And the books alone have sold two million copies across the globe in the past 15 years. That said, Wannamaker, who served in Vietnam as a Marine and has been involved with the U. ISBN Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here. To subscribe, click here. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw pubservice. New York Rights Fair. Sign up for our Children's Bookshelf newsletter!
Children's Announcements. Stay ahead with Tip Sheet! Sent away from her hometown, Bella is determined to return one day as a success. Her partner Rafael helps her achieve that success, but at what price? Across the river live the Dead Sky Order. Assisted by Ka-Guardians from beyond the Frozen Sky, they invade. Contains scenes of graphic violence and adult language. When an evil sorcerer discovers it, all you can do is run.
All books in the Borderlands trilogy are heavily discounted during the launch of Book 3. If you love YA fantasy, get the whole series today for a fraction of the usual price. Things spiral into a nightmare when her obsession with old photographs puts her at odds with deceivers from another world. The creatures have deadly plans. Can Miranda and her mysterious friend, Leo, find a way to defeat them? For an adventure of love and courage, buy Smiling Ghosts now! Pilot: Since the mysterious fall of the Aktar reign, travel has not been for the faint-hearted.
But barkeep Cori has her own mysteries to solve: her missing father, an uncanny power, and an alluring stranger who promises answers. In this epic fantasy, ancient secrets unfold, slow-burn romance sizzles, and betrayal is a readied knife pointed at the heart. She has devoted her short life to the rescue, rehabilitation, and re-homing of exotic ones people buy as pets and then abandon. The Saunders Exotic Bird Sanctuary is out of money and, in an effort to raise some, Mattie reaches out to Bodine, the lead guitarist of the bad-boy rock band Seditious.
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When Ty, the brave, new foster shows up, she realizes that the three of them just might get their chance at a new life. Wikarski: A quest to recover a cache of priceless and dangerous Minoan artifacts places a secret society and a fanatical religious cult on a collision course with disaster. Only one faction can win.
In the fifty-odd years since then, little has happened to change that judgement. The Space Merchants is a coruscating satire that just gets more relevant with every passing year. It's set in a world where all the real power is held by corporations. As a result, the most important business in the world is advertising, convincing people that each new product is making their lives better and better, even though necessities like fuel and water are in increasingly short supply. Does that sound like the world today? You bet it does. Our hero is a top copywriter who has been given the job of attracting colonists to Venus, even though the planet is so inhospitable that it will be generations before it is fully habitable.
But there are conspiracies going on that he is not aware of, and in time he is shanghaied and his identity stolen. Nevertheless, his copywriting skills make him a powerful propagandist for the revolutionaries, and eventually he is able to unravel all the lies and mysteries that have been going on. Kingsley Amis was right: this is still one of the best sf novels ever written, an unsurpassed example of science fiction as satire that you just have to read.
Captain Nemo. Wells type of story". It puts Verne right at the core of science fiction, a place that he still holds. From the appearance of his very first novel right up to his death, Verne was easily one of the most popular and successful writers in Europe, acclaimed in particular for his "Voyages extraordinaire", carefully researched stories that took his adventurers into strange and dramatic places, usually pushing at the technological possibilities of the time.
From outer space to the centre of the world, from extraordinary flying machines to even more extraordinary submarines, he took us to places we'd never seen before and made it all convincing and exciting.
One of his greatest successes explored an underwater world that no-one had seen before. Hunting what is rumoured to be a giant sea monster, Professor Aronnax and his companions are surprised to find themselves taken aboard a submarine of incredibly advanced, not to say luxurious, design. Here they meet the enigmatic Captain Nemo, the archetypal Jules Verne figure, a great scientist who is also a bold adventurer and driven by a thirst for revenge. Aboard the Nautilus they travel right around the world, seeing everything from coral reefs to Antarctic ice shelves, from sunken vessels to the Transatlantic cable.
Okay, Verne's books are more journey than plot, but the journeys are always marvellous, and, because he took such pains to get everything right according to the scientific knowledge of the day, absolutely convincing. Verne is one of a very small handful of writers about whom we can safely say that, without them there would be no science fiction. He's not always been well served by his English translators which is one reason they have often been presented as books for children , but even so they have gripped generation after generation, and more than a few later writers owe their inspiration to Verne.
In , a young Philip Jos Farmer wrote a novel for a contest, and won.
