Darkness and the Light, by Olaf Stapledon

Part I— Crisis

1 — Man’s Two Futures

IS IT credible that our world should have two futures? I have seen them. Two entirely distinct futures lie before mankind, one dark, one bright; one the defeat of all man’s hopes, the betrayal of all his ideals, the other their hard-won triumph.

At some date within the age that we call modern, some date not precisely known to me, for I looked back towards it from the distant futures as though searching in my remote past, the single torrent of terrestrial events is split, as though by a projecting promontory, so that it becomes thenceforth two wholly distinct and mutually exclusive surging floods of intricate existence, each one a coherent and actual history, in which the lives of countless generations succeed one another along separate ravines of time.

How can this be? It cannot! Yet I have seen it happen. I have watched those two divergent futures. I have lived through them. In any world, as on our planet, it needs must happen, when the will for the light and the will for the darkness are so delicately balanced in the ordinary half-lucid spirits of the world that neither can for long prevail over the other. Out of their age-long stress and fluctuating battle must spring at last a thing seemingly impossible, seemingly irrational, something wore stupendously miraculous than any orthodox miracle. For how can time itself be divided into two streams? And if our planet has two futures, which of them has place in the future of the solar system, and what of the other? Or does man’s vacillation create not only two future Earths but two future universes of stars and galaxies?

Reader, affirm if you will that only one of the two futures that I have watched is the real future, knit into the real cosmos, while the other is mere fantasy. Then which, I ask in terror, is real, the bright or the dark? For to me, who have seen both, neither is less real than the other, but one is infinitely more to be desired. Perhaps, reader, you will contend that both are figments of my crazy mind, and that the real future is inaccessible and inconceivable. Believe what you will, but to me both are real, both are somehow close-knit into the dread and lovely pattern of the universe. Nay more! My heart demands them both. For the light is more brilliant when the dark offsets it. Though pity implores that all horror should turn out to have been a dream, yet for the light’s own sake some sterner passion demands that evil may have its triumph.

As I write this book my own death must lie somewhere in the near future. When, I cannot tell; for so minute an event could not imprint itself on the vision that has possessed me. Seemingly it is at the time of my death that the strange experience begins, obscurely and intermittently at first. For this reason the earlier part of the twofold story is fragmentary and chaotic, like the experiences of childhood remembered in maturity.

Moreover the twin streams of history are in their upper reaches so similar as to be indistinguishable, like the almost identical views which a man has through his two eyes. Not till the two futures begin to differ strikingly can they be distinguished and known to be inconsistent themes. Thenceforth whoever witnesses them, as I did, must become a divided personality, living not merely two lives but in two universes.

As I write this book, immersed once more in the passions and savage deeds of contemporary mankind, hearing each day of horror and brutality, fearing that very soon some hideous disaster may fall upon my people and on the whole human race, and on those few who, being most dear to me, are for me the living presence of humanity, it is impossible for me to recapture fully the serene and intelligent mood of my post-mortal experience. For throughout that age-long future I must, I think, have been strengthened by the felt presence of other and superhuman spectators. Was it that the more lucid populations of the cosmos, in their scattered worlds, up and down the constellations, here and there among the galaxies, had sent observers to witness the terrestrial miracle; or had focused their attention and their presence from afar on our little orb, so forlorn, so inconsiderable, where man, poised between the light and the dark on the knife-edge of choice, fought out his destiny. It was as though, under their influence, I was able to put off to some extent my human pettiness; as though, haltingly and with celestial aid, I could see man’s double fate through the eyes of those superhuman but not divine intelligences. Their presence is now withdrawn. But in memory of them I shall do my utmost to tell the twofold story at once with intimate human sympathy and with something of that calm insight which was lent to me.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stapledon/olaf/darkness/chapter1.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30