Olaf Stapledon - sorry for the neglect

D_Davis

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Mr. Stapledon's name is one that is often conjured when people discuss the best of the genre, especially when the great-grandfathers are concerned.

He seems to be an author who is name dropped and discussed more than he is actually read, or at least it appears this way to me.

Although he has often be recommended me to me by readers whom I greatly respect, for some reason I had not read anything by him until last week, when I read Sirius - and it blew my mind.

I am working on a write up for Sirius, and I have since ordered all of his fiction I could get my hands on. Today, in the mail, I received Darkness and the Light, and it looks incredible.

I am greatly anticipating my time spent with Mr. Stapledon.
 

GOLLUM

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Make sure you get Star Maker and Last and First Men. They're part of the SF Masterwork series I have.

You can thank me later....;)
 

D_Davis

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Make sure you get Star Maker and Last and First Men. They're part of the SF Masterwork series I have.

You can thank me later....;)
Like I said, I ordered every piece of fiction available on Amazon, under $50.

I've got these coming in a 2-in-1 volume.
 

D_Davis

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Sirius - 1944

I've known of Olaf Stapledon for many years, for well over a decade, and yet up until a short while ago (as of 4-2008) I had never read any of his books. Whenever SF fans discuss the great-grandfathers of the genre, or whenever they mention all-time classics, Mr. Stapledon's name and books are usually among those conjured. However, I rarely come across anyone actually reading him, nor do I often stumble upon his books in used or new book stores. He seems, at least to me, to be an author talked about and name-dropped more than he is read.

I have now read him. And after reading Sirius, I immediately went on to Amazon.com and ordered every piece of fiction I could click my mouse on.

Sirius is a profound work of fiction. It actually made me cry in public - on the bus on the way home from work one night. This stupid book made me cry - in public. Damn this book. When I told my wife this anecdote, she called me a woman. Thanks a lot Olaf.

Sirius is an exquisite book. Stapledon presents to his reader a Frankenstein-like story, but he elevates the emotion and humanity to an all new level. While I like Shelley's original tale, it never really resonated with me on deep emotional level. I didn't feel for the monster like I thought I was supposed to. Such is not the case with Sirius. I have never felt as much empathy with and sympathy for a character as I did here.

This is because Sirius, the title character, the “monster,” is a dog. Yes, Stapledon plays the canine card. Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows have met their match.

The book tells the story of a dog named Sirius, a new breed of super-canine created by a scientist named Thomas Trelone. Sirius is a very special kind of sheep dog. He has the ability to think, reason, and emote at the same level as a human being. However, he is not simply in possession of a human mind - that is, he is not a man trapped in a dog's body. No, he is more complex than this. He is actually a dog capable of complex thought, all filtered through his unique canine perspective. This grants Stapledon the ability to examine us, humankind, through a different lens, and he uses this SF impetus to great effect.

This is basically a biography of Sirius; it chronicles his entire life, or at least all of the major events in it. Sirius is born at the same time as the Trelone's own biological daughter, Plaxy. Together, the human and canine infant grow and learn. The family treats them both as equals, and encourages them to grow together while fostering a deep and lasting relationship between the two. Sirius is never to be treated as just a dog (unless secrecy dictates), and Plaxy is never to be treated better than her canine brother.

Throughout the narrative, the relationship between the human female and male canine is examined in great detail, and is illustrated with authenticity and compassion. And yes it does venture into some taboo territory, but it is never in poor taste, and nothing is ever done simply to provoke or shock. Stapledon demands that we evaluate Plaxy's and Sirius' relationship with new eyes, those not tainted by our own societal norms. I was constantly reminded of Theodore Sturgeon whilst reading this book, and I imagine that Stapledon must have been a great influence.

In addition to this interspecies relationship, we also witness Sirius' discovery of music and religion, two topics very near and dear to my own heart. Stapledon crafts a handful of wonderful and touching musical moments in the book. Because Sirius is a dog, he is able to hear tone and pitch far better than his human companions, thus the imperfection of human music is hard for him to appreciate - but he tries. He also composes and performs his own unique brand of canine music, and one such sequence in particular had me in tears. Just thinking about it now I can feel the emotion welling.

It has always been my belief that music and spirituality are closely linked, and so I was curious of how Stapledon would tackle the subject of religion. While living, the author was an agnostic, and I've read that he often discussed theology and philosophy with C. S. Lewis. I thought he might take a more cynical approach to the subject, but I was surprised to find otherwise. Sirius' longing for spirituality, and his eventual discovery, is powerful and sincere. In recognizing the importance of both reason and faith, science and religion, modern man could seriously learn a thing or two from this super-canine.

Simply put, Sirius is a fascinating tale of personal growth and discovery. And while the style is a bit dated - lots of telling, very storybook-like - Stapledon's prose is clear and concise. He conveys emotion expertly, and each vignette is wonderfully composed. For the brief time I spent with this book, I truly felt as if I was sharing a life with another being. I grew very fond of Sirius and his human family. But what's more, the book actually changed the way I look at my own dogs, and my own life. I've always been a dog person - I love my two dogs dearly - and after I was finished with Sirius, I just wanted to love them more. This book filled me with passion, and it is an experience I hope to never forget.
 

merritt

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Re: Olaf Stapledon - Odd john

Hi,

I have read much of Olaf.
Sirius is his most accessible novel.
Also check out Odd John & The Starmaker.

Last & First Men is really just a warm up for Starmaker, its not "well formed", I would skip it. :cool:

Just my opinion.

best regards,

Merritt:D
 

redLung

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thanks for mention Olaf stapledon. i had never heard of the man until i read the first post. Then i stopped by the library and followed the suggestions of first and Last Men, and Starmaker. They had an unnerving effect on me at the gut level, but his clarity helped wash away some fogginess between my ears. I thoroughly enjoyed the dicovery.
 

Omphalos

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I think that Last and First Men is a great book, and I personally would recommend it.
 

D_Davis

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thanks for mention Olaf stapledon. i had never heard of the man until i read the first post. Then i stopped by the library and followed the suggestions of first and Last Men, and Starmaker. They had an unnerving effect on me at the gut level, but his clarity helped wash away some fogginess between my ears. I thoroughly enjoyed the dicovery.
No problem.

I need to read both of these.
 

Yammerhant

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I particularly like his alternate-history short story "East is West"; I have no idea which collections it appears in but I ran across the text online.
 

Moonbat

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I have just finished the StarMaker, and whilst I was blown away by the book in whole I was a little undewhelmed by the last quarter.

It starts poetically (and is continued that way) with a grand scope of a sort of astral planing. I was very impressed with his descriptive prose, but when it came to the aliens he meets along the way I was blown away. His imagination is astounding. Being a big fan of Banks I thought I had read about lots of different alien types, but Olaf takes the biscuit, his sea-faring almost ship like race is brilliantly described, as are his swarms of insect like beings.

The only problem I had was the pseudo-religious aspect to the end of the book, his talk of the starmaker and the spirit was a little annoying after so much creativity. But I have to say it is probably my own narrow-mindedness when it comes to supreme beings that grated with me. I was very impressed by this book (no 21 in the sci-fi masterworks) which I picked up at a real bookshop and only read because my partner is reading Game of Thrones on my kindle and her kindle didn't have much sci-fi on.
 

Harpo

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Last And First Men is one of my all-time top 10 books, and I recently founda copy of Sirius that was being given away - but yet to delve within its pages, due to other reading matter in the queue
 
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