Pioneering science fiction writer who looked billions of years in the future.
May 10, 1886 – September 6, 1950
Olaf Stapledon was many things: philosopher, educator, veteran of WWI, and pacifist activist—but he is remembered most fondly as the author of ambitious, prescient, and seminal works of science fiction.
A graduate of Oxford, Stapledon worked in a variety of jobs before taking up social work and tutoring, teaching philosophy, history, and poetry. During World War I he served as a conscientious objector with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in France and Belgium. He later attended the University of Liverpool and was awarded a PhD in Philosophy in 1925.
His first novel, Last and First Men, was published in 1930 and with its success, Stapledon devoted himself to writing full time. In 1937 Stapledon published Star Maker—a story spanning 100 billion years of human and alien evolution. Odd John (1935) concerns a precocious young boy who discovers that he is one of a number of mutant geniuses. The mutants create an isolated colony and ask only to be left alone but find that simple request too great for their fellow humans to respect.
Stapledon’s works explore the capacity of human intelligence, compassion, and the ability to comprehend our place in the universe. He is credited with first describing phenomena that have moved from science fiction to science fact, including genetic engineering and terraforming. He frequently lectured throughout Europe, was an outspoken agnostic and advocate for peace, and was involved in the anti-apartheid movement.