Friday, 15 January 2016


Last and First Men

Published in 1930, Last and First Men is the first novel written by the pacifist philosopher Olaf Stapledon. It's a future history of mankind stretching from the (then) present-day to a point one thousand million, million years in the future when mankind finally ceases to exist.

Twenty years ago a stranger recommended the book to me, and today I've finally finished reading it. At times it's horribly turgid, but those moments are interspersed with sections of sheer brilliance.

While occasionally the writing discloses the era in which it was written (there are hints at eugenics and much preoccupation with aviation), it's surprising just how relevant the underlying themes are to today's society. This just demonstrates Stapledon's greatest achievement: he has expressed essential human weaknesses in a way that's sadly too believable.

Frequently Stapledon's pacifistic views come to the fore and it's hard not to be swept along with them, such as this impassioned speech by an un-named member of the British Cabinet:

"From the people of England to the people of France. Catastrophe has fallen on us at your hands. In this hour of agony, all hate and anger have left us. Our eyes are opened. No longer can we think of ourselves as English merely, and you as merely French; all of us are, before all else, civilized beings. Do not imagine that we are defeated, and that this message is a cry for mercy. Our armament is intact, and our resources still very great. Yet, because of the revelation which has come to us today, we will not fight. No plane, no ship, no soldier of Britain shall commit any further act of hostility. Do what you will. It would be better even that a great people should be destroyed than that the whole race should be thrown into turmoil. But you will not strike again. As our own eyes have been opened by agony, yours now will be opened by our act of brotherhood."

It's a tough read, but worthwhile if you have the stamina.

Posted by pab at 18:09 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!