Manny's Reviews > Star Maker

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
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Mar 28, 13

bookshelves: science-fiction, transcendent-experiences, pooh-dante
Read in January, 1974

There's a theory that, no matter what the author appears to be writing about, really he's writing about himself. I find this theory quite appealing, and, even though I don't believe it 100%, I think it's often a good way to try and understand why you like a book.

Star Maker is an interesting test case. In an earlier book, Last and First Men, the author described the billion-year future history of the human race. Now, he has expanded the scope into a history of the entire universe. The human race just appears for an incidental sentence or two; we aren't important in this larger scheme of things.

The rest of this review is in my book What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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trivialchemy Manny, I learned something new today peripherally rated to this book, and I thought you might find it interesting.

I was in the new astrophysics center at CalTech for a luncheon, and I grabbed for no particular reason except to avoid social contact a book off one of the shelves -- ah, yes here it is:

The View from the Center of the Universe Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos (People seem not to like it much, incidentally.)

Now, I have always wondered something that Olaf Stapledon touches on in Star Maker -- namely, why is that (biological) organisms should basically all be about the same size? I mean what are the principles at work in keeping a being -- say, the size of a star -- from organizing and generating self-awareness? Or a being the size of a solar system? Or nebula? The couple-of-meters scale seems so arbitrary! I can see why we don't get much smaller than a bacteria -- obviously, the atomic scale presents something of a barrier to complexity. But why not bigger?

Anyway, this book has the answer! I opened it to a random page, random paragraph, and it was the first thing I read. It's so simple! In order for an organism to be considered as such, it's got to be in communication with its appendages, right? If it is to be self-aware, it's got to communicate with itself.

Well (obviously!) the speed of light puts an upper limit on any sort of neuronal impulse. He does some quick calculations and points out that even allowing for the entire age of the universe, a creature of galactic scale could only have had the same number of thoughts that a human being has every couple of minutes!


Manny That is indeed interesting! Stapledon cheats, assuming faster-than-light telepathic communication.

But, I'm not sure I agree with the argument anyway. Neurons are very slow. Why couldn't you have a much larger creature (e.g. Fred Hoyle's Black Cloud) with light-speed neurons?


message 3: by John E. (new)

John E. Branch Jr. For me, it's easy to see how imagining the end of everything would induce a "strange poignancy," whether or not I imagined something resembling mankind as present or not. That moment in which "Nevermore" must be pronounced is simply a version of our own death.

That leads me to a second thought: it's also easy to imagine oneself as the entire universe. Maybe not in a literal and physical sense, but in some sense. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, approximately, that when a man dies, a world dies with him (he was using "man" to mean "person.") In that everything knowable is or could be represented in my knowledge, I am everything.

Still, you may be onto something with your idea about Stapledon writing about himself when he wrote Star Maker. Maybe in the way I just suggested, maybe in some other way. Thanks for that.


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