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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.






















Fantasy Review

The Spirit of Man

In Stapledon’s last book, “The Darkness and the Light,” we were given a picture of two warring principles. In his own nature-if I may be permitted to conjecture-there has been a similar struggle, a conflict between the novelist and the philosopher. In this book the philosopher has won.

Those of us who like our pills sugar-coated need not be discouraged. The pill, undoubtedly, is stronger than of old. The sugar coating has diminished in quantity, but the quality has not deteriorated.

There is a hero in this book. It is not the moth (beautiful symbolism!) trapped in the big, doomed bomber over Germany. It is neither pilot nor rear-gunner, nor any of the crew of seven. It is not any of their Individual spirits, nor is it the group spirit into which they merge after, the destruction of their ship.

It is the Spirit of Man. And the Spirit of Man is the moth, trapped at the finish and destroyed, when ages hence the Sun, flaring into a nova, engulfs and annihilates all the Man-colonised planets of the Solar System.

As a piece of philosophy, comforting to the agnostics to whom the conventional heaven and hell of the positively pious and the eternal blackout of the negatively pious are equally distasteful, I can recommend this book. As fine writing that is a pleasure to read I can also recommend it. But as fantasy it fails to make the grade.

I have wondered many a time why Mr. Stapledon persists, with the Moon already at our back doorstep, in postponing for so long in his future histories the first interplanetary flights. And I wonder why his future men, faced in this book as in others, with the not-too-immediate peril of an exploding Sun, make no attempt to bridge the gulf between the stars. To him, and to his characters, Far Centaurus is not even a dream, let alone a possibility.

The Neptunians of “Last and First Men” did, to their eternal credit, attempt the Dissemination when the End was upon them. But there was not overmuch enthusiasm. And “Odd John” went all philosophical on us and demonstrated the lack of survival value in that particular mutation by refusing to put up a fight. Only “Sirius”-and he was a dog-of all Mr. Stapledon’s characters demonstrates that savage will to live that is, that must be, an essential part of the Spirit of Man.

Mr. Stapledon’s Spirit of Man is a fair substitute for personal immortality-provided that it itself is immortal. But it is not. it is symbolised by the trapped moth, It is lost in an ecstasy of adoration and resignation when the not inevitable end looms over its horizon.

It is all very beautiful. But I’d prefer something with more guts.
Originally Published in Fantasy Review No: 1 - Feb/Mar 1947