Rating: 1/2* of fiveI cried uncle on p59 of this book, which was part of a group read on LibraryThing; it was written in 1930 or so, it's true, but nothing as ephemeral as passing time can excuse the line:A century after the founding of the first world state a rumour began to be heard in China about the supreme secret of scientific religion, the awful mystery of Gordelpus, by means of which it should be possible to utilize the energy locked up in the opposition of proton and electron.*buzz* you're out, Dr Stapledon, and thanks for playing our game! This is supposedly a novel! That kind of snoreinducing prose is not even excusable in a textbook, though it is explainable there; in a novel, an entertainment, this tone is just about as far off the mark as any I can imagine I can't fairly comment on the plot, since there isn't any that I can discern The story unfolds as a being from our remote future lectures us on what we did wrong, with special emphasis on the horrors of America (oof, how very outmoded that sounds) and China as cocontrollers of civilization.Now I can't fault Dr Stapledon for prescience, since he pegged the two dominant countries of the future so solidly, but there are no characters to make us care about the story and there are no passages of graceful prose to make us forgive the lack of characters All in all, even given that I was skimming most of the book, it was a waste of a lovely Sunday afternoon. It's really hard to describe this novel in a way that can do it justice because any cursory explanation such as plotless and characterless has some rather negative connotations :)Indeed, it's kinda impossible to have those here except in brief glances relying on bird's eye views before necessarily jumping on to the next BIG IDEA and SuperImaginative setting.For what we have here, way back in 1930, is novel of Future History influencing every big SF author of the day, even influencing Winston Churchill, HG Wells, Arthur C Clarke, and countless SF writers ever since.Why? Let me do this quick: Eighteen iterations of mankind over a billion years, from the total death of our mankind, the evolutionary reemergence of the next, the differences, oddities, rediscoveries after soooo much time, the new dreams, aspirations, religions, the different values, before the next mankind dies off We have Martian invasion, we have our invasion of Venus, we have major genetic modifications, telepathy during other iterations, the ability to experience racial memory ala Dune, adding multiple sexes, immortality, living in gas giants, and sometimes merely striving only to improve the human race Over a billion years And of course, whole races die Over and over.It's grand, majestic, awesome, and brilliant.So much imagination is crammed into so few pages that a prospective SF author could just pour through this and continue to point at reused story ideas for even currentday authors! I look at the nuclearpowered version of life on Venus, the intelligent clouds of Mars, the huge brains, the musical race, the race of timetravelers, and my jaw just drops It's not without emotion, either There's a deep an abiding love for everyone here even as a whole race suffers deep ennui and an existential crisis or during others that suffer impossible odds, accidents, or the final death of our solar system The philosophies give it away The spirit of the human races rise and ebb and undergo vast changes.And yet there's no characters or plot Just setting and worldbuilding and vast movements of so many people :)It would never get published today And yet, it's still brilliant Absolutely worth knowing, even now :) It makes me wonder what we're collectively doing We can't forget that works like this EXIST :) This is truly an astounding novel Its ambition is to tell the story of humankind from the near future to the end of our species, some two billion years into the future The beginning of this book can be easily skipped since it’s an outdated projection of historical events from the time when Stapledon was writing (around the 1930s) However, his fertile imagination truly takes flight when he imagines the distant future of humanity.The narrator of this chronicle is one of the last men, who sends his account back to us over the millions of centuries (through the writing of Stapledon!) And this is what this far descendant of our time reveals: across the aeons, the human race takes various shapes (the book describes seventeen races or stages): some races of men evolve to higher levels of consciousness, some fall back to animality; men meet with the inhabitants of Mars, which are made of gas but worship gems; some species of men are only made of brain cells that grow inside iron towers and are served by lower kinds of men; later on, the human species needs to leave the Earth and conquer Venus, where they live in the atmosphere, flying in utter bliss (and feeling depressed when back on their two feet); later still, men migrate to Neptune to escape the slow senescence of the Sun, and acquire a circular and stereoscopic vision of the heavens, as well as the ability to think and sense as a whole species, and even the power to influence the past Until finally the human race reaches its tragic ending.This whole voyage is, in a way, similar to that of Stapledon’s later novel, Star Maker, but instead of travelling in the farthest realms of space, this is a trip into the furthest reaches of time In this sense, Last and First Men is a grandiose elaboration on H.G Wells’ Time Machine Dante also came to my mind when reading this book: as in the Divine Comedy, we witness successive states of humanity, without much lingering over the fates of individuals (which makes the reading at times a bit tedious, since there are no characters or dialogues to hold on to) The very last part is perhaps the most beautiful and moving: humans, at last, have reached an understanding of the Universe that opens spectacular vistas into the cosmos And this, sadly, is their swansong. Stapledon tells you the story of the human race, starting now and ending with its demise, well over a billion years in the future People change in all sorts of unexpected ways; during some periods, they have godlike intelligence, during others they aren't even sentient anyThe book has obvious flaws, but there's just nothing else like it Some of the images are impossible to forget.Despite the fact that it's not very well known (none of my 115 GR friends have it on their shelves), an impressive collection of famous people give him a thumbsup Doris Lessing, in particular, has saidthan once that she was deeply affected by it Other fans