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Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future [Paperback]

Olaf Stapledon

Price: 8.92 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

12 Jan 2011
Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is a "future history" science fiction novel written in 1930 by the British author Olaf Stapledon. A work of unprecedented scale in the genre, it describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen distinct human species, of which our own is the first and most primitive. Stapledon's conception of history is based on the Hegelian Dialectic, following a repetitive cycle with many varied civilizations rising from and descending back into savagery over millions of years, but it is also one of progress, as the later civilizations 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. A controversial part of the book depicts humans, in the far-off future, escaping the dying Earth and settling on Venus - in the process totally exterminating its native inhabitants, an intelligent marine species. Stapledon's book has been interpreted by some as condoning such interplanetary genocide as a justified act if necessary for racial survival, though a number of Stapledon's partisans denied that such was his intention, arguing instead that Stapledon was merely showing that although mankind had advanced in a number of ways in the future, at bottom it still possessed the same capacity for savagery as it has always had.

Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: IndoEuropeanPublishing.com (12 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160444357X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604443578
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 1.4 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,124,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Complex, brilliant and annoying all at once. 5 Dec 2012
By M. B. Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Stapledon has done an amazing job of depicting the potential evolution of humanity millions of years into the future. His writing is wonderful, though (re)reading a simpler Edwardian novel would be a good preparation for the language.
He picks his time scales well and was very prescient about the limits of industry due to availability of energy. Given that Last and First Men was published in 1930, his foresight into technology (even the simplest concept of what we would call nanotechnology) was stunning.
The problem is that he was writing in the late 1920s. By our standards, the story is xenophobic. Unlike most Brits of the late 1920s, he could see the coming failure of the British Empire, and he resented that Americans would rise to become the new power. In the first few sections, we feature as the cultural poison that destroys the First Men.
In the later sections, as he moves forward by tens of thousands and millions of years, he uses evolution as a mechanism to move the story forward. His assumption that human like intelligence is the ultimate goal of evolution is presumptuous, though I suspect his thinking was in line with even most biologists of the period.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good older SF 30 Jan 2013
By David - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
THis is a very old book, it is well written, but it shows it's age a bit... All in all a very good read though... I was surprised to find out that Clarke indicated it was the book that set his, (Clarke's), style... If you like Clarke, you will love this...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit slow in places 21 Nov 2012
By D. Allen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Overall I enjoyed this novel enough to also purchase Star Maker. It is a bit slow in places but the author makes up for it by keeping it interesting. Some of it is a bit dated (the author apparently had high hopes for The League of Nations). Since this was written in the '30's his "future" didn't really jibe but I'd say he got closer on his "future" in the short term than Arthur C Clark did in his 2001 series (meant as high praise, no disrespect to ACC).

All in all I'm surprised that as a life-long sci-fi reader it took me 43 years to discover this author.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fiction, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Story-telling, Future-reading and Hard-going 18 April 2012
By Sean T. Page - Published on Amazon.com
What can this book tell us today? Can it still be enjoyed by today's readers? These were the two questions I had lurking in the back of my mind when I got my copy of this 1930 classic.

I didn't have any preconceptions about the plot or story - that's how little I know about the book. What I did know is that Arthur C. Clarke always referred to it as one his most inspirational reads and a work of great imagination.

This book is not a novel in the strict sense of the word but it is still a `story'. It's simply the story of man through the ages.

It starts in some of the ages we and the author would be familiar with before moving on into the realms of fantasy and the imagination. Of course the writing style is of the era, textbook like, authoritative but also full of detailed description and references.

Stapleton maps out the next millions of years for humankind and in a kind of future-history. Expect some amazing turns and incredible detail as you move museum-like through the ages of man. You'll witness evolution in action as `man' develops in new environments.

I think some modern readers will find this volume a tedious challenge and as mentioned, there is the definite feel of a textbook. They may also get caught by the 1930s reference to race and breeding But, I would advise staying with the book. If you have to, skip the first four chapters and plunge straight into the rise of the Patagonians. Also be warned that America gets a rough ride.

This is fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, story-telling, future-reading and hard-going. My advice is to buy a copy then dip into it. It's quite easy to read one age then pick it up again later on.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Though it starts off a bit slow, it really leaves you thinking.. 30 Mar 2011
By SonneSolaris - Published on Amazon.com
I'll admit, I'm no science fiction connoisseur, I simply enjoy a well-written book every now and then. So when I first started reading "Last and First Men," I was a little bit disappointed in how slow it seemed to move. Then the book took off, after the first 50 pages or so. It's quite surreal reading about this story of one man's view of our future, and really makes you think and question what you find important.

Religions grow and die, mentalities and work ethics differ between generations and civilizations... This book really puts this in perspective. Chances are, as the book theorizes, that in 100 generations, very little will be the same, from culture to mentality. Petty differences that seem to mean the world to people are so ridiculously meaningless when put in perspectives this large.

I think the most interesting aspect of how it is written is the rise and fall of technologies, multiple times over. A civilization seems to get to a point much more technologically-advanced than we currently are, at which point, something seems to inevitably go wrong, sending what are loosely referred to as humans back to a type of dark ages. This is generally followed by a tale of rising up again. The writing flows well, and even uses what I (as a young person) might call archaic language.

All in all, this book will make you think. You really can't avoid it. And for that reason, it's good. It's great. It's fascinating. Read it.
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