Like studying history; Mostly fun but sometimes boring

the doomsday book

 

My actual rating of this book is somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It was an overall enjoyable read but certainly didn’t live up to all the hype surrounding it in the sci fi community. As a history nerd, I also enjoy a well told time travel tale. My two biggest quibbles are that a) the book drags for a hundred pages or so after the inciting incident b) The finale seems a little rushed after slowly building up to it.

The basic premise is this: the book is set about 40 years in the future. Time travel is possible and is used for academic purposes. A young grad student named Kivrin travels back to England in 1320 against the wishes of her mentor professor Dunworthy. Though things seem to go alright at first, the situation quickly goes pear shaped in both the past and the present. Here is one of the things I appreciated as someone who has studied history; as much as we’ve studied history, we don’t actually [i]know[/i] what it was like. Studying history is like shining a dim light on a dark landscape. We take what evidence we have and make our best guess. Despite being very intelligent and having prepared exhaustively, Kivrin can’t even speak the right version of old English when she arrives in the past. Unfortunately the action comes to a bit of a standstill after this as Kivrin tries to get her bearings and professor Dunworthy deals with catastrophes on his end.

Overall I enjoyed this book. Once things got moving I didn’t want to put it down. It was a nice blend of history and sci fi, two genres I enjoy immensely. When it was good it was very good and when it wasn’t, I felt like the guy in the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. “It’s time to make the donuts.”

In pain of a heart forbade to fly. But you learn to say goodbye/

Childhoods end

 

I knew very little about this book going into it other than it was considered to be a Science Fiction classic and that SyFy recently produced a miniseries adaptation of it. When it popped up on sale for $1.99 on Kindle shortly after that, I figured it would be a good time to fill in some of the gaps in my SciFi reading (long story short. My parents were SciFi nerds. I rebelled by being a horror/true crime fanatic). I’m glad I waited until I was a fully formed adult before reading this one. I don’t think I could have appreciated the complexities of it in my youth.

The book opens when earth is visited by powerful but seemingly benevolent beings whom humanity refers to as The Overlords who essentially take over the running of Earth, much to it’s benefit. Through an entirely non-violent and largely hands off approach, The Overlords eliminate war, poverty, racism, animal cruelty, etc. and basically create a Utopia for mankind. However they remain largely mysterious which raises suspicions in many people on Earth. The identity of the Overlords and their true mission is at the crux of this book.

Childhood’s End did not go at all where I expected it to. A lot of older Science Fiction (and some newer) tends to use future technology as a heavy handed allegory and can be very difficult to read. Frankly I viewed this book like a new dieter views health food. It was going to be Good For Me. It would make me Well Rounded. What I got was a beautiful 200 page musing on the nature of man and his place in the universe. This book is sweeping, sad and beautiful and worth picking up, even if you’re not a fan of the genre.