hits counter Last and First Men - Ebook PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Last and First Men

Availability: Ready to download

"No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination," declared Arthur C. Clarke of Last and First Men. This masterpiece of science fiction by British philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) is an imaginative, ambitious history of humanity's future that spans billions of years. Together with its follow-up, Star Maker, it is regarded as the sta "No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination," declared Arthur C. Clarke of Last and First Men. This masterpiece of science fiction by British philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) is an imaginative, ambitious history of humanity's future that spans billions of years. Together with its follow-up, Star Maker, it is regarded as the standard by which all earlier and later future histories are measured. The protagonist of this compelling novel is humanity itself, stripped down to sheer intelligence. It evolves through the ages: rising to pinnacles of civilization, teetering on the brink of extinction, surviving onslaughts from other planets and a decline in solar energy, and constantly developing new forms, new senses, and new intellectual abilities. From the present to five billion years into the future, this romance of humanity abounds in profound and imaginative thought.


Compare

"No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination," declared Arthur C. Clarke of Last and First Men. This masterpiece of science fiction by British philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) is an imaginative, ambitious history of humanity's future that spans billions of years. Together with its follow-up, Star Maker, it is regarded as the sta "No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination," declared Arthur C. Clarke of Last and First Men. This masterpiece of science fiction by British philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) is an imaginative, ambitious history of humanity's future that spans billions of years. Together with its follow-up, Star Maker, it is regarded as the standard by which all earlier and later future histories are measured. The protagonist of this compelling novel is humanity itself, stripped down to sheer intelligence. It evolves through the ages: rising to pinnacles of civilization, teetering on the brink of extinction, surviving onslaughts from other planets and a decline in solar energy, and constantly developing new forms, new senses, and new intellectual abilities. From the present to five billion years into the future, this romance of humanity abounds in profound and imaginative thought.

30 review for Last and First Men

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matthias

    "Last and First Men" has been a unique experience. It teaches and entertains, not by presenting the reader with facts, but by serving him and her with a broad range of possibilities that don't only open the eyes but also the mind. On a basic level, the experience was very pleasant because of the imaginative power of Olaf Stapledon. His imagination is second to none. The images he conjures up provided me with the biggest spectacle I've ever seen, and that I can hope to see in the future. A single "Last and First Men" has been a unique experience. It teaches and entertains, not by presenting the reader with facts, but by serving him and her with a broad range of possibilities that don't only open the eyes but also the mind. On a basic level, the experience was very pleasant because of the imaginative power of Olaf Stapledon. His imagination is second to none. The images he conjures up provided me with the biggest spectacle I've ever seen, and that I can hope to see in the future. A single paragraph sometimes contains more wealth than the complete oeuvres of our most celebrated authors. To an author, this book must read like a succession of story settings, and it's not surprising to see many claim it has been a source of inspiration to their own work. And yet while this book is rightly praised for this abundance of imagination and the mind-blowing proportion of it, this praise falls short of expressing what made "Last and First Men" such a magnificent read to me. A love for life seeps from its pages, rooted in common sense but also in the romantic. It's a symphony of reason and emotions, of smallness and vastness, and its conclusion left me enriched, happy and deeply moved. A fear I have while writing this review is that my admiration for it won't do this book any justice, nor any favors. That it will imperfectly shape expectations of anyone reading this review, that it will put so much emphasis on my experience of it so that it doesn't leave room for you, the reader, to form an opinion that completely disregards what might be perceived as the opinion of a wide-eyed fanatic. Or that people not having liked the book will use my possibly emotional arguments against the very thing I hold so dear. But I have to take my chances. I do want to share it, given that at times my heart literally was beating faster while reading, and that my eyes could simply not believe what they were reading. The fact that this book was written/published in 1930, before even World War II happened, adds to the sense of something miraculous having occurred here. I repeatedly double-checked if this 1930 wasn't in reference to something else, a symptom of the lack of belief that characterized my eyes at the time of reading. One of the things I liked aside from the bedazzling scope of the author's imagination is the way the fourth wall was broken through the idea that the author himself was but a vessel of communication between a very distant future human life form and the reader. The account of all the iterations of mankind's evolution and the richness in detail and nuance make it read like a convincing historical account, convincing enough to even entertain the idea proposed by the author that the future speaks to us through these pages. This leads me to react on two criticisms I have read here repeatedly. The first is that the near-future predictions were wrong. While I guess this is true when it comes to certain details, protagonists, scientific discoveries and so on, I think no justice is done to this book by considering it a "historical account of the future", a creative exercise in future forecasting. It's more than that. It's more than anything I know, and categorizing it is a mistake. Even science fiction is too narrow a field to contain all that is within this book. In any case, running your finger along its lines and double-checking it with reality is futile and senseless, and completely besides the point. In fact, even in his supposedly wrong predictions of the near future, Stapledon touched on some very true traits of human nature. In my version of the book the foreword by Gregory Benford actually recommends not reading the first chapters because of their factual errors. Please do not follow this man's advice. Don't skip anything in this book, or at least not anything Stapledon has written. A second criticism I read is on the way the "story" is presented. There is a lack of a constant character to relate to and the birdseye-view (or Flying Man's view) prevents any bonding between reader and story. I can't but disagree. First of all, the civilisations are presented in a way that is detailed and passionate enough as to allow the reader to feel right at home among them, whether they'd be on Earth, Venus or Neptune. Sometimes (though rarely) Stapledon also zooms in on individuals, providing the reader with yet another way of engaging with the millions of characters that are within this book. And ultimately, I myself couldn't help but feel like a character within it. How's that for immersion? This story tells the story of humanity, so the leap is not that big to make. This book is deeply philosophical. And here we come to the main reason why I don't just like this book, but love it. It asks life's biggest questions without falling into the trap of falling on one's knees and shout out an exasperated "WHY?!". Rather, it's written by someone with a tender yet firm, a questioning yet reassuring voice. It's always very collected, dispassionate when exploring possibilities, when describing the search of so many people, the defeats they endure, their disappointments and their small victories. It's an ode to humanity, without forgetting the baseness and evil that sometimes characterizes us. And despite the theme, it doesn't present humankind as the center of the universe, though it does shortly consider the possibility that it is its most beautiful flower. This consideration is blissfully left open without a conclusion. It's an ode to light despite all the darkness that surrounds it. It's an ode to the temporary in an eternal setting. It's an ode to the cosmos despite not knowing what the hell it is. It's telling me that life is ultimately beautiful, despite its insignificance in the vast expanse of time, space and possibilities. That the universe is a wonderful riddle, regardless of whether we can solve it or not. That being able to recognize the mystery that surrounds and pervades us is a gift in itself, a spark that can take humanity a far way. I highly recommend this book to everyone. I won't judge you if you don't like it, I can't offer the guarantee that you will, but I can only say I'm very glad I can count myself among those who really do. I won't claim this book is an easy read. There were days where I didn't feel I had the mental capacity to fully get what was written and move forward. But it's a fulfilling read. Be patient and give yourself the time to find the right moment to read it. I'm surprised this book isn't a worldwide, timeless success, given its scope. There's something in there for everyone and it's surprising to me that it's not part of mass culture, but this surprise makes me all the more grateful that I got the chance to discover it. I'll see what I can do in making other people get acquainted with it as well, hoping but not expecting them to like it as much as I did. Maybe I can start by convincing you?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 1/2* of five I cried "uncle" on p59 of this book, which was part of a group read on LibraryThing; it was written in 1930 or so, it's true, but nothing as ephemeral as passing time can excuse the line: A century after the founding of the first world state a rumour began to be heard in China about the supreme secret of scientific religion, the awful mystery of Gordelpus, by means of which it should be possible to utilize the energy locked up in the opposition of proton and electron. *buzz* yo Rating: 1/2* of five I cried "uncle" on p59 of this book, which was part of a group read on LibraryThing; it was written in 1930 or so, it's true, but nothing as ephemeral as passing time can excuse the line: A century after the founding of the first world state a rumour began to be heard in China about the supreme secret of scientific religion, the awful mystery of Gordelpus, by means of which it should be possible to utilize the energy locked up in the opposition of proton and electron. *buzz* you're out, Dr. Stapledon, and thanks for playing our game! This is supposedly a novel! That kind of snore-inducing prose is not even excusable in a textbook, though it is explainable there; in a novel, an entertainment, this tone is just about as far off the mark as any I can imagine. I can't fairly comment on the plot, since there isn't any that I can discern. The story unfolds as a being from our remote future lectures us on what we did wrong, with special emphasis on the horrors of America (oof, how very outmoded that sounds) and China as co-controllers of civilization. Now I can't fault Dr. Stapledon for prescience, since he pegged the two dominant countries of the future so solidly, but there are no characters to make us care about the story and there are no passages of graceful prose to make us forgive the lack of characters. All in all, even given that I was skimming most of the book, it was a waste of a lovely Sunday afternoon.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leonard Gaya

