Jan returned to Earth. He awakens from a dream in which he was a small boy again, listening to a great voice calling to him in a language that he cannot understand. Jan goes outside and looks up at the moon that he never reached, though he had journey far past it. He is alone on Earth. As he watches the moon, he notices that the face that has always been pointed toward Earth is moving. He realizes that this means that the children are emerging from their long trance and are playing with the moon’s rotation. Rashaverak assures him that he is right, and this means that the Overlords can no longer take the risk of staying. They do not know what the children will do to them, now that they are testing their immense powers. The alien ship will leave in two or three hours. They will leave instruments behind to record what happens.
Jan announces that he will stay on Earth. He has seen enough of the universe, and now all he wants to know is the fate of his planet. Rashaverak says that the Overlords had hoped he would do this so that he can transmit his impressions of the end to them.
Jan watches as the Overlords’ ship crosses the night sky. He transmits that he sees nothing else, except a few slight earthquakes. He is about to sign off when he sees that the stars are becoming dimmer, and a huge net-like span of lines appears across the sky. In the western horizon he sees a great burning column, which means that the children are on their way at last, leaving the last remnants of matter behind. Jan realizes that this is exactly what he saw on Karellen’s planet and assumes that it is part of the Overmind. A great wind comes up as the gravity begins to give way. Sticks and stones fly up into the air, and Jan feels himself losing weight. The buildings and the topography around him become transparent, as the atoms are stripped away. He sees a light coming up beneath him from the Earth’s core.
The Earth explodes, the force disturbing the orbits of the other planets of the solar system. Out beyond Pluto, Karellen sees only the distant star that is the Sun, which has lost one of its planets. He bids farewell to the men that he has known and turns his back on the dwindling Sun.
(The entire section is 432 words.)