Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

I first read this science fiction novel over five decades ago – perhaps while in junior high school. That period was, if I remember correctly, when my reading was very focused on science fiction, which, of course, this book was considered a classic even then. What I remembered from that book was the main character's departure from a hill above his town at midnight, then his encounter with the Other Men, as he called them ... and then the encounter with stars as having intelligence, followed by his return to the same time and place he had mentally departed.

Re-reading the book, I now realize why I didn't remember much else of the book. It was written by a British philosopher in the 1930s when Marxism appealed to many Brits and when it was clear that there would be a conflict with Germany and even perhaps Russia. What I did not remember was the extremely wide range of life forms and types of intelligence that he encountered in his journey, nor did I remember that it included merging with many other alien minds via telepathy and moving not only through the galaxy but also through time – back to the creating of our cosmos and forward to its end. I also did not remember how the Star Maker was his name for the creator of our universe and, in fact, multiple universes.

In the first several chapters I was very impressed with the quality of his writing – though as a British intellectual, he used many words that I found unfamiliar. Since I was reading on Kindle, most could be looked up either in the dictionary or Wikipedia – but not all, interestingly. He was actually laying out the various potential relationships between intelligent species of all sorts and their development of both community and religion. In his narrative, most alien species – of an impressive variety – failed to overcome what I would call the development of tribal conflicts. Many destroyed themselves, or were destroyed by events such as suns going nova, attacks of other species, etc. A few managed to develop a level of intelligence higher than that of homo sapiens in the twentieth century – and were therefore difficult to connect with via telepathy until the growing intelligence of which he was a part had itself risen extensively through its many encounters with other species throughout the galaxy.

As the narrative moved through rising forms of intelligence, descriptive details became less common and the story became far more filled with generalities. For me, that was why so much of the novel was not remembered from my first read – I probably did not understand – or was not even interested in – the bulk of such narrative. However, based on my memory of the impact the novel had on me after my first read, I probably would have given Star Maker five stars in Goodreads. Having re-read it more than fifty years later, I can understand why it had so much impact on other science fiction authors – but today, I would give it four stars instead.

Nevertheless, for me, reading this book was an engaging way for me to revisit my own intellectual and emotional change over time – and that is, in part, the reason for giving it four stars. The other reason is simply the many surprising images of potential forms life and intelligence in our cosmos – along with a the consistently high quality of the authoring of the narrative.