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Last and First Men (SF Masterworks) Paperback – 2000
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Top Customer Reviews
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."
If you liked this book, you might wish to try getting 'Star Maker' by the same author.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Astounding imagination with some disquieting realities sewn into the story.Published 4 months ago by MartinK
Olaf Stapledon's seminal history of the future of humanity in the solar system over billions of years. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Daniel Dausman
Great cavalcade of mankind from the beginning of humanity to a billion years out. Brings up many provocative scenarios. The Culture clash we see nowadays between East and West. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Mark Pomerantz
I respect what the author tried to do and I think he succeeds but I just could not get through it. It went on forever. There wasn't an ounce of entertainment value in here. Read morePublished 20 months ago by J.O.
Skip this and go straight to Starmaker. This is a look at 18 species of man covering about 2 billion years. It is terribly boring...... Read morePublished on June 8, 2014 by sergei kochkin
This book is considered by many to be a classic in the science-fiction genre and now that I've finally read it I can see why. Read morePublished on June 7, 2014 by M. Brookes
This book, as I write, is over 80 years old, having been written in 1930, a fact worth bearing in mind as you read. Read morePublished on April 12, 2013 by Anath
Excellent Seller!!! Item as described, old paperback packed VERY securely, which I always appreciate. Sent quickly. Would buy from this dealer again. A+++Published on March 7, 2011 by Steven Ernest
Excellent book... I enjoyed the read very much tho it took a little getting used to. It's written as a history being told to a child living before the history is made... Read morePublished on June 14, 2010 by Kenn Fink