Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lost SF classic: Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon (1930)

Britain’s New Scientist magazine recently asked scientists and writers to nominate some “lost” science fiction novels that have been under-appreciated over the years but should be considered classics. British hard and Martian science fiction author Stephen Baxter writes:
“I suspect most general readers won’t have heard of Olaf Stapledon. He knew H. G. Wells and influenced Arthur C. Clarke, so was an essential link in the development of the genre. And his own greatest novel, Last and First Men, a kind of god’s-eye-view survey of the human far future, is as bracing and original today as it was when it was published around 80 years ago -- and in terms of technique it pushes the form of the novel about as far as it can go.” 

A vast future history of mankind spanning billions of years, Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future (1930), by British science fiction author Olaf Stapledon, includes a bio-history of the Red Planet and an account of several Martian invasions of Earth that took place over a period of tens of thousands of years. Interestingly, an early 1960’s edition of Last and First Men received a staggering review in the August 1, 1963, issue of New Scientist magazine. Here’s the opening:
“This mad book,” as the author himself called it when it was first reprinted as a Pelican book in 1937, is in my opinion the finest science fiction book ever written. If sheet grandeur of imagination is our criterion, then Last and First Men stands supreme, far surpassing anything by Jules Verne or H. G. Wells. Even Issac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which merely deals with the fate of man inhabiting all the planets of our own galaxy, is pedestrian in comparison...

Looks like I need to add Last and First Men to my reading list!

[via Tinkoo Valia of Variety SF]

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