Olaf Stapledon

Olaf Stapledon

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Olaf Stapledon'
Start a new discussion about 'Olaf Stapledon'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
William Olaf Stapledon was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

.

Life


Stapledon was born in Seacombe
Seacombe
Seacombe is a district of the town of Wallasey, on the Wirral Peninsula, England. Administratively, Seacombe is a ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. Before local government reorganisation in 1 April 1974, it was part of the County Borough of Wallasey, within the geographical county of...

, Wallasey
Wallasey
Wallasey is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, in Merseyside, England, on the mouth of the River Mersey, at the northeastern corner of the Wirral Peninsula...

, on the Wirral Peninsula near Liverpool
Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

, the only son of William Clibbert Stapledon and Emmeline Miller. The first six years of his life were spent with his parents at Port Said
Port Said
Port Said is a city that lies in north east Egypt extending about 30 km along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, north of the Suez Canal, with an approximate population of 603,787...

. He was educated at Abbotsholme School and Balliol College, Oxford
Balliol College, Oxford
Balliol College , founded in 1263, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England but founded by a family with strong Scottish connections....

, where he acquired a BA in Modern History in 1909 and a MA in 1913. After a brief stint as a teacher at Manchester Grammar School
Manchester Grammar School
The Manchester Grammar School is the largest independent day school for boys in the UK . It is based in Manchester, England...

 he worked in shipping offices in Liverpool
Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

 and Port Said
Port Said
Port Said is a city that lies in north east Egypt extending about 30 km along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, north of the Suez Canal, with an approximate population of 603,787...

 from 1910 to 1913.

During World War I he served as a conscientious objector
Conscientious objector
A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion....

 with the Friends' Ambulance Unit
Friends' Ambulance Unit
The Friends' Ambulance Unit was a volunteer ambulance service, founded by individual members of the British Religious Society of Friends , in line with their Peace Testimony. The FAU operated from 1914–1919, 1939–1946 and 1946-1959 in 25 different countries around the world...

 in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 from July 1915 to January 1919. On 16 July 1919 he married Agnes Zena Miller (1894–1984), an Australian cousin. They had first met in 1903, and later maintained a correspondence throughout the war. They had a daughter, Mary Sydney Stapledon (1920-), and a son, John David Stapledon (1923-). In 1920 they moved to West Kirby
West Kirby
West Kirby is a town on the north-west corner of the coast of the Wirral Peninsula, England, at the mouth of the River Dee across from the Point of Ayr in North Wales. To the north-east of the town lies Hoylake, with the suburbs of Grange and Newton to the east, and the village of Caldy to the...

.

Stapledon was awarded a PhD in philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 from the University of Liverpool
University of Liverpool
The University of Liverpool is a teaching and research university in the city of Liverpool, England. It is a member of the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities and the N8 Group for research collaboration. Founded in 1881 , it is also one of the six original "red brick" civic...

 in 1925 and used his thesis as the basis for his first published prose book, A Modern Theory of Ethics (1929). However, he soon turned to fiction in the hope of presenting his ideas to a wider public. The relative success of Last and First Men
Last and First Men
Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is a "future history" science fiction novel written in 1930 by the British author Olaf Stapledon. A work of unprecedented scale in the genre, it describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen...

(1930) prompted him to become a full-time writer. He wrote a sequel and followed it up with many more books of both fiction and philosophy.

In 1940 the family built and moved into Simon's Field, in Caldy
Caldy
Caldy is a village on the Wirral Peninsula, England, located to the south east of West Kirby. It is part of the West Kirby & Thurstaston Ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral and is situated in the parliamentary constituency of Wirral West...

