Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 10

A Vision of the Galaxy

IT seemed to us now that the troubles of the many worlds of this galaxy were at last over, that the will to support the galactic Utopia was now universal, and that the future must bring glory after glory. We felt assured of the same progress in other galaxies. In our simplicity we looked forward to the speedy, the complete and final, triumph of the striving spirit throughout the cosmos. We even conceived that the Star Maker rejoiced in the perfection of his work. Using such symbols as we could to express the inexpressible, we imagined that, before the beginning, the Star Maker was alone, and that for love and for community he resolved to make a perfect creature, to be his mate. We imagined that he made her of his hunger for beauty and his will for love; but that he also scourged her in the making, and tormented her, so that she might at last triumph over all adversity, and thereby achieve such perfection as he in his almightiness could never attain. The cosmos we conceived to be that creature. And it seemed to us in our simplicity that we had already witnessed the greater part of cosmical growth, and that there remained only the climax of that growth, the telepathic union of all the galaxies to become the single, fully awakened spirit of the cosmos, perfect, fit to be eternally contemplated and enjoyed by the Star Maker.

All this seemed to us majestically right. Yet we ourselves had no joy in it. We had been sated with the spectacle of continuous and triumphant progress in the latter age of our galaxy, and we were no longer curious about the host of the other galaxies. Almost certainly they were much like our own. We were, in fact, overwhelmingly fatigued and disillusioned. During so many aeons we had followed the fortunes of the many worlds. So often we had lived out their passions, novel to them, but to us for the most part repetitive. We had shared all kinds of sufferings, all kinds of glories and shames. And now that the cosmical ideal, the full awakening of the spirit, seemed on the point of attainment, we found ourselves a little tired of it. What matter whether the whole huge drama of existence should be intricately known and relished by the perfected spirit or not? What matter whether we ourselves should complete our pilgrimage or not?

During so many aeons our company, distributed throughout the galaxy, had with difficulty maintained its single communal mentality. At all times “we,” in spite of our severally, were in fact “I,” the single observer of the many worlds; but the maintaining of this identity was itself becoming a toil. “I” was overpowered with sleepiness; “we,” severally, longed for our little native worlds, our homes, our lairs; and for the animal obtuseness that had walled us in from all the immensities. In particular, I, the Englishman, longed to be sleeping safely in that room where she and I had slept together, the day’s urgencies all blotted out, and nothing left but sleep and the shadowy, the peaceful awareness in each of the other.

But though I was fatigued beyond endurance, sleep would not come. I remained perforce with my colleagues, and with the many triumphant worlds. Slowly we were roused from our dowsiness by a discovery. It gradually appeared to us that the prevailing mood of these countless Utopian systems of worlds was at heart very different from that of triumph. In every world we found a deep conviction of the littleness and impotence of all finite beings, no matter how exalted. In a certain world there was a kind of poet. When we told him our conception of the cosmical goal, he said, “When the cosmos wakes, if ever she does, she will find herself not the single beloved of her maker, but merely a little bubble adrift on the boundless and bottomless ocean of being.”

What had seemed to us at first the irresistible march of god-like world-spirits, with all the resources of the universe in their hands and all eternity before them, was now gradually revealed in very different guise. The great advance in mental caliber, and the attainment of communal mentality throughout the cosmos, had brought a change in the experience of time. The temporal reach of the mind had been very greatly extended. The awakened worlds experienced an aeon as a mere crowded day. They were aware of time’s passage as a man in a canoe might have cognizance of a river which in its upper reaches is sluggish but subsequently breaks into rapids and becomes swifter and swifter, till, at no great distance ahead, it must plunge in a final cataract down to the sea, namely to the eternal end of life, the extinction of the stars. Comparing the little respite that remained with the great work which they passionately desired to accomplish, namely the full awakening of the cosmical spirit, they saw that at best there was no time to spare, and that, more probably, it was already too late to accomplish the task. They had a strange foreboding that unforeseen disaster lay in store for them. It was sometimes said, “We know not what the stars, even, have in store for us, still less what the Star Maker.” And it was sometimes said, “We should not for a moment consider even our best-established knowledge of existence as true. It is awareness only of the colors that our own vision paints on the film of one bubble in one strand of foam on the ocean of being.” The sense of the fated incompleteness of all creatures and of all their achievements gave to the Galactic Society of Worlds a charm, a sanctity, as of some short-lived and delicate flower. And it was with an increasing sense of precarious beauty that we ourselves were now learning to regard the far-flung Utopia. In this mood we had a remarkable experience.

