I came across this one on a few different lists that boasted the best science fiction novels ever written. I have read quite a few of them, but not this one so naturally I had to check it out.
Olaf Stapledon is one of the older classic science fiction writers. He is most famous for his novels Last and First Men, Odd John, and of course Star Maker. His works have influenced many in the field including Author C. Clark. It is also worth noting that in his novel Star Maker he mentions quite a few different types of technology and form this Freeman Dyson got his inspiration for the Dyson Sphere. Stapledon died of a heart attack in 1950 in England, he was 64.
In short the story is about an individual, we never know his name, goes on a journey where his consciousness leaves his body here on Earth and travels across the universe. On his journey he encounters many different and bizarre alien civilizations. While on his journey he eventually seeks the “Star Maker,” or the being who created the universe to better understand his own existence.
When this one opened up I was sure it was going to be really interesting as I had an idea of what may come. Needless to say that I was way off, and spent most of the novel being extremely disappointed. The first 50 pages or more are spent almost talking about nothing, or what I would consider nonsense that really added nothing to the story. There were an enormous amount of words and time spend discussing different societies, not only that but aspects of those societies that were just silly. While I think it took a great deal of imagination discussing very specific details about these different societies down to their relationships and breeding habits, it was mostly nonsensical. Again I think this took a great deal of imagination, but I think much of this was a waste of time. To me none of this, in my opinion, did anything to help the story, in fact I would argue that most of the book was incredibly boring and made it extremely difficult to read.
Honestly, I cannot think of anything really nice to say about this novel. It was painful, PAINFUL to pick this book up night after night and continue to read it. The quote from Billy Madison keeps coming to mind “Mr. Madison (insert Stapledon), what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.” That is literally how I felt through 90% of the book. I just did not get what was going on or why this was written like it was. The overall idea was interesting but my goodness the execution was awful. Just awful.
While much of this was very difficult to read I did find a few things interesting. One point that Stapledon reiterated more than once the cycle that seemingly all societies take through time. This was interesting and I have come across this idea before in October First is Too Late. The idea is that all societies have a cycle that it takes from birth then somewhat of a boom, then an eventual decline. As with all things, society will come to an end. I don’t want to get too off topic for this review but this is certainly an interesting idea and if you look back at the history of the human race and different societies they certainly follow this patter. So it is easy to see how this is the natural way of how intelligent life and society would progress. What is also interesting is if and how often the cycle repeats itself, and if so could that have happened on Earth once already? That is doubtful, but I do not think it is impossible. Tthe other idea is what it takes to break the cycle and get beyond society. Could Artificial Intelligence be the answer to breaking the cycle? But again getting a little of topic.
One thing that I felt also hindered this novel was the style in which it was written. It was first published in 1937 so the style is very wordy and at times convoluted, which I feel was somewhat the style of the times. However Author C. Clarke considered this novel to be one of the best works of science fiction ever written, that is high praise from a scifi legend. That is tough for me to jump on board with that. I felt it was way too wordy for me to agree with that. Toward the end when I found I almost impossible to pay attention I began just looking at how long each sentence was. My goodness, it was like Stapledon tried to fit as many words as he could into a sentence. Some were their own paragraphs. Not only that, but I am not a genius by any means, so adding what I would consider unnecessary words made it extremely difficult to follow the writer’s thought all the way to the end of the sentence. Literally almost every sentence half way through I would lose concentration because of this style. Constantly having to refocus yourself while reading is very annoying and really makes it hard to get through the material.
I cannot for the life of me understand how or why this is such a famous novel. As I said to me more than 90% of it was frivolous and basically incoherent and made little sense. There was about 20 pages or less that was somewhat interesting, but that is it. From what I can tell it seems like there is an all or nothing with this novel. Those that like it, love it, and those like me that think it was, to put it nicely, not very good, hate it. IF you must you can check this one out, you have been warned! It is a slow, wordy, bizarre, nonsensical, PAINFUL read. I certainly do not recommend this one in any way.