Star Maker is perhaps the grandest and most awe-inspiring vision of the universe ever penned by a science fiction author, before the term even existed, in 1937 by the pioneering Englishman Olaf Stapledon.
Although some readers might think that Star Maker was only outstanding for its time, it remains an amazing tour-de-force today, and has clearly inspired many of the genre’s most famous practitioners, including Arthur C. Clarke, with its fountain of ideas about galaxies, nebulae, cosmological minds, artificial habitats, super-heavy-gravity environments, an infinite variety of alien species, and telepathic communications among stars.
This may be the only novel I’ve read that essentially has no individual characters. A nameless narrator sits on a hill contemplating the stars; without warning his consciousness is transported into space, and he starts rushing towards the nearest stars. He discovers he can control his speed and direction, and proceeds to search for stars with intelligent life. Initially his search is fruitless, and the oppressive loneliness of space discourages him. Eventually he discovers other intelligent minds and joins a collective mind with them. We are then treated to an astonishing series of encounters with ever greater and stranger life forms as the scale expands by increasing series of magnitudes, until individual galaxies and universes have formed united spirits and then seek for the ultimate creator of the universes. To give you an idea of his writing style, below is a brief passage describing part of this process. The entire book is written like this, so it may not be your cup of tea if you like quirky characters, intricate plots, or pithy dialogue.
When at last our galaxy was able to make a full telepathic exploration of the cosmos of galaxies it discovered that the state of life in the cosmos was precarious. Very few of the galaxies were in their youth; most were already far past their prime. Throughout the cosmos the dead and lightless stars far outnumbered the living and luminous. In many galaxies the strife of stars and worlds had been even more disastrous than in our own. Peace had been secured only after both sides had degenerated past hope of recovery. In most of the younger galaxies, however, this strife had not yet appeared; and efforts were already being made by the most awakened galactic spirits to enlighten the ignorant stellar and planetary societies about one another before they should blunder into conflict.
The communal spirit of our galaxy now joined the little company of the most awakened beings of the cosmos, the scattered band of advanced galactic spirits, whose aim it was to create a real cosmical community, with a single mind, the communal spirit of its myriad and diverse worlds and individual intelligences. This it was hoped to acquire powers of insight and of creativity impossible on the merely galactic plane.
Star Maker culminates with a brief but searing encounter with the omnipotent and yet imperfect Star Maker itself, who created all the universes in an endless series of efforts to improve upon the last. The Star Maker is never satisfied, and yet derives ultimate meaning through those same acts of creation. Stapledon’s descriptions of the Star Maker’s efforts in the final part of Star Maker are truly overwhelming, and bring to mind the latest and most modern ideas of quantum universes, infinite probabilities, the curvature of space-time, and the origins of the universe.