Star Maker is a science fiction novel by Olaf Stapledon, published inThe book describes a history of life in the universe, dwarfing in scale Stapledon's previous book, Last and First Men , a history of the human species over two billion years Star Maker tackles philosophical themes such as the essence of life, of birth, decay and death, and the relationship between creation and creator A pervading theme is that of progressive unity within and between different civilizations Some of the elements and themes briefly discussed prefigure later fiction concerning genetic engineering and alien life forms Arthur C Clarke considered Star Maker to be one of the finest works of science fiction ever written

10 thoughts on “Star Maker

  1. Bradley Bradley says:

    Wow. Just wow. This novel disproves the general assumption that golden age SF is either hokey or unscientific.

    In fact, it starts out like a strong hard-SF exploration novel touching on many possible alien races, mindsets, and physiologies, but it dives right down the rabbit hole into vast combined telepathic minds, galactic societies that actually are GALACTIC in scale, telepathic communication with multiple galaxies, and even to the discovery the rich stellar intelligence. That's right. Intelligent suns.

    And an ever further exploration follows. This is a short novel that spans 5 billion years! It may be fast, glorious, imaginative, and deeply philosophical, but more than that, it's SUBVERSIVE.

    Let me be clear on this. This novel is just as valid and fun today as it must have been back in 1937. More than that, it's probably something that would be appreciated more NOW than way back then.

    Why? The Star Maker is the creation of God from Man. And even better, it even flies right into Manichean heresies! :) As HARD SF! It's fast as hell and fun as HELL! :)

    Olaf Stapledon is easily one of the most brilliant and imaginative writers to have ever decided to use hard-SF as a furious vehicle of massive speculative philosophy in sociology, biology, physics, and cosmology. Was he a brilliant man? What do you think?

    I can't get my jaw to stop dropping. I'm not even giving it special props for coming out of 1937. It's as good as any of the most vast-spanning hard-SF of today.

    Come blow your mind! :)

  2. H.M. Ada H.M. Ada says: discover what part life and mind were actually playing among the stars.

    I absolutely loved this. Plant people, composite minds, intelligent stars - and an exploration into some of life's biggest questions. This book is a history of the universe, told by an Englishman who mysteriously floats into the sky one night while contemplating its immensity. It does not contain many of the traditional elements of a novel. For example, there are not many characters in the traditional sense. But what it does have is a beautifully crafted series of interwoven alien histories, sci-fi-type hypotheses, and spiritual and philosophical musings.

    One thing that surprised me is how specific some of the answers to these big questions get toward the end. It's not just some vague notion of the unified spirit, it's much more detailed than that. I suspect that not all readers will like these answers, but I found them to be compelling and fascinating possibilities.

    I also think this is a must read for any sci-fi fan. It was first published in 1937, at the dawn of sci-fi's Golden Age, making the ideas expressed all the more impressive and important. The final pages of the book tie its themes back to what was happening in Europe when it was written, which I found brilliant and poignant at the same time.

    One technical note: apostrophes appear as fs and quotation marks appear as gs and hs in the Kindle version. This was not a problem for me once I got used to it, but if that sort of thing bothers you, you might want to get the paperback.

  3. Manny Manny says:

    There's a theory that, no matter what the author appears to be writing about, really he's writing about himself. I find this theory quite appealing, and, even though I don't believe it 100%, I think it's often a good way to try and understand why you like a book.

    Star Maker is an interesting test case. In an earlier book, Last and First Men, the author described the billion-year future history of the human race. Now, he has expanded the scope into a history of the entire universe. The human race just appears for an incidental sentence or two; we aren't important in this larger scheme of things.

    The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)

  4. George George says:

    This is not an easy read, but incredibly important one. The author takes us on a journey of ideas and concepts and in process completely alters our sense of scale, both spacial and temporal. Stapeldon was truly a pioneer of SF for bringing us truly big ideas.

  5. Stuart Stuart says:

    Star Maker: The grandest vision of the universe
    (Posted at Fantasy Literature)
    Star Maker is perhaps the grandest and most awe-inspiring vision of the universe ever penned by a SF author, before the term even existed, in 1937 by the pioneering English writer Olaf Stapledon.

    Although some readers might think that this book was only outstanding for its time, I would say it remains an amazing tour-de-force today, and has clearly inspired many of the genre’s most famous practitioners, including Arthur C. Clarke, with its fountain of ideas about galaxies, nebulae, cosmological minds, artificial habitats, super-heavy gravity environments, an infinite variety of alien species, and telepathic communications among stars.

