In a world where superhero films are the box-office favourites, where books with magic and superhuman characters capture the imaginations of many readers and where superhumans are the subjects of many a documentary, it takes no small stretch to conclude that humans have long been fascinated by ‘homo-superiors’. Indeed, the book that brought that term into existence is about the next step in human evolution.
Odd John. Written by Olaf Stapledon and published in 1935, ‘Odd John’ is a fascinating read. It is an autobiography of the title character – John Wainwright, called Odd John by his friends and family, following his mission to create a society for those like him, a utopia if you will.
John is a mutant. Under-developed but with an intellect that surpasses even the smartest of humans, he views the world in a very different way to the rest of human-kind. Certainly, his morals are of a different sort entirely, and his arrogance and mannerisms make him hard to find relatable or likeable. Yet his story fascinates. ‘Odd John’ is told entirely from his birth to his death by a narrator who, despite being a ‘normal human’ becomes one of John’s closest friends. The reader is taken along as John develops his skills, learns about the world around him, and searches for others like himself. The ending even puts across the possibility that the entire tale could be true, and that one day humankind will be replaced by another, more advanced species.
While good, the book can be slow in places and it can be hard to bond with John’s character and quite understand why it is he does what he does. The narrator does mimick this confusion and inability to truly appreciate the way John’s mind works which is one of the reasons why ‘Odd John’ is so effective. It is looking in at these homo-superiors from an outsider’s perspective; whereas most stories are told from the superhuman’s perspective instead, the ones that are just discovering their gifts.
Inspiring many other science fiction and fantasy writers, this is a classic that is not to be missed.