Last Men in London, by Olaf Stapledon

1 The World of the Last Men

i. Holiday on Neptune

WHEN I am in your world and your epoch I remember often a certain lonely place in my own world, and in the time that I call present. It is a corner where the land juts out into the sea as a confusion of split rocks, like a herd of monsters crowding into the water. Subterranean forces acting at this point once buckled the planet’s crust into a mountain; but it was immediately torn and shattered by gravity, that implacable djin of all great worlds. Nothing is now left of it but these rocks. On Neptune we have no mountains, and the oceans are waveless. The stout sphere holds its watery cloak so tightly to it that even the most violent hurricanes fail to raise more than a ripple.

Scattered among these rocks lies a network of tiny fjords, whose walls and floors are embossed with variegated life. There you may see beneath the crystal water all manner of blobs and knobs and brilliant whorls, all manner of gaudy flowers, that search with their petals, or rhythmically smack their lips, all manner of clotted sea-weeds, green, brown, purple or crimson, from whose depths sometimes a claw reaches after a drowsing sprat, while here and there a worm, fringed with legs, emerges to explore the sandy sunlit bottom.

Among these rocks and fjords I spent my last day of leisure before setting out on one of those lengthy explorations of the past which have made me almost as familiar with your world as with my own. It is my task to tell you of your own race as it appears through the eyes of the far future; but first I must help you to reconstruct in imagination something of the future itself, and of the world from which we regard you. This I can best achieve by describing, first that day of delight, spent where the broken mountain sprawls into the sea, and then a more august event, namely the brief awakening of the Racial Mind, which was appointed for the exaltation of the explorers upon the eve of their departure into the obscure recesses of past aeons. Finally I shall tell you something of my own upbringing and career.

Almost the first moments of that day of recreation afforded me one of those pictures which haunt the memory ever after. The sun had risen over a burning ocean. He was not, as you might expect in our remote world, a small and feeble sun; for between your age and ours a collision had increased his bulk and splendour to a magnitude somewhat greater than that with which you are familiar.

Overhead the sky was blue. But for Neptunian eyes its deep azure was infused with another unique primary colour, which your vision could not have detected. Toward the sunrise, this tincture of the zenith gave place to green, gold, fire-red, purple, and yet another of the hues which elude the primitive eye. Opposite there lay darkness. But low in the darkness gleamed something which you would have taken for a very distant snowy horn, whose base was lost in night, though its crest glowed orange in the morning. A second glance would have revealed it as too precipitous and too geometrical for any mountain. It was in fact one of our great public buildings, many scores of miles distant, and nearly one score in height. In a world where mountains are crushed by their own weight these towering edifices could not stand, were it not for their incredibly rigid materials, wherein artificial atoms play the chief part. The huge crag of masonry now visible was relatively new, but it could compare in age with the younger of your terrestrial mountains.

The shadowed sides of its buttresses and gables, and also the shadowed faces of the near rocks and of every stone, glowed with a purple bloom, the light from a blinding violet star. This portent we call the Mad Star. It is a unique heavenly body, whose energies are being squandered with inconceivable haste, so that it will soon be burnt out. Meanwhile it is already infecting its neighbours with its plague. In a few thousand years our own sun will inevitably run amok in the same manner, and turn all his planets to white-hot gas. But at present, I mean in the age which I call present, the Mad Star is only a brilliant feature of our night sky.

On the morning of which I am speaking there lay full length on the brink of a little cliff, and gazing into the pool beneath her, a woman of my world. To me she is lovely, exquisite, the very embodiment of beauty; to you she would seem a strange half-human monster. To me, as she lay there with her breasts against the rock and one arm reaching down into the water, her whole form expressed the lightness and suppleness of a panther. To you she would have seemed unwieldy, elephantine, and grotesque in every feature. Yet if you were to see her moving in her own world, you would know, I think, why her name in our speech is the equivalent of Panther in yours.

If you or any of your kind were to visit our world, and if by miracle you were to survive for a few moments in our alien atmosphere, gravity would make it almost impossible for you to support yourselves at all. But we, since our bones, like our buildings, are formed largely of artificial atoms, and are far more rigid than steel, since moreover our muscle cells have been most cunningly designed, can run and jump with ease. It is true, however, that in spite of our splendid tissues we have to be more solidly built than the Terrestrials, whose limbs remind us unpleasantly of insects.

