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Olaf Stapledon
Olaf Stapledon.jpg
Born (1886-05-10)10 May 1886
Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire, England, UK
Died 6 September 1950(1950-09-06) (aged 64)
Caldy, Cheshire, England, United Kingdom
Occupation Novelist, philosopher
Genre Science fiction, philosophy
Notable works Star Maker, Last and First Men, Odd John

William Olaf Stapledon (May 10, 1886September 6, 1950) was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction.


He was born in Seacombe, Wallasey, on the Wirral peninsula near Liverpool, the only son of William Clibbert Stapledon and Emmeline Miller. The first six years of his life were spent with his parents at Port Said. He was educated at Abbotsholme School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he acquired a BA in Modern History in 1909 and a Masters degree in 1913. After a brief stint as a teacher at Manchester Grammar School, he worked in shipping offices in Liverpool and Port Said from 1910 to 1913.

During World War I he served with the Friends' Ambulance Unit in France and Belgium from July 1915 to January 1919. On 16 July 1919 he married Agnes Zena Miller (1894-1984), an Australian cousin whom he had first met in 1903, and who maintained a correspondence with him throughout the war from her home in Sydney.

They had a daughter, Mary Sydney Stapledon (1920-), and a son, John David Stapledon (1923-). In 1920 they moved to West Kirby, and in 1925 Stapledon was awarded a PhD in philosophy from the University of Liverpool. He wrote A Modern Theory of Ethics, which was published in 1929. However he soon turned to fiction to present his ideas to a wider public. Last and First Men was very successful and prompted him to become a full-time writer. He wrote a sequel, and followed it up with many more books on subjects associated with what is now called Transhumanism.

In 1940 the family built and moved into Simon's Field, in Caldy. After 1945 Stapledon travelled widely on lecture tours, visiting the Netherlands, Sweden and France, and in 1948 he spoke at the Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in Wrocław, Poland. He attended the Conference for World Peace held in New York in 1949, the only Briton to be granted a visa to do so. In 1950 he became involved with the anti-apartheid movement; after a week of lectures in Paris, he cancelled a projected trip to Yugoslavia and returned to his home in Caldy, where he died very suddenly of a heart attack.

Olaf Stapledon was cremated at Landican Crematorium; his widow Agnes and their children Mary and John scattered his ashes on the sandy cliffs overlooking the Dee Estuary, a favourite spot of Olaf's, and a location that features in more than one of his books.


His work directly influenced Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Stanisław Lem, C.S. Lewis and John Maynard Smith and indirectly influenced countless others, contributing so many ideas to the world of science-fiction (most of them inspired by his readings in philosophy) that they are too numerous to list.

Although his work predated the appearance of the word "transhuman" in 1966, both the transhuman condition and the supermind (composed of many individual consciousnesses) form recurring themes in his work. Star Maker also contained the first known description of Dyson spheres. Freeman Dyson credits this novel with giving him the idea. Last and First Men also featured early descriptions of genetic engineering and terraforming. Sirius describes a dog whose intelligence is increased to the level of a human being's.

His fiction often represents the strivings of some intelligence that is beaten down by an indifferent universe, and its inhabitants which, through no fault of their own, fail to comprehend these lofty yearnings.

Together with his philosophy lectureship at the University of Liverpool (which now houses the Olaf Stapledon archive), Stapledon lectured in English literature, industrial history and psychology. He wrote many non-fiction books on political and ethical subjects, in which he advocated the growth of "spiritual values", which he defined as those values expressive of a yearning for greater awareness of the self in a larger context ("personality-in-community").


  • Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future (1930) (ISBN 1-85798-806-X)
  • Last Men in London (1932) (ISBN 0-417-02750-8)
  • Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest (1935) (ISBN 0-413-32900-3)
  • Star Maker (1937) (ISBN 0-8195-6692-6)
  • Darkness and the Light (1942) (ISBN 0-88355-121-7)
  • Old Man in New World (short story, 1944)
  • Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord (1944) (ISBN 0-575-07057-9)
  • Death into Life (1946)
  • The Flames: A Fantasy (1947)
  • A Man Divided (1950) (ISBN 0-19-503087-7)
  • Four Encounters (1976) (ISBN 0-905220-01-3)
  • Nebula Maker (drafts of Star Maker, 1976) (ISBN 0-905220-06-4)


  • A Modern Theory of Ethics: A study of the Relations of Ethics and Psychology (1929)
  • Waking World (1934)
  • Saints and Revolutionaries (1939)
  • New Hope for Britain (1939)
  • Philosophy and Living, 2 volumes (1939)
  • Beyond the "Isms" (1942)
  • Seven Pillars of Peace (1944)
  • Youth and Tomorrow (1946)
  • The Opening of the Eyes (ed. Agnes Z. Stapledon, 1954)


  • Latter-Day Psalms (1914)

See also

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