The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Last and First Men is not technically a novel; it has no formal plot or conventional character development. Instead, it describes the evolution of the entire human race from shortly after World War I until the death of humanity on Neptune, two billion years later.

Olaf Stapledon numbers the races and species of humanity as they succeed one another, from the First Men (his generation) through the Eighteenth, a race of superbeings. The First Men collapse as a result of an energy crisis and germ warfare. After a long dark age, a Patagonian civilization develops, but it succumbs to a vast industrial accident. Eventually, the Second Men evolve. They are very intelligent but are exhausted by an ages-long struggle with Martians. The Third Men have a passion for genetics, which they develop into a religious art and use to create the Fourth Men, huge, immobile, telepathic brains. Cold and amoral, the Great Brains destroy their own makers and create the Fifth Men, who are telepathic superbeings. This race is the pinnacle of humanity on Earth.

The Fifth Men create an economic and scientific utopia lasting thousands of millennia. They begin the telepathic exploration of time and discover that the past still exists; in a sense, nothing ever perishes. This realization causes a racial depression, because the anguish of the past is never finished. Discovering that the Moon will crash into Earth, they develop spaceflight and settle Venus. The...

(The entire section is 428 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Goodheart, Eugene. “Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men,” in No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. Edited by Eric S. Rabkin et al., 1983.

Huntington, John. “Olaf Stapledon and the Novel About the Future,” in Contemporary Literature. XXII (1981), pp. 349-365.

Huntington, John. “Remembrance of Things to Come: Narrative Technique in Last and First Men,” in Science-Fiction Studies. IX (1982), pp. 257-264.

Kinnaird, Jack. Olaf Stapledon: A Reader’s Guide, 1982, 1986.

Rabkin, Eric S. “The Composite Fiction of Olaf Stapledon,” in Science-Fiction Studies. IX (1982), pp. 238-248.