The woman on the rock would certainly have surprised you, for she is a member of one of our most recent generations, whose skin and flesh are darkly translucent. Seeing her there, with the sunlight drenching her limbs, you might have taken her for a statue, cut from some wine-dark alabaster, or from carbuncle; save that, with every movement of her arm, sunken gleams of crimson, topaz, and gold-brown rippled the inner night of her shoulder and flank. Her whole substance, within its lovely curves and planes, looked scarcely solid, but rather a volume of obscure flame and smoke poised on the rock. On her head a mass of hair, flame-like, smoke-like, was a reversion to the primitive in respect of which she could never decide whether it was a thing for shame or complacency. It was this prehistoric decoration which first drew me toward her. In a closer view you would have noticed that on her back and the outer sides of her limbs the skin’s translucency was complicated by a very faint leopard-like mottling. I also bear that mottling; but I am of the sort whose flesh is opaque, and my bronze-green skin is of a texture somewhat harsher than I should choose. In her, how well I know it, the skin is soft and rich to the exploring hand.

While I watched her, she raised her face from studying the water-dwellers, and looked at me, laughing. It was that look which gave me the brief but strangely significant experience the memory of which was to refresh me so often in your uncouth world. It was not only that her face was lit up with merriment and tenderness; but in that fleeting expression the very spirit of humanity seemed to regard me. I cannot make you realize the potency of that glance, for the faces of your own kind afford almost no hint of such illumination. I can only assert that in our species, facial expression is more developed than in yours. The facial muscles respond to every changing flicker of experience and emotion, as pools respond to every breath of wind with a thousand criss-cross rippling tremors.

The face that now looked at me was unlike terrestrial countenances both in its subtly alien contours and in its dark translucency, which half-revealed the underlying paleness of bone. It was like a stirred and dancing pool of dark but warm-tinted wine, in which the sunlight revelled. But the eyes were bright jewels capable of many phases from sapphire to emerald.

Like others of our kind, this girl bore two additional bright eyes in the back of her head. They sparkled quaintly in the archaic glory of her hair. Like the rest of us, she had on her crown yet another and more important organ of vision which we call the astronomical eye. Normally sunken level with her hair, it could at will be projected upwards like a squat telescope. The exquisite development of this organ in her had determined her career. All of us are in a manner astronomers; but she is an astronomer by profession.

Her whole face, though so brilliantly alive, was unlike any human type known to readers of this book, since it was so much more animal. Her nose was broad and feline, but delicately moulded. Her full lips were subtle at the corners. Her ears moved among her locks like the ears of a lion.

Grotesque, you say, inhuman! No! Beside this the opaque and sluggish faces of your proudest beauties are little better than lumps of clay, or the masks of insects.

But indeed it is impossible for you to see her as I saw her then. For in that look there seemed to find expression the whole achievement of our race, and the full knowledge of its impending tragedy. At the same time there was in it a half-mischievous piety toward the little simple creatures that she had been watching, and equally, it seemed, toward the stars and man himself.

Smiling, she now spoke to me; if I may call ‘speech’ the telepathic influence which invaded my brain from hers.

That you may understand the significance of her words, I must explain that in our Neptunian rock-pools there are living things of three very different stocks. The first is rare. One may encounter in some sheltered cranny a vague greenish slime. This is the only relic of primeval Neptunian life, long since outclassed by invaders. The second stock is by far the commonest throughout our world. Nearly all our living types are triumphant descendants of the few animals and plants which men brought, deliberately or by accident, to Neptune from Venus, nearly a thousand million years before my day, and almost as long after the age that you call present. Third, there are also, even in these little fjords, a few descendants of those ancient men themselves. These very remote cousins of my own human species are, of course, fantastically degenerate. Most have long ago ceased to be recognizably human; but in one, whose name in our language you might translate ‘Homunculus’, nature has achieved a minute and exquisite caricature of humanity. Two splay feet glue him to the rock. From these rises an erect and bulbous belly, wearing on its summit an upturned face. The unpleasantly human mouth keeps opening and shutting. The eyes are mere wrinkles, the nose a wide double trumpet. The ears, deaf but mobile, have become two broad waving fans, that direct a current of water toward the mouth. Beneath each ear is a little wart-like excrescence, all that is left of the human arm and hand.

One of these degenerate human beings, one of these fallen descendants of your own kind, had attracted my companion’s attention. Laughing, she said, ‘Little Homunculus has got wind of his mate, and he can’t unstick his feet to go after her. What a pilgrimage it will be for him after a whole month of standing still!’

She looked down again and cried, ‘Quick! Come and see! He’s loose, he’s moved an inch. He’s waddling at breakneck speed. Now he’s got her, and she’s willing.’ After a pause she exclaimed, ‘What a world this pond is! Like the world that you are to plunge into so soon.’

