Review of Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Listened to this whole audiobook on an all-day bike ride. I loved sinking in to the uber-omniscient narration so much that I repeated the experience with his similar book, Starmaker, on a similarly exhausting fifty-mile ride. 

This novel is a survey of 1930s European society extrapolated and speculated upon until we arrive at two billion years in the future. It exemplifies the spirit of discovery in this genre and is one of the most compelling thought experiments in book form I have encountered. Forget plot, character, dialogue and action. This reads more like a textbook. It was massively influential, but is often execrated in the modern age for its flaws, which were a product of its time. I do not believe the politics of the time should enter into the discussion of the merits of this book. Our current literature suffers from the same topical pratfalls. Ironically, this book handles time as a narrative device, humanity morphs and transforms, changes environments, adapts, and struggles through adverse conditions. Navigating fate is what life is all about. It is actually a survival trait to adapt to the current climate, though we earn a certain amount of pleasure and esteem from being contrarian. – This contrarianism is often the root of invention. We are all products of our time. But we are also products of what came before. We learn to survive and thrive by proxy, by regarding the disasters of the past and swerving to avoid our own weaknesses and doom. This is both a hopeful and a beautifully imagined account of human ingenuity. It almost begs the question if our minds are capable of a variety of foresight. Technically, we can imagine a true future. We can predict certain things. The question is whether or not we will use this ability to help or destroy ourselves.

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