    This may be the only novel I’ve read that essentially has no individual characters. A nameless narrator sits on a hill contemplating the stars, when without warning his consciousness is transported into space, and he starts rushing towards the nearest stars. He discovers he can control his speed and direction, and proceeds to search for stars with intelligent life. Initially his search is fruitless, and the oppressive loneliness of space discourages him.

    Eventually he discovers other intelligent minds, and joins in a collective mind with them. We are then treated to a mind-blowing series of encounters with ever greater and stranger life forms, as the scale expands by increasing series of magnitudes, until individual galaxies and universes have formed united spirits and proceed to seek the ultimate creator of the universe. To give you an idea of his writing style, below is a brief passage. The entire book is written like this, so it may not be your cup of tea if you like quirky characters, intricate plots, or pithy dialogue.

    When at last our galaxy was able to make a full telepathic exploration of the cosmos of galaxies it discovered that the state of life in the cosmos was precarious. Very few of the galaxies were in their youth; most were already far past their prime. Throughout the cosmos the dead and lightless stars far outnumbered the living and luminous. In many galaxies the strife of stars and worlds had been even more disastrous than in our own. Peace had been secured only after both sides had degenerated past hope of recovery. In most of the younger galaxies, however, this strife had not yet appeared; and efforts were already being made by the most awakened galactic spirits to enlighten the ignorant stellar and planetary societies about one another before they should blunder into conflict.

    The communal spirit of our galaxy now joined the little company of the most awakened beings of the cosmos, the scattered band of advanced galactic spirits, whose aim it was to create a real cosmical community, with a single mind, the communal spirit of its myriad and diverse worlds and individual intelligences. This it was hoped to acquire powers of insight and of creativity impossible on the merely galactic plane.

    The book culminates with a brief but searing encounter with the omnipotent and yet imperfect Star Maker, who created all the universes in an endless series of efforts to improve upon the last, never satisfied, yet deriving ultimate meaning through those acts of creation. Olaf Stapledon’s descriptions of the Star Maker's efforts in the final part of the book are truly mind-bending, and bring to mind the latest ideas of quantum universes, infinite probabilities, the curvature of space-time, and the origins of the universe. It is a staggering achievement, still more incredible considering this was published in 1937.

  6. Helen (Helena/Nell) Helen (Helena/Nell) says:

    This is a novel -- is it a novel? If it is a novel it has no plot and no developed characters. The time scale is so huge as to be unimaginable (Stapledon's imagination is also unimaginable). The narrator starts as 'I', then turns into 'we', sometimes 'human', then a cosmic consciousness; and at one point something like (but not exactly) a demi-god. Oh weird, this is so weird. This might be the weirdest book I have ever read.

    How is it compelling with no plot? How can you care what happens next when the main character is no more than a point of view? How do you centre yourself in the book when it zooms from world to world, galaxy to galaxy, aeon to aeon? I don't know. But somehow you do.

    The narrator does starts as a human being. I think the first sentence is completely wonderful: One night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill. On the hill, he looks at the stars and then suddenly he finds himself soaring away from [his] native planet at incredible speed. . . I was not troubled by the absence of oxygen and atmospheric pressure. I experienced only an increasing exhilaration and a delightful effervescence of thought. And so it goes on, like an astonishing, amazing dream.

    The narrator encounters many forms of life, many different kinds of intelligence. On some of these, he dwells for a paragraph or two in fabulous detail. For example, I loved this bit: Many of these early universes were non-spatial, though none the less physical. And of these non-spatial universes not a few were of the 'musical' type in which space was strangely represented by a dimension corresponding to musical pitch, and capacious with myriads of tonal differences. The creatures appeared to one another as complex patterns and rhythms of tonal characters. They could move their tonal bodies in the dimension of pitch, and sometimes in other dimensions, humanly inconceivable. A creature's body was a more or less constant tonal pattern, with much the same degree of flexibility and minor changefulness as a human body. Also, it could traverse other living bodies in the pitch dimension much as wave-trains on a pond may cross one another. It's like David Attenborough on speed.

    I said there was no normal plot to draw you through and connect things. There is, however, a question. The narrator starts by staring at the stars, into which he is drawn in a kind of dream or vision. I think it is a vision. I totally believed in it. Not believed that it was true - I don't mean that - believed that the vision was a genuine experience. I still feel quite sure Olaf Stapledon did all this in his own head, was somehow drawn into it inexorably and as a visionary, not as an ordinary writer. Oh -- I forgot the question. It is 'Who, or what, is the Star Marker?' The narrator goes in search of God.