Then she looked up at the fierce star, and the light in her face changed and chilled. She became like your Egyptian Sphinx, which looks across the desert and waits, for something unknown and terrible, but the appointed end.

Suddenly she laughed, sprang to her feet, ran down the rock-edge to the sea, and dived. I followed; and the rest of the morning we spent swimming, either far out in the bay or among the islets and fjords, chasing each other sometimes through submarine rock-arches, or clinging to a sunken tussock of weed to watch some drama of the sea-bottom.

At last, when the sun was high, we returned to the grassy place where we had slept, and took from the pockets of our flying-suits our meal of rich sun-products. Of these, some had been prepared in the photosynthesis stations on Jupiter, others came from the colonies on Uranus; but we ourselves had gathered the delicacies in our own orchards and gardens.

Having eaten, we lay back on the grass and talked of matters great and small.

I challenged her: ‘This has been the best of all our matings.’ ‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘because the shortest? Because after the richest experience in separation. And perhaps because of the Star.’

‘In spite of all your lovers,’ I exulted, ‘you come back to me. In spite of your tigers, your bulls, and all your lap-dog lovers, where you squander yourself.’

‘Yes, old python, I come back to you, the richer for that squandering. And you in spite of all the primroses and violets and blowsy roses and over-scented lilies that you have plucked and dropped, you come back to me, after your thousand years of roaming.’

‘Again and again I shall come back, if I escape from the Terrestrials, and if the Star permits.’

Our conversation, let me repeat, was telepathic. If I were to report all that passed from mind to mind as we lay in the sun that afternoon, I should fill a book; for telepathic communication is incomparably swifter and more subtle than vocal speech. We ranged over all manner of subjects, from the difference between her eyes and mine, which are crimson, to the awakening of the Racial Mind, which we had experienced some thousands of years earlier, and were so soon to experience again. We talked also about the marriage groups to which we severally belonged, and of our own strange irregular yet seemingly permanent union outside our respective groups. We talked about the perplexing but lovely nature of our son, whom she had been allowed to conceive at our last meeting. We spoke also of her work in one of the great observatories. With other astronomers she was trying to discover in some distant region of our galaxy a possible home for the human seed which, it was hoped, would be scattered among the stars before man’s destruction. We spoke also of the work on which I am engaged as one of the million specialists who are trying to complete the exploration of the human past by direct participation in it. Inevitably we spoke also of the Star, and of the coming destruction of our world; and of how, if we were both alive in that age we would cling together.

Before sundown we clambered over the rocks and ran inland over the flower-strewn turf. But at last we returned to our grassy nest; and after supper, when darkness had fallen, we were moved to sing, together or each in turn. Sometimes our choice fell upon the latest, wildest, scintillations of rhythm and melody, sometimes on the old songs of her nation or mine, sometimes on the crude chants which we explorers had discovered among the ancient peoples and in extinct worlds. In particular I taught her a Terrestrial song which I myself had found. With difficulty we formed the uncouth syllables and caught the lilt. With difficulty we called up in imagination the dark confusion that gave it birth, the harshness of man to man, and the yearning for a better world. Readers of this book may know the song. ‘Old Man River’ is its name.

While we were still striving with this archaic melody, the colours of the sunset gave place to the profound azure which the Neptunian sky assumes by night for Neptunian eyes. Stars began to appear, first singly and faintly, then in companies and brightly patterned constellations. The wide heaven flashed with them. The Milky Way, flung from horizon to horizon, revealed itself to us, not as a pale cloud-zone, but as an incredibly multitudinous host of lights. Here and there our astronomical eyes could detect even those misty points which are in fact the remote universes. Our singing was now hushed into a murmuring and wordless chant; for this comparatively simple yet overwhelmingly significant percept of the night sky commands us all with a power which might seem to you extravagant. It is, as it were, the visible epitome of our whole thought and feeling. It has for us more than the potency of your most venerated religious symbols. It stirs not only the surface of our being but the ancestral depths, and yet it is relevant to the most modern ventures of our intellect.

While we were still saluting with our voices and our spirits this august and never-too-familiar presentation, the Mad Star rose once more, and scattered its cold steel across the sea. We fell silent, watching. Its dread effulgence extinguished the constellations.

Whether it was the influence of those barbarian melodies that we had been savouring, or a mere flaw in my nature, I know not; but suddenly I heard myself cry out. ‘Hideous! That such a world as ours should be burnt, wasted such a world of spirit and sweet flesh!’

