The SFFaudio Podcast #228 – READALONG: Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon


The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #228 – Jesse and Jenny talk about the Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon.

Talked about on today’s show:
the near and far future, not a novel, an imagined planetary history, the scope, Penguin Books, philosophy, the introduction, The Iron Heel by Jack London, a future history, human civilizations, two thousand million years (two billion years), universes => galaxy, man is a small part of the universe, Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon, Doctor Who, 2001: A Space Odyssey, what the plot would look like if there was one, the eighteen periods of man, evolution and construction, it’s set in 1930, is there ever an end to humanity?, Last Men In London by Olaf Stapledon, Last And First Men was popular in its day, Stapledon served in the ambulance service in WWI, plotlessness, period themes, the flying theme, the depletion of fossil fuels, The Mote In God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Venus, Mars, Neptune, the Martians, the Venusians, the genocide on Venus, Luke Burrage (the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast), racism, a Science Fiction mythology, the poetic musical ending, deep time, to the end of the Earth and beyond, Stapledon as an historian, civilizations always fall, there’s no one thing that ends civilizations, humanity as a symphony, the returns to savagery, establishing the pattern, Arthur C. Clarke, The House On The Borderlands by William Hope Hodgson, The Night Lands, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft and cosmicism, the Wikipedia entry for Last And First Men, Fritz Leiber, Forrest Ackerman, scientificion, matchless poignancy, S. Fowler Wright, Lovecraft’s love of the stars (astronomy), one of the species of man is a monkey, another a rabbit, no jokes but perhaps humour, a cosmic joke, monkeys have made human their slaves, Planet Of The Apes, an ability to hear at the subatomic level, intelligence, a fourteen foot brain supported by ferroconcrete, obsession with gold, obsession with diamonds, pulping people, it’s written like a history textbook or essays, the Patagonia explosion, the upstart volcanoes, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, chiseling knowledge into granite, Olaf loved coming up with different sexual relationships, the 20 year pregnancy, suicide, euthanasia, an unparalleled imagination, groupthink, telepathy, oversimplification, we must press on, the baboon-like submen, the seal-like Submen, the divergence of man into other ecological niches, the number of ants in New York, ecosystems, nuclear weapons, robots are missing, where is the robot man?, the over-emphasis on fossil fuels as the only source of energy, if you could see us now, post-humans, ultimately a love letter to humanity, not aww but awwww!, Starmaker as a masterpiece, Sirius, uplifting a dog, a fantasy of love and discord, dog existentialism, who am I and where is my bone?, Olaf Stapledon in the PUBLIC DOMAIN, influential vs. famous, a very different read.

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Olaf Stapledon illustration by Neil Austin

Posted by Jesse Willis

Silly Asses by Isaac Asimov

SFFaudio Online Audio

Silly Asses by Isaac Asimov

Maissa Bessada narrates for us Silly Asses a one page (400 word) satirical short story by Isaac Asimov.


Also available is a |PDF| made from a scan of the original publication in Future Science Fiction, February 1958.

And here is the complete text:

Silly Asses by Isaac Asimov

Naron of the long-lived Rigellian race was the fourth of his line to keep the galactic records.

He had a large book which contained the list of the numerous races throughout the galaxies that had developed intelligence, and the much smaller book that listed those races that had reached maturity and had qualified for the Galactic Federation. In the first book, a number of those listed were crossed out; those that, for one reason or another, had failed. Misfortune, biochemical or biophysical shortcomings, social maladjustment took their toll. In the smaller book, however, no member listed had yet blanked out.

And now Naron, large and incredibly ancient, looked up as a messenger approached.

“Naron,” said the messenger. “Great One!”

“Well, well, what is it? Less ceremony.”

“Another group of organisms has attained maturity.”

“Excellent. Excellent. They are coming up quickly now. Scarcely a year passes without a new one. And who are these?”

The messenger gave the code number of the galaxy and the coordinates of the world within it.

“Ah, yes,” said Naron. “I know the world.” And in flowing script he noted it in the first book and transferred its name into the second, using, as was customary, the name by which the planet was known to the largest fraction of its populace. He wrote: Earth.

He said, “These new creatures have set a record. No other group has passed from intelligence to maturity so quickly. No mistake, I hope.”

“None, sir,” said the messenger.

“They have attained to thermonuclear power, have they?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, thats the criterion.” Naron chuckled. “And soon their ships will probe out and contact the Federation.”

“Actually, Great One,” said the messenger, reluctantly, “the Observers tell us they have not yet penetrated space.”

Naron was astonished. “Not at all? Not even a space station?”

“Not yet, sir.”

“But if they have thermonuclear power, where do they conduct the tests and detonations?”

“On their own planet, sir.”

Naron rose to his full twenty feet of height and thundered, “On their own planet?”

“Yes, sir.”

Slowly Naron drew out his stylus and passed a line through the latest addition in the small book. It was an unprecedented act, but, then, Naron was very wise and could see the inevitable as well as anyone in the galaxy.

“Silly asses,” he muttered.

Asimov wrote Silly Asses on July 29, 1957. To put that in context, just ten days earlier (July 19, 1957), as a part of Operation Plumbbob the USAF filmed five Air Force officers standing directly under an atmospheric nuclear detonation. The idea was to demonstrate the safe usage of nuclear weapons over civilian populations.