    This is truly an astounding novel. Its ambition is to tell the story of humankind from the near future to the end of our species, some two billion years into the future. The beginning of this book can be easily skipped since it’s an outdated projection of historical events from the time when Stapledon was writing (around the 1930s). However, his fertile imagination truly takes flight when he imagines the distant future of humanity. The narrator of this chronicle is one of the last men, who sends This is truly an astounding novel. Its ambition is to tell the story of humankind from the near future to the end of our species, some two billion years into the future. The beginning of this book can be easily skipped since it’s an outdated projection of historical events from the time when Stapledon was writing (around the 1930s). However, his fertile imagination truly takes flight when he imagines the distant future of humanity. The narrator of this chronicle is one of the last men, who sends his account back to us over the millions of centuries (through the writing of Stapledon!). And this is what this far descendant of our time reveals: across the aeons, the human race takes various shapes (the book describes seventeen races or stages): some races of men evolve to higher levels of consciousness, some fall back to animality; men meet with the inhabitants of Mars, which are made of gas but worship gems; some species of men are only made of brain cells that grow inside iron towers and are served by lower kinds of men; later on, the human species needs to leave the Earth and conquer Venus, where they live in the atmosphere, flying in utter bliss (and feeling depressed when back on their two feet); later still, men migrate to Neptune to escape the slow senescence of the Sun, and acquire a circular and stereoscopic vision of the heavens, as well as the ability to think and sense as a whole species, and even the power to influence the past. Until finally the human race reaches its tragic ending. This whole voyage is, in a way, similar to that of Stapledon’s later novel, Star Maker, but instead of travelling in the farthest realms of space, this is a trip into the furthest reaches of time. In this sense, Last and First Men is a grandiose elaboration on H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. Dante also came to my mind when reading this book: as in the Divine Comedy, we witness successive states of humanity, without much lingering over the fates of individuals (which makes the reading at times a bit tedious, since there are no characters or dialogues to hold on to). The very last part is perhaps the most beautiful and moving: humans, at last, have reached an understanding of the Universe that opens spectacular vistas into the cosmos. And this, sadly, is their swansong.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    Stapledon tells you the story of the human race, starting now and ending with its demise, well over a billion years in the future. People change in all sorts of unexpected ways; during some periods, they have godlike intelligence, during others they aren't even sentient any more. The book has obvious flaws, but there's just nothing else like it. Some of the images are impossible to forget. Despite the fact that it's not very well known (none of my 115 GR friends have it on their shelves), an impr Stapledon tells you the story of the human race, starting now and ending with its demise, well over a billion years in the future. People change in all sorts of unexpected ways; during some periods, they have godlike intelligence, during others they aren't even sentient any more. The book has obvious flaws, but there's just nothing else like it. Some of the images are impossible to forget. Despite the fact that it's not very well known (none of my 115 GR friends have it on their shelves), an impressive collection of famous people give him a thumbs-up. Doris Lessing, in particular, has said more than once that she was deeply affected by it. Other fans include SF writers Arthur C. Clarke and Brian Aldiss, and the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    It's really hard to describe this novel in a way that can do it justice because any cursory explanation such as "plotless" and "characterless" has some rather negative connotations. :) Indeed, it's kinda impossible to have those here except in brief glances relying on bird's eye views before necessarily jumping on to the next BIG IDEA and Super-Imaginative setting. For what we have here, way back in 1930, is novel of Future History influencing every big SF author of the day, even influencing Winst It's really hard to describe this novel in a way that can do it justice because any cursory explanation such as "plotless" and "characterless" has some rather negative connotations. :) Indeed, it's kinda impossible to have those here except in brief glances relying on bird's eye views before necessarily jumping on to the next BIG IDEA and Super-Imaginative setting. For what we have here, way back in 1930, is novel of Future History influencing every big SF author of the day, even influencing Winston Churchill, HG Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and countless SF writers ever since. Why? Let me do this quick: Eighteen iterations of mankind over a billion years, from the total death of our mankind, the evolutionary re-emergence of the next, the differences, oddities, rediscoveries after soooo much time, the new dreams, aspirations, religions, the different values, before the next mankind dies off. We have Martian invasion, we have our invasion of Venus, we have major genetic modifications, telepathy during other iterations, the ability to experience racial memory a-la Dune, adding multiple sexes, immortality, living in gas giants, and sometimes merely striving only to improve the human race. Over a billion years. And of course, whole races die. Over and over. It's grand, majestic, awe-some, and brilliant. So much imagination is crammed into so few pages that a prospective SF author could just pour through this and continue to point at reused story ideas for even current-day authors! I look at the nuclear-powered version of life on Venus, the intelligent clouds of Mars, the huge brains, the musical race, the race of time-travelers, and my jaw just drops. It's not without emotion, either. There's a deep an abiding love for everyone here even as a whole race suffers deep ennui and an existential crisis or during others that suffer impossible odds, accidents, or the final death of our solar system. The philosophies give it away. The spirit of the human races rise and ebb and undergo vast changes. And yet there's no characters or plot. Just setting and world-building and vast movements of so many people. :) It would never get published today. And yet, it's still brilliant. Absolutely worth knowing, even now. :) It makes me wonder what we're collectively doing. We can't forget that works like this EXIST. :)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul Sánchez Keighley

