Saturday, 30 January 2010

"Star Maker" by Olaf Stapledon

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

--Dante, "Inferno", Canto I
 In many Science Fiction novels, there is a central conceit, a fantastic and key difference, an idea that shapes the world we explore through the printed page.  Works like Richard K. Morgan's "Market Forces" and his Takeshi Kovacs Trilogy explore the passions of our present amplified through technology.  These are enjoyable works, engaging works, but are the red meat of Science Fiction in all its lusty, escapist glory.

"Star Maker" is a different kind of novel, that presents a central philosophy, a central question, and strives to answer it.  The question could be phrased as "What motivates God?" or "What is the nature of the universe that we experience and the creative force that caused it to come into being?".

In "Star Maker", there are no ships, no obelisks, no buried artifacts, no portals to other worlds.  It is only awareness that makes the journey possible.  The story begins with a man who is deep in thought outside his home on a starry evening.  Like a dreamer becoming lucid, he slips in an instant beyond ordinary reality and travels to distant worlds by means he doesn't understand and can't fully control.  Over time, we learn that he has become caught up in the search for the Star Maker.  He and his eventual companions explore and increase their awareness, which makes it possible for them to perceive more, explore more, until they eventually are capable of perceiving the whole of the universe and beyond.

Stapledon's wrote "Star Maker" in the period between the two world wars, and World War I is a central player in the introduction to his "Modern Theory of Ethics" (full text online).  Among many things, he believed that each of us has an underlying "real will" that takes into account the goals of consciousness itself.   "Star Maker" is a broad stage on which this idea is played out.

This is an exhilliarating and at times exhausting book, but is truly great and worth reading.  Now on to a bit of red meat.

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