We had embarked upon a sort of holiday from exploration, seeking the refreshment of disembodied flight in space. Gathering our whole company together out of all the worlds, we centered ourselves into a single mobile viewpoint; and then, as one being, we glided and circled among the stars and nebulae. Presently the whim took us to plunge into outer space. We hastened till the forward stars turned violet, the hinder red; till both forward and hinder vanished; till all visible features were extinguished by the wild speed of our flight. In absolute darkness we brooded on the origin and the destiny of the galaxies, and on the appalling contrast between the cosmos and our minute home-lives to which we longed to return.

Presently we came to rest. In doing so we discovered that our situation was not such as we expected. The galaxy whence we had emerged did indeed lie far behind us, no bigger than a great cloud; but it was not the featured spiral that it should have been. After some confusion of mind we realized that we were looking at the galaxy in an early stage of its existence, in fact at a time before it was really a galaxy at all. For the cloud was no cloud of stars, but a continuous mist of light. At its heart was a vague brilliance, which faded softly into the dim outer regions and merged without perceptible boundary into the black sky. Even the sky itself was quite unfamiliar. Though empty of stars, it was densely peopled with a great number of pale clouds. All seemingly were farther from us than that from which we had come, but several bulked as largely as Orion in the Earth’s sky. So congested was the heaven that many of the great objects were continuous with one another in their filmy extremities, and many were separated only by mere channels of emptiness, through which loomed vistas of more remote nebulae, some of them so distant as to be mere spots of light.

It was clear that we had traveled back through time to a date when the great nebulae were still near neighbors to one another, before the explosive nature of the cosmos had done more than separate them out from the continuous and congested primal substance.

As we watched, it became obvious that events were unfolding before us with fantastic speed. Each cloud visibly shrank, withdrawing into the distance. It also changed its shape. Each vague orb flattened somewhat, and became more definite. Receding and therefore diminishing, the nebulae now appeared as lens-shaped mists, tilted at all angles. But, even as we watched, they withdrew themselves so far into the depth of space that it became difficult to observe their changes. Only our own native nebula remained beside us, a huge oval stretching across half the sky. On this we now concentrated our attention.

Differences began to appear within it, regions of brighter and of less bright mist, faint streaks and swirls, like the foam on the sea’s waves. These shadowy features slowly moved, as wisps of cloud move on the hills. Presently it was clear that the internal currents of the nebula were on the whole set in a common pattern. The great world of gas was in fact slowly rotating, almost as a tornado. As it rotated it continued to flatten. It was now like some blurred image of a streaked and flattish pebble, handy for “ducks and drakes,” held too near the eye to be focused. Presently we noticed, with our novel and miraculous vision, that microscopic points of intenser light were appearing here and there throughout the cloud, but mainly in its outer regions. As we watched, their number grew, and the spaces between them grew dark. Thus were the stars born.

The great cloud still span and flattened. It was soon a disc of whirling star-streams and strands of uncondensed gas, the last disintegrating tissues of the primal nebula. These continued to move within the whole by their own semi-independent activity, changing their shapes, creeping like living things, extending pseudopodia, and visibly fading as clouds fade; but giving place to new generations of stars. The heart of the nebula was now condensing into a smaller bulk, more clearly defined. It was a huge, congested globe of brilliance. Here and there throughout the disc knots and lumps of light were the embryonic star-clusters. The whole nebula was strewn with these balls of thistledown, these feathery, sparkling, fairy decorations, each one in fact pregnant with a small universe of stars.