    There’s this moment in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe where, to torture a certain character, he is put into the Total Perspective Vortex, a device that gives him a perfectly accurate glimpse of the entire mind-cracking enormousness of the universe and every single thing contained therein, including a microscopic pinprick that reads ‘You are here.’ Reading Last and First Men was like being put into the Total Perspective Vortex. My brain is currently quite broken. Or, There’s this moment in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe where, to torture a certain character, he is put into the Total Perspective Vortex, a device that gives him a perfectly accurate glimpse of the entire mind-cracking enormousness of the universe and every single thing contained therein, including a microscopic pinprick that reads ‘You are here.’ Reading Last and First Men was like being put into the Total Perspective Vortex. My brain is currently quite broken. Or, at the very least, my sense of proportion. If next time I’m expected at a party I show up 200,000 years late, it’ll be entirely Olaf Stapledon’s fault for making me think 200,000 years is but a trifling moment, gone in an eyeblink, and no reason to put away the punch and slam the door in my face. In this book, Stapledon - pour yourself a strong one for this - tells the future history of 18 consecutive species of hominids over the course of 2 billion years. Just for reference: 2 billion years ago, the planets in our solar system had only finished clumping together into more of less cohesive balls of rock. Things get trippy. So you start reading and initially you follow along; sure, 400 years in the future, I get that. Then it's 1,000 years, still with you. But then suddenly humanity blows itself up in a worldwide nuclear disaster and we slump into the first of many Dark Ages for, wait, what’s that? 10 million years?!?! This guy gets space. It's huge and slow and mostly uninteresting. For most of the book’s time-span, humanity's not up to anything too exciting; we're portrayed as just another part of nature, blindly evolving, ever adapting, who every once in a while gets lucky and makes some dazzlingly fast technological leap. You know, like the actual history of humanity so far. In a way, he’s sketching his vision of what an ideal future moral history of humanity would look like - with plenty of wars and aliens to keep things interesting along the way. Stapledon seems to have very little faith in our current species (hell, we don’t even make it to the Moon until approx 300,000,000 years in the future) because our intellectual progress, impressive as it is, isn’t free from the fetters of our biological hinderings, i.e., sexual jealousy, self-interest, competitiveness. There's no realpolitik in Stapledon’s vision of the present; nations keep going to war because they hate each other. This book is about humanity's quest to overcome its base passions and become pure mind. Having said all that, this novel can be dull. Seriously dull. It would be a whopping five-starrer if it wasn't so egregiously boring at times. Writing is not this man’s forte; he gets carried away with flowery metaphysical lyricism that smothers and overwhelms the course of events. Still, Stapledon’s vision and imagination more than make up for it. One can open this book at random and always find an idea that has been subsequently used in any number of sci-fi stories, all the way from Dune to biopunk. It’s all in there. This is a must-read for all serious science fiction fans. INDIGNANT POST SCRIPTUM: The first American edition of this book, by SF Masterworks, opens with a regrettable foreword by Gregory Benford, in which he nonchalantly remarks: ‘I would advise the reader to simply skip the first four parts [of this book] and begin with The Fall of the First Men.’ I found myself shouting ‘EXCUSE ME?’ at the dumbstruck print. What sort of foreword recommends readers skip half the book they’re about to read? I’ll readily admit the first half is rather boring, but it’s a part of Stapledon's envisioned whole. Furthermore, it’s essential to fully appreciate the time scale as the book advances, allowing one to reminisce about those first few chapters and marvel at how far humanity has come over the course of billions of years. It makes you realise how mightily insignificant our present is in the greater scheme of things. Oh, and he also scoffs at Stapledon for being ‘shockingly wrong’ about the events that would take place in the decades following the book's publication. I’m sorry, but what exactly is ‘shocking’ about not being able to predict the future? Are we holding him up to the standards of a prophet? Seriously, this foreword is nothing but a puddle of runny arse gravy.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    Last and First Men: The ultimate vision of man’s evolution (Posted at Fantasy Literature) Olaf Stapledon's vision of mankind's entire future history until the end is profound, beautiful, and affecting, and was written way back in 1930. It is unfortunate that this work has not found a wider audience, though it has had a deep influence on many of SF's luminaries, including Arthur C. Clarke, who indicated that this book and its later successor Star Maker were the two most influential books he had eve Last and First Men: The ultimate vision of man’s evolution (Posted at Fantasy Literature) Olaf Stapledon's vision of mankind's entire future history until the end is profound, beautiful, and affecting, and was written way back in 1930. It is unfortunate that this work has not found a wider audience, though it has had a deep influence on many of SF's luminaries, including Arthur C. Clarke, who indicated that this book and its later successor Star Maker were the two most influential books he had ever read. In my mind, it is one of the most imaginative early SF classics ever written, just as important as the works of H.G. Wells. He touches on so many themes that still resonate today, particularly mankind's potential for both great achievements and selfish cruelty, for deep insight and self-delusion. And as mankind progresses through 18 major stages over billions of years (apparently influenced by the Hegelian Dialectic), even delving into his own racial past, we see the vast potential of mind in the universe. And though mankind is finally likened to a single movement in the vast eternal symphony of the cosmos, this does not detract in any way from the tragic beauty of our brief existence. Unlike modern novels, the book reads like a future history without specific characters, touching down briefly to document key events, and pausing to reflect on their significance. Because it was written in 1930, the early chapters about the First Men actually covering world history through our present time, so they are interesting in their predictions of world politics between the two world wars. However, it is only as the time scale picks up towards the end of the First Men that the book hits its stride, so some readers may decide to skip the first 3-4 chapters if they want to delve straight into his ever-expanding vision of humanity's future. The book gets far more fascinating as newer generations of men develop, forming larger brains, a telepathically-linked groupmind, but ever again falling back into decay and destruction, before seeding the next generation of man, until the Eighteen Men, which turn out to be the Last Men. It’s hard to imagine a grander scale of progress and decline, and it is stunning that Olaf Stapledon produced a work of such scope and vision during a time when Europe was consumed by nationalism and conflicting ideologies.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    4.0 stars. WOW, this book is in a class all by itself for originality, imagination and scope. I can not believe I have not heard more about this book as being one of the true "classics" of science fiction. Written in the 1930's, this is a future history that tells the story of mankind over a span of 2 billion years (yes billion with a B) from 1930 until approximately the year 2,000,000,000. During that period humanity evolves through what Olaf describes as 18 different species of men (our presen 4.0 stars. WOW, this book is in a class all by itself for originality, imagination and scope. I can not believe I have not heard more about this book as being one of the true "classics" of science fiction. Written in the 1930's, this is a future history that tells the story of mankind over a span of 2 billion years (yes billion with a B) from 1930 until approximately the year 2,000,000,000. During that period humanity evolves through what Olaf describes as 18 different species of men (our present being the "First Men" of the title). Through those 18 iterations, we see everything from giant-brained "superminds" to genetically-engineered supermen to aquatic fishmen and much, much more. The reason that the book, for all its amazing inventiveness, does not get 5 stars is because the narrative, at times, can be very, very dry. The detailed descriptions of each successive species of humanity and the trials and tribulations that befall them can become a bit tedious. Thus, there were times when I was not enjoying myself as much as I would have liked, despite being in almost constant awe of the writer's imangination. However, despite that crticism, this is a book that I strongly recommend to all fans of science fiction as many of the ideas and concepts found in modern science fiction found their first true expression in this amazing futrue history. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kate Sherrod

    I'm not gonna lie, folks; of all the books I've tackled so far this year, Last and First Men has been the toughest challenge to my resolve to only read one book at a time. That's not to say it's by any means a bad book; it's part of the SF Masterworks Collection* for very good reasons. It's just that, well, gripping storytelling it ain't. Penned in 1930 by a philosophy professor, Last and First Men is heavy on exposition and all but devoid of character, dialogue or even plot beyond "exploring the I'm not gonna lie, folks; of all the books I've tackled so far this year, Last and First Men has been the toughest challenge to my resolve to only read one book at a time. That's not to say it's by any means a bad book; it's part of the SF Masterworks Collection* for very good reasons. It's just that, well, gripping storytelling it ain't. Penned in 1930 by a philosophy professor, Last and First Men is heavy on exposition and all but devoid of character, dialogue or even plot beyond "exploring the nature of the 18 races of man from First (20th Century earthbound Homo sapiens sapiens) to Last (Neptunian superbeings who live for thousands of years) and how their society kept on evolving and devolving and evolving again." The text is presented as a sort of lecture series on the history of humanity, delivered by a Last Men scholar who doesn't quite sneer at his predecessors and their flaws but doesn't exactly hold them in reverence, either. Indeed, often the prose reads like that of a 19th century natural history text on, say, social insects, albeit very sophisticated ones. The early chapters of the novel are best read, by a 21st century sci-fi fan, as a strange form of alternate history a la, say, Harry Turtledove; in this case, our point of departure is not long after Last and First Men's original publication date, for nothing like World War II and the Holocaust even remotely figures in this extrapolation. Stapledon possessed an acute talent for that, but humanity has always been full of surprises! One can smile indulgently at how off base he was, but to do so is to completely miss why this book is a classic of the genre; after all, the rest of the 20th century is not even the first tenth of this book, and the First Men's story covers thousands of years of struggle (sometimes genocidal) to form a world government, the creation of a scientific religion in which "divine energy" is the object of worship and the purview of a rigid guild of scientists, and the development of a culture of abundance (no disease, no want, a flying car for everybody) that values strenuous physicality (and flight) above all else, to the detriment of human intelligence. With predictable results.** But wait! Like I said, that's not even 25% of the book. I've never read any fiction so ambitious in scope, folks. The closest I can think of is maybe Stephen Baxter's Evolution, but even it just took on the life-span of life on planet Earth. Last and First Men covers "about two thousand million years", takes us, or a future version or 18 of us to the outer solar system, and teems with phrases like "Not till many hundred thousand years had passed did..." It's truly stupefying. It's also very, very clever; to encompass so much time in just 300 pages or so, it has to be. There's a mathematical progression governing the level of detail and verbiage devoted to each iteration of humanity; I suspect, though am not really a rigorous enough person to be sure of this, that this is an instance of exponential decay. At any rate, the narrative speeds up considerably once Stapledon has dispensed with our own species, the First Men***, and keeps on speeding up until eventually a million years can pass in a sentence fragment. At one point, ten million years pass because it's a time of barbarism and stasis. Well, okay, Mr. Stapledon; it's your Memorable Fancy. For a giant William Blakean Memorable Fancy is what this book is, a visionary and somewhat allegorical tale spun out to illustrate the writer's philosophy, hopes and fears. I would love to see an edition of this book illuminated in the way that Blake did his works. It would be an eminently lovely thing. Along the way, we get to watch Stapledon toss off a stunning array of concepts and ideas that were quite ahead of his time and the influences of which we can find throughout science fiction: the perils of genetic engineering, Peak Oil and its aftermath, the cyclical natures of high civilization and barbarism, aliens that are genuinely and profoundly alien (i.e. not Star Trek humanoids with extra nobbly bits on their faces), the fragility of knowledge, the notion that humans can easily evolve back into animals if care is not taken... It's easy, in short, to see how Last and First Men came to be such a very influential book. People talk about how Heinlein originally dashed off all of the sci-fi tropes with which we have become so familiar, but for a lot of them, Stapledon was there first. I wonder what his other novels are like. *I didn't use that edition's cover to decorate this post because I liked this cover so very, very much better! I mean, look at it! **Think Idiocracy meets Otto from A Fish Called Wanda. ***In his forward to SF Masterworks edition, the great Gregory Benford advises readers to consider skipping the "badly dated" first 20-25% of this novel, partly for reasons I've already observed (in addition to the wrong guesses at history, this first narrative teems with racial and national stereotypes, and of course gives women the shortest possible shrift) but also to spare American readers some tart observations from a British philosopher who was no great fan of capitalism and American cultural hegemony. But to skip these chapters would deprive the reader of the sensation of being swept along through time at an ever-accelerating rate that is one of this novel's unique and most exceptional offerings. If you're going to read it, read it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    ashley c

