Gateway Essentials: Olaf Stapledon

Olaf Stapledon was born near Liverpool on this day in 1886, and educated at Balliol College, Oxford and Liverpool University. After spending eighteen months working in a shipping office in Liverpool and Port Said, he lectured extramurally for Liverpool University in English Literature and industrial history. He served in France from 1915 until 1919 with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit and then lectured again for Liverpool University in psychology and philosophy.

Stapledon’s novels tend to be characterised by their epic scale – his first novel, Last and First Men, covers a timescale of two billion years. His influence in this regard can be seen in the transcendant works or Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter to name but two. Indeed, no less an authority than The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states that:

his influence, both direct and indirect, on the development of many concepts which now permeate genre sf is probably second only to that of H G Wells

If you’re looking to explore the Stapledonian majesty of his work, the best pace to start is with the four SF Masterworks: First and Last Men, Star Maker, Odd John and Sirius.

And when you’ve returnd to Earth from your cosmic journeys, be sure to look up the sequel to the extraordinary Last and First Men: Last Men in London.

You can find more of Olaf Stapledon’s work via his Author page on the Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.