    I loved the complex experience of finding the Star Maker. Yes, he does find him. But no spoilers here! He finds both an answer and no answer, the only kind of resolution I could be happy with. This is too truthful a book to come to a conclusion anything less than profound.

    In some ways, I think the book is about size. It encompasses a vast time scale. In fact, it goes right outside of time. And distances inconceivable. But it looks the other way too, at the microscopic. There's a Note on Magnitude at the end, where the author says Immensity is not in itself a good thing. Somehow this book is both immense and only 253 pages long.

    On the front cover, there's a quote from Arthur C Clarke. I'm normally allergic to blurb, but - well - Clarke says: Probably the most powerful work of imagination ever written. I'd go with that.

  7. Kiri Kiri says:

    I really wanted to like this book, especially given its glowing reviews and being hailed as early sci-fi with lots of great ideas, etc., etc. It does contain some really cool ideas about extraterrestrial species (and some somewhat less accessible/relevant/persuasive ideas about the organization of the universe), but it reads like a textbook. There is no real character/narrator, just a frame story about mental interstellar travel that allows the text to move around from planet to planet. There is no real plot. There are no actual stories that happen on these planets, just summaries. Did Stapledon miss the show, don't tell guideline? My attention waned, and in the end I only made it halfway through. I did, however, discover the best way to get acquainted with the innovative ideas buried in the book -- have your fellow book club members, who actually did finish the book, recap the cool bits and save you the reading time.

  8. Oleksandr Zholud Oleksandr Zholud says:

    This is a SF novel from 1937, it shows a way the genre could have gone. It is like a dinosaur, it is great in some aspects and modern animal can go green with envy for their advantages but ultimately it was unfit, so the evolution done its deed.

    The story follows the narrator’s journey through the space and time of the universe. It can be split into five major parts:
    Part one, the physical universe. The narrator (soul?) goes from the Earth and travels across the galaxy. He sees different stars and their life-cycle, found out that there are rarely any planets around. Planets in the goldilocks zone are even rarer. Ones with life are rarer still, for many planets lose their atmosphere or fall prey to celestial calamities. And a sentient life is rarest of all.
    Part two, the first encounter with aliens. After despairing to find any, our narrator discovers new people (throughout the novel all species are essentially people even if they are hive minds or trees), who are similar to humans but with worse hearing and better olfactory. There follows their physical and social descriptions, the later ones clearly a response to current day (1930s) politics. For example,

    When its civilization had reached a stage and character much like our own, a stage in which the ideals of the masses are without the guidance of any well-established tradition, and in which natural science is enslaved to individualistic industry, biologists discovered the technique of artificial insemination. Now at this time there happened to be a wide-spread cult of irrationalism, of instinct, of ruthlessness, and of the divine primitive brute-man. This figure was particularly admired when he combined brutishness with the power of the mob-controller. Several countries were subjected to tyrants of this type, and in the so-called democratic states the same type was much favored by popular taste.

    In both kinds of country, women craved brute-men as lovers and as fathers for their children. Since in the democratic countries women had attained great economic independence, their demand for fertilization by brute-men caused the whole matter to be commercialized. Males of the desirable type were taken up by syndicates, and graded in five ranks of desirability. At a moderate charge, fixed in relation to the grade of the father, any woman could obtain brute-man fertilization. So cheap was the fifth grade that only the most abject paupers were debarred from its services. The charge for actual copulation with even the lowest grade of selected male was, of course, much higher, since perforce the supply was limited.

    In the non-democratic countries events took a different turn. In each of these regions a tyrant of the fashionable type gathered upon his own person the adoration of the whole population. He was the god-sent hero. He was himself p divine. Every woman longed passionately to have him, if not as a lover, at least as father of her children. In some lands artificial insemination from the Master was permitted only as a supreme distinction for women of perfect type. Ordinary women of every class, however, were entitled to insemination from the authorized aristocratic stud of brute-men. In other countries the Master himself condescended to be the father of the whole future population.

    Part three follows the description of multitude of sentient races, the wealth for dozens of books: not only similar to us but symbiotic people, composite (i.e. hive mind) people, including birds and insects, giant sentient living ships, tree-humans, sea star people, etc.

    Part four describes galactic civilizations, for this is hard SF and no faster than light travel exists, but there is instantaneous communications of the mind and most civilizations reach world-mind superorganism level at some point. Rise and fall of galactic empires, brute force overcome by pacifism. Even stars themselves get sentient.

