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A First Man writes.....
on 4 July 2002
After 20 years of reading about Last and First Men (they had not even heard of it in Hay-on-Wye)I have found it at last. If your idea of a novel is a book about people's relationships, it may not be for you. That particular element of novels bores me to death and this is more my idea of a compelling read. The history of mankind from 1930 to a few billion years hence is pre-written by a philosopher and fantasist possessed of a great and unquiet mind, inhuman but not inhumane as someone has well put it. On no account skip the opening chapters, whatever anyone tells you. The fact that S got the world's history 1930-2002 completely wrong is not the point -- the rest of it will almost certainly prove to be all wrong too, if we think like that. What these first chapters do is to get us into the author's weird exalted and passionless mindset. He is not so much on another planet as in an alternative universe. It is entirely to the book's advantage that he has no grasp of realpolitik and even that he has no detectable sense of humour -- when I was beginning to feel the latter as a lack I came to the only bit where he ascribes humour to any of his characters, a race of monkeys depicted in general unsympathetically and not least for their possession of this deplorable characteristic. That put me in my place I can tell you. From start to finish I got no sense of either pity or cruelty as he chronicles the the periodic near-annihilations that overtake the various successive human races, and while his account of the systematic extermination of the intelligent life on Venus filled me with a wrenching sense of tragedy that I did not feel for any of the mankinds the author himself seemed as unmoved as ever. If Wuthering Heights was written by an eagle, who or what wrote Last and First Men? Of other human proclivities I can report that sex is methodically accorded its place in a thorough and businesslike manner reminiscent of Peter Simple's great sexologist Profesor Heinz Kiosk (assisted by Dr Melisande Fischbein). Of anything I would recognise as love or affection or friendship I can find not a trace.
-- 'here he has not gone so far as to trouble the eternal gods or the stars that blight our human lot.' That comes in Star Maker. Here the 18th and last men are trapped in our solar system when final doom reaches out from the stars. Next -- Star Maker, which makes this book seem parochial.