, in the Wirral. After 1945 Stapledon travelled widely on lecture tours, visiting the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 and France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and in 1948 he spoke at the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace
World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace
The World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace convened in Wrocław, Poland on August 25-28, 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War. Notable politicians, academics, and artists attended, including Pablo Picasso, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Irène Joliot-Curie, Bertolt Brecht, Paul Éluard, Aldous...

 in Wrocław, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

. He attended the Conference for World Peace held in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 in 1949, the only Briton to be granted a visa to do so. In 1950 he became involved with the anti-apartheid movement. After a week of lectures in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, he cancelled a projected trip to Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

 and returned to his home in Caldy
Caldy
Caldy is a village on the Wirral Peninsula, England, located to the south east of West Kirby. It is part of the West Kirby & Thurstaston Ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral and is situated in the parliamentary constituency of Wirral West...

, where he died very suddenly of a heart attack.

Stapledon was cremated at Landican
Landican
Landican is a hamlet on the Wirral Peninsula, England. It is situated on the outskirts of Birkenhead, near to Woodchurch and the M53 motorway. Landican consists of a small group of cottages and farm buildings. At the 2001 Census the community had a population of only 20.In 1085, Landican was...

 Crematorium, and then his widow and their children scattered his ashes on the sandy cliffs overlooking the Dee Estuary
Dee Estuary
The Dee Estuary is a large estuary by means of which the River Dee flows into Liverpool Bay. The estuary starts near Shotton after a five miles 'canalised' section and the river soon swells to be several miles wide forming the boundary between the Wirral Peninsula in north-west England and...

, a favourite spot of his that features in more than one of his books.

Works


Stapledon's writings directly influenced Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, famous for his short stories and novels, among them 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein,...

, Brian Aldiss
Brian Aldiss
Brian Wilson Aldiss, OBE is an English author of both general fiction and science fiction. His byline reads either Brian W. Aldiss or simply Brian Aldiss. Greatly influenced by science fiction pioneer H. G. Wells, Aldiss is a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society...

, Stanisław Lem, C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

 and John Maynard Smith
John Maynard Smith
John Maynard Smith,His surname was Maynard Smith, not Smith, nor was it hyphenated. F.R.S. was a British theoretical evolutionary biologist and geneticist. Originally an aeronautical engineer during the Second World War, he took a second degree in genetics under the well-known biologist J.B.S....

 and indirectly influenced many others, contributing many ideas to the world of science fiction. The "supermind" composed of many individual consciousnesses forms a recurring theme in his work. Star Maker
Star Maker
-External links:*...

contains the first known description of what are now called Dyson sphere
Dyson sphere
A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical megastructure originally described by Freeman Dyson. Such a "sphere" would be a system of orbiting solar power satellites meant to completely encompass a star and capture most or all of its energy output...

s. Freeman Dyson
Freeman Dyson
Freeman John Dyson FRS is a British-born American theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering. Dyson is a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists...

 credits the novel with giving him the idea, even stating in an interview that "Stapledon sphere" would be a more appropriate name. Last and First Men
Last and First Men
Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is a "future history" science fiction novel written in 1930 by the British author Olaf Stapledon. A work of unprecedented scale in the genre, it describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen...

features early descriptions of genetic engineering
Genetic engineering
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest...

 and terraforming
Terraforming
Terraforming of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to those of Earth, in order to make it habitable by terrestrial organisms.The term is sometimes used more generally as a...

. Sirius
Sirius (novel)
Sirius is a 1944 science fiction novel by the British philosopher and author Olaf Stapledon.Scientist Thomas Trelone creates a super-intelligent dog, named Sirius. He is the only dog to have attained a humanlike intelligence...

describes a dog whose intelligence is increased to the level of a human being's.

Stapledon's fiction often presents the strivings of some intelligence that is beaten down by an indifferent universe and its inhabitants who, through no fault of their own, fail to comprehend its lofty yearnings. It is filled with protagonists who are tormented by the conflict between their "higher" and "lower" impulses.

Last and First Men, a "future history" of 18 successive species of humanity, and Star Maker, an outline history of the Universe, were highly acclaimed by figures as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo , known as Jorge Luis Borges , was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family...

, J. B. Priestley
J. B. Priestley
John Boynton Priestley, OM , known as J. B. Priestley, was an English novelist, playwright and broadcaster. He published 26 novels, notably The Good Companions , as well as numerous dramas such as An Inspector Calls...

, Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

, Hugh Walpole
Hugh Walpole
Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole, CBE was an English novelist. A prolific writer, he published thirty-six novels, five volumes of short stories, two plays and three volumes of memoirs. His skill at scene-setting, his vivid plots, his high profile as a lecturer and his driving ambition brought him a large...

,
Arnold Bennett
Arnold Bennett
- Early life :Bennett was born in a modest house in Hanley in the Potteries district of Staffordshire. Hanley is one of a conurbation of six towns which joined together at the beginning of the twentieth century as Stoke-on-Trent. Enoch Bennett, his father, qualified as a solicitor in 1876, and the...

, Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century....

 (Stapledon maintained a long correspondence with Woolf) and Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

. In contrast, Stapledon's philosophy repelled C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

, whose Cosmic Trilogy
Space Trilogy
The Space Trilogy, Cosmic Trilogy or Ransom Trilogy is a trilogy of science fiction novels by C. S. Lewis, famous for his later series The Chronicles of Narnia. A philologist named Elwin Ransom is the hero of the first two novels and an important character in the third.The books in the trilogy...

was written partly in response to what Lewis saw as amorality, although Lewis admired Stapledon's inventiveness and described him as "a corking good writer". In fact Stapledon was an agnostic who was hostile to religious institutions, but not to religious yearnings, a fact that set him at odds with H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

 in their correspondence.

None of Stapledon's novels or short stories has been adapted for film or television, although George Pal
George Pál
George Pal , born György Pál Marczincsak, was a Hungarian-born American animator and film producer, principally associated with the science fiction genre...

 bought the rights to Odd John
Odd John
Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest is a 1935 science fiction novel by the British author Olaf Stapledon. The novel explores the theme of the Übermensch in the character of John Wainwright, whose supernormal human mentality inevitably leads to conflict with normal human society and to the...

. Castle of Frankenstein
Castle of Frankenstein
Castle of Frankenstein was an American horror, science fiction and fantasy film magazine, distributed by Kable News and published in New Jersey from 1962 to 1975 by Calvin Thomas Beck's Gothic Castle Publishing Company. The first three issues were edited by Larry Ivie and Ken Beale. From 1963 and...

 magazine reported in 1966 that David McCallum
David McCallum
David Keith McCallum, Jr. is a Scottish actor and musician. He is best known for his roles as Illya Kuryakin, a Russian-born secret agent, in the 1960s television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as interdimensional operative Steel in Sapphire & Steel, and Dr...

 would play the title role.

Together with his philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 lectureship at the University of Liverpool, which now houses the Olaf Stapledon archive, Stapledon lectured in English literature
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

, industrial history
Industrial history
Industry in the sense of professional manufacturing has existed for millennia, since the first cities rose.-Cottage industry:A cottage industry is an industry – primarily manufacturing – which includes many producers, working from their homes, typically part time...

 and psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

. He wrote many non-fiction books on political and ethical subjects, in which he advocated the growth of "spiritual values", which he defined as those values expressive of a yearning for greater awareness of the self in a larger context ("personality-in-community").

In nations with "life + 70 years" copyright regimes, Stapledon's published works will be in the public domain from 2020.

Fiction

  • Last and First Men
    Last and First Men
    Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is a "future history" science fiction novel written in 1930 by the British author Olaf Stapledon. A work of unprecedented scale in the genre, it describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen...

    : A Story of the Near and Far Future
    (1930) (ISBN 1-85798-806-X)
  • Last Men in London
    Last Men in London
    Last Men in London is a science fiction novel by Olaf Stapledon.The narrator is the same member of the eighteenth and final human species who purportedly induced Stapledon to write Last and First Men...

    (1932) (ISBN 0-417-02750-8)
  • Odd John
    Odd John
    Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest is a 1935 science fiction novel by the British author Olaf Stapledon. The novel explores the theme of the Übermensch in the character of John Wainwright, whose supernormal human mentality inevitably leads to conflict with normal human society and to the...

    : A Story Between Jest and Earnest
    (1935) (ISBN 0-413-32900-3)
  • Star Maker
    Star Maker
    -External links:*...

