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Olaf Stapledon

(1886–1950)
Olaf Stapledon was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction. His two most famous books are Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937), and he has influenced generations of SFF writers, including Arthur C. Clarke, Brian M. Aldiss, and contemporaries such as C.S. Lewis, H.G. Wells, and H.P. Lovecraft. His works are not traditional novels, but instead present his views on mankind, social and political institutions, the origins and future of the universe, and the search for meaning.

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Last and First Men: The ultimate vision of man’s evolution

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Olaf Stapledon's vision of mankind's entire future history until the end is profound, beautiful, and affecting, and was written way back in 1930. It is unfortunate that Last and First Men has not found a wider audience, though it had a deep impact on many of science fiction's luminaries, including Arthur C. Clarke, who indicated that this book and its later successor Star Maker were the two most influential books he had ever read. In my mind, it is one of the most imaginative early SF classics ever written, and is just as important as the works of H.G. Wells.

Stapledon touches on many themes that still resonate today, particularly mankind's potential for both great achievements an... Read More

Odd John: Lo And Behold!

Odd John by Olaf Stapledon

Just recently, I had some words to say regarding Olaf Stapledon’s superlative novel entitled Sirius (1944), which featured as its protagonist a German shepherd/border collie mix who, thanks to his owner’s experiments in genetic engineering and hormonal supplements, winds up a canine with the mentality of a human genius. It was the first book that I had experienced by this British author, and I loved it so much that I immediately began reading an earlier Stapledon novel, Odd John (1935), which can happily be found in the same 1972 Dover edition as the 1944 work.

As it turns out, the two make for a supremely well-matched double feature, as Odd John also deals with the subje... Read More

Star Maker: The grandest vision of the universe

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

Star Maker is perhaps the grandest and most awe-inspiring vision of the universe ever penned by a science fiction author, before the term even existed, in 1937 by the pioneering Englishman Olaf Stapledon.

Although some readers might think that Star Maker was only outstanding for its time, it remains an amazing tour-de-force today, and has clearly inspired many of the genre’s most famous practitioners, including Arthur C. Clarke, with its fountain of ideas about galaxies, nebulae, cosmological minds, artificial habitats, super-heavy-gravity environments, an infinite variety of alien species, and telepathic communications among stars.

This may be the only novel I’ve read that essentially has no individual characters. A nameless narrator sits ... Read More

Sirius: The brainiest canine in all literature

Sirius by Olaf Stapledon

For all those folks out there who hold conversations with their pet dog and know for certain that Fido/Fifi understands every word; for those who have gotten a tad “verklempt” at the conclusion of such novels as The Call of the Wild and Old Yeller; for people who believe that canines just cannot get any smarter than Lassie, Rin Tin Tin or Benji, all of whom starred in innumerable motion pictures; and, well, really, for anybody with a soft spot in his or her heart for man’s best friend, have I got a book for you! That book is none other than British philosopher/author Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, which, as I write these words, is in the running to win a Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel, 1944. Originally released as a hardcover volume by the English pu... Read More