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Last and First Men August 1, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Anyone read Olaf Stapledon’s classic, perhaps one of the most influential science fiction novels ever written. It’s two-billion year sweep was reflected in the curiously melancholic works of Arthur C. Clarke, CS Lewis and more recently Stephen Baxter, and if some aspects of the original seem to have also influenced EE ‘Doc’ Smith, well, hey, it was a simpler time. The book itself is worked around…

Stapledon’s conception of history follows a repetitive cycle with many varied civilisations rising from and descending back into savagery over millions of years, as the later civilisations rise to far greater heights than the first. The book anticipates the science of genetic engineering, and is an early example of the fictional supermind; a consciousness composed of many telepathically linked individuals.

I read it I think twenty odd years ago and it still had a certain power. Perhaps most of all in the sense that we, humanity, were utterly transient in the sweep of time and that we would be succeeded by other intelligences utterly detached from us.

And the influences pop up in the strangest places – not least Deus Ex, the computer game.
Most recently:

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson directed and scored a multimedia Last and First Men, “combining a film narrated by actress Tilda Swinton and accompanying score played by the BBC Philharmonic” at the 2017 Manchester International Festival.[3] The 16mm black-and-white film is predominately of memorial sculptures erected in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Jóhannsson collaborated with José Enrique Macián on writing the narration adapted from Stapledon’s novel.

The film is now available and it looks remarkable.

The structures in it are Spomeniks, built across former Yugoslavia to commemorate the victory against fascism. That they can be repurposed to represent the far future is no great surprise. There’s an alien quality to them, a pared down aesthetic, that ably conveys otherness. The abstraction speaks of deep time and changelessness. I suspect Stapledon might have approved.


1. Sabiscuit - August 1, 2020

Going to check it out. Great weekend recommendation.

Liked by 1 person

2. baalthor - August 2, 2020

Read it a few times years ago, quite remarkable but still a handy read compared to Stapledon’s “Star Maker”

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - August 2, 2020

Yeah, Star Maker was a different kettle of fish.

Liked by 1 person

3. Starkadder - August 2, 2020

The trailer looks fascinating. I thought the book was excellent, but I also thought it would be impossible to adapt to another medium. Stapledon wrote a radio adaption of LAFM, “Far Future Calling”, but I don’t believe it was ever broadcast.

Liked by 1 person

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