Odd John, Olaf Stapledon, 1936 (novel)

Odd John, Olaf Stapledon, 1936 — (novel excerpt)  Read in A Century of Science Fiction, with an introduction by Damon Knight.  Knight notes that Rosny first wrote of the “superman as a bewildered misfit” and that, in contrast, “Stapledon’s Odd John is almost implausibly aggressive and successful from childhood on–glib speaker, money-making inventor and stock-market operator, organizer, spiritual leader; almost anything you want to name, John can do.” But Knight’s excerpt depicts Odd John at a “less confident” moment, in which Odd John encounters another telepath (J. J.) in a mental asylum.

In this excerpt, John attempts to communicate with the man, but J. J.’s isolation has damaged him and he only responds to music. Even so, music “invented by Homo sapiens, seemed at once to interest and outrage him, though when one of the doctors played a certain bit of Bach he was gravely attentive…Certain jazz tunes had such a violent effect on him that after hearing one record he would sometimes be prostrate for days. They seemed to tear him with some kind of conflict of delight and disgust.”

When he meets John, they stare at each other, and he projects the word, “Friend!” John smiles.  The man assures John that he is not mad, John is not mad, but the attendants are “quite mad.” But then J. J. looks blankly at John.  He withdraws, and John realizes that the man now can no longer see his “visible appearance” or perceive him as a “physical object”; John is now “color and shape, without any meaning.” John plays a tune that he’d heard J. J. playing earlier, and the man suddenly responds that that is music, not as the cow hears it, but “lucid” music as only they can understand it. But the attendant interrupts; J. J. is only allowed to play outside, as his music agitates the other patients. At this, J. J. withdraws again and slips into insanity.

Comments: Wikipedia: “Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest is a 1935 science fiction novel by the British author Olaf Stapledon. The novel explores the theme of the Übermensch (superman) in the character of John Wainwright, whose supernormal human mentality inevitably leads to conflict with normal human society and to the destruction of the utopian colony founded by John and other superhumans….The novel resonates with the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and the work of English writer J. D. Beresford, with an allusion to Beresford’s superhuman child character of Victor Stott in The Hampdenshire Wonder (1911). As the devoted narrator remarks, John does not feel obligated to observe the restricted morality of Homo sapiens. Stapledon’s recurrent vision of cosmic angst — that the universe may be indifferent to intelligence, no matter how spiritually refined — also gives the story added depth. Later explorations of the theme of the superhuman and of the incompatibility of the normal with the supernormal occurs in the works of Stanisław Lem, Frank Herbert, Wilmar Shiras, Robert Heinlein and Vernor Vinge, among others…The book is mentioned by Julian May in Intervention, part of the Galactic Milieu Series. It is also responsible for coining the term ‘Homo superior'”

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


About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926-1939, communication, evolution, freaks/misfits, interior/exterior, international, music, psych/mind/madness, senses/space, superhumans. Bookmark the permalink.

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