The galaxy, for such it could now be named, continued visibly to whirl with hypnotic constancy. Its tangled tresses of star-streams were spread abroad on the darkness. Now it was like a huge broad-brimmed white sombrero, the crown a glowing mass, the brim a filmy expanse of stars. It was a cardinal’s hat, spinning. The two long whirling tassels on the brim were two long spiraling star-streams. Their frayed extremities had broken away and become sub-galaxies, revolving about the main galactic system. The whole, like a spinning top, swayed; and, as it tilted before us, the brim appeared as an ever narrower ellipse, till presently it was edge-on, and the outermost fringe of it, composed of non-luminous matter, formed a thin, dark, knotted line across the glowing inner substance of nebula and stars. Peering, straining to see more precisely the texture of this shimmering and nacrous wonder, this largest of all the kinds of objects in the cosmos, we found that our new vision, even while embracing the whole galaxy and the distant galaxies, apprehended each single star as a tiny disc separated from its nearest neighbors much as a cork on the Arctic Ocean would be separated from another cork on the Antarctic. Thus, in spite of the nebulous and opalescent beauty of its general form, the galaxy also appeared to us as a void sprinkled with very sparse scintillations.

Observing the stars more closely, we saw that while they streamed along in companies like shoals of fishes, their currents sometimes interpenetrated. Then seemingly the stars of the different streams, crossing one another’s paths, pulled at one another, moving in great sweeping curves as they passed from one neighbor’s influence to another. Thus, in spite of their remoteness each from each, the stars often looked curiously like minute living creatures taking cognizance of one another from afar. Sometimes they swung hyperbolically round one another and away, or, more rarely, united to form binaries.

So rapidly did time pass before us that aeons were packed into moments. We had seen the first stars condense from the nebular tissue as ruddy giants, though in the remote view inconceivably minute. A surprising number of these, perhaps through the centrifugal force of their rotation, were burst asunder to form binaries, so that, increasingly, the heaven was peopled by these waltzing pairs. Meanwhile, the giant stars slowly shrank and gathered brightness. They passed from red to yellow, and on to dazzling white and blue. While other young giants condensed around them, they shrank still further, and their color changed once more to yellow and to smoldering red. Presently we saw the eldest of the stars one by one extinguished like sparks from a fire. The incidence of this mortality increased, slowly but steadily. Sometimes a “nova” flashed out and faded, outshining for a moment all its myriad neighbors. Here and there a “variable” pulsated with inconceivable rapidity. Now and again we saw a binary and a third star approach one another so closely that one or other of the group reached out a filament of its substance toward its partner. Straining our supernatural vision, we saw these filaments break and condense into planets. And we were awed by the infinitesimal size and the rarity of these seeds of life among the lifeless host of the stars.

But the stars themselves gave an irresistible impression of vitality. Strange that the movements of these merely physical things, these mere fire-balls, whirling and traveling according to the geometrical laws of their minutest particles, should seem so vital, so questing. But then the whole galaxy was itself so vital, so like an organism, with its delicate tracery of star-streams, like the streams within a living cell; and its extended wreaths, almost like feelers; and its nucleus of light. Surely this great and lovely creature must be alive, must have intelligent experience of itself and of things other than it.

In the tide of these wild thoughts we checked our fancy, remembering that only on the rare grains called planets can life gain foothold, and that all this wealth of restless jewels was but a waste of fire.

With rising affection and longing we directed our attention more minutely toward the earliest planetary grains as they condensed out of the whirling filaments of flame, to become at first molten drops that span and pulsated, then grew rock-encrusted, ocean-filmed, and swathed in atmosphere. Our piercing sight observed their shallow waters ferment with life, which soon spread into their oceans and continents. A few of these early worlds we saw waken to intelligence of human rank; and very soon these were in the throes of the great struggle for the spirit, from which still fewer emerged victorious.

