Monday 12 July 2010

What Do You Mean You've Never Read...

On a completely unrelated topic, before I begin, I've been watching the World Cup final this evening, and really enjoyed it. Moreover, I was really impressed to see that the two terrestrial channels showing the World Cup coverage, BBC1 and ITV1, have both managed to successfully arrange a deal whereby they both show the final round. I think it's a great idea, and it really will demonstrate which set of commentators is the more popular out of the two channels' staff. If I was the head of ITV1 though, I'd be a prick and subtly work in a clause into the contract whereby they had about a fifteen second lead, just to give themselves that edge.

But I digress.

This week, E14 looks at a novel that you may never have heard of in your life. In fact, for this to work, it'd follow that you haven't. The novel in question this week is a work by celebrated science-fiction novellist Arthur C. Clarke, of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame. I had the privilege of reading this novel only recently, but fell in love with it almost immediately. One of his earlier works, in 1953 he released Childhood's End.

The novel deals with an alternate-timeline humanity at the peak of the space race in the late 20th Century, beginning with one of the United States' leading physicists racing to attain the marvel of space flight ahead of his Russian counterpart. Then alien spacecraft appear over all the capital cities in the world, and suddenly everything changes. What follows then is the chronicling of the human race's evolution under the watch of the alien 'Overlords', and the title of the novel refers to the eventual fate of humanity and the planet Earth.

This novel starts out awesome from the off, and just keeps it going. Initially, the Overlords stay up in their ships and only deal with humanity through one of them, the messenger Karellen. All the way through this initial dealing, questions are raised about Karellen and his character. Is he one of the Overlords? Is he actually just a subservient race, forced to relay messages from a mightier race? Are there no Overlords at all, and all of this an elaborate hoax? It's this kind of questioning all the way through that keeps you totally engrossed in the novel, as these are the questions you want answered. Why have they come to Earth? More importantly, why now?

Thankfully, Clarke is clearly aware of this, and every time he reveals something new (like the first time the Overlords show themselves to humanity), he poses some far more interesting questions almost immediately. One scene involving a dinner party and a Ouija board is stunning in its revelation of surprising plot information. And let's face it: every story would be improved with the addition of the words "dinner party and a Ouija board".

So now the Overlords have revealed themselves to the human race, and all seems well. All the same, there are undercurrents of disquiet with a certain portion of humanity. Why, you ask? Humanity has abolished war, because they fail to see the point of global dominance in the wake of the knowledge that they are no longer alone in the universe. Apartheid (which at the time of writing was very relevant and recent) has been shut down, and a utopian society has arisen. Still, though, there are humans who are not happy that their creativity has been stifled by this society.

The humans who are unhappy set up their own island where creativity runs rife, and for the most part the Overlords do not get involved in any of their affairs. However, curiosity is piqued once again when they do mysteriously get involved in the event of a natural disaster. Their reasons for doing so become all too clear before too long, and this is where the book goes into absolute overdrive.

The novel splits here into two main story arcs; the development of humanity and the attempts of a lone human to solve the mystery of the Overlords. At this point, the Overlords reveal themselves to devastating repercussions, and the grand reasons for their arrival and intervention in humanity's development are finally known to humanity. Massive uproar ensues, but all for nothing.

In order to find out more than that, you'll have to read the book. It's an absolutely stunning book of immense scope, with an ending that is both tragic and beautiful at the same time. In fact, if they ever made a movie of this book, I would suggest that the last twenty minutes would probably be some of the saddest and yet poignant moments ever seen in the history of cinema. I'd certainly be reaching for the Kleenex. As it was, when I read the book I was in a dead-end job, and had to make do with a supermarket own-brand. It was like taking a belt sander to my eyes.

What's ultimately so satisfying about this book is how relevant it still is today. The themes of humanity's continuing bull-headed push for global domination is a theme that recurs every time a dictator mysteriously happens to need overthrowing in a region that's particularly oil-rich. All the while, North Korea can happily sit back and drop puppets into shark tanks. It's true, I saw a documentary on it called Team America: World Police or something. Not quite as high production values as Brighton Beach Patrol, but this one had Alec Baldwin in it!