She looked quickly in my eyes, with amazed laughter thrusting down dismay. But before she could speak I saw rightly again. ‘No!’ I said, ‘not hideous, but terrible. Strange, how our thoughts can slip back for a moment into the bad old ways, as though we were to lose sight of the great beauty, and be like the blind spirits of the past.’

And she, ‘When the end begins, shall we still see the great beauty? Shall we see it even in the fire?’

And I, ‘Who knows? But we see it now.’

Silently we watched the Star climb with increasing splendour of violet and ultra-violet illumination. But at last we lay down together in our sheltered grassy nest, and took intimate delight in one another.

At dawn we rose. After a short swim, we put on our flying-suits, those overalls studded with minute sources of sub-atomic energy on the soles of the feet, the palms of the hands, and the whole front surface of the body. It is with these that all lesser flights are performed in our world; and as the action entails much skill and some muscular exertion, it is a delight in itself. Side by side we climbed the air, until the coast was like a map beneath us. We headed inland, first over a wide tract of rock and prairie, marsh and scrub, then over corn and orchard, sprinkled with innumerable homes. Once we passed near a great building, whose crystal precipices towered over us with snow on their cornices. A white cloud covered its upper parts, save for one slender pinnacle, which tiptoed into the sunlight. Sometimes a flying-boat would detach itself from the walls or emerge from the cloud. As we travelled over more densely inhabited regions, sprinkled somewhat more closely with private houses and cottages, a more numerous swarm of these flying-boats continually passed over our heads in all directions from horizon to horizon at so great a speed that they seemed darting insects. We encountered also many fliers like ourselves. Many we saw beneath us, moving from house to house across the intervening tillage. At one point an arm of the sea lay across our route; and there we saw, entering dock, a five-mile long ether-ship, lately returned from Jupiter or Uranus with a cargo of foodstuffs. She was a great fish of stainless metal, studded with windows over her back and flanks. Hidden under water also there would be windows; for this seemingly marine monster could rise like cormorant, with a great churning of the ocean, to find herself within a few minutes surrounded above and below by stars.

At noon we reached another wild district, and took our meal near a warren of creatures which I can best describe as Neptunian rabbits. The form of these furry descendants of an extinct human species was chiefly determined, as so often with our fauna, by gravity. For support they use, not only their short thick legs, but also their leathern bellies and tails. No sooner had we sat down to eat than these mammalian lizards crowded round us in the hope of titbits. One of them actually made off with a loaf; but before he could reach his earth I captured him, and administered such punishment that henceforth the whole tribe treated us with more respect.

When our meal was over, we took leave of one another. It was a gay, grave parting; for we knew that we might not meet again for thousands of years, perhaps not before the sun, infected by the Mad Star, should already have begun the destruction of our beloved world. When we had looked in one another’s eyes for a long moment, we buckled on our flying-suits once more; then, in opposite directions, we climbed the air. By dawn next day we had to be at our appointed stations, far asunder on the great planet’s surface, to participate in the Racial Awakening, the sublime event to which every adult person on the planet must needs contribute.

ii. Men and Man

When an attempt is to be made to call the Race Mind into being, all adult persons on the planet seek their allotted places near one or other of a number of great towers which are scattered throughout the continents. After a preparatory phase, in which much telepathic intercourse occurs between individuals and between the group minds of various orders which now begin to emerge, there comes a supreme moment, when, if all goes well, every man and woman in the world-wide multitude of multitudes awakes, as it were, to become the single Mind of the Race, possessing the million bodies of all men and women as a man’s mind possesses the multitude of his body’s cells.

Had you been privileged to watch from the summit of the great needle of masonry round which I and so many others had gathered on that morning, you would have seen far below, at the foot of the twenty-mile high architectural precipice, and stretching to the horizon in every direction, a featureless grey plain, apparently a desert. Had you then used a powerful field-glass, you would have discovered that the plain was in fact minutely stippled with microscopic dots of brown, separated by almost invisible traces of green. Had you then availed yourself of a much more powerful telescope, you would have found, with amazement, that each of these brown dots was in fact a group of persons. The whole plain would have been revealed as no mere desert, but a prodigious host of men and women, gathered into little companies between which the green grass showed. The whole texture of the earth would have appeared almost like some vegetable tissue seen through the microscope, or the cellular flesh of Leviathan. Within each cell you might have counted ninety-six granules, ninety-six minute sub-cellular organs, in fact ninety-six faces of men and women. Of these small marriage groups which are the basis of our society, I have spoken elsewhere, and shall say no more now. Suffice it that you would have found each dot to be not a face, but a group of faces. Everywhere you would have seen faces turned towards the tower, and motionless as grains of sand. Yet this host was one of thousands such, scattered over all the continents.

