I recently/finally finished Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (Kindle Version)- a weird classic written in 1937. I found it strangely written, filled with novel ideas about a time and space traveler that wanders the cosmos, ultimately discovering everything there is to discover.
Stapledon’s worlds resemble Arthur C. Clarke in scale and detail (think really, really big). Stapledon goes way weirder, and isn’t afraid to mix physics, math, metaphysics, religion and psychology in one giant bundle. Apparently Freeman Dyson conceived of the Dyson Sphere after reading this book.
Now that I think of it is reminds me a little of Paul Wallace’s book Stars Beneath Us (a ramble on the book of Job as the really, really big picture.)
- The concept – explaining the whole universe – and doing it well
- The progression – starting with one guy taking a walk, and ending with “The supreme moment of the cosmos”
- The science – all pretty accurate as far as I can tell for the time.
- Transitions – they go by so fast you’ll think you missed them. The narrator goes from guy walking at night to space traveler very quickly, then off to other planets, then back to Earth. Stapledon underexplains how these things happen.
- Paragraph length – really, really long – an editor could have helped – sometimes they go for pages
On the whole I really liked it. Very different than anything I’ve ever read before in many ways. Here are some of the choice quotes from the book:
Further, the God whom they worshipped with the superb and heart-searching language of an earlier age was now conceived either as a just but jealous employer
In Bvalltu’s view man had climbed approximately to the same height time after time, only to be undone by some hidden consequence of his own achievement.
This slender hope the war had destroyed by setting the clock of scientific research back for a century just at the time when human nature itself was deteriorating and might never again be able to tackle so difficult a problem
But even the most spiritual life has its temptations. The extravagant fever of industrialism and intellectualism had so subtly poisoned the plant-men that when at last they rebelled against it they swung too far, falling into the snare of a vegetal life as one-sided as the old animal life had been. Little by little they gave less and less energy and time to “animal” pursuits, until at last their nights as well as their days were spent wholly as trees, and the active, exploring, manipulating, animal intelligence died in them forever.
But since the fluctuating progress of a world from bare animality to spiritual maturity takes, on the average, several thousands of millions of years, the maximum population of Utopian and fully awakened worlds occurred very late, when physically the galaxy was already somewhat past its prime.
For suddenly it was clear to me that virtue in the creator is not the same as virtue in the creature. For the creator, if he should love his creature, would be loving only a part of himself; but the creature, praising the creator, praises an infinity beyond himself. I saw that the virtue of the creature was to love and to worship, but the virtue of the creator was to create, and to be the infinite, the unrealizable and incomprehensible goal of worshipping creatures.
Meanwhile, since each rocky sphere that had once been a galaxy had been borne beyond every possible physical influence of its fellows, and there were no minds to maintain telepathic contact between them, each was in effect a wholly distinct universe. And since all change had ceased, the proper time of each barren universe had also ceased.
Thus it was that, through the succession of his creatures, the Star Maker advanced from stage to stage in the progress from infantile to mature divinity. Thus it was that in the end he became what, in the eternal view, he already was in the beginning, the ground and crown of all things.
And the Star Maker, that dark power and lucid intelligence, found in the concrete loveliness of his creature the fulfilment of desire. And in the mutual joy of the Star Maker and the ultimate cosmos was conceived, most strangely, the absolute spirit itself, in which all times are present and all being is comprised; for the spirit which was the issue of this union confronted my reeling intelligence as being at once the ground and the issue of all temporal and finite things.
The above is the Holy Ghost
But sympathy was not ultimate in the temper of the eternal spirit; contemplation was. Love was not absolute; contemplation was. And though there was love, there was also hate comprised within the spirit’s temper, for there was cruel delight in the contemplation of every horror, and glee in the downfall of the virtuous. All passions, it seemed, were comprised within the spirit’s temper; but mastered, icily gripped within the cold, clear, crystal ecstasy of contemplation.