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on 29 April 2010
"Star Maker", by Olaf Stapledon, is an incredible novel by an author whose contributions to science fiction are unique and serve as inspiration to many of the greatest works in the field. It was Stapledon's fourth novel and was first published in 1937. Narrated by the same voice as narrated "Last and First Men" the novel is a sequel of sorts, but at the same time it has a much larger scope and thus there is no noticeable overlap between the two novels. As with "Last and First Men", "Star Maker" is not a conventional novel, so if that is what you are looking for, you should look elsewhere. It is a philosophical journey rather than a conventional story with a traditional plot and characters.

The narrator takes the reader on a journey through the universe and through time, starting on a hill near his home, and ultimately finding the creator of the universe, i.e. the Star Maker. He witnesses the entire life of the universe, and joins with many other minds from other civilizations throughout the galaxy. It is tempting to use phrases like "for its time" when describing this book, but it is a remarkable work for any time. I am sure that some of descriptions of civilizations and their scientific achievements would change if it were written today. However, the statement that the book makes would likely remain the same.

One does not need to read "Last and First Men" (or "Last Men in London" for that matter) to read this novel. The few remarks made in the narration that reference "Last and First Men" will not cause the reader any difficulty. They pass by almost unnoticed, as the reader's focus is on the amazing scope and vision which are contained in this novel. Stapledon's works are not the easiest reads, but they are well worth the effort. The echos of Stapledon's ideas can be read in the works of numerous authors and in some of the greatest works of science fiction.

This book was tied for 13th on the Arkham Survey in 1949 as one of the `Basic SF Titles'. It also was tied for 30th on the 1975 Locus All-Time poll for Novels; and 32nd on the 1998 Locus All-Time Poll for Novels written prior to 1990. This particular edition includes a Foreword by Brian W. Aldiss, and also includes A Note on Magnitude, Time Lines, and a Glossary all created by Olaf Stapledon. This is the 21st of the SF Masterworks paperbacks released by Victor Gollancz Books. If this is an indication of the quality of work they have done throughout the series, then it is a very worthwhile series to own.
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on 25 November 2007
This is truly an amazing book. How is this man so little known? How ironic it is that this edition is published as one of the "Science Fiction Masterworks"; it is no more science-fiction than the Bible, or Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is the profoundest book I have read this year and probably for several years.
"Star Maker" is nothing less than an attempt to unite science and religion in a common philosophy. It is categorised as a novel, which says more about the frustrations of those who love and need categories than it does about this book. It is not a novel: it is a work of great imagination, a courageous attempt at an almost incredible task - to try to describe "God". It is also very uncompromising and will leave many readers uncomfortable and perhaps even angry. But at the same time its vision is so beautiful, and so clearly touches on the incomprehensible truth of reality, that you can't help feeling grateful, humbled, and shattered at the same time.
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on 14 November 1999
If, as the majority of people, you have never read an Olaf Stapledon novel, I suggest that you do so immediately. STAR MAKER was the first Stapledon I novel I ever read, and it was more than enough to make me realise the brilliance which this man obviously posessed. A visionary of almost unprecedented levels, in this novel Stapledon takes us from Earth to the far reacing ends of the galaxy, describing new worlds with new social conditions, all of which are used brilliantly to form a satirical commentry on the human condition. A breath-taking novel, that I would recommend to anyone with the desire to read a truely original work that will leave a long-lasting impression.
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on 15 March 2000
This book, though for me revolutionary, has not received a lot of the recognition I believe it is worthy of. Firstly, it explores many factors now taken for granted in postmodern fiction, e.g. dislocation, divided selves and a sense of 'numbed' perception. Furthermore, like Frank Herbert and Douglas Adams he is able to weave these themes into the narrative, whilst still maintaining a sense of coherence.
He stays within the confines of the science-fiction genre, yet deals with complex and arbitrary issues which blend philosophy and a deep questioning of cultural values. Comparisons with H.G. Wells and John Wyndham are permissible, but it is his use of philosophy that makes me admire him as a great writer. I have yet to find a writer who has the ability to question so much, yet still maintain an aura of intelligibility.
Clearly, this book is a whirlwind trip and yet one worth taking since this is no ordinary author. He may have gained greater recognition for many of his other books, yet it is this book that gives so much to the reader without taking anything away. You may question what he describes to you, but you will not be able to question his ability to tell it to you.
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on 11 December 2001
I have to say that when i first started reading this book, i wasn't that impressed by the first couple of chapters. With its slightly antiquated style and perhaps slightly overlong monologues it felt like reading something like Edward Bellamy's 'looking backward'...This was especially the case as I had just read a Phillip K. Dick novel. However, the sheer imaginative scope of this text is phenomenal, an examination of important philosophical themes such as the ability to comprehend the possible purpose of God (the 'Star Maker') masquerading as a mythological history of the universe. When people refer to any novel as influential, what they seem to mean is that the text captures in its form and function the drift of ideas and concepts at any one time and space. In its treatment of God and the potential (in)significance of humanity, Stapledon's novel certainly is that. Should probably one day be studied at school, where children will marvel at a time when writers were more ambitiuous.
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on 18 June 2007
So one evening, you are relaxing on a hill near your home ... looking at the stars and contemplating the complexities of the universe.