    Exploratory, awe-inspiring, existential crisis-inducing. I have never read anything like this. This is a documentary of humanity’s career, spanning from us, homo sapiens, to the last of its descendants some two billion years later. (Actually, I had to refer to the wiki to write this review because for the love of god I cannot remember every single descendent of men – there are a lot of details in this giant book. It’s a great summary for those who want to collect their thoughts after reading the Exploratory, awe-inspiring, existential crisis-inducing. I have never read anything like this. This is a documentary of humanity’s career, spanning from us, homo sapiens, to the last of its descendants some two billion years later. (Actually, I had to refer to the wiki to write this review because for the love of god I cannot remember every single descendent of men – there are a lot of details in this giant book. It’s a great summary for those who want to collect their thoughts after reading the book, which I guarantee you will. Don’t read the wiki if you haven’t finished the book. I think it takes away the magic.) My god, Stapledon’s imagination knows no bounds. I have not read something so bold, so richly descriptive, and so imaginative before. He has imagined some descendants that are truly, vastly different from the First Men, but has somehow managed to retain in them a piece of humanity that all of us can resonate with. The striving to be better, more intelligent, the race to cheat death and discover immortality, the deep need for exploration. In the end, all humans were selfish and cruel, they were great in their achievements by working as a collective, they were astoundingly short-sighted in the way they treat each other, they were capable of grand plans spanning thousands of years. "Is the beauty of the Whole really enhanced by our agony? And is the Whole really beautiful? And what is beauty?" This might not be everyone’s cup of tea. There is no plot, no characters, no reason to get invested in the story other than being human, and for me personally, the insatiable urge to know how we will fare 2 billion years into the future. This is a philosophical experience. The story presents you with facts, accounts of the different morals, cultures, and ways of life of the descendants, and it allows you to draw upon similarities or differences in your own experience as “First Men” for reflection on these things. I once again am made aware of how immersed I am in my own experience, in the reality I think of as absolute truth, that I am stunted any time I try to imagine otherwise. This book is a needle that bursts your reality bubble. The universe is a sandbox full of all sorts of possibilities. "Man himself, at the very least, is music, a brave theme that makes music also of its vast accompaniment, its matrix of storms and stars. Man himself in his degree is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things. It is very good to have been man. And so we may go forward together with laughter in our hearts, and peace, thankful for the past, and for our own courage. For we shall make after all a fair conclusion to this brief music that is man.” I actually had to read this book in two parts about 6 months apart, because of its sheer volume and overwhelming information. It was totally worth it. In fact, I’m going to buy a physical copy to put on my shelf that I can thumb through, because there are so many inspiring bits in the book that I foresee I will need, certain days. Seriously, my review can’t capture the magnificence of the thing. Neither does the star system. It’s a piece of art in its own way.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    I read this, in Dutch, when I was only 15. As far as I can remember it was the first great work of fiction I read. And it was awesome. Only recently I saw this is viewed as one of the early classics of science fiction, published in 1930. I don't remember much of the story any more, but I remember being flabbergasted by the breadth of the historical overview, extending far into the future (million of years), and the alternation of narrative chapters and almost purely scientific descriptions of co I read this, in Dutch, when I was only 15. As far as I can remember it was the first great work of fiction I read. And it was awesome. Only recently I saw this is viewed as one of the early classics of science fiction, published in 1930. I don't remember much of the story any more, but I remember being flabbergasted by the breadth of the historical overview, extending far into the future (million of years), and the alternation of narrative chapters and almost purely scientific descriptions of cosmological physical processes. Impressive. In summaries I see Stapledon presents our species as only the first of subsequent 18 human species, following one after the other. In view of what now is known about the evolution of the human species and about the development of Artificial Intelligence, this could be of interest again. I really ought to reread this and see what impression it makes today.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alfred Searls

    Eighteen distinct species of human being, that’s what you’re in for with ‘Last and First Men’ (1930). Not all at once of course, I mean it takes two billion years and 300 extraordinary pages from Olaf Stapledon to create this seminal landmark in literary science fiction. In fact this wholly remarkable work is so brave and so audacious in its scope that it leaves you dizzy at the sheer scale of the writer’s triumph of imagination. The early part of the book begins with usual geopolitical speculat Eighteen distinct species of human being, that’s what you’re in for with ‘Last and First Men’ (1930). Not all at once of course, I mean it takes two billion years and 300 extraordinary pages from Olaf Stapledon to create this seminal landmark in literary science fiction. In fact this wholly remarkable work is so brave and so audacious in its scope that it leaves you dizzy at the sheer scale of the writer’s triumph of imagination. The early part of the book begins with usual geopolitical speculative fiction of the kind that H.G. Wells so thoroughly bores his readers with, only here it is done with much greater success. The great empires of the day are as familiar to us as their petty squabbling’s and within a few pages they are at each other’s throats. They ally and scheme, and dream and fight and then very quickly, and quite simply, they are gone. All that is familiar to us, the empires of mind and mammon, nations and names, the languages of Shakespeare and Tolstoy, are simply swept away by the passing of the years; slipping first into obscurity, then passing into mythology, before finally succumbing to oblivion. This is both clever and shocking as it simultaneously allows Stapledon to free his narrative of the shackles of contemporary perception, and ruthlessly demonstrates the utterly unsympathetic nature of the passage of time. Everything dies and everything will be forgotten. From this point on the reader is adrift upon the churning sea of Stapledon’s seemingly boundless imagination. The years roll by and humanity persists, sometimes soaring to great and noble heights, sometimes sinking into the abyss of savagery and barbarism. Hundreds, then thousands and finally millions of years drift by; years in which mankind is repeatedly subject to near extinction level events, events that are sometimes natural and sometimes self-inflicted. The race spreads its wings and other sentient forces are encountered and different species of man evolve and de-evolve, many of them simultaneously. All the while both evolution and revolution promote different branches of the human family and in time antennae, fingers and fins will all stretch out towards the light of the sun before succumbing once again to the evolutionary night. When I read this book I developed the distinct feeling that Stapledon may have pushed the human mind as far as it can go, in terms of what it can conceive of in relation to its place in time. I’ve personally not read anything since to dissuade me of that and rarely have I seen the treatment of ideas and concepts given such free rein as they are in ‘Last and First Men’. In the novel Stapledon subverts the usual trite literary conventions. Traditional characters are replaced by the various species of man and the idea of plot, along with the endlessly proselytized story arc, is made redundant, ridiculous even, by the sheer relentless march of time. Stapledon himself gave up a career in academia to write this book, in the hopes that he could reach and influence a wider audience. After 82 years ‘Last and First Men' is still in print and widely credited as being a powerful influence on successive generations of writers. Job done Olaf, bravo.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Palmyrah

    This is famously one of the classics of science fiction. At the time of its emergence in 1930, its scope and audacity were without precedent. However, it has been thoroughly pillaged by other writers since then, and its themes and tropes are now the everyday stuff of SF. Stapledon was a prophet and perhaps a kind of genius, but Last & First Men is a victim of its own success. Also, it is very much a product of its time. Its physics and cosmology appear naive to us today. At times this works again This is famously one of the classics of science fiction. At the time of its emergence in 1930, its scope and audacity were without precedent. However, it has been thoroughly pillaged by other writers since then, and its themes and tropes are now the everyday stuff of SF. Stapledon was a prophet and perhaps a kind of genius, but Last & First Men is a victim of its own success. Also, it is very much a product of its time. Its physics and cosmology appear naive to us today. At times this works against the suspension of disbelief, to the detriment of the reader's pleasure. In social and political terms, too, the book is largely concerned with issues that were prominent in between the World Wars but which today seem of little import. Most tellingly of all, we, whom Stapledon calls the First Men, the primitives of humanity, have already achieved nearly all the great feats of science, technology and exploration that in his book take eighteen successive species of humanity some hundreds of millions of years to accomplish. Apart, that is, from the colonization of Venus and Neptune, which we now know to be impossible. I don't usually object to anachronisms. One should always keep in mind the historical and social context in which a work was written, accepting these in order to appreciate the work more fully. But you can't do that with Last & First Men; its plot and subtext depend far too heavily on the outdated science and political thought of its time. Even the obsession with flight (by means of aeroplanes, genetically engineered wings or the direct control of gravity) is one that was at its peak in the bomber-obsessed 1930s. The novel is also repetitive in terms of the cycles of human civilization and achievement. This is, of course, part of the Hegelian lesson the author is trying to teach us, but it makes for a boring read. On the positive side, the author's resonantly academic style of writing is often elegant and eloquent, and its ponderousness is actually well suited to the material. A great book, certainly, but a deeply outdated one. ABOUT THE SF MASTERWORKS EDITION This edition contains an appreciative but stupid and small-minded introduction by the physicist and SF author Gregory Benford, who urges American readers of the book to skip perhaps the first third of it. This is the part which deals with what Stapledon calls the 'Americanized' future world of the First Men. Stapledon was a socialist who despised capitalism, and he was suspicious of America and Americans. Benford seems to feel that American readers should be spared his criticisms and jibes. That would be a pity – because what Stapledon points to as the follies and faults of American culture are very much the same ones the rest of the world sees in America, now as then. Some of his comments are remarkably percipient and I think it would do many American readers good to learn how others tend to see them.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nikolai Kim

