OLAF STAPLEDON: A Man Divided by Leslie A. Fiedler


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The uneven Science-Fiction Writers critical series continues--with an intense yet ultimately murky study of influential British sf writer Olaf Stapledon (Sirius, Star Maker, etc.). Fiedler, while predictably bemoaning Stapledon's rejection by ""the guardians of high literature"" (cf. his anti-elitist tract, What Was Literature?, 1982), doesn't hesitate to catalogue the faults which kept Stapledon from being either an esthetic success or a commercial favorite: the thin characterization, the thematic confusion, the recurring tedium. Nor does he apologize for Stapledon's politics--the pro-Soviet stances, the shrill anti-Americanism, the anti-Semitism--though he finds the commitment to socialist humanism superficial: ""on the deeper psychic levels from which his fiction comes, he is a shameless elitist--in the suspect tradition of Nietzsche. . . ."" Still, discussing each of Stapledon's major works in detail, Fiedler finds, along with the hallmarks of ""essentially a thirties novelist,"" deeply moving metaphors and plot-notions that grapple with the questions of mortality and man's place in the universe; some of these are, in a vague stab at psychoanalytic literary-criticism (Stapledon's private life remains largely private), related to Stapledon's feelings about death, aging, sex, and his parents; the influence of Wells and the theological parallels with C. S. Lewis are neatly sketched. And, while Fiedler's eclectic, ""man-divided"" approach doesn't add up to a fully-formed writer/artist portrait, some of the individual appreciations are happily un-academic (""It is the rendering of Sirius' quintessential dogginess which seems to me the supreme achievement of the novel as science fiction"")--and may lead readers to explore the lesser-known, admittedly daunting Stapledon.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press