Unfortunately, the prize money was misappropriated, the novel was never published, and Farmer nearly gave up writing as a result. But more than a decade later he began reworking the material from that unpublished novel, first as a novella, which later still became part of To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which in turn became the first volume in a series that would go on to contain four more novels and a collection of stories.
There are others there, figures from different periods of Earth's history including a Neanderthal, an alien who wiped out all life on Earth in the 21st century, and Alice Liddell, the original of Alice in Wonderland. Burton sets out to explore the river, and almost immediately finds himself fighting Hermann Goring who has set up his own kingdom on one part of the riverbank. Burton finds out that when he is killed he is reborn at a different point on the river, and he uses this device to continue his journey and eventually come face to face with the Ethicals who created the Riverworld.
Basically this is just one big epic adventure that gives Farmer an excuse to throw in any historical figure he likes at any point in the story. There's no great depth to the story, but it is great fun. Oxford Time Travel. Ever since H. Wells, time travel has been one of the great staples of science fiction, but few writers have approached the subject as grittily or as thoroughly as Connie Willis. In her loosely linked sequence of novels, time travel is a device used by students at a near-future Oxford University, who travel back for practical experience of the period they are studying.
There are limits, points in history that the time machine will not penetrate because the past might be altered or periods that are considered too dangerous to visit. One such period, of course, is the Black Death. Kivrin is sent back to study rural England in , a period safely before the plague struck, but something goes wrong and she arrives more than 20 years later than intended, just as the Black Death reaches the village in Oxfordshire that she is visiting. At the same time, a new strain of influenza hits Oxford just after her departure, incapacitating the time travel technician, leading to the entire city being quarantined and meaning that no-one is aware of exactly when Kivrin is.
Alternating between these two times and these two plagues, we get two rather different stories. In 21st century Oxford there's a race against time as people battle illness to try and discover where Kivrin is and how to rescue her. But far more moving is the story set in the 14th century, a harrowing account of the onset and effects of the Black Death, in which Kivrin has to helplessly stand by and watch the villagers, people who have cared for her and who she has got to know, dying one by one.
Until finally she is on her own, not strong enough to dig the last grave. Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and is easily the best of the time travel stories Willis has written. For once, the past that is visited is not prettified, is not colourful and romantic, but harsh, ugly, terrifying and real. Old Man's War.
First serialised on his website before it was taken up by a major publisher, Scalzi's debut novel is an amalgam of Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. In the novel, Scalzi reverses the popular notion that it is young men who go away to fight wars while old men stay at home. John Perry, the central character in the novel, is 75 years old and retired when he volunteers to join the Colonial Defence Force.
He and other senior citizens undergo a series of psychological tests before their minds are transferred into new bodies built from their own DNA material and bioengineered to give them extra strength, stamina, enhanced eyesight and other advantages. It includes a neural interface that allows members of the force to communicate with each other by thought alone.
The story follows Perry through basic training and on to deployment in a series of conflicts with different alien races. Resourceful and quick thinking, Perry is generally able to secure victory in these battles, which earns him rapid promotion even as he is becoming increasingly disillusioned by the war. When Tor. Although it harks back to some of the most traditional themes in science fiction, it is undoubtedly one of the key works of the new century. One night, when he is 12 years old, Tyler Dupree and two friends witness all the stars in the sky suddenly disappearing.
It turns out that a membrane has been placed around the Earth. An artificial sun allows daily life on Earth to continue as normal, but the membrane has had a profound effect upon time: one year passing within the membrane is equivalent to one hundred million years outside. So people on Earth don't have too long before the sun grows big enough to destroy the planet. It's a bravura opening, the sort of startling, big concept idea that creates a genuine sense of wonder.
And Wilson really follows through. All the way through Spin and its two sequels, Axis and Vortex, there are moments that just stop you dead in your tracks. At one point a ship penetrates the membrane and delivers colonists to Mars. Just two years later Earth time, Mars has a sophisticated technological civilisation, and a membrane is thrown around that planet too.
Eventually we discover that the membrane is the work of intelligent von Neumann machines, dubbed Hypotheticals, who do it to slow down time for societies close to collapse to allow time for a solution to be found. No sooner do we discover this than in another brilliantly vivid moment a massive arch opens up in the Indian Ocean which serves as a gateway to another world. Axis takes us to that other world, but more puzzles about the Hypotheticals soon emerge, and with them more time dilation. Which becomes extreme in Vortex, where the storylines alternate between 40 years after the events of Spin and 10, years after the events of Axis.