    Although LSD was discovered only in 1938, while this book was published in 1930, "Last and First Men" is just about the trippiest book you'll pick up this side of the white light that ferries you to your next incarnation, unless you read Joyce's "Ulysses" backwards. Either Olaf Stapledon's brain produces endorphins and organo-opiates at an unusually high rate, or else it must be assumed that the writer and his wife maintained a substantial and quite esoteric mushroom garden. Get ready to take th Although LSD was discovered only in 1938, while this book was published in 1930, "Last and First Men" is just about the trippiest book you'll pick up this side of the white light that ferries you to your next incarnation, unless you read Joyce's "Ulysses" backwards. Either Olaf Stapledon's brain produces endorphins and organo-opiates at an unusually high rate, or else it must be assumed that the writer and his wife maintained a substantial and quite esoteric mushroom garden. Get ready to take the red pill. The journey for which Stapledon is our guide is nothing less than the Evolution of Man, not from the past to the present, but from the present to the far, far, far, far, very, very, very, almost nuttily far future. There is no standard plot. And the story is told retrospectively. This future odyssey begins with a recounting of a near-doomsday war between Asia and the West; and so, for the conspiratorially minded, you are likely to suspect... what else?... a sort of conspiracy about deliberately fomented wars intended to affect the arc of the Evolution of Man. But these suspicions disappear in due course as the result of an obliterating level of dilution as Stapledon's "future history" of Man grows wilder, more fantastic, frothily awe inspiring and disorientingly tragic. For some, this book will test your emotional stability. For others, it will open up pathways in your imaginative capacities to the greatest degree possible without the aid of chemical assistance. If I had taken the same mushrooms as Stapledon, I would certainly have given this book five stars. However, because I remained largely sober through this volume, I can only offer up 4 with another half-star for Stapledon's willingness to write a novel with no real characters and barely any dialog, but with a fluidity of imagination similar to that of a toddler, though the topic itself is phantasmagorically sophisticated; and yet, all of this overwhelming structurelessness nonetheless holds together, forcing one to turn the page though the clock advises you that it is nearly dawn. Therefore, be sure to start this book on a Friday or Saturday evening. The question of inebriants or other pharmacological accelerants to help you on the way, I leave entirely to you, your God, or that significant other to whom you have entrusted your emotional and neurological well-being.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    That...that was hard. It is made up of the dry, textbook material that other authors would show rather than tell, or thunk heavily in a preface or appendix. It has no characters or plot as such, concentrating on the large sweeping trends that become larger and more sweeping as it proceeds, and it periodically dives into issues of national or racial character and motivations rather than actions. Stapledon's vision is undeniable, though a reader today may quibble about overgeneralizations of nation That...that was hard. It is made up of the dry, textbook material that other authors would show rather than tell, or thunk heavily in a preface or appendix. It has no characters or plot as such, concentrating on the large sweeping trends that become larger and more sweeping as it proceeds, and it periodically dives into issues of national or racial character and motivations rather than actions. Stapledon's vision is undeniable, though a reader today may quibble about overgeneralizations of national character as his future history proceeds through the twentieth / twenty-first / etc. / centuries. Or, in fact, that it deals with European and world history, and plugs into established history at the time of writing. I found it eye-crossingly boring and almost unreadable, only smoothing out after the establishment of the lunatic World State and later Patagonian Empire. (Seriously: if you get stuck, skip to the World State of the First Men and keep going.) The mood greatly resembles The Silmarillion and indeed much of the Middle-Earth canon. Each civilization, each human species of Man, is beset by the same tragic cycle of bloom and decay, where the nature of the collapse is baked into the nature of the species itself. The collapse is usually but not exclusively total, where all wisdom and knowledge of the predecessor has been crushed flat to be rebuilt from scratch. Again and again.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    Quite an outstanding achievement as Stapledon invents a series of civilizations that occur over millions of years and has mankind morphing and meeting with aliens. There's a lot of the author's philosophy and thoughts on sex, religion and man's greed. Written in the 1930s it dwarfs many of today's similiar attempts to look at possible futures for mankind.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jean-marcel

    A supremely interesting book, without a doubt. Stapledon projects his imagination as far into the future as it can possibly go, beginning with his own time (late 1920s/early 1930s) and slowly taking his readers on a journey that details the rise and fall of civilisations, man's evolution through a dizzying array of ages, climates, evolutions, worlds...there are wars, invasions, disasters, triumphs, incredible scientific discoveries. The whole thing is just so fascinating, because while on the su A supremely interesting book, without a doubt. Stapledon projects his imagination as far into the future as it can possibly go, beginning with his own time (late 1920s/early 1930s) and slowly taking his readers on a journey that details the rise and fall of civilisations, man's evolution through a dizzying array of ages, climates, evolutions, worlds...there are wars, invasions, disasters, triumphs, incredible scientific discoveries. The whole thing is just so fascinating, because while on the surface it all seems like some wild and improbable flights of fancy, Stapledon has put considerable thought into these "visions", and used the latest (at the time) scientific and sociological theories, as well as extrapolations based on politics and the global situation in 1930. It amused me how close he came to the truth in his projections of the "near future" in some areas and how far off the mark he was in others. There's one thing that held me back from really liking this book as much as I thought I would, though, and it is the reason that any adjectives I use to describe Stapledon's work here are always synonyms of "interesting", or "engrossing". This is not a novel. This reads like a textbook for some far future civilisation, the descendants of humankind. It's very, very dry. There are no characters, there is no plot, there is literally nothing to grab on to and run with except the "far out" ideas, which admittedly are being fired at you all the time and on every page of this book. The book stimulates your imagination in an unusual way though, in that Stapledon does try pretty hard to describe what things must have been like for people living in the various far-flung futures of Earth and other worlds. Sometimes it helps to just stop reading for a while, sit back and imagine the sort of scenes for yourself that Stapledon couldn't write about, given the nature of the book. That's the thing, really: Stapledon could not have written this book in any other way, if he wanted to keep its idea in tact. Even as it is, the book feels paradoxically very long because of its dry, disconnected style, and very short, because it is out of necessity compacting millions of hypothetical years into a few hundred pages, which feels as though it should be an impossible feat. So, as long as you go into this one knowing what you'll be reading, you ought not to be disappointed. Read this one for all the crazy science and absolutely fantastic visions of the future. I'll say this for Mr. Stapledon: today we have thousands of science fiction films, television shows and books trying to show us various futures and what they might be like. Most of them just project people a few hundred years forward and go about telling their story, assuming that humanity will pretty much be living as it does now, only with some fancier gadgets, or no gadgets at all assuming there's been some great global disaster. Almost all of these populist projections seem kind of mundane and trivial when placed next to Stapledon's. I suppose that's high praise, after all. I respect this book quite a lot. I just don't love it because, well, it isn't really a story now is it? Seems more like a worthy experiment to me; I'm almost surprised it got published, but if Ole Olaf had given me this manuscript to read back in his day, I would certainly have devoured it and then praised his visionary imagination to the heavens.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris Lynch

