Olaf Stapledon

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Plaque to science fiction author William Olaf Stapledon, who lived in the area, on Simon's Bridge across the Wirral Way in Caldy.

William Olaf Stapledon (10 May 18866 September 1950) was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction. His best known, and what he considered as his best work, was Star Maker (1937), which included the first known description of a Dyson sphere. The Dyson sphere was later described by Freeman Dyson in the 1959 article "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-Red Radiation" in Science, as one possible method of locating extraterrestrial intelligence.


Last and First Men (1930)[edit]

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All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Dover Books, ISBN 0-486-46682-5
As the months of agony advanced, there was bred in the warring peoples a genuine and even passionate will for peace and a united world.
  • Today we should welcome, and even study, every serious attempt to envisage the future of our race; not merely in order to grasp the very diverse and often tragic possibilities that confront us, but also that we may familiarize ourselves with the certainty that many of our most cherished ideals would seem puerile to more developed minds. To romance of the far future, then, is to attempt to see the human race in its cosmic setting, and to mould our hearts to entertain new values.
    • Preface to English Edition (p. 9)
  • Long before the human spirit awoke to clear cognizance of the world and itself, it sometimes stirred in its sleep, opened bewildered eyes, and slept again.
    • Chapter I: Balkan Europe; Section 1, “The European War and After” (p. 17)
  • Socrates woke to the ideal of dispassionate intelligence, Jesus to the ideal of passionate yet self-oblivious worship. Socrates urged intellectual integrity, Jesus integrity of will. Each, of course, though starting with a different emphasis, involved the other.
    Unfortunately both these ideals demanded of the human brain a degree of vitality and coherence of which the nervous system of the First Men was never really capable.
    • Chapter I: Balkan Europe; Section 1, “The European War and After” (p. 17)
  • As the months of agony advanced, there was bred in the warring peoples a genuine and even passionate will for peace and a united world. Out of the conflict of the tribes arose, at least for a while, a spirit loftier than tribalism. But this fervour lacked as yet clear guidance, lacked even the courage of conviction.
    • Chapter I: Balkan Europe; Section 1, “The European War and After” (p. 18)
  • In some minds the defence of the human spirit was sincerely identified with the defence of a particular nation, conceived as the home of all enlightenment.
    • Chapter I: Balkan Europe; Section 3, “Europe After the Anglo-French War” (p. 26)
  • The economic life of the human race had for some time been based on coal, but latterly oil had been found a far more convenient source of power; and as the oil store of the planet was much smaller than its coal store, and the expenditure of oil had of course been wholly uncontrolled and wasteful, a shortage was already being felt. Thus the national ownership of the remaining oil fields had become a main factor in politics and a fertile source of wars.
    • Chapter I: Balkan Europe; Section 4, “The Russo-German War” (pp. 29-30)
  • In the Far West, the United States of America openly claimed to be custodians of the whole planet. Universally feared and envied, universally respected for their enterprise, yet for their complacency very widely despised, the Americans were rapidly changing the whole character of man’s existence. By this time every human being throughout the planet made use of American products, and there was no region where American capital did not support local labour. Moreover the American press, gramophone, radio, cinematograph and televisor ceaselessly drenched the planet with American thought. Year by year the aether reverberated with echoes of New York’s pleasures and the religious fervours of the Middle West. What wonder, then, that America, even while she was despised, irresistibly moulded the whole human race. This, perhaps, would not have mattered, had America been able to give of her very rare best. But inevitably only her worst could be propagated. Only the most vulgar traits of that potentially great people could get through into the minds of foreigners by means of these crude instruments. And so, by the floods of poison issuing from this people’s baser members, the whole world, and with it the nobler parts of America herself, were irrevocably corrupted.
    For the best of America was too weak to withstand the worst. Americans had indeed contributed amply to human thought. They had helped to emancipate philosophy from ancient fetters. They had served science by lavish and rigorous research. In astronomy, favoured by their costly instruments and clear atmosphere, they had done much to reveal the dispositions of the stars and galaxies. In literature, though often they behaved as barbarians, they had also conceived new modes of expression, and moods of thought not easily appreciated in Europe. They had also created a new and brilliant architecture. And their genius for organization worked upon a scale that was scarcely conceivable, let alone practicable, to other peoples. In fact their best minds faced old problems of theory and of valuation with a fresh innocence and courage, so that fogs of superstition were cleared away wherever these choice Americans were present. But these best were after all a minority in a huge wilderness of opinionated self-deceivers, in whom, surprisingly, an outworn religious dogma was championed with the intolerant optimism of youth. For this was essentially a race of bright, but arrested, adolescents. Something lacked which should have enabled them to grow up. One who looks back across the aeons to this remote people can see their fate already woven of their circumstance and their disposition, and can appreciate the grim jest that these, who seemed to themselves gifted to rejuvenate the planet, should have plunged it, inevitably, through spiritual desolation into senility and age-long night.
    • Chapter II: Europe’s Downfall; Section 1, “Europe and America” (p. 33)
  • Thus it was that America sank further and further into Americanism. Vast wealth and industry, and also brilliant invention, were concentrated upon puerile ends. In particular the whole of American life was organized around the cult of the powerful individual, that phantom ideal which Europe herself had only begun to outgrow in her last phase. Those Americans who wholly failed to realize this ideal, who remained at the bottom of the social ladder, either consoled themselves with hopes for the future, or stole symbolical satisfaction by identifying themselves with some popular star, or gloated upon their American citizenship, and applauded the arrogant foreign policy of their government. Those who achieved power were satisfied so long as they could merely retain it, and advertise it uncritically in the conventionally self-assertive manners.
    • Chapter II: Europe’s Downfall; Section 1, “Europe and America” (pp. 34-35)
