Friday, 19 October 2001

Olaf Stapledon: Last and First Men (1930)

Edition: Penguin, 1973
Review number: 965

Stapledon's classic novel purports to be a history of the human race from the thirties to the time when the destruction of the solar system and the species' end are near, as written by someone acting as a kind of medium for one of the last generation. It describes events on an epic scale, as catastrophes wipe out civilisation after civilisation, only for human culture to rise again (and for the human form to evolve).

Covering hundreds of millions of years, there is little space in this novel for individual characters, and this limits the appeal of Last and First Men. Women are almost completely ignored, given just about no role other than motherhood and only one being mentioned individually, and this is also potentially off-putting to modern readers. There are some dull or repetitious passages, though in the end the story is gripping enough.

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