Spin won the Hugo Award, and was one of the most widely talked about novels of the day, simply because it is so awesome at creating amazing vistas and startling events. In Billion Year Spree, his epic history of science fiction, Brian Aldiss coined the term "cosy catastrophe" for the sorts of novels that John Wyndham wrote.
Well, they are certainly catastrophes, but they are far from cosy. The first and best of them is surely The Day of the Triffids, in which there is actually a double catastrophe. Triffids are tall, carnivorous plants that are capable of locomotion and that there probably bioengineered in the Soviet Union before escaping into the wild.
At first they present no danger, but then there is a curious meteor shower which is assumed to be connected to atomic weapons, and everyone who sees it is rendered blind. Now the triffids become especially dangerous. Only a few people retain their sight, one of which is the narrator, Bill Masen, who makes his way through a devastated landscape, menaced by triffids at every turn. The sighted are enslaved by the blind; tentative communities grow up and then fall apart; despotic military governments emerge.
It's an amazing vision of a world falling apart almost in an instant. The Day of the Triffids was the first of the great British catastrophe stories that appeared in the years after the Second World War, a novel that has gone on to be taught in schools and dramatized for film and television, so it is one of the few science fiction classics that is familiar to people who never read the genre.
The Zombie Apocalypse has become one of the most pervasive themes in sf and horror over the last few years, so much so that it has escaped genre and become a commonplace idea. What dread is being disguised by this is hard to say, but more and more writers have taken up the theme. But this is where it really started. It consists of a series of interviews, conducted by an agent of the commission called Max Brooks, which piece together the story from the initial outbreak until the devastating end of the conflict. Zombies are the victims of an incurable virus.
They have no intelligence but an uncontrollable urge to eat living flesh, and they can only be killed by destroying the brain. The outbreak is traced back to a boy in China, but it spreads rapidly. Wars of steadily increasing ferocity break out as different countries react differently to the situation: there's a civil war in Israel; Pakistan and Iran blow each other up in a nuclear war; millions flee to the Arctic because the zombies cannot survive the cold, only to die of hypothermia.
Eventually the US military goes on the offensive against the zombies, with limited success. By the end of the novel many of the old political problems in the world seem to have been resolved, but at the cost of nearly wiping out life on Earth. When published, World War Z became an international best seller, and revitalised a tired sub-genre of very limited appeal. In times to come, whenever dogs gather they will tell tales about the legendary creature known as Man.
City is a collection of linked stories that detail the breakdown, first, of urban civilisation, and eventually of humanity itself. There is no apocalypse in these stories, but people simply become more and more isolated until eventually they die out. The stories cover a span of tens of thousands of years. Early on we see people leaving the cities because of a fear of nuclear holocaust, but they come realise they prefer the pastoral existence.
As people become more and more isolated from their neighbours, they come to rely more on their robot servants, and on their dogs who are given the power of speech. In a research station on Jupiter, a man and his dog transform themselves into a shape that allows them to survive on the surface of the planet, and discover that their new existence is a sort of paradise. When this knowledge is telepathically conveyed to Earth, more and more people give up their human existence to live transformed on another world. Meanwhile, the dogs unite all the animals in a peaceful civilisation and the robots recognise that humans can no longer coexist in this world, so they usher the surviving people to another world where, eventually, they die out.
City won the International Fantasy Award. Written in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, it expresses a common belief that humans are inherently violent and cannot exist in a peaceful society. As such, it captures the spirit of the age perfectly, which is why it stands up today as a classic of the genre. Despite his credentials championing hard, rational science fiction, John W. Campbell was a fervent believer in psi powers. Perhaps because of that, whenever telepathy appeared in science fiction, as in Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, it was almost invariably presented as a talent, a power, usually a good thing.
But what if it isn't, what if it is of little real value and perhaps even harmful? That is the premise of one of Robert Silverberg's most powerful novels. David Selig is a telepath, but it hasn't really done him much good. He makes a precarious living hanging around colleges writing essays for students, and using his telepathy to check the details, to get it right. But the power is waning, and since so much of his sense of identity is tied up in his telepathy useless as it may be , so this loss of power is equated with losing his grip on reality.
One critic complained that Silverberg had made the science fiction elements of the novel pedestrian, but that is precisely the point. The waning powers represent a loss of joy, a loss of creativity, it really is life becoming pedestrian. And the novel is beautifully and movingly written to convey exactly that point. For a period between the mids and mids, Silverberg produced work of the highest quality, and this was undoubtedly the best of the bunch, a novel that combines an intriguing sf idea with psychological insight and brilliant writing: how could it fail!
