I read this book after watching the first part of the TV series by the same name. I thought it was a modern TV series idea and was surprised it was written by Arthur C. Clarke in 1953. The only other book I’ve read by Arthur C. Clark is Rendezvous with Rama which was a huge, disappointing tease and let down. I expected that from this novel, but without giving away the ending, I assure you that it won’t be anticlimactic. Quite the opposite. Without giving away too much, I’ll set up the novel’s first part. An alien race, spaceships and all, descends upon Earth and only communicates initially through one chosen person. The novel jumps around a bunch of different people’s lives with some rather irrelevant side stories that I simply skimmed over, because I really just wanted to find out what happened in the end. The aliens initially help out the humans by eradicating war, hunger, poverty, and crime. When people try to hurt each other, they are stopped. There is an initial resistance at first, but over time, people adapt and start to enjoy their peaceful, prosperous lives. I wouldn’t agree with how Clark sees humanity responding to peace and prosperity. He believes that religion would disappear except some traces of Buddhism. He believes science as an endeavor would also disappear, because the aliens have proven to be technologically superior so there is no real reason to compete with them knowing they’re so far ahead. I disagree. Humans love religion as a mitigation against uncertainty, and their fate in the hands of somewhat benign alien supervision would cause much uncertainty and consternation. When the Europeans conquered the world, some people surrendered, but the Asians in particular realized that the only way to compete was to quickly learn the technology of the conquerors. If anything would increase the curiosity and zeal of scientific research, it would be alien visitation. Clark argues that humanity would react by just entertaining themselves and learning and being amateur athletes and all professional sports would disappear. Clark also adds interestingly that there would be something that we now call virtual reality, but he doesn’t go too much into it. Fact is, many humans would escape boredom by indulging in virtual reality as they do now with video games. If we take away war, hunger, depravation, threats and challenges, humans would seek them all out in virtual reality. You can even argue that we already live in this world but many of us are deep in the virtual reality game and don’t realize it’s just that, a game. My argument against this is that it sounds like a nice excuse to go around killing people for fun as people now do in video games. There is no excuse for treating people badly, including the idea that it’s not real and just a virtual reality.
This book does spur some thoughts about what would happen if an alien race comes to Earth. Would it be kind and generous or exploitative like the Europeans? I have to believe that if they were exploitative like the Europeans, they would never have survived long enough to develop the technology of interstellar space travel. It is my firm belief that intelligent life once destroyed their own universe, and that the only reason that in our universe, our worlds are so far apart is through the evolution of universes. Those universes that incubated intelligent life far from each other, allowed some intelligent beings the isolation required to develop a benevolent society that then developed space travel technology and then spread that benevolent society throughout the universe and then as stewards of that universe, they expanded and created more universes that were fine tuned for benevolent stewards to be mutually beneficial symbiotic parasites if you will. It’s an optimistic idea, but it also means that if we are not designed to be that benevolent society of stewards, then we are simply doomed to destroy ourselves and either be conquered by the benevolent aliens or just be one of those organisms in evolution that goes extinct. I would like to think that we are the chosen ones, the benevolent stewards that learn how to get along and then learn how to travel throughout our universe and become universal stewards and visit and help other intelligent beings and not vice versa. Although, if other intelligent beings invade Earth and teach us how to be benevolent stewards, I wouldn’t be opposed to that.