  • But the most lasting agony of this war was suffered, not by the defeated, but by the victors. For when their passion had cooled the Americans could not easily disguise from themselves that they had committed murder. They were not at heart a brutal folk, but rather a kindly. They liked to think of the world as a place of innocent pleasure-seeking, and of themselves as the main purveyors of delight. Yet they had been somehow drawn into this fantastic crime; and henceforth an all-pervading sense of collective guilt warped the American mind. They had ever been vainglorious and intolerant; but now these qualities in them became extravagant even to insanity. Both as individuals and collectively, they became increasingly frightened of criticism, increasingly prone to blame and hate, increasingly self-righteous, increasingly hostile to the critical intelligence, increasingly superstitious.
    • Chapter II: Europe’s Downfall; Section 3, “Europe Murdered” (p. 41)
  • There was, indeed, a time when China had mentally less in common with India than with the West, but fear of America had drawn the two great Eastern peoples together. They agreed at least in earnest hate of that strange blend of the commercial traveller, the missionary, and the barbarian conqueror, which was the American abroad.
    • Chapter III: America and China; Section 1, “The Rivals” (p. 43)
  • The governments hated the peace party even more than each other, since their existence now depended on war.
    • Chapter III: America and China; Section 2, “The Conflict” (p. 50)
At first it had been youth’s ideal of what youth should be, a pattern woven of fanatical loyalty, irresponsible gaiety, comradeship, physical gusto, and not a little pure devilry.
  • At first it had been youth's ideal of what youth should be, a pattern woven of fanatical loyalty, irresponsible gaiety, comradeship, physical gusto, and not a little pure devilry.
    • Chapter V: The Fall of the First Men; Section 3, “The Cult of Youth” (p. 84)
  • Individuals of the earlier species had suffered from an almost insurmountable spiritual isolation from one another. Not even lovers, and scarcely even the geniuses with special insight into personality, ever had anything like accurate vision of one another.
    • Chapter VII: The Rise of the Second Men; Section 1, “The Appearance of a New Species” (p. 102)
  • Religion finally severed the unity which all willed but none could trust. An heroic nation of monotheists sought to impose its faith on a vaguely pantheist world. For the first and last time the Second Men stumbled into a world-wide civil war; and just because the war was religious it developed a brutality hitherto unknown.
    • Chapter VII: The Rise of the Second Men; Section 3, “The Zenith of the Second Men” (p. 110)
  • [T]he most precious gift that a lover could bring to the beloved was not virginity but sexual experience. The union, it was felt, was the more pregnant the more each party could contribute from previous sexual and spiritual intimacy with others.
    • Chapter VII: The Rise of the Second Men; Section 3, “The Zenith of the Second Men” (p. 112)
  • The finds were of extreme interest to the Second Men, but not in the manner which the Siberian party had intended, not as a store of scientific and philosophic truth, but as a vivid historical document. The view of the universe which the tablets recorded was both too naïve and too artificial; but the insight which they afforded into the mind of the earlier species was invaluable.
    • Chapter VII: The Rise of the Second Men; Section 3, “The Zenith of the Second Men” (pp. 112-113)
  • Nations appeared, and all the phobias that make up nationalism.
    • Chapter IX: Earth and Mars; Section 2, “The Ruin of Two Worlds” (p. 137)
  • I can only point out that, the higher a mind’s development, the more it discovers in the universe to occupy it.
    • Chapter XI: Man Remakes Himself; Section 4, “The Culture of the Fifth Men” (p. 173)
  • In their brief primitive phase, the Fifth Men, like so many other races, sought to console themselves by unreasoning faith in a life after death, They conceived, for instance, that at death terrestrial beings embarked upon a career continuous with earthly life, but far more ample, either in some remote planetary system, or in some wholly distinct orb of space-time. But though such theories were never disproved in the primitive era, they gradually began to seem not merely improbable but ignoble.
    • Chapter XII: The Last Terrestrials; Section 1, “The Cult of Evanescence” (p. 176)
  • Little by little it became evident that those who used great gifts, and even genius, to establish the truth of the after life, or to seek contact with their beloved dead, suffered from a strange blindness, and obtuseness of the spirit.
    • Chapter XII: The Last Terrestrials; Section 1, “The Cult of Evanescence” (p. 176)
  • Very seldom, only in rare moments of clarity, only after ages of misapprehension, did a few of them, here and there, now and again, begin to have the deeper insight into the world’s nature and man’s. And no sooner had this precious insight begun to propagate itself, than it would be blotted out by some small or great disaster, by epidemic disease, by the spontaneous disruption of society, by an access of racial imbecility, by a prolonged bombardment of meteorites, or by the mere cowardice and vertigo that dared not look down the precipice of fact.
    • Chapter XIII: Humanity on Venus; Section 1, “Taking Root Again” (p. 195)
  • The Seventh Men were completely without interest in the universal and the unseen. The beauty which they sought to create was ephemeral and very largely sensuous. And they were well content that it should be so. Personal immortality, said a dying sage, would be as tedious as an endless song.
    • Chapter XIII: Humanity on Venus; Section 2, “The Flying Men” (p. 199)
  • Thus the whole duration of humanity, with its many sequent species and its incessant downpour of generations, is but a flash in the lifetime of the cosmos.
    • Chapter XIV: Neptune; Section 1, “Bird’s-Eye View” (p. 206)
  • Myriads of individuals, each one unique, live out their lives in rapt intercourse with one another, contribute their heart’s pulses to the universal music, and presently vanish, giving place to others. All this age-long sequence of private living, which is the actual tissue of humanity’s flesh, I cannot describe. I can only trace, as it were, the disembodied form of its growth.
    • Chapter XIV: Neptune; Section 3, “Slow Conquest” (p. 211)
  • You can imagine that it is not easy to describe this modern vision of the nature of things in any manner intelligible to those who have not our advantages. There is much in this vision which will remind you of your mystics; yet between them and us there is far more difference than similarity, in respect both of the matter and the manner of our thought. For while they are confident that the cosmos is perfect, we are sure only that it is very beautiful. While they pass to their conclusion without the aid of intellect, we have used that staff every step of the way. Thus, even when in respect of conclusions we agree with your mystics rather than your plodding intellectuals, in respect of method we applaud most your intellectuals; for they scorned to deceive themselves with comfortable fantasies.
    • Chapter XV: The Last Men; Section 3, “A Racial Awakening” (pp. 228-229)
  • Yet though time is cyclic, it is not repetitive; there is no other time within which it can repeat itself.
    • Chapter XV: The Last Men; Section 4, “Cosmology” (p. 229)
  • [T]his is the goal of all living, that the cosmos may be known, and admired, and that it may be crowned with further beauties. Nowhere and at no time, so far as we can tell, at least within our own galaxy, has the adventure reached further than in ourselves. And in us, what has been achieved is but a minute beginning. But it is a real beginning.
    • Chapter XV: The Last Men; Section 4, “Cosmology” (p. 231)