We never know exactly what has happened, an apocalypse of some kind that has covered the landscape with ash and destroyed all animal life, but which has left most houses intact. There are human survivors, grubby, ragged, scrounging for what they can get from the houses they come across, or reverting to cannibalism. Two such survivors are a father and his son, heading south to avoid the coming winter with all their meagre possessions bundled into a shopping trolley.
They survive attacks, avoid cannibals, lose most of what they have, then discover a secret cache of food that keeps them going. The father is dying, he thinks about nothing now but keeping his son alive. We are the good guys, he tells him, we keep the flame. The prose is spare, the story bleak and harrowing, but with the slightest hint of salvation at the end. It is a haunting, terrifying, magnificent book that will keep you up nights. The Road won a host of mainstream literary prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, yet it also received near universal praise within the science fiction community.
There have been a host of novels about the last man on Earth, but usually they are isolated, exploring a world denuded of people. But what if the last man wasn't alone? What if the others had risen as if from the dead and were all around him? When a pandemic strikes, Robert Neville is immune, but everyone else falls victim. But the disease doesn't kill, rather it turns people into something resembling vampires. By night, Neville barricades himself in his home, using garlic, mirrors and crucifixes to keep away his vampiric neighbours.
But since exposure to sunlight kills those infected, he can spend the days out and about, scavenging for food and researching the causes of the disease. He becomes a successful vampire killer, until a new strain of vampire emerges, ones that can bear short periods in the sunlight and who are attempting to build a new society. Whichever way you read it, I Am Legend is itself a legend, a story that has entered our consciousness, a story that will keep you reading. Though really, there's no contest. It's a startling, visceral, thrilling read that stands head and shoulders above any other vampire novel.
There's an idea you sometimes come across that the dividing line between mainstream "literature" and genre fiction is rigid and unbreakable. That's nonsense. Writers have always crossed backwards and forwards across the line as the spirit took them. One of the most successful has been Michael Chabon who, alongside his Pulitzer Prize winning fiction, has also produced a YA fantasy, steampunk, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, a comic and this brilliant alternate history novel. As a consequence, only two million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but the state of Israel fails.
But now, at the beginning of the new century, a new President is determined to end the temporary settlement. The story focuses on Meyer Landsman, a Sitka detective whose investigation of a murder leads to a rabbi who is also Sitka's leading crime boss, and to a conspiracy to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Murder, religious identity, politics all get mixed up in a complex story full of mysteries and sudden revelations. It's a deep and absorbing work, but it's also great fun. The Yiddish Policemen's Union won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Sidewise Awards; it is unprecedented for someone from outside the genre to win so many of the major genre awards.
Penguin Modern Classics. Also known as No Blade of Grass, this was one of John Christopher's classic cosy catastrophes, although there is very little that is cosy in this post-apocalyptic tale. In Asia, a new disease starts to affect rice crops, leading to widespread famine. Soon, the virus mutates and starts to attack all forms of grass, including such staple food crops as wheat and barley.
The result is anarchy and panic, amid which John Custance tries to lead his family and friends safely across England to where his brother has a potato farm. Along the way, as their entourage grows, they find themselves abandoning all their old morality in order to survive, including committing murder. The portrait of a society disintegrating in the face of starvation is what makes this such a compelling story. Cosy catastrophe, the rather demeaning name for a strand of British science fiction in the s and early 60s, was actually a continuation of the scientific romances that imagined various forms of the destruction of the familiar world.
Christopher was a master of this, picturing far from cosy worlds in which his protagonists have to become increasingly hardened and ruthless in the face of a fragile environment. In the latter years of the 19th century, astronomers detected lines on the surface of Mars, and before long these were being identified as irrigation canals, suggesting notm only that the planet was habitable, but that it had an older and more advanced civilisation than our own.
These ideas fed directly into works such as The War of the Worlds by H. By early in the 20th century, the idea of canals had mostly been abandoned, but the romance of an ancient Mars continued, and it was this romance that Edgar Rice Burroughs caught perfectly in his colourful adventure stories beginning with A Princess of Mars.
Because of the lower gravity, he finds he has super powers, which he puts at the service of the warlike Tharks, the six-limbed green Martians. Then he meets and falls in love with Dejah Thoris, Princess of the humanoid red Martians. He goes on to play a leading part in the political conflicts between the various tribes of Mars, or Barsoom as it is known. Carter returned to Mars for ten further adventures with his wife, Dejah Thoris, the last of them cobbled together from previously published material long after Burroughs's death. Let's be honest, this isn't great literature. It's crude pulp adventure full of villainous villains and noble heroes, hairs-breadth escapes, abrupt coincidences.
