Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Olaf Stapledon – Star Maker

August 4, 2008

Before I start with the review itself, please let me remind you to read my book reviewing policy here.

I’m sorry that I’ve read this book now, and not later in the life of this blog, because I feel that I lack the skills as a writer to give it the review it deserves.

I confess that the reason I picked it up was a quote from Arthur C. Clarke on the cover, in which he said that Star Maker was “Probably the most powerful work of imagination ever written”. I’m a sucker for Clarke, so if he thought that this was a good book, then by Jove, it had to be! And it is.

Star Maker tells the story of one man (we never know his name) who finds himself somehow transported out of Earth and given the ability to travel freely amongst time and space. Throughout the book our hero/narrator encounters all manner of intelligent creatures, in the most amazing variety. Humanoids, plant-men, flocks of birds who are actually a single mind, living ships, and my personal favorite, a pair of symbiotic creatures, one fish like and the other crab like. Clarke’s opinion starts to make sense, doesn’t it?

The first race that the narrator encounters is humanoid in appearance, but uses taste the same way we use sight. This is one of the first things that truly fascinated me and pulled me into the story. The concept of using a different sense as the primary one sounded to me as genius, and the way Stapledon described it was amazing:

For example, our ‘brilliant’, as applied to persons or ideas, they would translate by a word whose literal meaning was ‘tasty’. For ‘lucid’ they would use a term which in primitive times was employed by hunters to signify an easily runnable taste-trail. … Complexity was “many-flavoured”.

This got me thinking of how we use so many words to describe ideas and actions that are actually derived from words used to describe things we see.

As his journey continues, our narrator becomes one part of an immense collective intelligence, made up of countless other explorers like himself. This collective has access to all his memories and all his feelings, just as he has access to the memories and feelings of each of the other members. A collective intelligence in which each member keeps his individuality is something that I find extraordinary.

The collective is witness as the whole galaxy becomes another type of collective, in which each member of each race is devoted to a special task and is in constant contact with every other single intelligence in the galaxy. This state was not reached peacefully, however, wars and destruction were part of the process. The most amazing thing for me was when it was discovered that the stars themselves were conscious beings. That was the part of the book that really clinched it for me, a truly amazing feat of imagination.

As the galaxy reached higher and higher peaks of spiritual knowledge, there was a point in which our narrator comes into contact with the Star Maker Himself. In that brief moment he sees our Universe as nothing more that another one amongst the many that the Star Maker had created in his search for something. We are not told what that something is, although the narrator does give us his suspicions. The other Universes that Stapledon describes are incredible, another testimony to the power of imagination that he had. Struggling against this apparent purposeless for the whole of creation as he knew it, our hero breaks free and finds himself once again outside his house, in which his wife is waiting for him.

My opinion is that this is truly one of the greatest works of imagination Man has created. The spiritual connotations that Stapledon peppers throughout the book may not be to everyones liking, but they give the book a richer story than that of spatial exploration alone. I’ve gained a taste for his writing and already ordered Last and First Men, another of his books. You’ll get my opinion on that one as well 🙂

There you have it, my first book review. What did you think? To big, to small, to descriptive, not descriptive enough? Help me improve so that I can give you guys a better reading experience when you come here 🙂