Books that inspired me
1 – Last and First Men – Olaf Stapleton 1930
I first read this book when I was quite young, about 13 I think. It has since remained with me, the white paper of various editions slowly fading to brown around the edges of the pages ever since.
At the time I was avidly reading science fiction – it seemed to me to be the only genre that was full of ideas and had some thought of what the future might be like. I could also discard the rubbish books – as I so labelled them – about shoot ‘em up little green men etc. These were just a rewrite of the Zane Grey type westerns that were going out of fashion, transposed to space operas. The real stories had, to me, some credible science behind them but were also mind stretching as they postulated possible futures.
One day, I came across a book that Arthur C Clarke said, ‘ No book before or since has ever had such an impact on my imagination.’ I immediately thought that ,’if Arthur likes it, that’s good enough for me to try it.’ So I did.
I had to read it several times to start to understand the thought behind it. It attempted to be no less than the history of man from 10 billion years ago to 5 billion years into the future. I had never come across such a terrifying concept of time and the possibilities that could occur within such an imaginative time scale. How could one man’s imagination conjure up these events?
This book, it seems to me, is based on two concepts.
One is that everything evolves; second is that, given enough time, anything is possible and perhaps likely.
It was written in 1930 so a lot of the near future is wrong. It may be best to ignore the first four chapters. The author was of his time so many of his views would be wrong and unacceptable these days but once he gets into his imaginative stride, there is no stopping him.
I can honestly say that this book pulled me towards the scientific method, ‘Show me the evidence’ scepticism and geology which has at it’s centre ‘deep time’ during which anything is possible.
It is not really a novel or SF. It defies pigeon holing – perhaps there should be a genre called ‘Future History’.
After this book there were many stumbling, poor quality books that tried to copy it’s reach and drama. These have now morphed into the Dystopian Genre and the Mad Max type that nowhere reach the standard of this ground breaking book.
If you wish to get a flavour of the poetic soaring imagination evident in this book, I suggest you try chapter 13 – Humanity on Venus ( 6th Men ). Part 2 The flying Men.
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© Richard Kefford Eorðdraca
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