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Last and First Men (1930)

de Olaf Stapledon, Olaf Stapledon (Prefácio)

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Séries: Last Men (1)

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1,4453112,943 (3.67)1 / 64
One of the most extraordinary, imaginative and ambitious novels of the century: a history of the evolution of humankind over the next 2 billion years. Among all science fiction writers Olaf Stapledon stands alone for the sheer scope and ambition of his work. First published in 1930, Last and First Men is full of pioneering speculations about evolution, terraforming, genetic engineering and many other subjects.… (mais)
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 Group Reads - Sci-Fi: "Last and First Men" Group Discussion50 por ler / 50Hostwebsolution, Agosto 2013

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Mostrando 1-5 de 31 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
Perhaps my rating of this book is a bit too flattering. But that's because it's inspired by childhood nostalgia: I first read this when I was only 15, and it just blew me away. Perhaps that was what determined my choice to study history later. Because make no mistake: this may seem like a science fiction book, but in many ways it is more of a historical work. In this book, the Brit Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950) lets the Last Man (that is, the last descendant of the 18th human species) look back on 2 billion years of human history. Yes, you read that right: 2 billion years. This book does not stick to a million more or less, and one civilization and human species follows the other, at an increasing pace.

Of course, Stapledon was a child of his time and there are expressions and opinions that are ‘not done’ any more in our time (almost a century later), such as the description that 'negro dance' (sic) has a "sexual and primitive character". Especially in the first chapters, which describe the succession of wars between European countries and then between America and China, Stapledon candidly expresses his opinion about peoples and countries. In this way, the unique merits of England are highlighted (English pacifism is interpreted as the highest expression of civilization in our era), and America in particular is hit hard ("this was essentially a race of bright, but arrested, adolescents. Something lacking which should have enabled them to grow up.”). In fact, the entire Americanization of the world would lead to the eventual demise of the First Man. Perhaps it is indeed better to skip the first 4 chapters, because they are too close to Stapledon's own time and as a consequence are too colored by his present views.

From the fifth chapter onwards, the new human species and their ascending and descending civilizations follow each other in rapid succession, spread over millions of years, with regularly very long Dark Ages. What Stapledon serves here testifies to a particularly inventive mind, which was also surprisingly well informed with the state of science at the time. It is striking that he has a good command of the principles of evolutionary theory, and is even up to date with the latest developments in atomic science and quantum physics. Before you start to think that Stapledon mainly focuses on abstract aspects: he pays a striking amount of attention to culture and religion. Almost all civilizations he describes, have special cultural characteristics and in almost all of them forms of religion set the tone, bringing those civilizations to both great heights and terrible lows. For example, during the third human species there is an extremely musical civilization, also called the Holy Empire of Music, which in no time falls into a tyrannical regime, a musical theocracy.

There is, of course, a system in Stapledon's review of the heroic history of the human species: “again and again folk after folk would clamber out of savagery and barbarism into relative enlightenment; and mostly, though not always, the main theme of this enlightenment was some special mood either of biological creativity or of sadism, or of both.” Apparently, Stapledon's vision was strongly marked by the horror of the First World War, and undoubtedly also by Oswald Spengler's Untergang des Abendlandes (the Decline of the West), 1918-1922. He may have derived his cyclical view of man (perhaps it is better to speak of a spiral view of history) from Spengler. But Stapledon certainly did not share the German's deep pessimism. In many respects (as is evident from his other writings) he stands in the utopian tradition, with the associated optimism. This Last and First Men ends with a striking eulogy for humanity (we are now at the 18th and last human species): “Great are the stars, and man is of no account to them. But man is a fair spirit, whom a star conceived and a star kills. He is greater than those bright blind companies. For though in them there is incalculable potentiality, in him there is achievement, small, but actual. Too soon, apparently, he comes to his end. But when he is done he will not be nothing, not as though he had never been; for he is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things.”

As mentioned, my appreciation for this book may be a bit exaggerated. But the lyrical description of so many eras, and the infectious (naive) recurring resurrection of the human species, really appeal to me. Even with almost 50 years between my first and second reading of this book. No doubt that says something about me. ( )
1 vote bookomaniac | May 9, 2024 |
Conocida como "la Biblia de la ciencia ficción", ésta es una extraordinaria recreación de los próximos 2.000 millones de años y los dieciocho futuros estados de la humanidad. De ese modo, leeremos cómo la Primera Humanidad arrasa la Tierra por una reacción nuclear incontrolada, la Segunda Humanidad es invadida por unos marcianos en forma de nube y la Tercera construye la Cuarta Humanidad, que son enormes cerebros inmóviles..., y así sucesivamente, hasta llegar a la Decimoctava, la Última Humanidad, que habita el planeta Neptuno, desde donde se nos narra esta historia utópica de nuestro devenir.
  Natt90 | Dec 8, 2022 |
I was giving this 3-stars partially because well.. its just a history book and while it has some quite nice philosophical and human elements towards the end, as a history book its still a bit dry.

However the other reason is that it seems like the first half has taken large elements of various H.G.Wells novels, including the Time Machine, War of the Worlds, maybe a bit of First Men in the Moon, but most prominently the first 20% is very much a rewrite of the Shape of Things to Come.. which i just found out was published 3 years after this...
hmmm... i'm going to deduct a star from Shape and give it to this one then, seems fair :) . ( )
  wreade1872 | Jul 25, 2022 |
Apparently this is a fairly rare book which my husband happened to find a copy of at some point. Despite the fact that I failed to listen to the very good advice of skipping the first few chapters (advice given, no less, in the introduction of the book), I greatly enjoyed it. The book is a history of 18 different species of man, starting with us, the first men, and ending with the last men who see the end of human kind. Given that this book explored 18 different species of man, it was interesting to observe Stapledon's ideas of what, other than ancestry, made all of these species human. Overall, a good read, but if you do get a hold of it, take the advice of the introduction, and skip over all the parts that are supposed to take place in the present.
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
I endured Stapledon for two hours before giving up. Last and First Men reads like a history textbook: country A attacked country B, which retaliated, then they became allies and attacked country C, etc, all in a boring prose that miserably fails to engage the reader. Stapledon manages to be boring even when narrating the complete destruction of Europe by America in a big war. There is no real plot, no character development, no attempt to convince the reader that the story matters. To make things worse, the book is riddled with juvenile national stereotypes: "the Germans are harsh but romantic", "the Russians are not attached to material possessions", "the Americans are materialistic", and the like. Hard pass. If you're looking for an ambitious "future history" of mankind you're much better off with Asimov's Robot, Empire, and Foundation series (15 books in total, spanning 20 thousand years). ( )
  marzagao | Jun 1, 2021 |
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» Adicionar outros autores (22 possíveis)

Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Stapledon, Olafautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Stapledon, OlafPrefácioautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Bacon, C.W.Artista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Benford, GregoryPrefácioautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Edwards, LesIlustradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Goodfellow, PeterArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Kirby, WestPrefácioautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Lehr, PaulArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Lessing, DorisPosfácioautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Nagula, MichaelPosfácioautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Spangenberg, KurtTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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Observe now your own epoch of history as it appears to the Last Men.
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One of the most extraordinary, imaginative and ambitious novels of the century: a history of the evolution of humankind over the next 2 billion years. Among all science fiction writers Olaf Stapledon stands alone for the sheer scope and ambition of his work. First published in 1930, Last and First Men is full of pioneering speculations about evolution, terraforming, genetic engineering and many other subjects.

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