Silly asses.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Destructomundo! How Do You Stop It?!!?

Online Audio

Destructomundo PodcastGreetings once again fellow vault-dwellers I have some terrible news.

That is not dead which can eternal lie and with strange aeons even death may die.

Yes, it is true, Destructomundo!, the podcast panel made up of Adam, Ted, Derek, and James, who would normally bring you advice on how to survive an “end of the world scenario” may have finally met a threat to the world that **GASP** cannot be survived! This due, to the Lovecraftian terror that nobody knows how to pronounce, and his eldritch friends. Cthulhu and his mythos are the latest topic on Destructomundo! Also listed are a cavalcade of slightly less dangerous scenarios…

Episode 024 Cthulhu |MP3|
Episode 023 Louisville Zombie Attack |MP3|
Episode 022 Anarchy |MP3|
Episode 021 Technopause |MP3|
Episode 029 Time Travel |MP3|
Episode 019b Supernatural Evil – Part 2 |MP3|
Episode 019a Supernatural Evil – Part 1 |MP3|
Episode 018 Dystopia |MP3|
Episode 017 Doppelgangers |MP3|
Episode 016 Mutants |MP3|
Episode 015 Rocks From Space |MP3|
Episode 014 Bunkers |MP3|
Episode 013 Post Apocalypses |MP3|
Episode 012 Dystopia |MP3|
Episode 011a/011b The Fourth Reich |MP3| & |MP3|
Episode 010a/010b Zombie Apocalypse |MP3| & |MP3|
Episode 009 The Antichrist |MP3|
Episode 008 The Last Man On Earth |MP3|
Episode 007 Doom Cults |MP3|
Episode 006 The Big List |MP3|
Episode 005 Science Run Amok |MP3|
Episode 004 Supervillians |MP3|
Episode 003 Aliens Attack! |MP3|
Episode 002 Rise of the Robots |MP3|
Episode 001 Road Warriors |MP3|

Be sure to only put these hardened MP3s into your “MIL-SPEC” iPod or MP3 player. Subscribe via this insanity inducing feed:

posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Answer by Philip Wylie

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Answer by Philip WylieThe Answer
By Philip Wylie; Read by Joel Grey
1 Cassette – Approx. 90 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dove Audio
Published: 1996
ISBN: 0787105139
Themes: / / / / / / /

“What egotism, what stupid vanity, to suppose that a thing could not happen because you could not conceive it!”
– Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer from When Worlds Collide

This audiobook of The Answer (subtitled A Parable For Our Times), was produced by Stefan Rudnicki. You should care because whenever Rudnicki gets involved with a project you’re pretty much guaranteed of two things: 1. A quality story. 2. A quality production. Rudnicki is himself a talented narrator, he’s been involved with some of the best short story collections on audio, won two big fistfuls of Audie awards and even a Grammy. Most impresive of all he was the mastermind behind the SFFaudio essential audiobook edition of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card! I was only vaguely familiar with Philip Wylie’s work prior to this novellette, I’d heard his dystopian novel The End Of The Dream and known that he had co-written the novel that became the feature film When Worlds Collide. So I did some research, The Answer was originally published in “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1955, adapted to television the same year and then republished several times in paper-book form since. The story was written in the shadow of the cold war the context for which the unstated question is asked – with that shadow faded the story still has power, but I suspect that it has been somewhat diminished.

Aboard a United States aircraft carrier in the South Pacific a distinguished team of nuclear scientists, politicians, naval and air-force officers await the impending test of an atomic bomb. The test, code named Operation Bugaboo, makes one officer question the very fabric of his belief, or rather his lack thereof. Major General Marcus Scott is an agnostic and skeptic, a veteran of WWII with a long and distinguished career behind him. But after the test is conducted and a single unforseen casualty is reported Scott’s entire worldview is shaken to its foundations. Discovered, as an apparent casualty of the tremendous hydrogen bomb blast is a winged figure, one even his ubelieving eyes can only describe as an angel.

While at first very satisfing on a level of sheer storytelling I noticed upon repeated listening Wylie’s writing scaffolding, the somehat forced structure upon which the story relies for power. For believability’s sake there are really too many coincidences. The scientifically testable circumstances, which are what you are buying when you listening to science fiction – are flushed away into circumstances no easier to swallow than ‘historical’ reports of angels, as the subtitle suggests “a parable for our times?”. Is it really meant to be a parrallel with historical reports of angels? Or is the structure simply in place to give narrative meaning to the story? I don’t know. But no matter how it was made, the story is only going to be offering comforting evidence to a believer, and however well meaning the point of the story, “the answer” of the title is at very best, in my opinion, only a wishful maxim. Flavour me unconvinced while still having been emotionaly involved by the tale.

An added music consists of a pipe organ, woodwind and stringed instruments. These are used to subtly underscore the emotions of the two viewpoints shown. Varied music gives ethereal holiness, timelessness or thoughtful reflection to specific scenes and to underscore others with their absence. Though generally I prefer unaccompanied readings it isn’t overwhelming here. Reader Joel Grey shines, by packing an emotional wallop witout doing much in the way of characterization. He’s able to confer the general mood of frustrated sadness that the story requires given the limited role the characters have. This audiobook is now out of print but you can still get it through

Posted by Jesse Willis