Sirius by Olaf Stapledon. Book review

Sirius by Olaf Stapledon. Gollancz ‘7.99

Reviewed by John Howard

First published in 1944, and now appearing in the SF Masterworks series, Sirius is probably not as well known as two of Olaf Stapledon’s other novels, Last and First Men and Star Maker. And while Sirius is very different, having none of the eon-spanning sweep and cosmic scope of the earlier books, it is nevertheless one of Stapledon’s most important works ‘ and because of this difference, not despite it.

Sirius is the story of an Alsatian dog whose intelligence has been artificially enhanced, allowing him to be able to communicate with Trelone ‘ the scientist, and effectively Sirius’ creator ‘ his family and a few trusted friends. In particular, Trelone’s daughter Plaxy forms a specially close and intimate bond with Sirius. As in several of his other novels, Stapledon uses the viewpoint of an outsider to take a sensitive look at society, exploring and commenting on its positive and negative aspects. He was always far too subtle and rational a writer to take the easy way out and produce a mere heavy-handed satire. And the tensions between Sirius’ canine heritage and the human amply justify the novel’s subtitle ‘A Fantasy of Love and Discord’.

Despite Sirius having been published nearly seventy years ago, its themes have a very relevant feel to them; there are also hints of some of the ideas that Arthur Machen used in The Terror (1917) when the previous world conflict also caused many to consider humanity’s possibly precarious place in the wider setting of ‘brute creation’. In Sirius, as he did in Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon teasingly and movingly pursues the chaos and glories of being alive, even of a dog’s life, as far as the Ultimate. And then returns to earth, leaving the reader considerably enriched by the journey, and with a book to be treasured.

Sirius by Olaf Stapledon. Gollancz ‘7.99

Reviewed by John Howard

First published in 1944, and now appearing in the SF Masterworks series, Sirius is probably not as well known as two of Olaf Stapledon’s other novels, Last and First Men and Star Maker. And while Sirius is very different, having none of the eon-spanning sweep and cosmic scope of the earlier books, it is nevertheless one of Stapledon’s most important works ‘ and because of this difference, not despite it.

Sirius is the story of an Alsatian dog whose intelligence has been artificially enhanced, allowing him to be able to communicate with Trelone ‘ the scientist, and effectively Sirius’ creator ‘ his family and a few trusted friends. In particular, Trelone’s daughter Plaxy forms a specially close and intimate bond with Sirius. As in several of his other novels, Stapledon uses the viewpoint of an outsider to take a sensitive look at society, exploring and commenting on its positive and negative aspects. He was always far too subtle and rational a writer to take the easy way out and produce a mere heavy-handed satire. And the tensions between Sirius’ canine heritage and the human amply justify the novel’s subtitle ‘A Fantasy of Love and Discord’.

Despite Sirius having been published nearly seventy years ago, its themes have a very relevant feel to them; there are also hints of some of the ideas that Arthur Machen used in The Terror (1917) when the previous world conflict also caused many to consider humanity’s possibly precarious place in the wider setting of ‘brute creation’. In Sirius, as he did in Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon teasingly and movingly pursues the chaos and glories of being alive, even of a dog’s life, as far as the Ultimate. And then returns to earth, leaving the reader considerably enriched by the journey, and with a book to be treasured.