- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1972)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0486211339
- ISBN-13: 978-0486211336
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Odd John and Sirius Paperback – June 1, 1972
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About the Author
A preeminent figure of British science fiction, Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950) wrote several influential novels. Praised by H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, and Virginia Woolf, Stapledon's works introduced such innovative concepts as genetic engineering and terraforming.
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It is a wonder, then, that I had not, in all those years, read anything else by Stapledon. Well, now I have ...
_Odd John_ and _Sirius_ come packaged in a neat omnibus, which is nice because they're thematically related: how an exceptional being reacts to human society, and how it reacts to the exceptional. Spoiler alert: society does not react well. Both books are full of a wry humor at the expense of humanity. Both are about what humanity could achieve if it weren't so "all-too-human." And both are quite different from Stapledon's cosmic novels in being the biographies of individuals in our own time.
Odd John is born to a normal family. He develops (at first) extremely slowly and is thought to be a moron, but then his mental, and after that his physical, development suddenly takes off. He recognizes a vast gulf between himself and homo sapiens.
He takes advantage of that gulf at first, getting away with a number of things from beating up a bully to killing a policeman. But he comes to recognize a kind of kinship with the human race - much like that between humans and dogs.
So he seeks others of his kind, and finds them. Some are badly damaged and some will not leave their lives, but a group of them, all young, found a colony on an uncharted island ... and I'll leave the summary there.
Sirius is not an accident, but the result of deliberate experimentation by a physiologist who is breeding "super dogs." Most are merely superior dogs, but Sirius is sui generis, a dog with human intelligence - and a good human intelligence at that. He is raised alongside the physiologist's children, and especially his daughter, Planxy, who is of an age with Sirius. As Sirius's development is much slower than that of ordinary dogs, this works out to both their benefit.
Sirius, though sapient, is still a dog, and his observations on human society come from a dog's perspective, remarkably well imagined. But society is not ready to treat with a dog as an equal, and things gradually go from good to bad... again, I'll leave off the summary.
"Society" in these books is very much British (though Odd John travels the world and shows that Stapledon was at least somewhat aware of cultural differences), and middle-class (though Sirius does get a good look at the slums). _Odd John_ was written in the '30s, and _Sirius_ during WWII, and both are shaped by their time and place. Both books use the N-word, once each, in a quite casual way that doesn't even consider that it might be offensive.
But these are quibbles. Stapledon was a writer of genuine vision and deep thought, and, if his novels are tragicomic, well, so is life.
The first book is a bit pretentious, but the second one almost seems like a spoof of the first. They’re both good reads, but reading Sirius after Odd John is a great treat, because it sort of clears the room. I don’t think I would have cared for Odd John as much on its own, though it does introduce some fabulous concepts that later writers on the superhuman usually forget. (Yeah, Superman and Louis Lane is basically like a regular person having a relationship with a bonobo ... and you’ll never be able to look at them the same way after this.) It’s also dark because of the timing of the work: It was written right around World War II, and Stapledon did not seem to see much positive in the world while he was writing it. While Sirius still manages to be a little disturbing in its own special way, the general tone and the unflinching dog puns make it worth it.
This is a great set if you’re interested in sci-fi or speculative fiction history, and if you find Odd John sometimes tedious like I did, hopefully Sirius will make up for it.
Not a bad read, and cheap if you get it on Kindle.
Most recent customer reviews
I don't get it.
The book almost seems to be a writing exercise for an English major.Read more
This is my third offering in super human or Ubermensch. These three seem to point to a theme that’s a keystones to later works.Read more