Last Men in London (1932)[edit]

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  • In you, humanity is precarious; and so, in dread and in shame, you kill the animal in you. And its slaughter poisons you.
    • Chapter I: The World of the Last Men.
  • I had now to select that mode of the primitive which is distinctive of your own species, a mode characterized by repressed sexuality, excessive self-regard, and an intelligence which is both rudimentary and in bondage to unruly cravings.
  • Grotesque sentiments such as the lust of business success or economic power of any kind, and indeed every purely self-regarding passion, from that of the social climber to that of the salvation-seeking ascetic, are experienced by the explorer with something of that shame which the child, emerging into adolescence, may feel toward the still-clinging fascination of his outgrown toys, or with such disgust as the youth may feel when he wakes from some unworthy sexual infatuation
    • Chapter II: Exploring the Past.
  • In time, of course, Paul's day world ceased to be flat, and became a huge ball. At this stage the universe was more like a dumpling than a sandwich. Vaguely Paul still conceived the three levels of existence. The nether night was deep down within the ball of the day world. The starry night was all around it. On the ball were all the countries except Fairyland, which was nowhere.
    • Chapter III: The Child Paul
  • I have touched filth.
Only with the finger tip I touched it,
inquisitive of the taste of it.
But it creeps.
It has spread over my body a slime,
and into my soul a stupor (...)
  • Behold the sons of men.
who sin.
whose hearts are divine!
In selfishness they heap misery on one another;
yet for love they die. (...)
Scatter gold among them, and they are beasts;
show them God, and they are sons of God
  • Chapter IV: Paul comes of age
    • fragments of poems supposedly written by Paul
  • If ever they are put to the test, they shy away, affirming that nationalism is 'practical', cosmopolitanism but a remote ideal. Though they see it intellectually, their hearts are not capable of responding to it. If ever the nation is in danger, their cosmopolitanism evaporates, and they stand for the nation in the good old style. Yet intellectually they know that in their modem world this way leads to disaster.
    • Chapter V: Origins of the European war
  • Without Satan, with God only, how poor a universe, how trite a music!
    • Chapter VII: After the War.
  • [T]he thought is somewhat repugnant to us that we should slowly sink into barbarism, into the sub-human, into blind and whimpering agony, that the last of Man should be a whine. This may well happen, but even by such a prospect we are not seriously dismayed. If it does occur, it will doubtless seem intolerable to our degraded spirits. But today, we are fully possessed of ourselves. (...) [T]o the spirit that has drunk deeply of the grave beauty of the cosmos, even the ultimate horror is acceptable.
  • The great world to which I am native has long ago outgrown the myths, the toys, the bogies of your infant world. There, one lives without the fear of death and pain, though there one dies and suffers. There, one knows no lust to triumph over other men, no fear of being enslaved. There one loves without craving to possess, worships without thought of salvation, contemplates without pride of spirit. There one is free as none in your world is free, yet obedient as none of you is obedient.
    • Chapter IX: On Earth and On Neptune.

