|Full title||Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest [permalink]|
|Authors||Olaf Stapledon (author) and Adam Roberts (introduction)|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz Ltd|
|Categories||Novel and science fiction|
|Original publication year||1935|
|ISBN||978-0-575-07224-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]|
John Wainwright is born several months late, a seemingly normal child who, it's quickly discovered, is anything but. His mental powers are off the charts, and he learns at a tremendous rate. As a consequence of all this accelerated mentation, his physical body's maturation is severely hampered such that by age 16 he looks like a ten-year-old.
As John learns quickly, he very soon becomes bored with whatever object is holding his attention. For instance, he soon tires of language:
The novel follows him throughout his life, narrated by a free-lance journalist friend of his. The book proposes to be published long after the events contained in it. In fact, the end of the novel is flatly stated in the first chapter (but not to worry, I won't spoil it; I'll let Stapledon do that).
Much of the novel is spent ruminating on what it means to be superhuman (they call themselves supernormals and Homo superior). From our narrator's perspective, many of Odd John's actions seem flat out amoral, and even though John can't properly explain the situation to the narrator (for the simple reason that John's logic is superior to his), one nevertheless is left with a feeling that maybe John is right.
I immensely enjoyed this novel. It's really interesting to follow John through his life, and Stapledon does a wonderful job of conveying the various parts of John's life to us, through a sympathetic and competent narrator. I have only one complaint: The latter parts of the book are about John's voyages around the world to find fellow-supernormals to populate and keep his Colony running. I wish this part comprised more of the book, as I think those chapters were the most interesting. Nevertheless, I can thoroughly recommend it!