penguin science fiction

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Sirius by Olaf Stapledon


The British author and philosopher, Olaf Stapledon (1886 - 1950), may not be the most well-known member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, but he was certainly one of its most influential. Arthur C. Clarke wrote of Stapledon’s novel Last and First Men that “No book before or since ever had such an impact on my imagination.” Others he influenced include: Stanislav Lem, Bertrand Russell and C. S. Lewis. He also won critical acclaim from such prominent and diverse figures as: Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill.


Throughout his fictional work Stapledon meditated on the concept of the supermind, genetics and, especially, the conflict between man’s higher and lower impulses. In the novel Sirius (1944) these themes are infused into a fictional biography of a dog that has been engineered to have human intelligence.


As a canine with exceptional brainpower, Sirius offers a unique, and often humorous, perspective on humanity from the standpoint of both an alien outsider and one of its members. It is, therefore, with naivety and extraordinary insight that he marvels at mankind’s many wonderful achievements in science and the arts and recoils at its hypocrisies, vanities and sadism.


Throughout the novel this turmoil between the conflicting sides of human nature is one shared by Sirius who, while seeking deeper spiritual growth through knowledge, is not immune from acting on his more base desires. This attempt to wrestle with and reconcile his wolf and human halves is a struggle that eventually leads to a maddening sense of loneliness, despair and alienation.


The book in the photographs was published by Penguin Science Fiction in 1964. On the cover is Paul Klee’s In The Land of the Precious Stone, Woldemar Klein Verlag.


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