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Last and First Men (SF Masterworks) Paperback – 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Paperback, 2000
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Product Details

  • Series: S.F. Masterworks
  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; New Ed edition (2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 185798806X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857988062
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 0.9 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,811,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Wow! Stapledon is an excellent sci fi writer and an excellent philosopher of the human condition.

There are no ordinary characters in this story. The protagonist is humanity, and this is humanity's autobiography. Or perhaps the story is better understood as a family saga, with each succeeding race of humanity as a new character, from the First Men (that's us) through the Last Men in the way far future.

Again and again, over a vast span of time, humanity waxes and wanes, flourishes and is nearly extinguished, sinks to barbarism and rediscovers a religion of selfless love. Humanity takes on new forms and moves to new planets. In the moments when humanity is capable of philosophical and spiritual reflection, it is plagued by recurring issues--in particular, by the tension between two of its greatest spiritual attainments: (1) a deep love for and identification with all life and the passionate desire for all life to continue and to be free of suffering, and (2) a dispassionate aesthetic appreciation of fate, a mystical awe at the beauty of the drama of the cosmos, including individual and racial suffering and extinction.

The story is engaging, and I was awed by how clearly articulated and how deeply explored is this basic paradox of spirituality. Like two of my favorite authors, Nancy Mairs and Annie Dillard, Stapledon takes a clear and unflinching look at the pain and angst of life in this universe and manages to find hope and beauty. Just two small gripes: it gets a little too pedantic at the very end, and the editor should have deleted about 90% of the occurrences of the word "extravagant." If you like science fiction with deep ideas, or if you like spiritual or philosophical reflection and think you can at least tolerate the sci fi genre, I highly recommend this book.

I also highly recommend Stapledon's "Sirius."
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Format: Textbook Binding
After 20 years of reading about Last and First Men I have found it at last. If your idea of a novel is a book about people's relationships, it may not be for you. That particular element of novels bores me to death and this is more my idea of a compelling read. The history of mankind from 1930 to a few billion years hence is pre-written by a philosopher and fantasist possessed of a great and unquiet mind, inhuman but not inhumane as someone has well put it. On no account skip the opening chapters, whatever anyone tells you. The fact that S got the world's history 1930-2003 completely wrong is not the point -- the rest of it will almost certainly prove to be all wrong too, if we think like that. What these first chapters do is to get us into the author's weird exalted and passionless mindset. He is not so much on another planet as in an alternative universe. It is entirely to the book's advantage that he has no grasp of Realpolitik and even that he has no detectable sense of humour -- when I was beginning to feel the latter as a lack I came to the only bit where he ascribes humour to any of his characters, a race of monkeys depicted in general unsympathetically and not least for their possession of this deplorable characteristic. That put me in my place I can tell you. From start to finish I got no sense of either pity or cruelty as he chronicles the the periodic near-annihilations that overtake the various successive human races, and while his account of the systematic extermination of the intelligent life on Venus filled me with a wrenching sense of tragedy that I did not feel for any of the mankinds the author himself seemed as unmoved as ever. If Wuthering Heights was written by an eagle, who or what wrote Last and First Men?Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Olaf Stapleton has made a novel, not just of science fiction, but of philosophy and the future of mankind. From the first man to the last, we follow mankind, how it develops, the problems it faces, not only in their changing environments, but also their social problems and the problems within mankind's mind. Sometimes Mr. Stapleton only hints at the details and problems as he takes us across history in leaps of thousands and, sometimes, millions of years. I take a point away for his use of 'telepathic' powers within the story and the fact that he seems to think that man needs millions of years to change cultures or even invent such things as rocket flight! But rememeber that this man's works effected later generations of thinkers, sci-fi writers and scientists.
If you liked this book, you might wish to try getting 'Star Maker' by the same author.
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Format: Paperback
Last and First Men is a science fiction novel that tells the epic story of Humans from the early 1900s to billions of years in the future and everything in between.

The book was written in the 1930s, so be prepared for some 'Oh, come on!' moments. But, also be prepared for some really good science fiction that would hold its weight today. To enjoy this book for what its worth, you must understand the limits of scientific knowledge at the time. This will help ease the pain of his most mis-targeted predictions and fully appreciate his keen insight and imagination.

I personally did not like the writing style. There are no real characters and it borders on having the feeling of reading a history book. You will probably not get any real emotional connection with the story or root for the humans or anything like that. He speaks of the periods of time in large swaths that further tone down any climactic events that unfold. A typical example would be like: "and so humanity went through several million years in this social structure with many ups and downs and near extinctions". There was way too much of that type of glazing over for my taste. Granted he is covering a lot of time, but he could have written the story better.

I was quite impressed with his imagination and insightful predications about science and culture given when he wrote the book. For instance, the issue of energy depletion is a major theme in several parts of the book. He invents a rather imaginative Martian organism that has a biology and mindset completely different from our own and he backs it up with some believable scientific explanations. He envisions several stages of wild genetic engineering and this is where the book shines.
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