Star Maker (1937)[edit]

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All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Dover Books, ISBN 0-486-46683-3
The universe now appeared to me as a void wherein floated rare flakes of snow, each flake a universe
  • Year by year, month by month, the plight of our fragmentary and precarious civilization becomes more serious. Fascism abroad grows more bold and ruthless in its foreign ventures, more tyrannical toward its own citizens, more barbarian in its contempt for the life of the mind. Even in our own country we have reason to fear a tendency toward militarization and the curtailment of civil liberty. Moreover, while the decades pass, no resolute step is taken to alleviate the injustice of our social order. Our outworn economic system dooms millions to frustration.
    • Preface (p. 3)
  • I perceived that I was on a little round grain of rock and metal, filmed with water and with air, whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of that little grain all the swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness, with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud sciences, its social revolutions, its increasing hunger for community, was but a flicker in one day of the lives of the stars.
    • Chapter I: The Earth; 1. The Starting Point (p. 11)
  • The universe now appeared to me as a void wherein floated rare flakes of snow, each flake a universe.
    • Chapter I: The Earth; 2. Earth Among the Stars (p. 13)
  • The sheer beauty of our planet surprised me. It was a huge pearl, set in spangled ebony. It was nacreous, it was an opal. No, it was far more lovely than any jewel. Its patterned colouring was more subtle, more ethereal. It displayed the delicacy and brilliance, the intricacy and harmony of a live thing. Strange that in my remoteness I seemed to feel, as never before, the vital presence of Earth as of a creature alive but tranced and obscurely yearning to wake.
    • Chapter I: The Earth; 2. Earth Among the Stars (p. 14)
  • No visiting angel, or explorer from another planet, could have guessed that this bland orb [Earth] teemed with vermin, with world-mastering, self-torturing, incipiently angelic beasts.
    • Chapter I: The Earth; 2. Earth Among the Stars (p. 15)
  • Was man indeed, as he sometimes desired to be, the growing point of the cosmical spirit, in its temporal aspect at least? Or was he one of many million growing points? Or was mankind of no more importance in the universal view than rats in a cathedral? And again, was man’s true function power, or wisdom, or love, or worship, or all of all these? Or was the idea of function, of purpose, meaningless in relation to the cosmos? These grave questions I would answer.
    • Chapter II: Interstellar Travel (pp. 17-18)
  • I began to lose heart. The appalling desert of darkness and barren fire, the huge emptiness so sparsely pricked with scintillations, the colossal futility of the whole universe, hideously oppressed me.
    • Chapter II: Interstellar Travel (p. 20)
  • This kind of internal "telepathic" intercourse, which was to serve me in all my wanderings, was at first difficult, ineffective, and painful. But in time I came to be able to live through the experiences of my host with vividness and accuracy, while yet preserving my own individuality, my own critical intelligence, my own desires and fears. Only when the other had come to realize my presence within him could he, by a special act of volition, keep particular thoughts secret from me.
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 1. On the Other Earth (pp. 25-26)
  • I spent on the Other Earth many "other years," wandering from mind to mind and country to country, but I did not gain any clear understanding of the psychology of the Other Men and the significance of their history till I encountered one of their philosophers, an aging but still vigorous man whose eccentric and unpalatable views had prevented him from attaining eminence.
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 1. On the Other Earth (p. 26)
  • In this world, as in our own, nearly all the chief means of production, nearly all the land, mines, factories, railways, ships, were controlled for private profit by a small minority of the population. These privileged individuals were able to force the masses to work for them on pain of starvation. The tragic farce inherent in such a system was already approaching. The owners directed the energy of the workers increasingly toward the production of more means of production rather than to the fulfilment of the needs of individual life. For machinery might bring profit to the owners; bread would not. With the increasing competition of machine with machine, profits declined, and therefore wages, and therefore effective demand for goods. Marketless products were destroyed, though bellies were unfed and backs unclad. Unemployment, disorder, and stern repression increased as the economic system disintegrated. A familiar story!
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 2. A Busy World (pp. 30-31)
  • Militarists also were strongly opposed to the new invention; for in the cheap and efficient production of illusory sexual embraces they saw a danger even more serious than contraception. The supply of cannon-fodder would decline.
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 2. A Busy World (p. 33)
  • Radio, which formerly had been the main force making for cosmopolitanism, became suddenly in each country the main stimulus to nationalism. Morning, noon and night, every civilized people was assured that enemies, whose flavor was of course subhuman and foul, were plotting its destruction. Armament scares, spy stories, accounts of the barbarous and sadistic behavior of neighboring peoples, created in every country such uncritical suspicion and hate that war became inevitable...All thought of human brotherhood, and even of personal safety, was swept away by a savage blood-lust.
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 2. A Busy World (p. 36)
  • Though all were devout, and blasphemy was regarded with horror, the general attitude to the deity was one of blasphemous commercialism.
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 3. The Prospects of the Race (p. 39)
  • Increasingly I suspected that this race, in spite of all its triumphs, was now living on the great ideas of its past, mouthing concepts that it no longer had the sensibility to understand, paying verbal homage to ideals which it could no longer sincerely will, and behaving within a system of institutions many of which could only be worked successfully by minds of a slightly finer temper.