Soon you have left your own body and are drifting through the universe, searching from planet to planet and seeking the answers to the universe's ultimate questions. And just out of interest, why you and not someone really important like George, Tony or that chap from Fingermouse?

Stapledon takes the reader on a galaxy spanning adventure where we watch the central character struggle to use their very human perception to understand all they encounter. And of course, being human it's equally important to grasp and evaluate the lost grain of ones own life.

Not as deep and sonorous as 'Last and First Men' - but far pacier and more uplifting - this is another fine offering from Stapledon that builds towards a truly awe inspiring conclusion.

And is it just me, but was Fingermouse's demise just a little too disturbing for children's tv? The revenge of a weary traveller?
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on 18 August 2000
As Brian Aldiss remarks in Trillion Year Spree, it is truly remarkable that the massed ranks of Eng Lit have ignored this book. Well, more fool them -- but it means that thousands of people will go through life in complete ignorance of this incredible, visionary work.
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on 16 March 2004
This is the best book I have ever read. To put that into context: I have a degree in Philosophy and have read prodigiously in all topics and subjects for 20 years. No work of imagination has ever reached the heights this book manages. Every time I felt that the author had peaked he went on. So much so that reading this really does take you on a journey out into space. The final few chapters made me feel like the man at the end of 2001:A Space Odyssey when he journeys through the infinite.
This is total, absolute, enduring and spectacular brilliance climaxing in a mind staggering ending.
Don’t read it before going to a party as you will either bore everyone to tears going on about it or sit quietly in the corner nursing a drink looking far away....
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On a suburban hill, presumably on the Wirral (with the foundry beyond the estuary being Shotton or Brymbo), a man falls asleep and experiences not some mere vision of the entire cosmos but a conscious participation in the Creator's whole programme of innumerable cosmoi. This is a compulsive and utterly comfortless book. Keep a sense of humour if you are going to read it attentively, as you may need that to stay sane. It starts at a level familiar to science-fiction readers, and the details of the various alien intelligences have the sort of fascination that one gets in, say, Van Vogt (or even the work that immortally began 'Help, we are surrounded by Vugs'). The vision then advances to the collective telepathic minds developed by some of the civilisations, next to the sentient minds (individual and collective) of the stars themselves, then to similar consciousness possessed by whole nebulae, and finally to direct contact with the Creator. This Creator is not some fount of infinite love and goodness as we might understand those concepts. Our values are not his -- 'Sympathy was not ultimate in the temper of the eternal spirit; contemplation was. Love was not absolute; contemplation was.' Countless diasters and unthinkable suffering are all part of the grand design. Hell itself may be deliberately inflicted by the Creator on those he gives no opportunity to avoid it. To me this scenario seems just as likely as any religious theory of ultimate goodness, which may be basically wishful thinking. Grappling with questions like these by reasoning is like wrestling with a jelly in a high wind -- when we think we have made progress it just closes back in on us from behind. And other than reason what do we have? Belief is just belief -- things may be the way we believe or would rather believe, or they may not. 'I know not "seems"' says Hamlet. 'Seems' may be all we've got.
Back on his suburban hill in 1937, the anonymous visionary contemplates the 'reality' around him. Like many agonising intellectuals of the time, Stapledon partly fell for the monstrous con of Soviet communism. He had no grasp of Realpolitik whatsoever, and Muggeridge's account of the edifice of corruption, chicanery and strategic lying that took in Shaw and other big brains is recommended to any who have not read it. Others of Stapledon's perceptions ring partly 'true' -- '...a world wherein, none being tormented, none turns desperate' is probably a bit much to hope for, given human perversity, but we all know the lengths people will go to when they have 'beliefs', which flourish where there is injustice and oppression.
Can you face this book? In recommending it I am quite aware of the disorientation and unhappiness it may create in some. In others, if it undermines the high ground occupied by those deceptive and destructive phantoms, deeply held beliefs, it may do some 'good'. The bigger questions stay just as they were, of course.
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on 20 February 2014
I had already read this month’s book-group choice, so accepted the librarian’s offer of the second choice for personal reading: Olaf Stapledon’s much praised, seminal ‘Star Maker’. Not a novel, more a work of imaginative philosophy, published in 1937 before the pigeon-hole ‘science fiction’ was available to bung it inappropriately into. A cosmic 'Gulliver’s travels'. A troubled man stands on a hill under the night sky and projects his consciousness out into space and time. Despite some dodgy physics (e.g. no black holes and ‘red giants’ described as young not ageing stars) and wild notions of telepathic communication, this is a mind-bendingly knowledgeable, inventive and profound ‘history’ of the universe and its maker, putting human concerns into beyond-cosmic perspective. There are some gorgeous passages of descriptive writing. Written under the shadow of impending world war, it feels at times bleakly nihilistic and lacks any hint of humour. The last sentence is; “Strange, that it seems more, not less, urgent to play some part in this struggle, this brief effort of animalcules striving to win for their race some increase in lucidity before the ultimate darkness.” It leaves me awed but also hungry for something more frivolous.
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