    Where's that sixth star when you need it? I am in awe of this book and the mind that produced it. In my youth, I'd spotted this on the shelves in the local bookstore and my curiosity was piqued, but I never got around to reading it. Ah, if only I'd known what lurked inside those covers.... Many later titans of Science Fiction, notably Arthur C Clarke, Doris Lessing, Stanislaw Lem, Theodore Sturgeon, cite Stapledon as a key influence. It's easy to see why. Published in 1930, when science fiction a Where's that sixth star when you need it? I am in awe of this book and the mind that produced it. In my youth, I'd spotted this on the shelves in the local bookstore and my curiosity was piqued, but I never got around to reading it. Ah, if only I'd known what lurked inside those covers.... Many later titans of Science Fiction, notably Arthur C Clarke, Doris Lessing, Stanislaw Lem, Theodore Sturgeon, cite Stapledon as a key influence. It's easy to see why. Published in 1930, when science fiction as a genre barely existed, before the existence of computers, when molecular biology was, at best, in its infancy, when we'd barely discovered Pluto and were only just beginning to grasp the true size of the universe, this mild-mannered man, Olaf Stapledon, a student of history and philosophy and a teacher working in adult education, wrote a book outlining a speculative future history of mankind spanning the next 2 billion years. It wasn't intended to be a piece of science fiction, in fact Stapledon wasn't even aware that such a thing existed. In the foreword to the first U.S. edition published in 1987, Greg Benford advises the reader to skip the first four chapters. This advice is misguided. The earlier parts of the book deal with Stapledon's predictions for the immediate future post-1930. As such they are an easy target for criticism by the too-literally minded; his Second World War and the alliances between nations and further subsequent wars that follow are rather different to the way things actually turned out. And yet...there's a ghostly resonance between Stapledon's alternate history and our own. A word about the science. Stapledon's knowledge of physics comes across as slightly dated in places, having an air of victoriana about it with his references to 'Aetheric Vibrations', and he's clearly a bit confused about antimatter, appearing to have been informed by the older victorian theories of antimatter rather than the newer ideas espoused by Dirac in 1928. Stapledon's estimates of the speed of mankind's future technological development and evolution also seem somewhat conservative. His timescales would feel more believable if you divide by a factor of ten, or even more in certain places. And yet...he makes some gigantic and highly prescient forward leaps of scientific imagination, predicting genetic engineering, terraforming of other planets, use of wind, wave and geothermal power sources, biological computers - 'the Great Brains' - and, for me the spookiest of all given that he was writing this in the late 1920's, the use of gravitational corridors for interplanetary travel, a technique we have only recently started to explore with modern spacecraft (the Genesis probe used this technique to cut its fuel requirements to 1/10th of that required using a conventional trajectory). A word of warning. This isn't a book full of action and excitement, though there's plenty of drama. It's an epic, sweeping history, in which millions of years sometimes flash by in an instant. Stapledon occasionally zooms in on scenes involving individual characters - some of which come across as more allegorical than literal. The writing might be thought of as rather dry by some. It's a thinker's book, not a piece of pulp sci-fi. Despite its flaws (which are actually a part of its charm, in my opinion) there is only one word to describe this book, given the context in which it was written - genius.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Buck

    Written in 1930, Last and First Men is unique in my experience of reading science fiction. It is a history book, without characters. The only individuals named in the book, I think, are Socrates, Jesus, Gautama, and Einstein, all of whom live among the First Men. This is the history of the succession of species of men as they evolve over a span of two thousand million years. It describes the rise and fall of eighteen successive human species. Some were actually artificially created by their prede Written in 1930, Last and First Men is unique in my experience of reading science fiction. It is a history book, without characters. The only individuals named in the book, I think, are Socrates, Jesus, Gautama, and Einstein, all of whom live among the First Men. This is the history of the succession of species of men as they evolve over a span of two thousand million years. It describes the rise and fall of eighteen successive human species. Some were actually artificially created by their predecessors. Their cultures and civilizations flourished and collapsed hundreds or thousand of times. The earth is invaded by Martians, microscopic specs which form together in clouds of mist with a group mind. Second Man fights them off, repeatedly, as they return time and again over millennia. Man eventually destroys the Martians. Eons later, man discovers that the moon is falling into the earth and will destroy it. Fifth Man migrates to Venus, alters it to support human life, and destroys the native beings. Again eons later, a great cloud enters the solar system and collides with the sun, causing it to greatly enlarge. Man flees to Neptune and there, finally evolves in the Eighteenth Man, Last Man. The book is written by Last Man, who is able to visit his long past, for the benefit of First Man, as Last Man suffers the final demise of man. The book is a history; it's like reading a textbook. It's dry, but interesting, varyingly. It's aloof and impersonal, not helped by my book having very small print. It enumerates the various species of man, his politics and religion. There's always religion. It doesn't go into his technology very much. But as we may read a history book for our edification, to increase our knowledge, this is fiction, and so it takes an effort to keep with it. I found myself contemplating abandoning it, and counting the pages to the end. It does seem to mellow a bit when the Last Man narrator reaches his own time. Half a dozen pages from the end, I came across this passage: "And this book, so admirable in our conception, has issued from the brain of the writer, your contemporary, in such disorder as to be mostly rubbish."

  20. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    Remarkable book, filled with enough ideas to generate hundreds of SF novels, which it probably has. Its obsession with racial consciousness and its insistence on psychoanalyzing entire civilizations feels dated, very 1930s, as the diction. Most of HG Wells reads like it could've been written last week, but Stapledon you have to imagine in a wool double-breasted suit, eating war time rations, and listening to the BBC on a wooden radio. And the species of human pathology and catastrophe that he in Remarkable book, filled with enough ideas to generate hundreds of SF novels, which it probably has. Its obsession with racial consciousness and its insistence on psychoanalyzing entire civilizations feels dated, very 1930s, as the diction. Most of HG Wells reads like it could've been written last week, but Stapledon you have to imagine in a wool double-breasted suit, eating war time rations, and listening to the BBC on a wooden radio. And the species of human pathology and catastrophe that he inflicts on his imaginary civilizations are too limited for a book with such a scope -- too much of the same, grand, Gibbon-like pattern of collapse in each chapter. But for sheer weirdness, audacity, and scope, this one is still worth it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Edward Scott

    The vast time-scale of this novel alone is enough to earn it some admiration. Across eighteen different human species and two billion years, Stapledon tells the tale of mankind, starting around the 1930s. Though some of his early ideas proved incorrect, he is surprisingly accurate in his prediction of a polarised global society, in which the cultures of the USA and China are the two rival superpowers. Seemingly by the day, this vision becomes more poignant. However, the 20th or even the 30th cent The vast time-scale of this novel alone is enough to earn it some admiration. Across eighteen different human species and two billion years, Stapledon tells the tale of mankind, starting around the 1930s. Though some of his early ideas proved incorrect, he is surprisingly accurate in his prediction of a polarised global society, in which the cultures of the USA and China are the two rival superpowers. Seemingly by the day, this vision becomes more poignant. However, the 20th or even the 30th century is but a glimmer compared to this book's size - it asks to reader to enter a different 'mode' of reading, where a million years must be considered a small amount of time. It opens your mind up to the true enormity of time and space, and our insignificance within it all, especially at this primitive point in our species' evolution. I would twin this book with Stephen Baxter's 'evolution', which deals with the same subject in a more biological fashion - Stapledon is more philosophical, his topics are culture and the 'tidal' nature of societies, each rising and reaching an ever-increasing pinnacle before collapsing under its own achievements. That's not to say there isn't a good dose of schoolboyish 'alien' ideas here - the Last Men, for instance, are particularly extravagant in their physiological description, and the Fourth Men - giant brains constructed by the Third Men - are terrifying in their wirey, electrical super-intelligence. These ideas are not as feasible as Baxter's, though, and are most likely an attempt to convey the puny nature of us, the First Men. One thing Stapledon does excellently is realise the fact that the world we experience is entirely borne of our own senses, and that life need not be restrained by the body-type we happen to have evolved. When one reads the contents page, and sees a chapter about the Martian invasion, it is easy to assume a 'War of the Worlds' type scenario, but the nature of the Martians in this book is fascinating and extremely alien. The same can be said of the dominant species of Venus. My only criticism of this book could in fact be a compliment - it all comes down to that mystery of the author's intent. There are no real spoilers to reveal, for I think we all know the ultimate fate of man has to be his inescapable downfall. However, in describing this event, the grandeur of the novel's scale seems to just fizzle out. Though the Last Man, the narrator, tells us of a utopian society, capable of moving planets and communicating with the entire species at once through a kind of 'psychic internet', I began to find him a bit annoying, almost patronizing with his constant digressions that "I cannot begin to explain such-and-such to a mind so small in comparison to my species". It feels a bit like a cop-out on Stapledon's part. But then, we must wonder if Stapledon was simply attempting to preserve some mystery, as well as avoid exploring topics of literally no significance, such as other art forms we as a species are yet to develop. So, all in all, I would highly recommend this book, as its scope is rivalled perhaps only by Stapledon's other great work 'Star Maker' (so I've heard.) I honestly believe if everybody read this, it might give an impression of our insignificance - it actually made me quite proud to be a part of the human species. Though I was a bit disappointed by its final section - The Last Men - it's final CHAPTER moved me very deeply, and reminded me of Carl Sagan's image "A pale blue dot", in which a satellite leaving the solar system captured a picture of Earth, a tiny blue dot hanging in immense blackness. (Those of you who have read the book will realise this is flawed, as the Last Men do not inhabit Earth... but hey, the image still stands for our species.) It promotes a kind of humanism, a non-religious call-to-arms for love, as well as examining the long, winding and blood-stained road to achieving such a society. Truly epic.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Charles Lor