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 3. The Prospects of the Race (p. 39)
  • On my native planet, whenever I had been dismayed by the suffering and the futility of individuals, I had taken comfort in the thought that at least the massed effect of all our blind striving must be the slow but glorious awakening of the human spirit. This hope, this certainty, had been the one sure consolation. But now I saw that there was no guarantee of any such triumph. It seemed that the universe, or the maker of the universe, must be indifferent to the fate of worlds. That there should be endless struggle and suffering and waste must of course be accepted; and gladly, for these were the very soil in which the spirit grew. But that all struggle should be finally, absolutely vain, that a whole world of sensitive spirits fail and die, must be sheer evil. In my horror it seemed to me that Hate must be the Star Maker.
    • Chapter III: The Other Earth; 3. The Prospects of the Race (pp. 44-45)
  • Only in couples and in little circles of companions could they support true community, the communion of mutual insight and respect and love. But in their tribes and nations they conceived all too easily the sham community of the pack, baying in unison of fear and hate.
    • Chapter V: Worlds Innumerable; 1. The Diversity of Worlds (p. 56)
  • The precept, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” breeds in us most often the disposition to see one’s neighbor merely as a poor imitation of oneself, and to hate him if he proves different.
    • Chapter V: Worlds Innumerable; 2. Strange Mankinds (p. 61)
  • The ideologies of the super-tribes exercised absolute power over all individual minds under their sway.
    In civilized regions the super-tribes and the overgrown natural tribes created an astounding mental tyranny. In relation to his natural tribe, at least if it was small and genuinely civilized, the individual might still behave with intelligence and imagination. Along with his actual tribal kinsmen he might support a degree of true community unknown on Earth. He might in fact be a critical, self-respecting and other-respecting person. But in all matters connected with the super-tribes, whether national or economic, he behaved in a very different manner. All ideas coming to him with the sanction of nation or class would be accepted uncritically and with fervor by himself and all his fellows. As soon as he encountered one of the symbols or slogans of his super-tribe he ceased to be a human personality and became a sort of de-cerebrate animal, capable only of stereotyped reactions. In extreme cases his mind was absolutely closed to influences opposed to the suggestion of the super-tribe. Criticism was either met with blind rage or actually not heard at all. Persons who in the intimate community of their small native tribe were capable of great mutual insight and sympathy might suddenly, in response to tribal symbols, be transformed into vessels of crazy intolerance and hate directed against national or class enemies. In this mood they would go to any extreme of self-sacrifice for the supposed glory of the super-tribe. Also they would show great ingenuity in contriving means to exercise their lustful vindictiveness upon enemies who in favorable circumstances could be quite as kindly and intelligent as themselves.
    • Chapter V: Worlds Innumerable; 2. Strange Mankinds (p. 62)
  • Under the pressure of a war to the death, all that was best, all that was most human and gentle on each side was crushed out by military necessity. On the one side, the passion for a unified world, where every individual should live a free and full life in service of the world community, was overcome by the passion to punish spies, traitors, and heretics. On the other, vague and sadly misguided yearnings for a nobler, less materialistic life were cleverly transformed by the reactionary leaders into vindictiveness against the revolutionaries.
    • Chapter V: Worlds Innumerable; 3. Nautiloids (p. 69)
  • Yes, we had one and all left our native planets in order to discover whether, regarding the cosmos as a whole, the spirit which we all in our hearts obscurely knew and haltingly prized, the spirit which on Earth we sometimes call humane, was Lord of the Universe, or outlaw; almighty, or crucified. And now it was becoming clear to us that if the cosmos had any lord at all, he was not that spirit but some other, whose purpose in creating the endless fountain of worlds was not fatherly toward the beings that he had made, but alien, inhuman, dark.
    • Chapter VI: Intimations of the Star Maker (p. 71)
  • The one reasonable goal of social life was affirmed to be the creation of a world of awakened, of sensitive, intelligent, and mutually understanding personalities, banded together for the common purpose of exploring the universe and developing the human spirit’s manifold potentialities.
    • Chapter VII: More Worlds; 1. A Symbiotic Race (p. 81)
  • It is better to be destroyed than to triumph in slaying the spirit. Such as it is,the spirit that we have achieved is fair; and it is indestructibly woven into the tissue of the cosmos. We die praising the universe in which at least such an achievement as ours can be.
    • Chapter IX: The Community of Worlds; 3. A Crisis in Galactic History (p. 117)
  • When the cosmos wakes, if ever she does, she will find herself not the single beloved of her maker, but merely a little bubble adrift on the boundless and bottomless ocean of being.
    • Chapter X: A Vision of the Galaxy (p. 129)
  • All this long human story, most passionate and tragic in the living, was but an unimportant, a seemingly barren and negligible effort, lasting only for a few moments in the life of the galaxy.
    • Chapter X: A Vision of the Galaxy (p. 133)
  • I conceived the whole life of the cosmos not as an immensely protracted and leisurely passage from a remote and shadowy source to a glorious and a still more remote eternity, but as a brief, a headlong and forlorn, race against galloping time.
    • Chapter XII: A Stunted Cosmical Spirit (p. 151)
  • It seemed to me that I now saw the Star Maker in two aspects: as the spirit’s particular creative mood that had given rise to me, the cosmos; and also, most dreadfully, as something incomparably greater than creativity, namely as the eternally achieved perfection of the absolute spirit.
    Barren, barren and trivial are these words. But not barren the experience.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 161)