It's written in broad strokes and bold colours, but if you want something to keep you turning the page, this is it. And if you find yourself recognising bits and pieces, that's because an awful lot of better sf writers have borrowed from this series. If you want to know what hard sf is really all about, then this is the novel you have to read. Hal Clement didn't believe in having human antagonists in his novels, he reckoned that the universe is big enough and bad enough as it is to provide all the opposition you need to make a gripping story.
And when you read this, you'll see why. Antagonists don't come much bigger or badder than the planet Mesklin. Mesklin is highly oblate, which means it is flattened at the poles. This affects gravity, which is three times earth normal at the equator, but a massive g at the poles. So when a human probe is lost near the pole, the only way they can recover it is with the help of the locals. They hire a trader, Barlennan, to find the probe in return for vital information about the planet's weather, which can be dangerous for the Mesklinites. These are low, centipede-like beings who have learned to move slowly and carefully, and who are terrified of a fall under any circumstances.
The novel follow's Barlennan's journey, and is mostly devoted to exploring how it is affected by the different conditions shaped by the varying gravity along the way. Mission of Gravity is one of the definitive examples of worldbuilding. It's a story we trust because we trust all the scientific thinking that went into devising such a planet. Still today it is the novel you'd point to as an example of how to do hard sf properly. German Edition. With The Centauri Device, M. John Harrison provided the foundation text of the British Renaissance, or the New Space Opera, or both depending on who you listen to.
Then he turned to writing fantasy while writers as varied as Iain M. Banks and China Miville built on that foundation. With the Kefahuchi Tract Trilogy, he returned to space opera with a work that took it to a whole new level. In the first volume, Light, Michael Kearney is a serial killer in contemporary London who is also a theoretical physicist who is working with his partner on calculations that will eventually pave the way for humans to get into space. At one point their black and white cats seem to pass through the screen of their computer, and of the characters at the centre of the other two strands of the novel Seria Mau is associated with a white cat while Ed Chianese is associated with a black cat.
These two strands take place years in the future in a region of space known as the Kefahuchi Tract where all sorts of strange alien technology has washed up. The second volume, Nova Swing, takes place in Saudade City where an edge of the tract has touched down. The zone has a strange effect on the city, where people seem to appear as if from nowhere then fade away after a few days. Meanwhile some adventurers try to enter the zone for the mysterious technology to be found there, but at tremendous cost. Finally, in Empty Space, all of these strands come together with a story that again ricochets between the present and the future, or rather that collapses the differences between present and future.
The Kefahuchi Tract is an extraordinary invention, but in the end we are left wondering how much of it simply exists within the minds of Harrison's characters. Clarke Award, yet in a sense winning science fiction awards is a curious thing, because the books destroy our expectations of science fiction and rebuild them as something else.
They are complex, self-referent, full of puzzles that seem to mean something different every time you re-read the books. It's a work, in short, that makes you think and then makes you doubt what you're thinking. How much more could you do if you didn't have to sleep? That's the simple question that starts this superb trilogy. In this near future world, a philosophy that is becoming ever more dominant is known as Yagaiism, after its originator, Yagai. It's a world view based on the ideas of Ayn Rand, and argues that someone's worth is a measure of their contribution to society.
Against which, Kress asks through one of her characters, what do we owe to the beggars in Spain, the poor and helpless who have nothing but their need. This contrast between selfishness and generosity is dramatized in the trilogy by the conflicts arising over sleeplessness. Genetic modification has allowed some people to live without the need for sleep.
Since they can spend a much greater portion of the day productively, the sleepless inevitably learn more, more quickly as children and become more productive and richer as adults. There are other advantages, as well, such as longevity. But there are disadvantages, mainly caused by the increasing resentment and suspicion of the sleepers. For instance, a sleepless athlete is banned from the Olympics because her extended training regime gives her an unfair advantage over other athletes.
But as the sleepless band together, so the sleepers find themselves more and more becoming second or even third class citizens. Over the course of the two subsequent volumes, Beggars and Choosers and Beggars Ride, Kress catalogues the increasing discrimination and the political disintegration that follows on from the division of the country into sleepers and sleepless.
