Darkness and the Light by Olaf Stapledon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this up specifically for the retro-Hugo read for this year.
I had no idea what I was setting myself up for, never having read Olaf Stapledon but having heard of him.
At first, I began complaining about the utter lack of even a basic storytelling premise that included things like actual CHARACTERS, but soon I fell into the writing because Stapledon's world-building chops are pretty amazing.
Imagine picking up The Silmarillion for your first taste of JRRT. Practically all of it is distant exposition and broad sweeps of history. The entire Lord of the Rings takes about 30 pages and it's only a footnote.
Now make a future history and write it like old-school utopian novels and less like SF, showing us the Darkness which is the end of humanity in a vast dystopia across a vast stretch of years, and then switching tracks again and showing us the Light which is an outright Utopia.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I'm reading Hobbs and Moore with a decidedly SF bent and focus on the rise or fall of Tibet, world-government or world empires. One ends with us being enlightened and the other ends with us being eaten by rats.
The amount of thought and exploration in this novel is frankly mind-blowing. It throws everything at us but carefully neglects any kind of traditional storytelling or characters.
Correction. The whole book is framed from a far distant future historian pouring over the past through multiple timelines and seeing all the "what could have been"s. But that's just it.
This novel might as well be an academic tome. :)
I like that kind of thing, mind you. It's rich as hell and if you don't mind anything BUT exposition, it's extremely rewarding. Jaw-dropping, even. Stapledon predicts the future in an absolutely grand style and doesn't pretend he'll get everything right. He just runs with it.
I want to say KUDOS for his courage and worldbuilding and OMG this should have been turned into a series of 15 traditional SF novels with an interweaving theme. Hell, when I was first reading it, I kept saying to myself... this is no more than 2-star novel. As he continued to build his tower of Babel and his Utopia, however, I had to readjust my thinking completely:
This is NOT an SF. This is an old-school Utopia/Dystopia. :)
That being said, so far it's my favorite contender for this year's Retro Hugo award. (Every year the Hugos award a Best Novel for another year before the Hugos even began. I love the love expressed here. Some rare books of SF should NEVER be forgotten.)
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