  • The fictitious deities of all races in all worlds once more crowded themselves upon me, symbols of majesty and tenderness, of ruthless power, of blind creativity, and of all-seeing wisdom. And though these images were but the fantasies of created minds, it seemed to me that one and all did indeed embody some true feature of the Star Maker’s impact upon the creatures.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 161)
  • As I contemplated the host of deities that rose to me like a smoke cloud from the many worlds, a new image, a new symbol of the infinite spirit, took shape in my mind. Though born of my own cosmical imagination, it was begotten by a greater than I.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 161)
  • Discontent goaded the spirit into fresh creation.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 161)
  • The cosmos exploded, actualizing its potentiality of space and time. The centers of power, like fragments of a bursting bomb, were hurled apart. But each one retained in itself, as a memory and a longing, the single spirit of the whole; and each mirrored in itself aspects of all the others throughout all the cosmical space and time.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 162)
  • To say that the cosmos was expanding is equally to say that its members were contracting. The ultimate centers of power, each at first coincident with the punctual cosmos, themselves generated the cosmical space by their disengagement from each other.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 162)
  • The expansion of the whole cosmos was but the shrinkage of all its physical units and of the wavelengths of light.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 162)
  • It seemed to me that I, the spirit of so many worlds, the flower of so many ages, was the Church Cosmical, fit at last to be the bride of God. But instead I was blinded and seared and struck down by terrible light.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 163)
  • It seemed that he gazed down on me from the height of his divinity with the aloof though passionate attention of an artist judging his finished work; calmly rejoicing in his achievement, but recognizing at last the irrevocable flaws in his initial conception, and already lusting for fresh creation.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 164)
  • The creator, if he should love his creature, would be loving only a part of himself; but the creature, praising the creator, praises an infinity beyond himself.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 164)
  • It is enough to have been created, to have embodied for a moment the infinite and tumultuously creative spirit. It is infinitely more than enough to have been used, to have been the rough sketch for some perfected creation.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 164)
  • In that instant when I had seen the blazing star that was the Star Maker, I had glimpsed, in the very eye of that splendor, strange vistas of being; as though in the depths of the hypercosmical past and the hypercosmical future also, yet coexistent in eternity, lay cosmos beyond cosmos.
    • Chapter XIII: The Beginning and the End; 3. The Supreme Moment and After (p. 166)
  • The cosmos which he now created was that which contains the readers and the writer of this book. In its making he used, but with more cunning art, many of the principles which had already served him in earlier creations; and he wove them together to form a more subtle and more capricious unity than ever before.
    • Chapter XV: The Maker and His Works; 2. Mature Creating (pp. 176-177)
  • To speak thus of the universal spirit is almost childishly anthropomorphic. For the life of such a spirit, if it exists at all, must be utterly different from human mentality, and utterly inconceivable to man. Nevertheless, since this childish symbolism did force itself upon me, I record it. In spite of its crudity, perhaps it does contain some genuine reflection of the truth, however distorted.
    • Chapter XV: The Maker and His Works; 2. Mature Creating (p. 177)
  • He saw that their distinctive virtue lay in their finitude, their minute particularity, their tortured balance between dullness and lucidity; and that to save them from these would be to annihilate them.
    • Chapter XV: The Maker and His Works; 2. Mature Creating (p. 178)
  • He knew that this creature, though imperfect, though a mere creature, a mere figment of his own creative power, was yet in a manner more real than himself. For beside this concrete splendor what was he but a mere abstract potency of creation? Moreover in another respect the thing that he had made was his superior, and his teacher. For as he contemplated this the loveliest and subtlest of all his works with exultation, even with awe, its impact upon him changed him, clarifying and deepening his will. As he discriminated its virtue and its weakness, his own perception and his own skill matured. So at least it seemed to my bewildered, awe-stricken mind.
    • Chapter XV: The Maker and His Works; 2. Mature Creating (p. 179)
  • Thus, little by little, it came about, as so often before, that the Star Maker outgrew his creature. Increasingly he frowned upon the loveliness that he still cherished. Then, seemingly with a conflict of reverence and impatience, he set our cosmos in its place among his other works.
    • Chapter XV: The Maker and His Works; 2. Mature Creating (p. 179)
  • In one inconceivably complex cosmos, whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct temporal dimensions and distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were very many creatures, and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combination of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.
  • Still peering eastward from my hill, I saw the Pacific, strewn with islands; and then the Americas, where the descendants of Europe long ago mastered the descendants of Asia, through priority in the use of guns, and the arrogance that guns breed.
    • Chapter XVI: Epilogue: Back to Earth (p. 187)
  • The great struggle of our age was brewing.
    One antagonist appeared as the will to dare for the sake of the new, the longed for, the reasonable and joyful, world, in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind. The other seemed essentially the myopic fear of the unknown; or was it more sinister? Was it the cunning will for private mastery, which fomented for its own ends the archaic, reason-hating, and vindictive, passion of the tribe.
    • Chapter XVI: Epilogue: Back to Earth (p. 187)
  • 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 of lucidity before the ultimate darkness.
    • Chapter XVI: Epilogue: Back to Earth (p. 188)

