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Odd John

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  435 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Odd John is the story of a mutated superman - a young man who must accept that he is different, and decide what to do with his gifts.
Paperback, 209 pages
Published by Gollancz (first published 1935)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,108)
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Manny
Not your run-of-the-mill superhero story, which may have had something to do with the fact that Stapledon wasn't a typical person to be writing a superhero story in the first place; he was a Professor of Philosophy, and apparently a friend of both Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. It has always surprised me that this book isn't better known.

Most superhero scenarios, starting with Superman, take it for granted that the guy will spend most of his time acting as a kind of elite first responder...more
June
i first read this book when i was seventeen and since then odd John has been the first and the only character (fictional and otherwise) i've identified so strongly with.

of course, i was never a child prodigy master-mind, nor am I likely to become an Übermansch anytime soon(though you know what they say about never saying never :-)).

but his loneliness, oh the loneliness!

while his intellectual superiority as well as his biological differences to us 'sub-humans' are endlessly fascinating and enter...more
Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler
Olaf Stapledon's Odd John is an odd book. It is science fiction in its loftiest form - a novel of ideas.

Stapledon uses this tale of a youth who is an example of a new superior species emerging from conventional humanity as a way to examine the human condition from the outside. John's account to the narrator of the failings of our species and why we are, he feels, doomed to self-destruction really cut to the quick. And the fact that John operates according to moral principles so very different fr...more
Mark
Here is, reissued, one of those SF tales that was of a type so common around the 1940’s and 50’s: except that this one set the mould in 1935. Though short, it challenges the reader, and leaves you much to think about afterwards.

Odd John is a tale of a ‘superman’: John Wainwright, an Englishman who claims to be the forerunner of a new species, homo superior. Told by his friend and butler-type, nicknamed Fido, it is the tale of how John grew up, became an adult and ultimately the consequences of h...more
Raj
This book concerns the brief flourishing of a utopian society founded by a small group of Übermensch, the chief of whom is John Wainwright, the 'odd John' of the title. The book is framed as a biography of John by a devoted friend.

Stapledon spends the first half using the adolescent John to examine modern society and, as in other of his works, finds us wanting. He then describes John's efforts to find others like him and the group founding a small colony in the south Pacific, before its inevitab...more
Rebecca
I read this first in grade school. While no genius is struck a chord with my lonely childhood and made me think.

I also started writing a book with this tale as a role model for it. Such has this book impacted my life.

I cannot recall how many times I read this book. Despite all my moves I still have that very book, though now tattered.

It has been years since I have done more then pick up the book from my shelf and read it. I almost fear it would no longer be relevant or deep to me. Or maybe th...more
Simon
Not the first story I've read about the sudden appearance of a mutant super being, but easily the best. The early stages describe John's psychological development with great imagination and insight, and convincingly portray someone of abnormal intelligence trying to find his place in the world.
The ending is frustrating, but then that's the point, I guess.
It's also worth noting that Stapledon fits an epic story into 190 pages without sacrificing depth, detail or characterisation. Modern genre nov...more
Dave
Olaf Stapledon’s “Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest”, published in 1935, is his third novel and it takes the idea of the evolution of homo sapiens into a new race, an idea which he touched on briefly at the end of his second novel “Last Men in London”, and this time he devotes the entire work into looking at the interaction between homo sapiens and the new race homo superior. The idea of Supermen was not new, Philip Wylie’s “Gladiator” from 1930 is one example which predates “Odd John”...more
Gregg Wingo
In 1935, Olaf Stapleton published "Odd John", a doomed wish-fulfillment novel that acts as a Utopian criticism of a world balanced between the “communist” Soviet Union and the established fascism of Italy and Germany. His Superhuman character provides a critique of his “current” state of modernism in three points:

1)The human mind has an innate propensity for hate.
2)The regime of capitalist accumulation forces the ruling class to fear the proletariat and to apply authoritarian measures of control...more
Mathew
I love old science fiction. Why do we no longer tell science fiction stories from introspective perspectives? The slow pace still holds you and makes you wonder if the questionable motives and decisions would be different if you had made them. Would they have been different if you were John? How would your brain perceive the world? So much said in a small book. And, of course, Nigel Carrington is wonderful.
Josie
I gave up on this book really wishing I had the patience to finish it. The character is fascinating but the writing is so wooden I couldn't get into it. The "author" is theoretically writing a biography but it comes off more as a character study in a scientific paper. Pages and pages of stolid description occasionally broken up with a paragraph or page of story illustrating the description. Would that it had been the reverse! Because the character and the tales he tells about John are interestin...more
Shnfara
Borderline racist, Odd John reads like a list of generally unimaginative descriptions of the maturation of a hypothetical super-human. The book mostly relies on the trick of portraying all humanity as either so simple or stupid that a child with the mind of an adult dictator is meant to seem more than human. Not sure what the overall point of the novel was, possibly it is that communism is basically faulted but as close as humans can get to the utopia which only post-human individualists with te...more
Maggie
The first half of this book was a bit of a slog for me, while young John was busy being strange and unsympathetic and our narrator thinks we'd be interested to listen to John's many diatribes about the flaws of normal people. During this part I said the book was "interesting," but I'm not sure that I would have stuck with it if it hadn't been a recommendation from someone whose recommendations I have reason to listen to. That all changed in the second half, where John himself grew more likable (...more
Edward Davies
Although this is probably Stapledon's least adventurous novel, I think it is the most interesting. John is an interesting character that goes from being a relative nobody who is looked down on by society as he is so freakish to a megalomaniacal, power-hungry leader of men who manages to create his own powerful society that the rest of the world feels threatened by. A great little read, and a great moral tale.
Hazel
Nov 04, 2009 Hazel rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Hazel by: Manny Rayner
Shelves: science-fiction
My copy predates Lester Del Ray's Garland Library, but I'm not able to correct this on the Goodreads database.