It is one of the most carefully thought out and most compelling accounts of the near future you're likely to read. The original novella, that became the first part of the first volume, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Its account of emerging technologies, particularly in the area of genetic engineering, is carefully researched and absolutely convincing.
Inevitably, there is a continuity between past and future. The present is not a cut-off point between one and the other, but simply a sliding scale in the process of moving along the line. Of course, science fiction novels set exclusively in the future, and historical novels set exclusively in the past, do nothing to display this continuity.
Which is what makes David Mitchell's novel so intriguing and so successful. It starts in the midth century with the journal of an American on a sailing ship in the Pacific who slowly comes to realise that the doctor treating him is actually poisoning him. Then there are the letters of a young chancer in the s who becomes the amanuensis to an old composer and starts an affair with the composer's wife. Next is a thriller set in California in the s as a journalist begins investigating events at a nuclear power plant.
In the present day there's the comic story of a publisher on the run from gangsters who finds himself trapped in an old people's home. A clone in a dystopian future Korea confesses to her part in plotting a rebellion by the fabricants. And on a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian island an old man relates, in a broken language, his meeting with a woman from a more sophisticated society.
With the exception of the last, each of these stories breaks off at the mid-point, only to be picked up again in backwards order in the second half of the novel. The central character in each story reads the earlier text, but some of the early texts contain echoes of the later stories. Past, present and future, in other words, interconnect and feed off each other in a story of human predation that gains much of its power from the resonances across time. There is no other work that is structured like this, there is no other work that so deftly combines elements of historical fiction and science fiction.
Cloud Atlas is beautiful, absorbing and totally unique. Complete Shapers-Mechanists Universe. Out of the fervent that was cyberpunk, two very distinctive voices emerged, each taking the sub-genre in different directions. William Gibson became increasingly concerned with how we shape the modern world around us; Bruce Sterling, on the other hand, wrote more and more about how the modern world shapes us. In this future, humanity has spread to orbital colonies scattered across the solar system, leaving Earth behind and, indeed, having no further communication with the old planet-bound humans.
But in the process of moving into space, they have changed in one of two ways. There are the Shapers who use genetic modification to change their bodies, and who believe a natural, unplanned birth is a disadvantage. Opposing them are the Mechanists who use computer and machine augmentations. Through the character of renegade diplomat Abelard Lindsay, the novel serves as a tour of various Shaper and Mechanist colonies, exploring the different body forms that have been chosen, the various political systems that have been adopted, and the tensions between the different groups.
Schismatrix was one of the key cyberpunk novels, and an essential work in the development of posthuman fiction. One of the things that H. Wells did with The Time Machine was offer a panoramic vista of a vast sweep of time, taking us far forward to the very death throes of our planet. It's an epic scale that writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have emulated. But there is no one who has written about inconceivable eons of time in quite the way Olaf Stapledon does in this novel. Stapledon was a philosopher who followed the Hegelian conception of history, that there is a tension which causes civilisations to rise and fall and rise and fall.
For every advance there's a decline, but the next advance will take us that little bit further forward. Stapledon put this notion into this novel, which covers some two billion years, and several different forms of post-humanity. The First Men are us, a society that sees a world state, the using up of all of our natural resources, and a nuclear holocaust that destroys all but a few survivors. These eventually become the Second Men, and then the Third, and so on. Humans change, grow taller or shorter, acquire extra fingers, larger brains.
By the Fifth Men, it is an artificial species, one that goes on to terraform Venus when earth ceases to be habitable. The most advanced race of all are the Eighteenth Men, natural philosophers with several sub-genders, they do not die, but they do practice ritual cannibalism. It's not an easy book to read; rarely does he pause long enough in his headlong race through the centuries to actually introduce any characters.
But it is so jam packed with ideas that you cannot help but come away from the book feeling invigorated. Arthur C. Clarke said of Last and First Men that "no other book had a greater influence on my life. Is this novel science fiction? Or is it fantasy, or a straight historical fiction? It could be any, depending on how you choose to read the famously enigmatic ending of the novel. But however you read it, it is a beautiful and fascinating work. A white woman walks into a camp of Chinese workers in the Pacific Northwest in the s. She doesn't speak, maybe she can't speak, but she does utter birdlike sounds that leads the Chinese labourers to christen her Sarah Canary.
One of the Chinese tries to take care of her, which leads the two on an odyssey among the outcasts of American society at the time, encountering blacks, the insane, feminists and artists among others. At the end, Sarah is transformed into something indescribably and disappears. Was she an alien?