Philosophy and Living (1939)[edit]

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  • My childhood, which lasted some twenty-five years, was moulded chiefly by the Suez Canal, Abbotsholme, and Balliol. Since those days I have attempted several careers, in each case escaping before the otherwise inevitable disaster. First, as a schoolmaster, I swotted up Bible stories on the eve of the scripture lesson. Then, in a Liverpool shipping office, I spoiled bills of lading, and in Port Said I innocently let skippers have more coal than they needed. Next I determined to create an Educated Democracy. Workington miners, Barrow riveters, Crewe railway-men, gave me a better education than I could give them. Since then two experiences have dominated me: philosophy, and the tragic disorder of our whole terrestrial hive. After a belated attack on academic philosophy, I wrote a couple of books on philosophical subjects and several works of fantastic fiction dealing with the career of mankind. One of them, Last and First Men, is in this series.
    • Introduction
  • Moral judgments may conflict with one another. Two conflicting moral judgments cannot both be right. This does not mean that the moral intuition itself is subject to error, but merely that we may fail to disentangle the intuition itself from irrelevances, or may unconsciously pretend to have an intuition when we actually have it not. The intuition itself is infallible; but we can never be sure that we have it, or that we have not confused it, or expressed it falsely in words. In the same way sense-experience is infallible, but we may unconsciously pretend to have it when we have, it not, and we may misdescribe it, and so on.
  • As conscious beings advance in mental growth, they come to recognise that this ideal must embrace not merely their own kin or neighbours, not only their tribe or nation, not only the whole race or species, but all conscious beings whatever, no matter how foreign. It is surely probable that this desire for the fulfilment of personality-in-community plays a very large part in the universe. We must remember, of course, that the particular forms which it may take in different kinds of worlds, up and down the universe, may be utterly alien to our comprehension and appreciation. Or rather, not utterly alien; since, if these arguments are correct, there is an essential underlying kinship and identity in all possible kinds of conscious being.
    • Chapter VII: Ethics
  • Some claim that telepathy and clairvoyance and pre-vision of the future are high-level powers characteristic of the upper reaches. I am not in a position to judge whether such powers exist or not, though on the whole I incline with much hesitation to believe that in some form or other they do. But I cannot see anything particularly lofty about them. They may be consequences of high development, but in themselves they are merely strange modes of perceiving events of commonplace order.
    • Chapter VIII: Personality
  • Throughout man's career intelligence and charity have been man's distinctive and most valuable assets. One of our early pre-human ancestors is said to have been much like the Spectral Tarsier, a little mammal about the size of a mouse, with long wiry fingers and huge forward-looking eyes adapted for binocular vision. Not by weapons but by correlation of subtle eyes and subtle hands through subtle brain, this creature triumphed. And man himself conquered the world by the same means, by attention, by discrimination, by skilled manipulation, by versatility; in fact by intelligence and imagination in adapting himself to an ever-changing environment.
  • We must face the fact that, though the free intelligence and the spirit of community are at once the goal and an essential means, they may be not only ineffectual but actually harmful, unless they are combined with a full measure of that hot indignation against tyranny, that devoted service in the struggle for the new order, which is characteristic of the best minds of the political Left. On the other hand, the political Left, if it is to capture the imagination and allegiance of the people of this country and sweep them forward to victory, must, I believe, learn a more liberal spirit. I mean, of course, liberal not in the political but in the cultural sense, namely, loyalty to the free critical intelligence and respect for the human individual.
    • Chapter XIII: The Practical Upshot

Darkness and the light (1941/42)[edit]