    Part five is the most bizarre. Star maker is the demiurge, who created our universe, but for him (she/it/they) it is not a cherished creation, but a finished picture – he doesn’t care about it and he thinks about his new works. He cares even less for something fickle and evanescent as life, which is so rare and fast (compared with the universe). This is the only religious-philosophical text I’ve met that says ‘god exist, but you don’t exist for him, for you’re too insignificant’.

    All this stuff is great. However, only selected few will read through the whole book for the writing is extremely dull. It is page after page of descriptions, akin to old academic books, almost unreadable and clearly not enjoyable.

  9. Quentin Crisp Quentin Crisp says:

    It might be best for me to try and write a review as I go along.

    This is the first of 25 books in a list I've drawn up for myself of works of science fiction to read in 2016.

    The basic idea of Star Maker is quite simple, but extremely ambitious: If a human consciousness could detach from the body in order to explore the universe, what would it discover? Reading it, I began to wonder why no one else seems to have attempted such an idea, as well as wondering why I had not heard of Stapledon. The truth is, I had heard of him, but only in passing, and the name had not stuck in my consciousness.

    There were a number of worries I entertained before starting out on my 2016 SF reading list.

    1. Would the prose be any good?

    Some people might be annoyed by the assumption that much prose in the field of SF is bad, but it's not as if I've never read SF before, though I feel myself somewhat behind in the area. For instance, I've read a few of Philip K. Dick's works, and though I enjoyed them quite a lot, I found the prose to be fairly poor. Anyway, the prose of Star Maker is finely tooled and sensitive. How can I put this? Stapledon is clearly not from a pulp fiction kind of background.

    2. Would the worldview be, a few dystopias and veiled gnosticism aside, a shallow view of technological triumphalism?

    Star Maker is clearly written by someone with a deep interest in science, philosophy, and the most essential spiritual questions of the human race.

    Actually, most of my questions were probably variants of these two.

    I have become so sensitive in recent years (in an irritated kind of way) to half-baked philosophy in fiction, that I was ready, from the start, to find it in this book. I felt some twitches of doubt on this score in the opening pages, but then, after a while, I began to think, Hang on, this guy actually does have a grasp of philosophy, especially regarding what questions to ask in the first place. Looking him up online, I found that he had a PhD in philosophy. While it would perhaps be complacent to say, That explains it, nonetheless, I felt vindicated in some way.

    So, what are the right questions?

    ... not only to explore the depths of the physical universe, but to discover what part life and mind were actually playing among the stars. (p.13)

    I remember reading in The Book of Lies by Aleister Crowley, the epigram, The universe is a joke made by the general at the expense of the particular.

    In the quote above, from page 13 of the book, Stapledon signals his bold intent to discover the place of the particular (joke or otherwise) within the general. One question for me as a reader is whether he succeeds in that intent. I will, perhaps, only know for sure when I have finished. It's really an impossible task the author has set himself, so if I fault him early on, it must not be taken for a lack of enthusiasm. There's no doubt that the sweep of cosmic vision that Stapledon achieves here is something remarkable (it is unique in my own experience of reading). However, because I don't want to lose the thread of my own thoughts about the book, I'll note here now, that I have a feeling that Stapledon sometimes gets lost, not in details, as it were, but in 'the big picture'. He is in danger of erring on the side of the general in this exploration of the relations of general and particular.

    A sample quote from page 101:

    I must not tell in detail of the heroic struggle by which the race refashioned its symbiotic nature to suit the career that lay before it.

    Variations of the opening clause of this sentence are repeated a number of times in the narrative. I must not stop to describe in detail... Of course, we can see why, but does this compromise the original philosophical intent?

    This is one of the questions I now have in mind as I am reading. I noticed, after this question had already formed in my mind, that Stapledon seemed to redress the balance a little on page 127, which, perhaps, I shall quote later. I shall stop here for now (8th of January, 2016).

  10. fromcouchtomoon fromcouchtomoon says:

    All hail the master Stapledon! With his no plot, no struggle, no conflict, textbookshual novels, hahaha. It stands on its own as a gorgeous and inventive investigation of humanity, but I also can't help but see this as an allegory of pre- and inter-war year tensions, with alien depictions reflecting early 20th assertions of national identity, as if Stapledon is trying to pinpoint the common bit of humanity left in the ruthless world powers of the 1930s. Another for the re-read shelf! Another for the speculative reference shelf!