Star Maker: The grandest vision of the universe

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsStar Maker by Olaf Stapledon science fiction book reviewsStar 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 on a hill contemplating the stars; without warning his consciousness is transported into space, and he starts rushing towards the nearest stars. He discovers he can control his speed and direction, and proceeds to search for stars with intelligent life. Initially his search is fruitless, and the oppressive loneliness of space discourages him. Eventually he discovers other intelligent minds and joins a collective mind with them. We are then treated to an astonishing series of encounters with ever greater and stranger life forms as the scale expands by increasing series of magnitudes, until individual galaxies and universes have formed united spirits and then seek for the ultimate creator of the universes. To give you an idea of his writing style, below is a brief passage describing part of this process. The entire book is written like this, so it may not be your cup of tea if you like quirky characters, intricate plots, or pithy dialogue.

When at last our galaxy was able to make a full telepathic exploration of the cosmos of galaxies it discovered that the state of life in the cosmos was precarious. Very few of the galaxies were in their youth; most were already far past their prime. Throughout the cosmos the dead and lightless stars far outnumbered the living and luminous. In many galaxies the strife of stars and worlds had been even more disastrous than in our own. Peace had been secured only after both sides had degenerated past hope of recovery. In most of the younger galaxies, however, this strife had not yet appeared; and efforts were already being made by the most awakened galactic spirits to enlighten the ignorant stellar and planetary societies about one another before they should blunder into conflict.

The communal spirit of our galaxy now joined the little company of the most awakened beings of the cosmos, the scattered band of advanced galactic spirits, whose aim it was to create a real cosmical community, with a single mind, the communal spirit of its myriad and diverse worlds and individual intelligences. This it was hoped to acquire powers of insight and of creativity impossible on the merely galactic plane.

Star Maker culminates with a brief but searing encounter with the omnipotent and yet imperfect Star Maker itself, who created all the universes in an endless series of efforts to improve upon the last. The Star Maker is never satisfied, and yet derives ultimate meaning through those same acts of creation. Stapledon’s descriptions of the Star Maker’s efforts in the final part of Star Maker are truly overwhelming, and bring to mind the latest and most modern ideas of quantum universes, infinite probabilities, the curvature of space-time, and the origins of the universe.

Publisher: This bold exploration of the cosmos ventures into intelligent star clusters and mingles among alien races for a memorable vision of infinity. Cited as a key influence by science-fiction masters such as Doris Lessing, this classic has left its mark not only in modern literature but also in the fields of social anthropology and philosophy. Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 successor to Last and First Men offers another entrancing speculative history of the future. Its narrator, a contemporary Earthman, joins a community of explorers who travel to the farthest reaches of the universe, seeking traces of intelligence. Along the way, they encounter nautiloid water beings, races of hyperspiders and hyperfish, composite group intelligences, plantlike creatures, and other strange life forms. Their dramatic voyage unfolds against a backdrop of life-and-death struggles on a cosmic scale.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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10 comments

  1. It sounds like a fascinating “future history” book. I don’t know if it’s for me. I like ornate prose, but I also really like lots of interesting characters.

  2. Probably the most extreme example of a book without characters other than group minds, alien species, nebulae, galaxies, and the Star Maker himself, but definitely worth the effort if you’re in the right mood for speculating about our existence in the universe!

  3. Greatest science fiction novel ever written.

  4. I’m reading this!!!!! Sounds amazing.

  5. I just saw this available as an audio book, so I was wondering if it would be possible to follow listening to it since it has the type of prose you describe. Should it be read instead of listened to?

  6. Hi Brad, I’d say if you’re an experienced audiobook listener you’ll be fine. The audiobooks that don’t work for me are those with a huge cast of characters and convoluted plots, like Game of Thrones, so this book should be okay since there are no human characters and the “plot” is the future history of planets, galaxies, and galactic consciousnesses. Go for it!

  7. John Nee /

    “First and Last Men” by Stapledon is also essential! I recommend reading it first.

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