Meanwhile new planetary births, rare among the stars, yet, in all, thousands upon thousands, had launched new worlds and new biographies. We saw the Other Earth, with its recurrent glories and shames, and its final suffocation. We saw the many other humanesque worlds, Echinoderm, Centaurian, and so on. We saw Man on his little Earth blunder through many alternating phases of dullness and lucidity, and again abject dullness. From epoch to epoch his bodily shape changed as a cloud changes. We watched him in his desperate struggle with Martian invaders; and then, after a moment that included further ages of darkness and of light, we saw him driven, by dread of the moon’s downfall, away to inhospitable Venus. Later still, after an aeon that was a mere sigh in the lifetime of the cosmos, he fled before the exploding sun to Neptune, there to sink back into mere animality for further aeons again. But then he climbed once more and reached his finest intelligence, only to be burnt up like a moth in a flame by irresistible catastrophe.

All this long human story, most passionate and tragic in the living, was but an unimportant, a seemingly barren and negligible effort, lasting only for a few moments in the life of the galaxy. When it was over, the host of the planetary systems still lived on, with here and there a casualty, and here and there among the stars a new planetary birth, and here and there a fresh disaster.

Before and after man’s troubled life we saw other humanesque races rise in scores and hundreds, of which a mere handful was destined to waken beyond man’s highest spiritual range, to play a part in the galactic community of worlds. These we now saw from afar on their little Earth-like planets, scattered among the huge drift of the star-streams, struggling to master all those world-problems, social and spiritual, which man in our “modern” era is for the first time confronting. Similarly, we saw again the many other kinds of races, nautiloid, submarine, avian, composite, and the rare symbiotics, and still rarer plant-like beings. And of every kind only a few, if any, won through to Utopia, and took part in the great communal enterprise of worlds. The rest fell by the way.

From our remote look-out we now saw in one of the islanded sub-galaxies the triumph of the Symbiotics. Here at last was the germ of a true community of worlds. Presently the stars of this islet-universe began to be girdled with living pearls, till the whole sub-galaxy was alive with worlds. Meanwhile in the main system arose that flagrant and contagious insanity of empire, which we had already watched in detail. But what had before appeared as a war of titans, in which great worlds maneuvered in space with inconceivable speed, and destroyed one another’s populations in holocausts, was now seen as the jerky motion of a few microscopic sparks, a few luminous animalcules, surrounded by the indifferent stellar hosts.

Presently, however, we saw a star blaze up and destroy its planets. The Empires had murdered something nobler than themselves. There was a second murder, and a third. Then, under the influence of the sub-galaxy, the imperial madness faded, and empire crumbled. And soon our fatigued attention was held by the irresistible coming of Utopia throughout the galaxy. This was visible to us chiefly as a steady increase of artificial planets. Star after star blossomed with orbit after crowded orbit of these vital jewels, these blooms pregnant with the spirit. Constellation after constellation, the whole galaxy became visibly alive with myriads of worlds. Each world, peopled with its unique, multitudinous race of sensitive individual intelligences united in true community, was itself a living thing, possessed of a common spirit. And each system of many populous orbits was itself a communal being. And the whole galaxy, knit in a single telepathic mesh, was a single intelligent and ardent being, the common spirit, the “I,” of all its countless, diverse, and ephemeral individuals. This whole vast community looked now beyond itself toward its fellow galaxies. Resolved to pursue the adventure of life and of spirit in the cosmical, the widest of all spheres, it was in constant telepathic communication with its fellows; and at the same time, conceiving all kinds of strange practical ambitions, it began to avail itself of the energies of its stars upon a scale hitherto unimagined. Not only was every solar system now surrounded by a gauze of light traps, which focused the escaping solar energy for intelligent use, so that the whole galaxy was dimmed, but many stars that were not suited to be suns were disintegrated, and rifled of their prodigious stores of sub-atomic energy.

Suddenly our attention was held by an event which even at a distance was visibly incompatible with Utopia. A star encircled by planets exploded, destroying all its rings of worlds, and sinking afterwards into wan exhaustion. Another and another, and yet others in different regions of the galaxy, did likewise.

To inquire into the cause of these startling disasters we once more, by an act of volition, dispersed ourselves to our stations among the many worlds.

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