Looking Far into the Future: Olaf Stapledon

My latest post for the Kirkus Reviews Blog is now online! This time, we look at English author Olaf Stapledon and his legacy.

This wasn't the post I'd intended on writing. Originally, this spot had been reserved for an examination of C.S. Lewis, and his Out of a Silent Planet trilogy. As this series has progressed, I've been finding a curious evolution of the science fiction genre, something that will continue on. From Mary Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe, to Jules Verne and to H.G. Wells, there's a facinating story of connections between one another. They found influences in themselves, carrying ideas forward in time, changed somewhat by each author's own sensibilities. Following Wells, we find Olaf Stapledon, who by his own words, was influenced by Well's stories, and in turn, inspired future authors, such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Lewis, I found, wrote in opposition of the two, and in a large way, was out of place in my plans.

Stapledon was an interesting author, and the scale of his works and the themes behind them set him apart from just about everyone in the field at the time and since. Read Looking far, far into the future: Olaf Stapledon over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog!

Here's the sources that I used:

An Olaf Stapledon Reader, By Olaf Stapledon, Robert Crossley: This book contains an interesting series of articles on Stapledon and his writing, but of most interest is two letters that Olaf wrote to famed science fiction author H.G. Wells, where he talks about how the former influenced him.

The Olaf Stapledon Online Archive: Located here, the site for Stapledon contains a fairly good biography on the author and some of his works, which provided a good starting point for the biographical elements of this piece.

Last and First Men / Last Men of London, Olaf Stapledon: This collected version is a book that I picked up on a whim a couple of years ago, and read through Last and First Men. An interesting story, it was of particular use when coming to understand the scale and scope of Stapledon's efforts - it's a very different, but highly recommended novel.

Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, by Neil McAleer: This biography of Clarke helped to confirm that Clarke was influenced by Stapledon's works.

Survey of Science Fiction, vol 3 & 5, Frank Magill: This book as usual, is a particularly useful resource in looking up specific meanings and critical reviews of Stapledon's works.

The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts: Roberts devotes an entire glowing section to Stapledon's legacy, shedding some light on the author and his influences.

SF/F Masterworks Read


While I was overseas in England, I came across Gollancz's Science Fiction and Fantasy Masterworks series, a dedicated series of distinguished books in the genre, each with some very cool covers and a good list to start with for anyone looking to get into the genre, or at least, read through some of the fundamental reads. While it is not perfect - like any list, it's missing a number of books, and is heavily male-dominated (there are very few female authors represented, something that will hopefully change with future additions), and there's always personal preferences and new authors that will likely be added up at some point in the future.

I've joined with ten other book bloggers from around the internet blogosphere, under the direction of Patrick, who runs the book blog Stomping On Yeti, who conceived of the project after realizing that he owned all of the books, but had yet to read the hundred and twenty-three in the series, save for a handful. After a call went out to the various corners of the internet, a small group has been assembled to read through the entire list, contributing reviews on the books in the series, hopefully providing a good resource for speculative fiction fans.

I'm looking forward to helping out with this project, having read several books represented in the series, but with a couple of books that I have yet to read set to go, Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes and The Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon. Thus, the project provides a good opportunity to read several books that I haven't had a chance to get to, but also a good opportunity to reread some books in the near future that I haven't read for a couple of years.

Furthermore, the project is a cool crowd sourcing style project that brings together the writing abilities and expertise of a number of writers who largely look at new and upcoming books within the speculative fiction genre. There have been some larger literary projects, such as 1 Book, 1 Twitter, which has recently been moving through Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which brings together thousands of people reading the same book at the same time, and this one brings together a much more qualified group to look over an entire series of books as a whole.

Ultimately, I hope that there will be some good discussion not only about the books and their merits (or lack thereof), but also of the series, the selections, and multiple viewpoints on similar books to get a very comprehensive look at the books and series, but also at the underlying idea of what is Science Fiction and Fantasy, as larger genres. Finally, the last question that can hopefully be addressed is what books should be included in any sort of masterworks list? Given that a number of the contributers look to new and upcoming books, it will be interesting to see what has come out recently that will be considered a classic.One of my books is currently being read, and I'll hopefully have my reviews up and running soon enough.

The site can be found here: http://sffmasterworks.blogspot.com/