If you need more proof of the novel's awesomeness, have a listen to some of the artists who have created something inspired by the book. Ever wonder what "Oh! You Pretty Things" by David Bowie was about? Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. Ever wonder why the Zerg and Protoss in Starcraft are such doucheblowers? They're aggressive versions of the Overlords, of course, you silly-arse!

Childhood's End can be obtained from most good book shops, a few shit ones, and most online retailers.

Matt Damon(The Bourne franchise, Invictus, The Informant!) and internationally renowned director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) re-team for their latest electrifying thriller in Green Zone – available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD from today!

In the film, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) and his team of Army inspectors have been dispatched by their commanders to find weapons believed to be stockpiled in the Iraqi desert. Rocketing from one booby-trapped and treacherous site to the next, the men search for deadly chemical agents but instead stumble upon an elaborate cover-up that subverts the purpose of their mission.

Packed full of explosive action and thrilling drama, GREEN ZONE is set to be this summer’s must own Blu-Ray blockbuster and to celebrate its release we’re giving away a copy of the film on DVD.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the following question…

What is the name of the U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer played by Matt Damon in the film?

a. Agent Rojer Miller
b. Agent Roy Miller
c. Agent Ray Tiller

Send your answer to before midday on Monday 12th July for a chance of winning a copy of this awesome movie!


"Station 7 is the most secret establishment in the whole of Earth-Space. Even our own people don’t know it exists. It’s beyond top secret. There’s no way the Daleks can ever find it."

Station 7 is where the Earth Forces send all the equipment captured in their unceasing war against the Daleks. It’s where Dalek technology is analysed and examined. It’s where the Doctor and Amy have just arrived. But somehow the Daleks have found out about Station 7 – and there’s something there that they want back.

With the Doctor increasingly worried about the direction the Station’s research is taking, the commander of Station 7 knows he has only one possible, desperate, defence. Because the last terrible secret of Station 7 is that they don’t only store captured Dalek technology. It’s also a prison. And the only thing that might stop a Dalek is another Dalek...

An epic, full-colour graphic novel featuring the Doctor and Amy, as played by Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in the spectacular hit series from BBC Television.

For a taster of The Only Good Dalek, click here!

Doctor Who: The Only Good Dalek is released on 16th September.


  1. My initial reaction to this post was 'WHAT??? Surely EVERYBODY has read 'Childhood's End'? It's one of Clarke's most famous books!'

    Then I remembered two things:

    1. Not everybody grows up with the complete works of Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke on their father's bookshelf, and

    2. I'm old.

    >Goes away to sob quietly to himself in the corner...<

  2. I haven't read any, but - as I mentioned to you this weekend - my knowledge of Classic Sci-Fi is woefully inadequate. I grew up a horror kid, and got into fantasy as a young adult (19 - 21), but with a few notable exceptions, most sci-fi leaves me cold.

  3. I grew up with two bookshelves to learn to read from: my dad's, as mentioned above, which contained nothing but Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, and my mum's, which contained nothing but Stephen King, Dean Koontz and James Herbert.

    It wasn't until many, many years later that the thought occurred that this wasn't exactly normal reading material for a kid whose age hadn't even hit double-figures yet.

    Of course, then we read C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein at junior school and the science fiction/horror/fantasy trio was complete.

    I didn't stand a chance.

  4. I read "The Hobbit" when I was eight - I think that was my first real experience of fantasy, excepting Star Wars. I was reading Poe and M.R. James when I was eleven, and started getting into horror movies about the same time. I quite enjoyed some sci-fi movies, but looking back now, the ones I liked were generally darker ones - and debatably horror movies in space, rather than sci-fi.

    I didn't really get into fantasy (again, excepting Star Wars, which I've loved since I was born) until I was studying it at University for my Creative Writing module. My tutor, Allen Stroud, leant me some stuff by Terry Goodkind and George R.R. Martin, and I really liked it. Then after I finished university and another friend recommended me the DragonLance series (although only the first trilogy is any good, to my mind).

    There have been many science-fiction stories, novels, movies and games I've liked - but the genre (as a whole) has never filled me with enthusiasm the way fantasy or horror has.