Last and First Men (Olaf Stapledon)

13 02 2010

048. Read 50 books  [more info

My love affair with Olaf Stapledon’s First and Last Men started when I was a teenager, picking up his epic novel from the local library. I adored the concept of the book – the evolution of humankind upon our planet, written in the mid-1930s, but never finished it because of how complicated and difficult to read that it was (there are ‘cycles’ in each of man’s evolutionary career, most climaxing with breakthroughs in society, science or spirituality – before a plague/de-evolution; these cycles can be predictable and uninteresting at times).

Nevertheless, it was a book I put on my to-read-again-one-day list, when I was older, wiser (debateable!) and more receptive to the subject-matter. In November I found that a few paperback edition had been published, and used the end of a voucher given to me on my wedding day in 2008 to purchase it (along with a recipe book…but that’s a story for another day).

After Christmas I begun Last and First Men, and marvelled in the rich world Stapledon had created and his ‘alternate history of the world (since it was written between the World Wars, WW2 had never happened and America became the axis of evil – for lack of a better term – the centre of consumerist society. Other theoretical battles raged and it wasn’t too far into the future when humankind achieved a new form of society, and scientific breakthroughs (most notably a variation on atomic weaponry). What we know as humankind was the ‘first’ of man, yet this novel spans eighteen forms.

The Good? Inspirational (it also inspired many modern-day sci-fi authors) and epic.

The Not-So-Good? Written in a complicated way, can feel monotonous at times.
If you’re interested in reading alternate history, or classic science-fiction then this book is for you. When closing its final pages I felt a sense of sadness and loneliness, such is when the universe contained in a good book comes to an end. During the course of Mission 101 I’m also going to track down Stapledon’s Star Maker, the other of his more famous novels.

(In fact, I’m salivating at most of these classics; The covers alone are worth collecting)

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