A still more powerful telescope would have shown that we were all standing, each with a doffed flying-suit hanging over an arm or shoulder. As you moved the telescope hither and thither you would have discovered our great diversity. For though we are all of one species, it is a species far more variable even than your domestic dog; and our minds are no less diverse than our bodies. Nearly all of us, you would have noted, were unclad; but a few were covered with their own velvet fur. The great majority of the Last Men, however, are hairless, their skins brown, or gold, or black, or grey, or striped, or mottled. Though you would recognize our bodies as definitely human, you would at the same time be startled by the diversity of their forms, and by their manifold aberrations from what you regard as the true human type. You would notice in our faces and in the moulding of our limbs a strong suggestion of animal forms; as though here a horse, there a tiger, and there some ancient reptile, had been inspired with a human mind in such a manner that, though now definitely man or woman, it remained reminiscent of its animal past. You would be revolted by this animal character of ours. But we, who are so securely human, need not shrink from being animal too. In you, humanity is precarious; and so, in dread and in shame, you kill the animal in you. And its slaughter poisons you.

Your wandering telescope would have revealed us as one and all in the late spring or full summer of life. Infants had been left behind for the day in the automatic creches; children were at large in their own houses; the youths and girls were living their wild romantic lives in the Land of the Young. And though the average age of the host gathered below you was many thousands of years, not one of its members would have appeared to you aged. Senility is unknown among us.

Regarding us in the mass, you would have found it hard to believe that each human atom beneath you was in reality a unique and highly developed person, who would judge the immature personality of your Own species as you judge your half-human progenitors. Careful use of the telescope, however, would have revealed the light of intense and unique consciousness in every face. For every member of this great host had his peculiar and subtle character, his rich memories, his loves and aims, and his special contribution to our incredibly complex society. Farmers and gardeners, engineers and architects, chemists and sub-atomic physicists, biologists, psychologists and eugenists, stood together with creative artists of many kinds, with astronomers, philosophers, historians, explorers of the past, teachers, professional mothers, and many more whose work has no counterpart in your world. There would be also, beside the more permanent denizens of Neptune, a sprinkling of ethereal navigators, whose vessels happened to be on the home-planet, and even a few pioneers from the settlements on Uranus and Pluto. The ethereal navigators who ply between the planets are our only transport-workers. Passenger traffic on the home-planet takes place entirely in private air-boats or flying-suits. Freight travels automatically in subterranean tubes, some of which, suitably refrigerated, take direct routes almost through the heart of the planet. Industry and commerce, such as you know, have no representatives among us, for in our world there is nothing like your industrial system. Our industry has neither operatives nor magnates. In so far as manufacture is a routine process, it is performed by machinery which needs no human influence but the pressing of a button. In so far as it involves innovation, it is the work of scientists and engineers. In so far as it involves organization, it is controlled by the professional organizers. As for commerce, we have no such thing, because we have no buying and no selling. Both production and distribution are regulated by the organizers, working under the Supreme College of Unity. This is in no sense a governing body, since its work is purely advisory; but owing to our constant telepathic intercourse, its recommendations are always sane, and always persuasive. Consequently, though it has no powers of compulsion, it is the great co-ordinator of our whole communal life. In the crowd beneath you many members of this Supreme College would be present; but nothing would distinguish them from members of the other and equally honourable professions.

If you had watched us for long enough, you would have noticed, after some hours of stillness, a shimmering change in the grey plain, a universal stirring, which occurred at the moment of the awakening of the Racial Mind throughout the whole population of the planet. The telescope would have revealed that all the faces, formerly placid, were suddenly illuminated with an expression of tense concentration and triumph. For now at last each one of us was in the act of emerging into the higher self-hood, to find himself the single and all-embracing mind of a world.