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  • On the one side was the sluggish reptilian will for ease and sleep and death, rising sometimes to active hate and destructiveness; on the other side the still blindfold and blundering will for the lucid and coherent spirit.
    • Part I Crisis, 2. The Modern Age
  • [S]ervants of darkness had no lasting joy in their service. In all of them the will for darkness was a perversion of the will for the light. In all but a few maniacs the satisfaction of the will for darkness was at all times countered by a revulsion which the unhappy spirit either dared not confess even to itself, or else rejected as cowardly and evil.
    • Part V The Reign of Darkness, 2. A Synthetic War
  • [T]he individual in whom the will for the light is strong and clear finds his heart inextricably bound up with the struggle of the forces of light in his native place and time. Much as he may long for the opportunity of fuller self- expression in a happier world, he knows that for him self-expression is impossible save in the world in which his mind is rooted. The individual in whom the will for the light is weak soon persuades himself that his opportunity lies elsewhere.
    • Part V The Reign of Darkness, 3. Diabolic World Empire.
  • The Tibetan missionaries in their mood of bright confidence disconcerted the imperial governments by laughing the new movement into frustration. For a sham faith cannot stand ridicule.
    • Part VII, 1. Harking Back to the Tibetan Revolution
  • The aim was to provide that in boring occupations hours should be short, and in interesting work long. Exceptionally, some monotonous work involved rather long hours, but in such cases the workers were chosen from the psychological class who thrive best on monotonous occupations in which they can day-dream.
    • Part VIII Precarious Advance, 3. Progress.

Sirius (1944)[edit]

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  • She said, "We are bound to hurt one another so much, again and again. We are so terribly different." "Yes," he said, "But the more different, the more lovely the loving."
    • Chapter IV Youth (a conversation between Sirius and Plaxy).
  • Sunsets in pictures are so tiresome, but only boors and half-wits are not stirred by real sunsets.
  • Of course I don't want the old religious dope. But I don't want just the new science dope either. I want the truth.
    • Chapter VI Birth-pangs of a Personality
  • In man, social intercourse has centred mainly on the process of absorbing fluid into the organism, but in the domestic dog and to a lesser extent among all wild canine species, the act charged with most social significance is the excretion of fluid.
    • Chapter VIII Sirius at Cambridge (a passage supposedly written by Sirius)
Even when all the worlds have frozen or exploded, and all the suns gone dead and cold, there'll still be time. Oh, God, what for?
  • Even when all the worlds have frozen or exploded, and all the suns gone dead and cold, there'll still be time. Oh, God, what for?
  • Nothing but man was really cruel, vindictive, except perhaps the loathly cat.
    • Chapter VIII Sirius at Cambridge.
  • I paced up and down the little room, a queer thing happened. It was as though my wandering imagination came upon a new quality, different from all that I had ever known; yet one which was also more familiar and intimate than the smell of Plaxy in the mood of love, more piercing sweet than bitches, more hunt-worthy than the trail of a fox.
  • I see, indeed I know, that in some sense God is love, and God is wisdom, and God is creative action, yes and God is beauty; but what God actually is, whether the maker of all things, or the fragrance of all things, or just a dream in our own hearts, I have not the art to know. Neither have you, I believe; nor any man, nor any spirit of our humble stature.
  • [S]o far as music ever had a "meaning" beyond the immediate and exquisite value of the sound-pattern itself, its "meaning" must be simply an emotional attitude. It could never speak directly about the objective world, or "the nature of existence"; but it might create a complex emotional attitude which might be appropriate to some feature of the objective world, or to the universe as a whole.
    • Chapter IX Sirius and Religion.
  • I, at any rate, acknowledge only one master, not forty-five million two-legged sheep, or two thousand million, but simply and absolutely the spirit.
    • Chapter XII Farmer Sirius (an answer to Plaxy's rant about democracy).

Other texts[edit]

Dear beautiful one, I praise the stars for the song's end. Farewell!
  • Dear beautiful one, I praise the stars for the song's end. Farewell!
  • There is, I believe, something, which may be named by the misleading and debased word 'religion', and is the most distinctively human or awakened activity of man. But clearly there is something else, which is also called 'religion', and is his greatest folly and shame.
  • These three activities, then, intelligence, love and creative action, which are so closely involved in one another, I cannot but feel to be intrinsically good. In their outstanding expressions they are good in an outstanding degree. Together they form the distinctively human kind of behaviour.
  • Broadly there are two very different spheres of our unconscious nature. The one is primitive and largely sub-human. It consists of all our bodily needs and our so-called instinctive cravings. It is all that we have in common with the beasts together with all that we share with the lowliest of our own human kind. But in addition to this there are seemingly unconscious factors in our nature which, far from being sub--human, constitute the drive of our nature toward experiences and activities of a kind more developed and more lucid than our extant ordinary conscious nature.
  • I loathe the urchin’s cruelty to the cat, but I will not loathe the urchin. I loathe Hitler’s mass-torturing, but not Hitler; and the money-man’s heartlessness, but not the man. I love the swallow’s flight, and I love the swallow; the urchin’s gleam of tenderness, and the urchin.
    • Source: The Core, in: An Olaf Stapledon Reader, Syracuse University Press, New York 1997: pp. 266-272.

Quotes about Stapledon[edit]

  • Stapledon's visionary account of the end of a universe and the birth of future universes is one of the high points in all human thought.
    • Brad Steiger & John White, Other Worlds, Other Universes (1986) p. 227.
  • His Marxism, which remained his only irrational faith throughout his life, told him that surely the United States could never be a positive influence.
    • Gregory Benford, preface to Last and First Men (Series: SF Masterworks); London: Gollancz Books 1999; pg x.

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