Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's really hard to describe this novel in a way that can do it justice because any cursory explanation such as "plotless" and "characterless" has some rather negative connotations. :)
Indeed, it's kinda impossible to have those here except in brief glances relying on bird's eye views before necessarily jumping on to the next BIG IDEA and Super-Imaginative setting.
For what we have here, way back in 1930, is novel of Future History influencing every big SF author of the day, even influencing Winston Churchill, HG Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and countless SF writers ever since.
Why? Let me do this quick: Eighteen iterations of mankind over a billion years, from the total death of our mankind, the evolutionary re-emergence of the next, the differences, oddities, rediscoveries after soooo much time, the new dreams, aspirations, religions, the different values, before the next mankind dies off. We have Martian invasion, we have our invasion of Venus, we have major genetic modifications, telepathy during other iterations, the ability to experience racial memory a-la Dune, adding multiple sexes, immortality, living in gas giants, and sometimes merely striving only to improve the human race. Over a billion years. And of course, whole races die. Over and over.
It's grand, majestic, awe-some, and brilliant.
So much imagination is crammed into so few pages that a prospective SF author could just pour through this and continue to point at reused story ideas for even current-day authors! I look at the nuclear-powered version of life on Venus, the intelligent clouds of Mars, the huge brains, the musical race, the race of time-travelers, and my jaw just drops.
It's not without emotion, either. There's a deep an abiding love for everyone here even as a whole race suffers deep ennui and an existential crisis or during others that suffer impossible odds, accidents, or the final death of our solar system. The philosophies give it away. The spirit of the human races rise and ebb and undergo vast changes.
And yet there's no characters or plot. Just setting and world-building and vast movements of so many people. :)
It would never get published today.
And yet, it's still brilliant. Absolutely worth knowing, even now. :) It makes me wonder what we're collectively doing. We can't forget that works like this EXIST. :)
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