Last and First Men

Olaf Stapledon
Last and First Men Cover

Last and First Men: A future history


Written in 1930, Last and First Men is unique in my experience of reading science fiction. It is a history book, without characters. The only individuals named in the book, I think, are Socrates, Jesus, Gautama, and Einstein, all of whom live among the First Men.

This is the history of the succession of species of men as they evolve over a span of two thousand million years. It describes the rise and fall of eighteen successive human species. Some were actually artificially created by their predecessors. Their cultures and civilizations flourished and collapsed hundreds or thousand of times.

The earth is invaded by Martians, microscopic specs which form together in clouds of mist with a group mind. Second Man fights them off, repeatedly, as they return time and again over millennia. Man eventually destroys the Martians. Eons later, man discoveres that the moon is falling into the earth and will destroy it. Fifth Man migrates to Venus, alters it to support human life, and destroys the native beings. Again eons later, a great cloud enters the solar system and collides with the sun, causing it to greatly enlarge. Man flees to Neptune and there, finally evolves into the Eighteenth Man, Last Man.

The book is written by Last Man, who is able to visit his long past, for the benefit of First Man, as Last Man suffers the final demise of man.

The book is a history; it's like reading a textbook. It's dry, but interesting, varyingly. It's aloof and impersonal. It enumerates the various species of man, his politics and religion. There's always religion. It doesn't go into technology very much. But as we may read a history book for our edification, to increase our knowledge, this is fiction, and so it takes an effort to keep with it. I found myself contemplating abandoning it, and counting the pages to the end. It does seem to mellow a bit when the Last Man narrator reaches his own time.