Olaf Stapledon
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Star Maker - Read Star Maker. No, that's too weak a statement. Before you read any other sci-fi, read this book.

Star Maker is a myth about the role of intelligent life in the universe. Its broad scope covers the universe's history. In this story that history often and finally proves tragic. Stapledon took the best popular science works of his day as the work's basis. On this foundation, he built with enormous imagination and even prescience. These would have ensured Star Maker's place in the history of science fiction. But Stapledon wrote between the First and Second World Wars, and the social commentary woven into this book combines with the other elements to make it literature. As proof of merit, the book has aged very well. Finally, and of special interest to Orion's Arm World-Building Group, is Stapledon's immense skill at our mutual pastime.

Last and First Men, Star Maker's prequel, recounts the history of intelligent life in our Solar System. Those two billion years merit only two hundred words in Star Maker. This immense tale stretches from the slow thoughts of intelligent gas clouds in the early universe, to what is now called the Omega Point, and past it through the slow starvation of a decaying cosmos. Star Maker attenuates the nihilism and despair of its early twentieth-century origin by adopting the theme of a fundamentally tragic universe.

As John Brunner later did with Toffler's Future Shock, Stapledon incorporated contemporary popular science. In Stapledon's case, see Bernal's The World, The Flesh, and The Devil; Haldane's Daedalus, or, Science and the Future; and Bertrand Russell's Icarus, or, the Future of Science. Even good sources don't explain the riches of Stapledon's writing. Most later science-fiction develops ideas appearing in this book. These include: uplift, eugenics, advanced races manipulating lesser species, perversions and blights, space colonization, macro-life and world-ships, artificial planets, stellification, terraforming, atomics, mental union of entire species, and even successive universes with fundamentals tweaked for aesthetic purposes. Still unconvinced? How about the religious implications of a planet-wide virch state? Yes, that's in Star Maker, in its first few chapters. Think about this: virch states in a book written just five years after Huxley's Brave New World, two years before Atanasoff's digital computer, and contemporaneous with early television.

Star Maker has its limits. Science changed much in the last sixty-five years. Astronomy, physics, computer science, and biology all now bear little resemblance to their 1930s-era counterparts. Like National Socialism before it, International Socialism now stands discredited. Stapledon's hope for the latter as a great saving idea, with a "world-crisis" an inevitable stage in intelligence's development, aged just as poorly as his knowledge of science. These limits increase the book's tragic appeal by providing a parallel between failures on the individual and the cosmic scales. Finally, Stapledon's characterizations tend to weakness. Single minds vanish in the titanic vistas covered.

Star Maker is a modern myth. This story provides, explains, and demands a changed world view. Rather than justify fear and worship of Nature like its Romantic counterpart, Frankenstein, Star Maker demands ennobling and tragic comprehension of Nature, a fusion of Nature and Art, and a potent role for life throughout the multiverse.

Jay Dugger