“ONE night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill. Dark heather checked my feet. Below marched the suburban lamps. Windows, their curtains drawn, were shut eyes, inwardly watching the lives of dreams. Beyond the sea’s level darkness a lighthouse pulsed. Overhead, obscurity. I distinguished our own house, our islet in the tumultuous and bitter currents of the world. There, for a decade and a half, we two, so different in quality, had grown in and in to one another, for mutual support and nourishment, in intricate symbiosis. There daily we planned our several undertakings, and recounted the day’s oddities and vexations. There letters piled up to be answered, socks to be darned. There the children were born, those sudden new lives. There, under that roof, our own two lives, recalcitrant sometimes to one another, were all the while thankfully one, one larger, more conscious life than either alone. All this, surely, was good. Yet there was bitterness. And bitterness not only invaded us from the world; it welled up also within our own magic circle. For horror at our futility, at our own unreality, and not only at the world’s delirium, had driven me out on to the hill. We were always hurrying from one little urgent task to another, but the upshot was insubstantial. Had we, perhaps, misconceived our whole existence? Were we, as it were, living from false premises? And in particular, this partnership of ours, this seemingly so well-based fulcrum for activity in the world, was it after all nothing but a little eddy of complacent and ingrown domesticity, ineffectively whirling on the surface of the great flux, having in itself no depth of being, and no significance? Had we perhaps after all deceived ourselves? Behind those rapt windows did we, like so many others, in-deed live only a dream? In a sick world even the hale are sick. And we two, spinning our little life mostly by rote, sel-dom with clear cognizance, seldom with firm intent, were products of a sick world. Yet this life of ours was not all sheer and barren fantasy. Was it not spun from the actual fibres of reality, which we gathered in with all the comings and goings through our door, all our traffic with the suburb and the city and with remoter cities, and with the ends of the earth? And were we not spinning together an authentic expression of our own nature? Did not our life issue daily as more or less firm threads of active living, and mesh itself into the growing web, the intricate, ever-proliferating pattern of mankind? I considered “us” with quiet interest and a kind of amused awe. How could I describe our relationship even to myself without either disparaging it or insulting it with the tawdry decoration of sentimentality? For this our delicate balance of dependence and independence, this coolly critical, shrewdly ridiculing, but loving mutual contact, was surely a microcosm of true community, was after all in its simple style an actual and living example of that high goal which the world seeks. The whole world? The whole universe? Overhead, obscurity unveiled a star. One tremulous arrow of light, projected how many thousands of years ago, now stung my nerves with vision, and my heart with fear. For in such a universe as this what significance could there be in our fortuitous, our frail, our evanescent community?”
Far ahead of its time, Stapledon’s book was published in 1937 and continues to influence science fiction to this day. The following is the Amazon description for the book:
This bold exploration of the cosmos ventures into intelligent star clusters and mingles among alien races for a memorable vision of infinity. Cited as a key influence by science-fiction masters such as Doris Lessing, this classic has left its mark not only in modern literature but also in the fields of social anthropology and philosophy.
Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 successor to Last and First Men offers another entrancing speculative history of the future. Its narrator, a contemporary Earthman, joins a community of explorers who travel to the farthest reaches of the universe, seeking traces of intelligence. Along the way, they encounter nautiloid water beings, races of hyperspiders and hyperfish, composite group intelligences, plantlike creatures, and other strange life forms. Their dramatic voyage unfolds against a backdrop of life-and-death struggles on a cosmic scale.