Cover illustration: Les Edwards
Originally published: 1937
This edition published: 11 November 1999
This is by no means an ordinary Science Fiction novel, it is more a philosophical exploration of the Universe. That may make it sound like this is a pretentious novel, but Star Maker doesn't come off as that when you read it. But it is a rather complex novel that requires you engage with it on an intellectual level, and it will probably make you reflect more than the average SFF story.
It is rather strange to read a novel where the main character is non-corporeal almost all the time. But Stapledon manages to give him a distinct personality and you get quite close to him early on. Later in the novel he functions mostly as a narrator, looking at the events from a human perspective, giving us something to relate to. This is necessary because things get very alien to everyday experience as the story moves on.
The story starts out on Earth, but we quickly leave it and travel out into the Galaxy. And the journey goes through both time and space to several very interesting locations. It's the imaginative power of Stapledon that really makes this book. There are aliens here that are really alien, some of them are among the aliens farthest from humans I have ever encountered in Science Fiction.
Most of the story is concentrated on minds, and the melding of several minds, not an unfamiliar concept in Science Fiction. And it is the history of these minds and their development that lay the foundation for the journey Stapledon takes us on. The scope of this is massive, it encompasses most of time itself, and it is a testament to the clarity of the text that so much is told in so few pages. This is both a strength, and at times a frustration. We get glimpses of so many things that would have been interesting to explore further This doesn't weaken the novel however, it is a great work as it stands.
Back to the philosophy that saturates the novel. There's an exploration of existence throughout, and there are ideas here that puts humanity in perspective on a cosmological scale.
But the philosophy also encompasses what for me was the only flaw in the novel, towards the end Stapledon turns very much to spirituality. I felt this in some ways clashed with the rest of the novel, and that the secular nature of the philosophy in the earlier parts could have been sustained to the end. Not that this was a major annoyance for me, it just detracted a little bit from a great novel.
Some of you may be skeptical of reading a Science Fiction novel that is 75 years old, you shouldn't be. There is very little that is dated her, and what has does in no way come in the way of the story. There is so much to love here, and this is a novel that still deserves to be read widely.
This is definitely a novel I would go so far as to say is required reading for anyone calling themselves a fan of Science Fiction. I would also not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is not familiar with the genre, it may not be typical of Science Fiction but it shows how good it can be.