include SF writers Arthur C Clarke and Brian Aldiss, and the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith. Last and First Men: The ultimate vision of man’s evolution(Posted at Fantasy Literature)Olaf Stapledon's vision of mankind's entire future history until the end is profound, beautiful, and affecting, and was written way back in 1930 It is unfortunate that this work has not found a wider audience, though it has had a deep influence on many of SF's luminaries, including Arthur C Clarke, who indicated that this book and its later successor Star Maker were the two most influential books he had ever read In my mind, it is one of the most imaginative early SF classics ever written, just as important as the works of H.G Wells.He touches on so many themes that still resonate today, particularly mankind's potential for both great achievements and selfish cruelty, for deep insight and selfdelusion And as mankind progresses through 18 major stages over billions of years (apparently influenced by the Hegelian Dialectic), even delving into his own racial past, we see the vast potential of mind in the universe And though mankind is finally likened to a single movement in the vast eternal symphony of the cosmos, this does not detract in any way from the tragic beauty of our brief existence.Unlike modern novels, the book reads like a future history without specific characters, touching down briefly to document key events, and pausing to reflect on their significance Because it was written in 1930, the early chapters about the First Men actually covering world history through our present time, so they are interesting in their predictions of world politics between the two world wars However, it is only as the time scale picks up towards the end of the First Men that the book hits its stride, so some readers may decide to skip the first 34 chapters if they want to delve straight into his everexpanding vision of humanity's future The book gets farfascinating as newer generations of men develop, forming larger brains, a telepathicallylinked groupmind, but ever again falling back into decay and destruction, before seeding the next generation of man, until the Eighteen Men, which turn out to be the Last Men It’s hard to imagine a grander scale of progress and decline, and it is stunning that Olaf Stapledon produced a work of such scope and vision during a time when Europe was consumed by nationalism and conflicting ideologies. There’s this moment in Douglas Adams’ 4.0 stars WOW, this book is in a class all by itself for originality, imagination and scope I can not believe I have not heardabout this book as being one of the true classics of science fiction Written in the 1930's, this is a future history that tells the story of mankind over a span of 2 billion years (yes billion with a B) from 1930 until approximately the year 2,000,000,000 During that period humanity evolves through what Olaf describes as 18 different species of men (our present being the First Men of the title) Through those 18 iterations, we see everything from giantbrained superminds to geneticallyengineered supermen to aquatic fishmen and much, muchThe reason that the book, for all its amazing inventiveness, does not get 5 stars is because the narrative, at times, can be very, very dry The detailed descriptions of each successive species of humanity and the trials and tribulations that befall them can become a bit tedious Thus, there were times when I was not enjoying myself as much as I would have liked, despite being in almost constant awe of the writer's imangination However, despite that crticism, this is a book that I strongly recommend to all fans of science fiction as many of the ideas and concepts found in modern science fiction found their first true expression in this amazing futrue history HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! I'm not gonna lie, folks; of all the books I've tackled so far this year, Last and First Men has been the toughest challenge to my resolve to only read one book at a time That's not to say it's by any means a bad book; it's part of the SF Masterworks Collection* for very good reasons It's just that, well, gripping storytelling it ain't.Penned in 1930 by a philosophy professor, Last and First Men is heavy on exposition and all but devoid of character, dialogue or even plot beyond exploring the nature of the 18 races of man from First (20th Century earthbound Homo sapiens sapiens) to Last (Neptunian superbeings who live for thousands of years) and how their society kept on evolving and devolving and evolving again The text is presented as a sort of lecture series on the history of humanity, delivered by a Last Men scholar who doesn't quite sneer at his predecessors and their flaws but doesn't exactly hold them in reverence, either Indeed, often the prose reads like that of a 19th century natural history text on, say, social insects, albeit very sophisticated ones.The early chapters of the novel are best read, by a 21st century scifi fan, as a strange form of alternate history a la, say, Harry Turtledove; in this case, our point of departure is not long after Last and First Men's original publication date, for nothing like World War II and the Holocaust even remotely figures in this extrapolation Stapledon possessed an acute talent for that, but humanity has always been full of surprises! One can smile indulgently at how off base he was, but to do so is to completely miss why this book is a classic of the genre; after all, the rest of the 20th century is not even the first tenth of this book, and the First Men's story covers thousands of years of struggle (sometimes genocidal) to form a world government, the creation of a scientific religion in which divine energy is the object of worship and the purview of a rigid guild of scientists, and the development of a culture of abundance (no disease, no want, a flying car for everybody) that values strenuous physicality (and flight) above all else, to the detriment of human intelligence With predictable results.