At that moment, I, Man, perceived, not merely the multitudinous several perceptions of all men and women on the face of the planet, but the single significance of all those perceptions. Through the feet of all individuals I grasped my planet, as a man may hold a ball in his hand. Possessing all the memories of all men and women, not merely as memory but as direct experience of the present. I perceived the whole biography of my generation, nay, of my species, as you perceive a melody, in flux yet all of it ‘now’. I perceived the planets whirling round the sun, and even the fixed stars creeping about the sky like insects. But also at will I perceived movements within the atoms, and counted the pulsations of light waves. I possessed also all the emotions and desires of all men and women. I observed them inwardly, as a man may introspect his own delighting and grieving; but I observed them dispassionately. I was present in the loving of all lovers, and the adventuring of all who dare. I savoured all victories and defeats, all imaginings and reasonings. But from all these teeming experiences of my tiny members I held myself in detachment, turning my attention to a sphere remote from these, where I, Man, experienced my own grave desires and fears, and pursued my own high reasoning and contemplation of what it was that then occupied me, the Mind of the Race, it is impossible for me, the little individual who is now communicating with you, to say anything definite. For these experiences lie beyond the understanding of any individual. But this at least may be said. Waking into this lofty experience, and looking down upon my individual members as a man may regard the cells of his flesh, I was impressed far more by my littleness than by my greatness. For in relation to the whole of things I saw myself to be a very minute, simple, and helpless being, doomed to swift destruction by the operation of a stellar event whose meaning remained unintelligible to me, even upon my new and lofty plain of understanding. But even the little individual who is now communicating with you can remember that, when I, Man, faced this doom, I was in no manner dismayed by it. I accepted it with exultation, as an evident beauty within the great beauty of the whole. For my whole experience was transfused and glorified by the perception of that all-embracing and terrible beauty. Even on that loftier plane of my being I did but glimpse it; but what I glimpsed I contemplated with an insight and a rapture impossible in my lowlier mode of being.

Had you remained upon the tower until the following morning, you would have seen, shortly after sunrise, the whole plain stir again. We were preparing to go. Presently it would have seemed to you that the surface of the planet was detaching itself and rising, like dust on a wind-swept road, or steam from hot water, or like a valley cloud seen from a mountain-top, and visibly boiling upwards. Higher and higher it would have risen toward you, presently to resolve itself even for the naked eye into a vast smoke of individual men and women. Soon you would have seen them all around you and above you, swimming in the air with outspread arms, circling, soaring, darkening the sky. After a brief spell of random and ecstatic flight, they would have been observed streaming away in all directions to become a mere haze along the horizon. Looking down, you would now have seen that the grey plain had turned to green, fading in the distance into blues and purples.

The dispersal of the gatherings does not put an end to the racial experience. For an indefinite period of months or years each individual, though he goes his own way, living his own life and fulfilling his special function in the community, remains none the less possessed by the race mind. Each perceives, thinks, strives as an individual; but also he is Man, perceiving racially, and thinking in manners wholly impossible in the humbler mode of being. As each cell in a brain lives its own life, yet participates in the experience of the whole brain, so we. But after a while the great being sleeps again.

After the awakening which I have just described the racial mentality endured for many years; but one class of individuals had perforce to refrain from any further participation in it, namely those who were to engage upon exploration of the past. For this work it is necessary, for reasons which I shall explain later, to cut off all telepathic communication with one’s fellows, and consequently to leave the telepathic system in which the Race Mind inheres. Yet it was expressly to further our work that this particular awakening had been ordained. It was to strengthen us for our adventures. For my part, as I hastened first to my home and thence through the upper air in my flying-boat toward the Arctic, I felt that I had been kindled with an inextinguishable flame; and that though I must henceforth be exiled from the lofty experience of the Race Mind, I had acquired a new fervour and clarity of vision which would enable me to observe your world with finer insight than on my earlier visits.

iii. Biographical Note

At this point it seems desirable to say a few words about myself, so that you may have some idea of the kind of being who is communicating with you, and the angle from which he is regarding you.

I am at present twenty thousand years old according to your Terrestrial reckoning, and therefore I am still in the spring-time of my life. My parents were chosen for me. They had long been intimate with one another, but the call to have a child arose from the knowledge that there was need of such a being as they together could produce. Recent improvements in man’s powers of entering into past minds, together with the new urgency for completing the exploration of the past before our own world should be destroyed, had increased the call for past-explorers. For such a career I was destined even before I was conceived; and while I was still in the womb, the eugenists were still influencing me so as to give me novel powers.

During infancy I remained with my mother. Throughout my life I have retained a closer intimacy with her than is common in my world; for with her tenderness and strange innocent ruthlessness she embodies for me the very spirit of the past and the primitive. And these have enthralled me always. Not that in your eyes she would have seemed primitive; but underlying all her reasonableness and sophistication I detect that savage temperament which, perhaps partly because of my own extreme sophistication, I so enjoy in others.

