I read somewhere that this science fiction novel, written by British writer Olaf Stapledon and published in 1937, is one of the all-time classics. Being a purveyor of fine science fiction stories I was intrigued so I sought it out.
But, it was heavy going right from the start, mostly due to the way it was written. Olaf was a philosopher and pretty much wrote this book while still in heavy philosophy mode, as well as deciding that it should be written in a dry textbook style. There were plenty of words I had never heard before such as cepheid.
Some sentences which did not have any fancy words were still hard to decipher. Here is an example:
This most subtle medium the Star Maker now rough-hewed into the general form of a cosmos. Thus he fashioned a still indeterminate space-time, as yet quite ungeometrized; an amorphous physicality with no clear quality or direction, no intricacy of physical laws; a more distinctly conceived vital trend and epic adventure of mentality; and a surprisingly definite climax and crown of spiritual lucidity.
I found myself going over a sentence again time after time to make sure I understood what was being said. Heavy, man.
But, the actual storytelling was fantastic and quite original, and very large in scale. It was basically about a chap who went for a walk and suddenly found he could mentally transport himself through space and time and visit distant galaxies in an instant. He also found he could mind-meld with aliens he encountered, and together they could travel throughout the universe and mind-meld with other aliens so that they soon became a large space gang observing the cosmos and seeking out the meaning of life. He soon discovered that an all-powerful being was responsible for everything, and was able to have a chat with him. There is a lot more to it, but there is also no real story, it was just him describing what he saw and learned about other aliens, galaxies, and even the stars themselves which as it turned out were also sentient beings.
One interesting thing I learned is that the idea of the Dyson sphere, named after Freeman Dyson, came from this book. Freeman had read the book and it inspired him to write a paper in 1960 about the concept. It is a very pie-in-the-sky idea though, very much science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke had much more obtainable ideas as he is credited as being the inventor of the communications satellite. Read Arthur’s Rama series if you can, brillo stuff.
Good luck to you if you want to make this into a film, it would be like turning Ace Ventura: Pet Detective into a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel…although I would read that.
Highly recommended for those into deep and meaningful science fiction flights of fancy, best read with a pipe and glass of brandy, and the Oxford Dictionary on hand.
After finishing this book I immediately felt like an easy read, so I chose the next book I need to read in the Doctor Syn series titled “The Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn”. I am also simultaneously re-reading “The Way of Wyrd”, and old favourite.