Thursday, May 15, 2008

Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon

Last And First Men
Olaf Stapledon

Last And First Men is an SF novel by Olaf Stapledon, first published in 1931. I didn't finish it. In fact, I barely started it. I read about 30 pages over the course of several weeks, hating every moment of it, and decided that I had better things to do.

"Why were you I trying to read it?" I hear you ask. Well, that's el dogo's fault. As you'll see if you chase that link, in 2007 he reviewed a different book by Stapledon titled Star Maker. Based on his review, it sounded interesting and I thought I'd try it. Then I did some research and got a copy of this volume that contains both novels Last And First Men and Star Maker. According to a tiny blurb I read on, these two novels are related, with Star Maker being "in a sense" a sequel to Last And First Men.

OK, I thought, I'll start at the beginning and read them both. Ha!

What I should have picked up on from el dogo's review was this: "Stapledon is one of those guys who's more admired than read, and there are reasons for that. His prose style is rather dry and stuffy, almost Victorian."

Now I can't really make any claims about Star Maker. When I gave up on Last And First Men I read a few paragraphs from random pages of Star Maker to see if it differed in any useful way from what I'd been reading. It didn't seem to, so I didn't even bother trying it.

What I can say is that Last And First Men is one long, boring, inaccurate, pedantic, rub-your-nose-in-bad-smelling-stuff, diatribe. It's full of racial and nationalistic stereotypes, bad science, and fluffy thinking, and that's just in the first 30 pages.

El dogo called the writing style a "long dispassionate observation" in his review, which sounds so much nicer than my description, but he actually liked what he read, so I'll acknowledge the validity of his point of view. My impression is obviously somewhat different, so I will continue to use my more colorful terms to describe what I read when needed.

In any event, I found what I read of Last And First Men to be dry as dust, and offensive to boot. It may be that Stapledon is one of the greats of early SF, but for me he's entirely unreadable. I note that someone else on wants this book when I'm done with it, and I'll be happy to let it go.