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Odd John by Olaf Stapledon

Odd John (original 1935; edition 2012)

by Olaf Stapledon

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258644,311 (3.61)20
Title:Odd John
Authors:Olaf Stapledon
Info:Gollancz (2012), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Sci-fi, Evolution, 1930

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Odd John by Olaf Stapledon (1935)



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Showing 5 of 5
A study of the life of a mutant superman, John, written by an admiring uncle-figure narrator. John is a Homo Superior, far advanced on Homo Sapiens. But even he has to spend time maturing, developing his ideas and his emotions. This book reminded me of the telepaths of Julian May's Galactic Millieu (especially 'Intervention') and the Canopeans of 'Shikasta' by Doris Lessing. ( )
  questbird | Jul 24, 2014 |
Ugh. This was a drudge to finish. The premise is decent enough: there is a race of superhumans among us, and they discover one another and endeavor to create a new society. The execution is dreary and full of typos. Not quite sure why this was listed as "essential" other than it may be the first of the enhanced humanity tales. ( )
  ScoutJ | Jun 5, 2013 |
Cattle! Cattle! a whole world of cattle! My God how they stink is Odd johns view of the human race (homo sapiens. Olaf Stapledon's novel published in 1935 has every right to be called a science fiction masterwork and it probably ranks with Aldous Huxley's [Brave New World] as literary science fiction.

The plot is a familiar one to science fiction readers, but the way it has been used by Stapledon would have seemed inventive and at times shocking, back then and it still has an impact today. John is an infant prodigy whose intelligence after a slow start easily outstrips those around him and his mind continues to develop at an alarming rate leaving his body struggling to keep up. At 8 years old John realises that he is very different from the rest of the human race and realises that he must keep his prodigious talents secret or he will be imprisoned or destroyed. His story is narrated by "Fido", Odd John's pet name for the adult friend of the family who becomes his willing helper. It is Fido's task to introduce the boy into the adult world so that he can learn things for himself. John studies politics, philosophy, religion, business and science and finds them all wanting. He embarks on his own course of study that takes him away from the family unit and into the natural world. It is his gradual realisation that there are others, perhaps only a handful, who are also super-normal that leads him to form the idea of setting up a colony, that will work in isolation from the human race. John discovers that he has telepathic powers and once these are harnessed he can communicate with and then track down the other super-normals, who are all gifted in different ways. If this is starting to sound like Salman Rushdie's [Midnight's Children], then I would not be at all surprised if this book had not sown the seeds for Rushdie's novel.

This is an intelligent novel and Stapledon uses the premise to examine society and world affairs in the inter-war years. Fido relates his many conversations with Odd John who takes every opportunity to sound off about what is wrong with the world and the human race:

"The best minds!, he said, "One of your main troubles of your unhappy species is that the best minds can go even farther astray than the second best, much farther than the umpteenth best. That has what has been happening during the last few centuries. Swarms of the best minds have been leading the population down blind alley after blind alley, and doing it with tremendous courage and resource, Your trouble, as a species, is that you can't keep hold of everything at once......................Then what with this new crazy religion of nationalism that's beginning and the steady improvement of the technique of destruction, a huge disaster is simply inevitable, barring a miracle which of course may happen."

Having used Fido as a biographer of Odd John's life, Stapledon is able to elicit a certain amount of sympathy for the super-normals, They are in many respects the superior race as Odd John keeps reminding Fido and their very difference allows them to flout earthly conventions. Taboos of murder and incest are ignored when the occasion demands and yet Stapledon does not portray them as monsters, we are torn between wanting them to succeed, but at the same time are appalled by some of their methods. An underlying theme to this novel is that homo sapiens keep on making the same mistakes, their inability to learn from these will eventually single them out as a doomed species, a failed experiment. It is this thought along with the super-normals continuing search for a new kind of spirituality that creates much of the dichotomy.

Olaf Stapledon wrote books on philosophy, politics as well as his science fantasy's and was the only British delegate to the communist backed cultural and scientific conference to world peace held at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. His academic credentials do not get in the way of his writing in this novel; while there are some pseudo-philosophical and political tracts to negotiate they are not without interest and the author never loses sight of his story. The search for other super-normals is exciting and inventive and the trials and tribulations of the super-colony are fascinating. There is a lack of suspense, because fairly early on we are informed of John's early death, but this does not purport to be an adventure story, it is a thoughtful intelligent novel whose biographical form firmly grounds it in the real world. Yes this is a literary novel and although you will not find flights of marvellous prose you will find a wealth of inventive ideas, interesting social commentary and that dichotomy at the very heart of the novel, which lifts this out of the pure science-fiction genre. 4.5 stars. ( )
5 vote baswood | Apr 8, 2013 |
The science fiction novel that introduced the idea of a superpowered mutant before the X-Men ever came along. ( )
  fduniho | Dec 20, 2011 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Olaf Stapledonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bacon, C.W.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fiedler, Leslie A.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petagno, JoeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover Artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When I told John that I intended to write his biography, he laughed.
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