Childhood's End


In Arthur C. Clarke's early--and arguably best--novel Childhood's Endan advanced alien civilization suddenly "appears" in giant, silent spaceships that hover over our cities.  Their intentions, we soon learn, are entirely benign; over a generation, they gently shepherd us to a millennial utopia of universal peace and prosperity.  But there's a catch: "appears" is in quotes because they won't let us see them, just their ships, and they communicate with us exclusively by voice.

For a while.  After that transformational generation has passed, they let themselves be seen.  And the reason for their concealment is immediately clear--they look like the devil.  (That's a seventeenth century woodcut of Baphomet on the far left and a made-up Charles Dance in SyFy's adaptation of the book next to it.)  But because of the decades of unbroken kindness since their arrival, their resemblance to the lords of hell is swiftly chalked up to an amusing coincidence.

But it wasn't.  The paradise they've made for us is just a transition.  They are here as emissaries of an infinitely higher being, overseeing the absorption of the last generation of humans--all the children in the world-- into it as the climax of our species' evolution.  They appeared in our mythology as demons in a racial premonition of the role they would play in humanity's metamophosis and extinction. And not just humanity's; as the children dissolve into the Overmind, Earth itself disintegrates as well.

The novel has haunted me since I read it the first time in junior high.  And somehow it got me thinking about a half-forgotten social phenomenon:  the scary clown hysteria of Fall 2016.  Yes, the Great Clown Scare was a real thing, thousands of sightings of armed and menacing jesters hovering in the woods or lurking in subway entrances and doorways.  Though the craze was worldwide, it centered in the United States and peaked in late October--just before the election.

So let me ask the obvious: Was it mere coincidence that we started to see scary orange haired buffoons everywhere just as it began to seem possible that Donald Trump would win the election?  Or was it a premonition of the future which, now realized, was even worse than we could have then imagined--an aged whorehopper with a scalp like a scalded poodle plunging the stock markets and roiling the world trade system just because he's in a bad mood? 

It's the nature of omens that they are always ignored.  We now live in a world run by an evil clown.