    An incredible odyssey, voluntarily focused on the "spirit" of successive human species (wrongly called "races" in the book) rather than particular characters. It mainly works, especially when Stapledon makes an effort to describe the culture of the species he is talking about. Many of his ideas are incredibly prescient for a man in 1932. He predicts the fall of the "first" civilization (ours) due to fossil fuels running out, he describes with a scary accuracy the current political organisation o An incredible odyssey, voluntarily focused on the "spirit" of successive human species (wrongly called "races" in the book) rather than particular characters. It mainly works, especially when Stapledon makes an effort to describe the culture of the species he is talking about. Many of his ideas are incredibly prescient for a man in 1932. He predicts the fall of the "first" civilization (ours) due to fossil fuels running out, he describes with a scary accuracy the current political organisation of China (torn between communism ideology and capitalism pragmatism): "And in China both kinds of capitalism existed side by side. There were American factories in which the Chinese operatives thrived on the American system, and there were Chinese factories in which the operatives were by comparison abject wage-slaves." He also predicts the exact nature of the UN (even if thinks it will still be the League of Nations). Try reading that without thinking about the Iraqi war or the current (as of April 2014) events in Russia: "At first its existence had been precarious; and indeed it had only preserved itself by an extreme caution, amounting almost to servility toward the "great powers." Little by little, however, it had gained moral authority to such an extent that no single power, even the mightiest, dared openly and in cold blood either to disobey the will of the League or reject the findings of the High Court. But, since human loyalty was still in the main national rather than cosmopolitan, situations were all too frequent in which a nation would lose its head, run amok, throw its pledges to the winds, and plunge into fear-inspired aggression." In the later chapters, Stapledon proves to be greatly imaginative, even if a bit repetitive (the cyclical aspect of human evolution is repeated many, many, many time, within each species without adding to much). And yet, some things are still incredibly 1932. Most notable to us readers of the 21st century are his apparent incapability to imagine societies which are not patriarchal and where women aren't the only ones to do the child rearing (some "races" have it good because "motherhood is easier" since their children are more self-sufficient and females aren't as "hobbled" by child-rearing as they were before...) - and women are of course never leaders. At best they're vaguely equal to their males, but at no point do they ever get the upper hand or are really shown to be equal. Just the same, heterosexuality is supreme and apparently the only possible form of sexual expression imaginable (even with the "sub-sexes" of the 18th Men, "all male sub)sexes had sex with all the female sub-sexes": Even a multi-gendered society cannot really be imagined, just the break-down of two sexes and again, only heterosexuality). Even then, the journey is rather incredible, and should be made, if only to pay homage to the astounding work that was put into this book, and appreciate the inventivity and thought that (mostly) graces its pages.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    This is a book that has a vast ambition. It tells the story of humanity over the course of 2 trillion years and through eighteen iterations of the human species. We are the first, and the story is presented as an account of our future by the last. I thought that it was great - exactly my sort of futuring. In terms of usefulness, the first third of the book is most telling. It takes us from the point where the book was written (1930) to the downfall of the first men, which it puts at about 9,000,0 This is a book that has a vast ambition. It tells the story of humanity over the course of 2 trillion years and through eighteen iterations of the human species. We are the first, and the story is presented as an account of our future by the last. I thought that it was great - exactly my sort of futuring. In terms of usefulness, the first third of the book is most telling. It takes us from the point where the book was written (1930) to the downfall of the first men, which it puts at about 9,000,000 AD (nine million years after Christ), as we measure time. It is not an account of our future history, but an account of the forces that will shape our history. After the First World War, Stapledon sees a struggle between France and Great Britain for the mastery of Europe. Both destroy each other, leaving Germany as the dominant force in Europe. Beyond that lies the struggle between Germany, as the leader of a unified Europe, and Russia. This draws in America, who wages war with Europe, prevails, and then wages war with China, to prevail again. There is quite a lot to unpack from this. The concept of a unified Europe under the leadership of Germany, with Great Britain and France as idle bystanders, certainly has resonance today. Europe at loggerheads with Russia also has a certain ring to it, along with a geopolitical tussle between America and China. This part of the book really did have my attention. I can see why American readers are uncomfortable with the book. After achieving world dominance, America set about creating the world in its own image. This struck a chord as I was reminded of Bush Jr's wars, and the policy of spreading American democracy at bayonet point. In the end, the crass consumerism of the American model brings about the downfall of the First Men. We just simply strip the planet naked of resources. That has a familiar chill to it. The second two thirds of the book considers what happens after we have denuded the planet. By sheer fluke humanity survives and goes on to evolve into a range of successor species. Not quite human, but human nonetheless. Eventually, the solar system wears out the capacity of humanity to survive. Beyond that we can only guess. I really liked the book and would recommend it to all. It is well written, well paced, and quite easy to read. It is not a set of predictions or a standard against which we can measure events. It does come to grips with some of the meta-trends that we currently face, if only centuries earlier. However, for a work written in 1930, it is on the money for more than one issue. That in itself recommends the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bart Everson

    One of my favorite books, but definitely not for everybody, Last and First Men is a future history that reads like one. That is, it reads more like a textbook than a novel. The time-scale accelerates as the book progresses, so that subsequent chapters cover centuries and then millennia in a matter of pages. There are no individual characters after the 20th century or so. Truly, it is not a novel, but a philosophical treatise in the speculative mode. There are some errors in Stapledon's science, s One of my favorite books, but definitely not for everybody, Last and First Men is a future history that reads like one. That is, it reads more like a textbook than a novel. The time-scale accelerates as the book progresses, so that subsequent chapters cover centuries and then millennia in a matter of pages. There are no individual characters after the 20th century or so. Truly, it is not a novel, but a philosophical treatise in the speculative mode. There are some errors in Stapledon's science, some of which reflect on the fact that he was not a scientist. Other errors reflect the time of the writing, as the book was published in 1930. But his speculations on genetic engineering and terraforming were amongst the earliest. What makes this book so fascinating, and almost unique, is the scope — the vastness of the time-scale. What's the last story you read that covered two billion years? As such, the narrative is largely concerned with the rise and fall of civilizations. New beginnings require old endings. We follow the trajectories of eighteen distinct species of humanity, rather than individual experiences. There are single sentences here so epic that another author might have developed them into a whole series of novels. The only book I know with a bigger scope is Stapledon's own Star Maker, which covers nothing less than the history of intelligence in the universe. Contemplating such awe-inspiring vistas is healthy, I think. Sometimes we seem to forget that our current moment of technological supremacy will not last, that in fact all empires are dust in the wind. We do well to remember. Some will find it dry, tedious, perhaps overly intellectual. I found it vastly stimulating to the imagination. Even so things didn't really kick into high gear for me until the advent of the "Fourth Men," essentially giant disembodied brains who turn ugly. But don't expect a rollicking adventure tale. The author is primarily interested in big philosophical questions such as the nature of humanity and the meaning of life. It's worth noting this book was hugely influential on great number of writers. I liken Stapledon to the Velvet Underground. Not many people bought their records, but everyone who did started their own band.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Akshay