    (1937) (ISBN 0-8195-6692-6)
  • Darkness and the Light
    Darkness and the Light
    Darkness and the Light is a science fiction novel by Olaf Stapledon.In this work written in 1941, at the most frightening point of World War II, Stapledon projects two separate futures for humanity, depending not on the outcome of that particular conflict but on the failure or success of a future...

    (1942) (ISBN 0-88355-121-7)
  • Old Man in New World
    Old Man in New World
    "Old Man in New World" is a short story by Olaf Stapledon, published as a separate volume by George Allen and Unwin in 1944. It was published through PEN, the international writers' association....

    (short story, 1944)
  • Sirius
    Sirius (novel)
    Sirius is a 1944 science fiction novel by the British philosopher and author Olaf Stapledon.Scientist Thomas Trelone creates a super-intelligent dog, named Sirius. He is the only dog to have attained a humanlike intelligence...

    : A Fantasy of Love and Discord
    (1944) (ISBN 0-575-07057-9)
  • Death into Life
    Death into Life
    Death into Life is a 1946 novel by Olaf Stapledon. Not strictly science fiction , the novel is described as "an imaginative treatment of the problem of survival after death"...

    (1946)
  • The Flames: A Fantasy
    The Flames: A Fantasy
    The Flames is a science fiction novella by the writer and philosopher Olaf Stapledon. It was published by Secker and Warburg in 1947.-Overview:...

    (1947)
  • A Man Divided (1950) (ISBN 0-19-503087-7)
  • Four Encounters
    Four Encounters
    Four Encounters is an unfinished work by the writer and philosopher Olaf Stapledon, written in the late 1940s but only published by Bran's Head Books in 1976, 26 years after the author's death. This edition contained an introduction by Brian Aldiss, a longtime champion of Stapledon's works...

    (1976) (ISBN 0-905220-01-3)
  • Nebula Maker
    Nebula Maker
    Nebula Maker is a science fiction novel by Olaf Stapledon, published posthumously by Bran's Head books in 1976. Probably written around 1932-33 , the book is essentially a first draft of the author's 1937 opus Star Maker, though there are many marked differences to the later, more polished work.One...

    (drafts of Star Maker, 1976) (ISBN 0-905220-06-4)

Non-fiction

  • A Modern Theory of Ethics: A study of the Relations of Ethics and Psychology (1929)
  • Waking World (1934)
  • Saints and Revolutionaries
    Saints and Revolutionaries
    Saints and Revolutionaries is a non-fiction work by the writer and philosopher Olaf Stapledon, published by Heinemann in 1939.The book was part of the I Believe series, an initiative whereby leading British intellectuals of the day could pursue an argument pertinent to the times. Stapledon's friend...

    (1939)
  • New Hope for Britain (1939)
  • Philosophy and Living, 2 volumes (1939)
  • Beyond the "Isms" (1942)
  • Seven Pillars of Peace (1944)
  • Youth and Tomorrow (1946)
  • The Opening of the Eyes (ed. Agnes Z. Stapledon, 1954)

Collections

  • Worlds of Wonder: Three Tales of Fantasy
    Worlds of Wonder (collection)
    Worlds of Wonder is a collection of three science fiction works by Olaf Stapledon: a short novel, a novella and a short story. It was published in 1949 by Fantasy Publishing Company, Inc. in an edition of 500 copies. All of the stories had originally been published in Britain.-Contents:* Death...

    (1949)
  • To the End of Time: the Best of Olaf Stapledon (ed. Basil Davenport, 1953) (ISBN 0-8398-2312-6)
  • Far Future Calling: Uncollected Science Fiction and Fantasies of Olaf Stapledon (ed. Sam Moskowitz
    Sam Moskowitz
    Sam Moskowitz was an early fan and organizer of interest in science fiction and, later, a writer, critic, and historian of the field.-Biography:...

     1979 ISBN 1-880418-06-1)
  • An Olaf Stapledon Reader (ed. Robert Crossley, 1997)

External links