Wesleyan University Press, 2004
n this WWII-era science fiction novel, the protagonist, presumably Olaf Stapledon himself, is sitting around in pre-WWII (1937) England, when he suddenly acquires the ability to teleport his mind through space and visit other worlds. Along with a group of his extraterrestrial disembodied flying friends, he visits world after world only to see them destroyed by fascist dictators, by technology, natural disasters, or by self-deception, by mutual class, race, or species slaughter, or by herd mentality run amuck.
One can imagine, while all this is happening, his wife back in West Kirby, Merseyside, England, saying something like, "Olaf, you get back down here!" But too late, for Olaf is off learning the secrets of the universe.
The galaxy, the protagonist gradually discovers, is filled with highly advanced beings who manipulate the destiny of lesser races through telepathy, creating a galactic utopia. Yet these beings, throughout their quest for the Star Maker, dread finding him. They suspect that when the cosmos awakes, it will find itself "merely a little bubble adrift on the boundless and bottomless ocean of being." They engineer stars and build planets. Only eons later, after surviving a catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale, does the galactic consciousness finally meet the Star Maker. In that one single moment of monumental effort, the galactic consciousness manages to capture a glimpse of the star maker, only to find that it is unable to bear his blinding reality.
Although that moment is the high point of the universe's existence, the galactic consciousness is devastated when it realizes that the Star Maker does not regard it as an equal. He cares no more about a galaxy teeming with superintelligent advanced beings than a biologist cares about an individual bacterium on a petri dish.
If the purpose of science fiction is to stretch the human imagination, this book was a spectacular success. Stapledon's ideas have had an enormous influence on later science fiction writers as well as scientists like Freeman Dyson, who regards it as one of the finest books ever written. Although Stapledon, like the vast majority of fiction writers, was unable to completely rise above the preoccupations, presuppositions, and politics of his era, Star Maker was the first to depict such an imaginative menagerie of physical types, far surpassing that in later works like Star Wars. Stapledon's work focuses on the vast scale of civilization, its creation and destruction. He was clearly influenced by the historian Oswald Spengler, who viewed civilizations as biological organisms that are destined from the beginning to grow old and die.
Elsewhere, Stapledon compared the universe to cigarette smoke produced by God, who smokes a cigarette while engaged in his real task, which is building heaven. Despite its age, Stapledon's cosmology, with its pitiless deity who, for reasons unknown, repeatedly creates new and improved universes, and the cosmic scope of this work---from the big bang to the heat death of the universe---make this book well worth reading.