Friday, October 7, 2011

Odd John (Classic SF)

Homo sapiens. Homo superior. 

In Odd John, Olaf Stapledon explores what might happen if Homo sapiens began to evolve into a new species. The result is fascinating, and, at times, disturbing. While Odd John was first published in 1935, between the release of Last and First Men and Star Maker, the novel has a stronger plot line and more character development. It tells the story of John, a Supernormal.

Briefly, John is born prematurely after eleven months in the womb. His parents immediately know that he is unusual, and his mother calls him Odd John. He looks unusual, physically develops slowly, and is incredibly intelligent. He realizes that he is different from those around him. He thinks of Homo sapiens as cattle, not quite human. Those who he cares about he thinks of as beloved pets. He nicknames the narrator of the story, a family friend, Fido. John teaches himself about Homo sapiens and the world around him. He is able to manipulate people to get what he wants, especially information. He also develops a certain amount of psychic ability. To deal with the loneliness he often feels, he seeks out others of his kind. The story ends with John’s death.

Although Odd John is not as brilliant as Last and First Men and Star Maker, I found it easier to read. Stapledon does a nice job of balancing some sympathy for John with some revulsion for his actions. Other than some cosmetic details, the story is timeless and has some ponderable ideas. It provides some ideas of how humans might evolve. It also looks at the everyday world from an outsider point of view. Stapledon continues to expand my view of reality. 

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