I spent my thousand years of childhood in the manner characteristic of my race. Mostly I lived in a children’s residential club. We managed it with more dash than efficiency; but in intervals between domestic duties, games, quarrels and sentimental attachments, we managed to lay the foundations of our education. Even at this early stage my predisposition toward the primitive and the past was beginning to wake. While others were making toy ether-ships and model planetary systems, I was digging for fossils, haunting museums, brooding on ancient folklore, and writing histories of imaginary past worlds. In all my recreations and in all my studies this interest was ever apt to insinuate itself.

My second thousand years was spent, as is customary with us, in the reserved continent called the Land of the Young. There our young people sow their wild oats by living as savages and barbarians. During this phase they are definitely juvenile in disposition. They appreciate only such barbarian virtues as were admired even by the most primitive human species. They are capable of loyalty, but only by an uneasy and heroic victory over self-regard. Their loyalties are never easeful, for they have not yet developed the self-detachment of the adult. Further, they care only for the beauties of triumphant individual life. The supernal beauties of the cosmos, which form the main preoccupation of grown men and women, are hidden from these young things. Consequently our adult world lies very largely beyond their comprehension.

For some centuries I gave myself wholly to a ‘Red Indian’ life, becoming a master of the bow and arrow, and a really brilliant tracker. I remember too that I fell in love with a dangerous young Amazon with golden hair. My first encounter with her was warlike. She escaped, but left her javelin in my shoulder, and her presence in my heart. Long afterwards, when we were both in the adult world, I met her again. She had by now entered upon her career, having been chosen as one of our professional mothers. Later still, she volunteered to submit to a very dangerous maternity experiment, and was so shattered by it, that the eugenists had finally to put her to death.

I had not been many centuries in the Land of the Young before my master passion began to assert itself. I set about collecting material for a complete history of that juvenile world. For this end I sampled every kind of life in every corner of the continent. I also sharpened my perception, or so I persuaded myself, by intimacy with many resplendent young women. But long before I had completed my history, the work began to be interrupted by visits to the adult world.

There is a party in the Land of the Young who preach that the juvenile world is happier and nobler than the world of the adults. They send missionaries among those whom they know to be turning from the primitive, and seek to persuade them to join a small and pathetic band called the Old Young, who elect to remain in the Land of the Young for ever. These poor arrested beings become the guardians of tradition and morality among the nations of the Young. Like the village idiot, they are despised even while at the same time their sayings are supposed to be pregnant with mysterious truth. I myself, with my taste for the past and the primitive, was persuaded to take the vow of this order. But when I was introduced to one of these bright old things, I was so depressed that I recanted. It came as a revelation to me that my task was not actually to become primitive, but to study the primitive. It was borne in on me that even the past and the primitive can be understood and loved better by the full-grown mind than by the primitive itself.

During their last century in the Land of the Young, our boys and girls normally develop beyond the larval stage very rapidly, though not without severe mental agony. For during this period the mind is in bitter conflict with itself. It clings to the primitive, but is at the same time nauseated; it yearns toward the mature, but is at the same time fearful and reluctant. This profound metamorphosis of body and mind continues for some centuries even after the young person has entered the adult world. The simple male or female sexual characters specialize themselves into one or other of the ninety-six sub-sexes. Intelligence soars into a new order of proficiency. New centres of the brain integrate the nervous system so perfectly that henceforth behaviour will be, without exception, and without serious struggle, rational; or, as you would say, moral. At the same time the faculty of telepathic communication appears; and, through the cumulative effect of constant telepathic intercourse, the mind comes into such exact understanding and vivid sympathy with other minds, that the diversity of all serves but to enhance the mental richness of each.

This radical change of nature, which raises the individual in a few centuries to a new plane of experience, was for me the more torturing because of my innate hunger for the primitive. This same characteristic made it difficult for me to reconcile myself to the highly complex adult sexual life of my species, which is based on the marriage group of the ninety-six sub-sexes. My group formed itself with unusual difficulty; but, once constituted, it was maintained without undue emphasis. Only once in a century or so are we moved to come together, and live together, and love together; and then only for about a year. During these periods we take delicate joy in one another, and in ourselves. And though we remain self-conscious individuals, a single group-self emerges in us. We spend much of our time rapt in the perceptions and thoughts which are possible only to the minds of the sexual groups; brooding especially on the subtleties of personality and super-personality, and preparing the ground for the recurrent phases of that far more complex mode of consciousness, the Mind of the Race. Apart from these occasional periods of group-mentality, each of us lives an independent life, and is only obscurely conscious of his group-membership. Nevertheless, much as, after swimming, a freshness may vaguely cheer the body for the rest of the day, or after sunbathing a tingling beatitude, so for each of us participation in the group affords an enhanced vitality which may endure for many decades.