    Ive been a fan of scifi for a long while now - I read practically everything but scifi is my greatest joy when written well and this one turned out to be the grandfather of them all! I had never even heard of Stapledon or this book before I came across it in my favourite book store and had the good luck of not reading it for months but decided last minute to take it on a recent vacation with me, where I was able to give it due time - and believe me this is a book that needs it. Not madly long, bu Ive been a fan of scifi for a long while now - I read practically everything but scifi is my greatest joy when written well and this one turned out to be the grandfather of them all! I had never even heard of Stapledon or this book before I came across it in my favourite book store and had the good luck of not reading it for months but decided last minute to take it on a recent vacation with me, where I was able to give it due time - and believe me this is a book that needs it. Not madly long, but so packed to the brim and beyond with detail - never too much! - this maddening, thundering whirlwind of a book traverses 18 races of men, travelling across the solar system and through time itself. Filled with concepts and ideas that will resonate with anyone who has ever read a scifi book, this masterpiece is overflowing with science, religion, evolution, faith, humanity, philosophy, race, places, cultures, societies and life itself in ways I had never thought possible - much less in a package this compact! A definite must in my view for anyone who claims to have even the slightest interest in science fiction and philosophy and definately anyone with an imagination that likes to be pushed to the limits.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ian Dennis

    now this is a tale unlike any other I have read. the scope is absolutely epic, projecting farther into the future than I have ever read. also, the story telling was unique. almost without exception, there was no real character in the story, except perhaps that narrator itself. the way the story is told more closely resembles the style of historians, and even though that makes it pretty dry some of the time, it is definitely appropriate. some of the phases are s little difficult to get into, beca now this is a tale unlike any other I have read. the scope is absolutely epic, projecting farther into the future than I have ever read. also, the story telling was unique. almost without exception, there was no real character in the story, except perhaps that narrator itself. the way the story is told more closely resembles the style of historians, and even though that makes it pretty dry some of the time, it is definitely appropriate. some of the phases are s little difficult to get into, because I can't believe that entire civilizations could be so homogeneous that they could be described so singularly. all that can be forgiven, though, because it was written in the 1930s, and could probably be considered a pioneering work in science fiction. I particularly liked the 'ether ships' which suggested the vacuum of space was already known, but it would still be 30 years before humans would make said ships. in many ways it seems like stapledon vastly underestimated our capacity in the present for a comlishing some of these goals. in other ways, he overestimwtes. the beginning, in which he projects the course of warfare for the rest of the 1900s, is pretty fascinsting. there is definitely insight, and perhaps this will extend into current times... but hopefully not.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I can't believe I read this in a day because it is not an easy one, basically an imagined planetary history spanning over 200 million years. Discussed on the SFF Audio podcast with Jesse. I can't believe I read this in a day because it is not an easy one, basically an imagined planetary history spanning over 200 million years. Discussed on the SFF Audio podcast with Jesse.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Glyn Lee

    My copy tells me to skip the first 4 chapters all of 70 pages, it's awesome from then on as any outdated repetitive history is deleted 😁 Fantastic book not as great as his masterpiece starmaker but almost 😊

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lance Schonberg

    This is not a novel. It's not even really a story in the traditional sense. Last and First Men is more a series of speculative future history essays. Now, the framework of the “story” is that these essays are written by a contemporary human (Stapledon) under the influence of one of the “last men”, telepathically pushing the words through his pen from a time billions of years in the future when the human race is about to be wiped from the face of the universe permanently. I knew this going in, bu This is not a novel. It's not even really a story in the traditional sense. Last and First Men is more a series of speculative future history essays. Now, the framework of the “story” is that these essays are written by a contemporary human (Stapledon) under the influence of one of the “last men”, telepathically pushing the words through his pen from a time billions of years in the future when the human race is about to be wiped from the face of the universe permanently. I knew this going in, but I thought it would be easier to get past. Early in the book, we occassionally get individual characters, but never for more than a moment or two. Instead, we get bland descriptions of often horrific future events. War after war. Relgious insanity. Violent societal crashes. The narrative, if I can even use the word, both reinforces and shatters stereotypes, though mostly the first of those, and, as one might expect in 1930, is tinged heavily with sexism. The sexism lasts throughout the book, even if the stereotypes disappear in the main after we've got a decent evolutionary distance from current humanity. The book is filled with ideas, ridiculous, incredible, and bizarre ideas. But the presentation doesn't work very well for me. Ignoring the presentation, at least for the moment, it's hard to synopsize without sounding flippant or sarcastic. However... We are the first men. The first six chapters of the book concern us as we walk though war after war, collapse after collapse, and setback after setback. Finally, achieving a global government, it's brought down by stupid and short sighted religion, an interesting commentary even today. A mere thirty-five individuals survive the holocaust, somehow splitting into two species, one of which devolves into something sub-human. The second men take millions of years to arrive as a devastated planet recovers from our stupidity. They're giant, hairy, without ego, and live for two centuries or so. They probably would have lasted a lot longer if the Martians hadn't invaded. Twice. The third men hang around for millions of years but never really amount to anything except that they manage to create the Fourth men. And it's about here I realize that each successive species seems to get less screen time. So the fourth men were designed – giant brains capable of great feats of intellect and cruelty, and they designed their successors, the fifth men. Not that they were intended to be successors but a giant science experiment. The fifth men kill off their progenitors, terraform Venus, and slaughter the native Venusians, and make a mess of Venus before collapsing in on themselves. When the sixth men arrive, they are basically a repeat of us (the first men), in different form but very similar attitudes. They don't quite take the whole world with them when they go, but it isn't pretty. Then we get bird men (and I forgot to mention the seal-men who lived at the same time as the sixth, but were exterminated by them): paranoid men, religious men, savage men, crazy men, and all sorts of varieties of men we'd recognize easily enough in ourselves, supplanted by their mutant, flightless offspring, the 8th men who engineer the dwarf men 9th to survive on a “terraformed” Neptune. Not engineered very well though, but evolution does what science can't apparently, and then we'll skip a few hundred million years, mentioning the 10th through 17th men in not much more than a few paragraphs each, before we get to the oh-so-important 18th men. The last men. These have 96 variations on gender (subgenders) and family units made up of one of each, the ability to function as a group mind, the ability to cruise through past minds (borrowed from the 15th and 16th men), an insanely advanced civilization, and are potentially immortal. They're also wiped out because the sun catches a disease (no, really) and roasts the solar system. But hey, let's see if we can influence the past a little even as we create some kind of solar sailing panspermia to perpetuate something human-like on other planets in the future. So across billions of years of history, we've watched the rise and fall of a bewildering variety of empires and civilizations, and of 18 species. Humanity has moved to two other planets during that time and then been wiped out by its own sun, but with hope that human-derived intelligence will continue somewhere. Overall rating: 1 star. That deserves a little explanation. I'm awed by the imagination that produced the ideas contained in this book. I'm disappointed beyond measure at the presentation. Yes, this is not a really novel, but a series of speculative essays covering the future of the human species, and the next 17 species of humanity which follow it. Last and First Men tells a story, or tries to, but not a coherent one. It reaches almost for the stars but gets bogged down in obsessive navel gazing and irrelevant details while refusing to tell the actual story. While refusing to tell many actual stories. It's a book that's just this side of 100% info dump. A masterpiece of exposition, perhaps, but an incredibly difficult slog and, when all is said and done, possibly the most boring thing I've ever read. So yes, I have to go with 1 star.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I bought this book in November 2013 at Waterstones in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, while on a short holiday. Going through it briefly in the shop, I found the idea of the story quite interesting. So I decided to go for it. I also bought "Star Maker", but I haven't read it yet. And since it comes after "Last And First Men"... Full of excitement and interest I started reading the book shortly after the purchase, but barely a few weeks later I couldn't move on, and thus had to put the book aside. In I bought this book in November 2013 at Waterstones in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, while on a short holiday. Going through it briefly in the shop, I found the idea of the story quite interesting. So I decided to go for it. I also bought "Star Maker", but I haven't read it yet. And since it comes after "Last And First Men"... Full of excitement and interest I started reading the book shortly after the purchase, but barely a few weeks later I couldn't move on, and thus had to put the book aside. In short, one has to be concentrated to read this book, for it may be only about 310 pages long, the story itself isn't your everyday mainstream Sci-Fi. It reads more like a history book, as it describes the history of mankind (the evolutionary rise and fall of 18 distinct races of men, of which Homo Sapiens is the first and most primitive) over a period of 2 billion years. So you can imagine the scope of it all. Or maybe you can't, but once you've read the book, you'll see more clearly. In addition, there are no dialogues, there's no action - well, there is, but it's described. There is no cast of characters that determines the events and what not. Also, and that's both good and bad, the writing style - as the book came out originally in 1930 - is so wonderful, tasty, fantastically advanced, lush, and literary, that it's also the reason why you must keep your mind to it when reading. Last, there's a good touch of philosophy inside, too. In a world where everything has to be or go fast, this book asks that you flip the switch in your mind, slow down, and focus. It is a heavy, but worthwhile, read, and you may want to ditch the book aside or stop before halfway or maybe after, but if you take the time and let mr. Stapledon tell you his story, then you'll be amazed... or perhaps confused. In any case, it might change the way you look at the world, at life.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.