A friend told me about this and I would love to read it:

Humans in the future have colonised various planets throughout the universe.

Periodically (I think every few decades but it might be centuries) they are attacked by a powerful alien force. There have been several attempted invasions but humans do not actually know why or what the issue is.

A human soldier is caught by the aliens and taken captive, I think he was injured and they treated his wounds. Whilst he was a prisoner he asks them why they keep attacking and what they actually want.

They explain that they were appointed to look after humans long long long ago and then further explain that in those times of war the humans make their greatest leaps in technology, medicine, warfare as well as building political and social unity etc. Each time these guardians allow the humans to drive them back, at the loss of thousands of their own lives knowing that they have provided them with a jump start.

He told me about it in 1999 so it must have been published before that. He was monolingual so it is in English or at least has been translated into English.

  • Just from curiosity, could this be "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke, a lot of things seem similar.
    – user15235
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 4:43
  • I read Childhood's End when I was a teen and this does not sound even remotely similar.
    – steveha
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 4:25

1 Answer 1


It sounds very much like your friend was describing the "Shadow War" arc of the TV series Babylon 5:

Humans have colonised space - check.

Civilised worlds are periodically (and inexplicably) attacked by alien race - check

The alien race reveals that they attack in order to encourage evolution - Check

Shadow : Your race came out of the last war stronger. Better. How much better? How much stronger will you be after this war?

A human soldier is captured by the aliens - Kinda check. There's an extended sequence in which Captain John Sheridan is held prison by the Shadows whilst their man Morden does the traditional "good and evil are just words" monologue at him.

The series ended in 1998 so the timescales match nicely as well.

  • Sounds absolutely bang on!!! You rock!
    – Stefan
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 16:47
  • 1
    @Stefan - Well yes, obviously I do.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 17:23

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