**But wait! Like I said, that's not even 25% of the book I've never read any fiction so ambitious in scope, folks The closest I can think of is maybe Stephen Baxter's Evolution, but even it just took on the lifespan of life on planet Earth Last and First Men covers about two thousand million years, takes us, or a future version or 18 of us to the outer solar system, and teems with phrases like Not till many hundred thousand years had passed did It's truly stupefying It's also very, very clever; to encompass so much time in just 300 pages or so, it has to be There's a mathematical progression governing the level of detail and verbiage devoted to each iteration of humanity; I suspect, though am not really a rigorous enough person to be sure of this, that this is an instance of exponential decay At any rate, the narrative speeds up considerably once Stapledon has dispensed with our own species, the First Men***, and keeps on speeding up until eventually a million years can pass in a sentence fragment At one point, ten million years pass because it's a time of barbarism and stasis Well, okay, Mr Stapledon; it's your Memorable Fancy.For a giant William Blakean Memorable Fancy is what this book is, a visionary and somewhat allegorical tale spun out to illustrate the writer's philosophy, hopes and fears I would love to see an edition of this book illuminated in the way that Blake did his works It would be an eminently lovely thing.Along the way, we get to watch Stapledon toss off a stunning array of concepts and ideas that were quite ahead of his time and the influences of which we can find throughout science fiction: the perils of genetic engineering, Peak Oil and its aftermath, the cyclical natures of high civilization and barbarism, aliens that are genuinely and profoundly alien (i.e not Star Trek humanoids with extra nobbly bits on their faces), the fragility of knowledge, the notion that humans can easily evolve back into animals if care is not takenIt's easy, in short, to see how Last and First Men came to be such a very influential book People talk about how Heinlein originally dashed off all of the scifi tropes with which we have become so familiar, but for a lot of them, Stapledon was there first.I wonder what his other novels are like.*I didn't use that edition's cover to decorate this post because I liked this cover so very, very much better! I mean, look at it!**Think Idiocracy meets Otto from A Fish Called Wanda.***In his forward to SF Masterworks edition, the great Gregory Benford advises readers to consider skipping the badly dated first 2025% of this novel, partly for reasons I've already observed (in addition to the wrong guesses at history, this first narrative teems with racial and national stereotypes, and of course gives women the shortest possible shrift) but also to spare American readers some tart observations from a British philosopher who was no great fan of capitalism and American cultural hegemony But to skip these chapters would deprive the reader of the sensation of being swept along through time at an everaccelerating rate that is one of this novel's unique and most exceptional offerings If you're going to read it, read it. No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination, declared Arthur C Clarke of Last and First Men This masterpiece of science fiction by British philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon – is an imaginative, ambitious history of humanity's future that spans billions of years Together with its followup, Star Maker, it is regarded as the standard by which all earlier and later future histories are measuredThe protagonist of this compelling novel is humanity itself, stripped down to sheer intelligence It evolves through the ages: rising to pinnacles of civilization, teetering on the brink of extinction, surviving onslaughts from other planets and a decline in solar energy, and constantly developing new forms, new senses, and new intellectual abilities From the present to five billion years into the future, this romance of humanity abounds in profound and imaginative thought Exploratory, aweinspiring, existential crisisinducing.I have never read anything like this This is a documentary of humanity’s career, spanning from us, homo sapiens, to the last of its descendants some two billion years later (Actually, I had to refer to the wiki to write this review because for the love of god I cannot remember every single descendent of men – there are a lot of details in this giant book It’s a great summary for those who want to collect their thoughts after reading the book, which I guarantee you will Don’t read the wiki if you haven’t finished the book I think it takes away the magic.) My god, Stapledon’s imagination knows no bounds I have not read something so bold, so richly descriptive, and so imaginative before He has imagined some descendants that are truly, vastly different from the First Men, but has somehow managed to retain in them a piece of humanity that all of us can resonate with The striving to be better,intelligent, the race to cheat death and discover immortality, the deep need for exploration In the end, all humans were selfish and cruel, they were great in their achievements by working as a collective, they were astoundingly shortsighted in the way they treat each other, they were capable of grand plans spanning thousands of years Is the beauty of the Whole really enhanced by our agony? And is the Whole really beautiful? And what is beauty? This might not be everyone’s cup of tea There is no plot, no characters, no reason to get invested in the story other than being human, and for me personally, the insatiable urge to know how we will fare 2 billion years into the future This is a philosophical experience The story presents you with facts, accounts of the different morals, cultures, and ways of life of the descendants, and it allows you to draw upon similarities or differences in your own experience as “First Men” for reflection on these things I once again am made aware of how immersed I am in my own experience, in the reality I think of as absolute truth, that I am stunted any time I try to imagine otherwise This book is a needle that bursts your reality bubble The universe is a sandbox full of all sorts of possibilities Man himself, at the very least, is music, a brave theme that makes music also of its vast accompaniment, its matrix of storms and stars Man himself in his degree is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things It is very good to have been man And so we may go forward together with laughter in our hearts, and peace, thankful for the past, and for our own courage For we shall make after all a fair conclusion to this brief music that is man.” I actually had to read this book in two parts about 6 months apart, because of its sheer volume and overwhelming information It was totally worth it In fact, I’m going to buy a physical copy to put on my shelf that I can thumb through, because there are so many inspiring bits in the book that I foresee I will need, certain days Seriously, my review can’t capture the magnificence of the thing Neither does the star system It’s a piece of art in its own way.