When I had settled into my sexual group, I was about three thousand years old. My body had attained that youthful maturity which with us is perennial, and my mind had shed all the follies of the Land of the Young. I was apprenticed to work which was perfectly suited to my nature. It was exacting work, for the novel powers with which I was endowed were as yet imperfectly understood. But my working hours would have seemed ridiculously short even in your most ardent trade-unionists. Only for a few years in every century was my mind actually absent from the contemporary world. Only for a decade or two would I devote my mornings to formulating the results of my research. Though inevitably the past, and my study of the past, would be nearly always in my thoughts, the great bulk of my time was occupied with other activities. For decade after decade I would merely watch the manifold operations of our great community, wandering into all countries, seeking intimacy with all sorts of persons, peering through microscopes and astronomical instruments, watching the birth of inventions in other minds, studying the eugenists’ plans for new generations, or the latest improvements in ethereal navigation. Much of my time was spent in ether-ships, much in the Uranian colonies, much in the interior of the mine-honeycombed Pluto. Sometimes I would go as a guest into the Land of the Young to spend years in comparing our own young things with the primitive races of the past. Occasionally I have been chiefly concerned for a decade at a time with the appreciation or practice of some creative art, most often with our supreme art, which I must reluctantly call ‘telepathic verse’. Somewhat as auditory verse uses sound, this most subtle of all arts uses our direct sensitivity to ethereal vibrations for the evocation of rhythms and patterns of sensory images and ideas. Sometimes, on the other hand, I have been absorbed in some special problem of natural science, and have done little but follow the experiments of scientific workers. Much of my time, of course, has been given to cosmology, and much to metaphysics; for in my world these subjects compel the attention of every man and woman. Sometimes for a year or so I would do little but rebuild my house or cultivate my garden; or I would become wholly absorbed in the invention or construction of some toy for a child friend. Sometimes my main preoccupation for several years has been intimacy with some woman, of my own nation or another. It must be confessed that I am more disposed to this kind of refreshment than most of my fellows. But I do not regret it. In these many brief lyrical matings of body and mind, I seem to experience in a very special manner that which unites the developed and the primitive. Now and then, like most of my fellows, I spend a decade or so in lonely wandering, giving myself wholly to the sensuous and instinctive life. It was on one of these occasions that I first met the translucent woman whom I have called Panther. Many have I loved; but with her, whom I meet only in the wilderness, I have a very special relation. For whereas my spirit turns ever to the past, hers turns to the future; and each without the other is an empty thing.

This great freedom and variety of life, and this preponderance of leisure over work, are characteristic of my world. The engineer, the chemist, even the agriculturist and the ethereal navigator, spend less time at their own special tasks than in watching the lives of others. Indeed it is only by means of this system of mutual observation, augmented by our constant telepathic intercourse, that we can preserve that understanding of one another which is the life-blood of our community. In your world this perfect accord of minds is impossible. Yet your differences of racial temperament and of acquired bias are as nothing beside the vast diversity of innate disposition which is at once our constant danger and our chief strength.

From the time when I had reached full maturity of mind, and had become expert in my special calling, up to my present age of twenty thousand Years, my life has been even, though eventful. I have of course had my difficulties and anxieties, my griefs and my triumphs. I lost my two closest friends in an ether-ship disaster. Another friend, younger than myself, has developed in such a strange manner that, though I do my best to understand him telepathically, I cannot but feel that he is seriously abnormal, and will sooner or later either come to grief or achieve some novel splendour. This has been my most serious anxiety apart from my work.

Work has been by far the most important factor in my life. Peculiarly gifted by inheritance, I have co-operated with the equally gifted fellow-workers of my generation to raise the art of past exploration to a new range of power. My novitiate was spent in studying one of the earlier Neptunian civilizations. Since then I have acquired considerable first-hand knowledge of every one of the eighteen human species. In addition I have specialized in some detail on the Venetian Flying Men and the Last Terrestrials. But the great bulk of my work has been done among the First Men, and upon the particular crisis which you can present.

Apart from the exigencies of my work, two events have produced profound changes in my life; but they were events of public rather than private significance, and have affected the whole race with equal urgency. One was the first occasion on which we awakened into the racial mentality. The other was the discovery of the Mad Star, and of the doom of our world. For all of us these two great happenings have changed a life of serenely victorious enterprise into something more mysterious, more pregnant, and more tragic.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00