Manny's Reviews > Sirius

Sirius by Olaf Stapledon
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Sep 25, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction
Read in January, 1972


During the early decades of the 20th century, many intellectuals devoted attention to the idea of what a "Superman" would look like. (George Bernard Shaw is a prominent example). After a while, the emphasis shifted; the Nazis gave the word unpleasant associations, though Professors Siegel and Shuster luckily managed to save it from oblivion with their discovery that the Übermensch would carry a cape and wear his underpants on the outside, an important point that had somehow escaped Nietzsche's attention. A strange example of the cross-over between these two streams was Olaf Stapledon. A professor of philosophy by day, I'm guessing that his conception of the Übermensch probably started off at the Nietzsche end; but his science-fiction, which is the only thing that people now remember him for, also contains elements vaguely reminding you of the Son of Krypton.

Most of Stapledon's books explore the Superman theme in one form or another. In his most famous works, Last and First Men and the sequel Star Maker, we see the future evolution of the human race, and later on the evolution of all life in the Universe, towards its godlike conclusion. Odd John is a more standard guy-with-amazing-powers story, though a considerably more intelligent one than average. And in Sirius, a book that deserves to be better known, he turns it round. It's unfortunately impossible to imagine what a Superman would be like, since we are only human; this is the insoluble problem at the heart of Odd John. But suppose, instead, that human scientists managed to produce an Überhund, a dog with human-like intelligence. What kind of life would it have? How would it relate to other dogs, and to people?

Stapledon did not have an optimistic take on things, and if you've read any of his other books then you've no doubt already guessed that this one is going to be tragic. But it's a surprisingly moving story, and Sirius is one of the great fictional dogs of literature. If you're a dog-lover yourself, consider putting it on your list.
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06/08 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

The only book that ever made me cry in public.

The scene with Sirius in the church, and his trying to understand religion is amazing.


Manny I agree, there are some extraordinary scenes. I really should reread it. I haven't looked at it since I was a teen, but then I really liked it and read it at least twice.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I need to re-read it as well. I think it's a book that I could read every few years.


Manny I suddenly wondered if Spielberg could turn it into a movie. You'd be worried that he'd oversentimentalize it, but if he was on form it might be amazing.


message 5: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie This seems very much like Heart of a Dog. Although maybe not, as I doubt that it makes anyone cry.


Manny I have heard of Heart of a Dog before, but not understood what the plot was. Sounds very interesting. If only my Russian were better :(


message 7: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Schirmer Heart of a Dog works pretty well in translation, and there is a great Russian film of it as well. It's much funnier in Russian, but the translation (Galati, I think) serves it adequately.


message 8: by Aaron (new)

Aaron "Heart of a Dog" is a farcical alegory on the Soviet attempt to transform the people into a blemish free society. Sirius is much more ernest and straightforward.

Speaking of professors Siegel and Shuster, I thought Odd John had a real X-Men vibe going on, including an early version of cerebro.


message 9: by Manny (last edited Sep 26, 2012 07:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Thanks Andrew, but I will optimistically hope that my Russian some day comes up to scratch. I did two years of it at school and it's not out of the question.

Aaron, good catch on Odd John/X-Men! You've definitely got something there.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Aaron wrote: "I thought Odd John had a real X-Men vibe going on, including an early version of cerebro."

I wonder if Odd John, and Sturgeon's More than Human, influenced X-Men.


message 11: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler I'll have to keep this one in mind as I recently enjoyed reading Odd John.


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