This is old-fashioned science fiction, reportedly one of the earliest of the stories about homo superior. The style didn't grab me and I lost patience when Stapledon introduced a female specimen whose intellectual superiority had led her to become a prostitute. Then there was the black specimen who was something of a mystic. Of course you can't separate a writer from his culture, and th...more
Marsha Altman
A nice gem from the 1930's, though the text has aged somewhat. It's the story of John, a strange "supernormal" boy born for no particular reason in an English household, as told by his biographer after his death (sorry to spoil, but the book does the same very early on). The early and final chapters are by far the best material. The middle gets heavily weighed down by John's philosophical meanderings as he studies the human race from the POV of a boy many times smarter than any of them, and some...more
Curtis Schofield
Amazing - simply fantastical and also lovely in that it lacks the ugly forcefulness of other 'superhuman' style novels - it is not an arrogant account , nor is it materialistic in it's depiction of the superiour race of human - instead it is gentle and childlike - with maturity and grace.

All and all quite a incredible book and delightful even more so that it be writ in 1935 - a fact that I am incredulous to and meet check o'r and o'r again.

The writing itself is plain and easily digested with cla...more
Joel Alicea
An extraordinary novel about the greatness of the mentally gifted and the perils they endure in a world filled with prejudice and intolerance. This is the second novel of this author that I've read and I have felt satisfied so far by his writings. Whereas the reading of Star Maker is often hard and slow this one is so easily read that is like a bliss to go through. It is a staple in Stapledon the philosophy theme and this is no exception. Since I personally hate spoilers I won't reveal anything...more
Stephen Curran
An interesting but not wholly satisfying Übermensch story. Olaf Stapledon sidesteps the problem of describing a being who is far beyond humans in terms of intellect by presenting the story as a biography: the 'author' understands the workings of Odd John's mind only as dimly as the rest of us.

The account of this unusual little boy's moral and sexual development provides some provocative moments, but the narrative loses its grip when he begins to gather his gang of fellow super-humans.

Thoughtful...more
Alex Sarll
Much more like a novel than any of Stapledon's other novels that I've read, and again part of the same madly ambitious tapestry, this is essentially the X-Men as conceived in the 1930s, where even the heroic members of homo superior (a classification which apparently originated here) consider a little genocide against mere 'sapients' to be justified, given their own greater mission and "the tragic futility of homo sapiens".
Peter Dunn
I hadn't read any Stapledon in a while but I am glad I picked this short work for a journey it is his usual theme of future human evolution with a an unhappy ending telegraphed pretty much from the first page but still masterly done and a great read with lots of interesting asides showing Stapledon's own wrestling with his abandonment of communism and embracing something far more divine.
TrumanCoyote
Admittedly it does seem to take me a while to get through his stuff (with lots of breaks in between)--but he does somehow manage to be vague and vigorous at the same time. Oddly touching--and the repellent details make it seem more real. Maybe he really did go beyond even H G Wells (no wait, I'm high)...Olaf has a large and strange mind that you can't predict at all.
Mscout
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.
Gabriel
En español "Juan Raro" fue una de mis primeras lecturas en la adolescencia, recomendado por mi hermana Margarita. Me gustaría encontrarlo actualmente y releerlo, ya que fue una de las obras que me fueron formando el gusto por la lectura.
Pito Salas
Very weird book. Actually a short story together with another book by the same author, Sirius. Yes Sirius is about a sentient dog and Odd John is about some kind of super-person. Sci Fi. Excellent reads.
Ed
A book that could only be written, I think, before the Second World War. Kind of scary how many echos of recent events one can hear towards the end.
Matt
This is part of the classics of SF from Easton Press. I liked it in a 3 star sort of way. Worth reading.
Andrii Mironchenko
Stanislaw Lem appraised this novel as the best science-fiction book in the genre superhuman (Übermensch).
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Excerpted from wikipedia:
William Olaf Stapledon was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction.

Stapledon's writings directly influenced Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Stanisław Lem, C. S. Lewis and John Maynard Smith and indirectly influenced many others, contributing many ideas to the world of science fiction.
More about Olaf Stapledon...
Star Maker Last and First Men Last and First Men/Star Maker Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord Odd John/Sirius

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“Philosophy is an amazing tissue of really fine thinking and incredible, puerile mistakes. It's like one of those rubber 'bones' they give dogs to chew, damned good for the mind's teeth, but as food - no bloody good at all.” 17 likes
“My dear, it is a great strength to have faced the worst and to have *felt* it a feature of beauty. Nothing ever after can shake one.” 13 likes
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