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Old 12-31-2008, 01:33 PM   #1
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Stapledon, William Olaf: Last and First Men. V1. 31 Dec 2008

Completely separate from the pulp sf tradition, yet a tremendous influence upon it, the five novels of the philosopher Olaf Stapledon were a fictional popularisation of his ideas about the unimportance of the individual except through fulfilment in community life. Two of them First and Last Men and Star Maker adopt vast historical perspectives to show the entire history of our humanity and its greatly altered descendants and of the whole history of intelligent life in the galaxy; their sense of scale, and their demonstration of a tragic view of life worked out across aeons, have affected much subsequent space opera--they are also prodigal with insights and story ideas. Last Men in London is less a narrative than a perspective on contemporary life and mores by one of the Neptunian superintelligences of the earlier book. Odd John and Sirius are both tales of extraordinary individuals destroyed by mediocrity--the first a superintelligent human genius and the second a dog of high human intelligence; both are bracingly depressing books in which inevitable tragedy is left to speak for itself.
Winner of the First Annual Cordwainer Smith "Rediscovery" Award (2001)

Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is a science fiction novel written in 1930 by the British author Olaf Stapledon. A work of unprecedented scale in the genre, it describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen distinct human species, of which our own is the first and most primitive. Stapledon's conception of history is based on the Hegelian Dialectic, following a repetitive cycle with many varied civilizations rising from and descending back into savagery over millions of years, but it is also one of progress, as the later civilizations rise to far greater heights than the first. The book anticipates genetic engineering, and the idea of superminds composed of many telepathically-linked individuals.
A controversial part of the book depicts humans, in the far-off future, escaping the dying Earth and settling on Venus—in the process totally exterminating its native inhabitants, a marine intelligent species. Stapledon's book has been interpreted by some as condoning such interplanetary genocide as a justified act if necessary for racial survival, though a number of Stapledon's partisans denied that such was his intention, arguing instead that Stapledon was merely showing that although mankind had advanced in a number of ways in the future, at bottom it still possessed the same capacity for savagery as it has always had.
The book had the distinction of being the only work of fiction published by Pelican Books.
In 1932, Stapledon followed Last and First Men with the far less acclaimed Last Men in London. His other great novel, Star Maker (1937), could also be considered a sequel to Last and First Men, but is even more ambitious in scope, being a history of the entire universe.
This work is in the Canadian public domain OR the copyright holder has given specific permission for distribution. It may still be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. If the book is under copyright in your country, do not download or redistribute this work.

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