Robert Sheppard, Editor-in-Chief, World Literature Forum

Robert Sheppard, Editor-in-Chief, World Literature Forum






H.G.Wells' War of the Worlds---World Classic of Science Fiction

H.G.Wells’ War of the Worlds—World Classic of Science Fiction


What is “Science Fiction?” By its terms science fiction is the conjunction of “science” and “fiction,” which is to say the world of what we hold to be the most confirmable “reality” of our lives, or “what really is,” in fruitful union with the richest realm of the imagination, our deepest dreams of that alternative reality of “what could be,” or what might most delight us or be desired to be, or that which is most feared to be.  It is also not incidentally, as is all art and literature, among our deepest conjectures of who we are and who we may dream ourselves to be, or to become.

According to science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: “realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.” Rod Serling’s definition is “fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.” Lester del Rey wrote, “Even the devoted aficionado—or fan—has a hard time trying to explain what science fiction is,” and that the reason for there not being a “full satisfactory definition” is that “there are no easily delineated limits to science fiction.”

Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures. It is similar to, but differs from pure fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated physical laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).

The settings for science fiction are often contrary to those of consensus reality but most science fiction still relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief, which is facilitated in the reader’s mind by potential scientific explanations or solutions to various fictional elements. Science fiction elements include:

  • A time setting in the future in alternative      timelines or in a historical past that      contradicts known facts of history or the archeological record;
  • A spatial setting or scenes in outer      space (e.g. spaceflight), on      other worlds, or subterranean      earth;
  • Characters that include aliens, mutants, androids      or humanoid robots and other types of characters      arising from a future human evolution;
  • Futuristic or plausible technology such as ray guns,      teleportation machines, and humanoid computers;
  • Scientific principles that are new or that contradict      accepted physical laws, for example time travel, wormholes or      faster-than-light travel or communication      (known to be possible but not      yet feasible).
  • New and different political or social systems, e.g. dystopian,      post-scarcity or post-apocalyptic;      Paranormal abilities such as mind control, telepathy, telekinesis      and teleportation;
  • Other universes or dimensions and travel between them.

Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, as is making it a “literature of ideas.” Further, Science Fiction has evolved to be used by authors as a device to discuss philosophical questions of identity, the nature of humanity and the human condition, morality, desire and social structure.





Of course, the identification of the first science fiction writer in history is dependent upon our definition of what is science fiction. That in turn will depend on our definitions of what is science and what is fiction. These terms are not constant but vary and shift with historical, intellectual and cultural circumstance. Nonetheless, looking back on all known past literature it is possible to identify writers in the past who approached most nearly the modern themes, subject matter and imaginative intent of the institution we now regard as the modern genre of “Science Fiction.” Various national or individual claimants to the title of the “the first work of science fiction” are proposed from time to time, from the True History of 2nd Century Roman writer Lucian to some of the tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights, to the 10th Century Japanese “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” to the Robinson Crusoesque desert island tale Theologus Autodidacticus (The Self-Taught Theologist) by 13th Century Arabic writer Ibn al-Nafis. In my judgment, the Roman writer Lucian has the strongest claim to the title of “the father of science fiction.”


Lucian--2nd Century AD Roman Writer----The First Science Fiction Writer in World Literature

Lucian–2nd Century AD Roman Writer—-The First Science Fiction Writer in World Literature




As most of us are not familiar with Lucian and his True History  or Ibn al-Nafis’ Theologus Autodidacticus I shall take a bit more time and space to outline their contents compared to other modern works presented below with which the reader is presumed to be more knowledgeable.

In his Roman 2nd Century AD classic, True History, Lucian as narrator joins a company of adventuring heroes similar to “Jason and the Argonauts” sailing westward through the “Pillars of Hercules” (the Strait of Gibraltar) in order to explore lands and inhabitants beyond the Ocean. They are blown off course by a strong wind, and after 79 days come to an island. This island is home to a river of wine filled with fish, and bears a marker indicating that Hercules and Dionysius have traveled to this point, alongside normal footprints and giant footprints.

Shortly after leaving the island, they are lifted up by a tornado-like whirlwind and after seven days aloft are deposited on the Moon. There they find themselves embroiled in a full-scale war between the king of the Moon and the king of the Sun over colonization of the Morning Star, involving armies including such exotica as stalk-and-mushroom men, acorn-dogs (“dog-faced men fighting on winged acorns”), and cloud-centaurs. Unusually, the Sun, Moon, stars and planets are portrayed as locales, each with its unique geographic details and inhabitants. The war is finally won by the King of the Sun’s armies clouding the Moon over. Details of the Moon follow: there are no women, and children grow inside the calves of men prior to birth.

After returning to Earth, the adventurers become trapped in a giant 200 mile-long whale where live many groups of people whom they rout in war. They also reach a sea of milk, an island of cheese and “The Isle of the Blessed,” a species of afterworld. There Lucian meets the heroes of the Trojan War from the Iliad, other mythical men and animals, and even Homer himself. They find the historian Herodotus being eternally punished for the “lies” he published in his “Histories.”

After leaving the Island of the Blessed, they deliver a letter to Calypso given to them by Odysseus explaining that he wishes he had stayed with her so he could have lived eternally. They then discover a chasm in the Ocean, but eventually sail around it, discover a far-off continent, prophetic of Columbus’ discovery of America, and decide to explore it. The book ends rather abruptly with Lucian saying that their adventure there will be the subject of following books.

Lucian’s True History eludes a clear-cut literary classification or genre. Its multilayered character has given rise to interpretations as diverse as science fiction, fantasy, satire or parody of such classics as the Odyssey, depending on how much importance scholars attach to Lucian’s explicit intention of telling a story of candid falsehoods. Nevertheless, I feel on the whole that True History may properly be regarded effectively as science fiction because Lucian often achieves that sense of “cognitive estrangement” which Darko Suvin has defined as the generic distinction of Science Fiction, that is, the depiction of an alternate world, radically unlike our own, but relatable to it in terms of continuity of the laws and limits of action. Thus, part of the tale that qualifies it as science fiction, rather than as fantasy or imaginative fiction, involves Lucian and his seamen living out an epic battle for territorial and colonization rights that preserves a field of action, including reality and science-based laws and limitations alongside human and social motivations, continuous of our own world’s realities.

In sum, characteristic of science fiction themes and topoi, Lucian’s True History depicts:

  • travel to outer space
  • encounter with alien life-forms, including the      experience of a first encounter event
  • interplanetary      war and imperialism
  • colonization of planets
  • artificial atmosphere
  • liquid air
  • reflecting telescopes
  • motif of giganticism
  • creatures as products of human technology (robot theme)
  • worlds working by a set of alternate ‘physical’ laws
  • explicit desire of the protagonist for exploration and      adventure


Ibn al-Nafis---13th Century Arabic Writer---The First Islamic Science Fiction Writer in World Literature

Ibn al-Nafis—13th Century Arabic Writer—The First Islamic Science Fiction Writer in World Literature




Ibn al-Nafis’ 13th Century classic Theologus Autodidacticus and its progenitors were part of “The Islamic Golden Age” that is often overlooked in its contributions to both modern science and science fiction. From the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad the Arab world took greater care than the Christian West to preserve and build upon the rationalist heritage of the Greek and Roman classical heritage through the works of such renown scholars as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Al-Ghazali, Moses Maimonides and others, who in turn at a later time contributed to the rediscovery of the rationalist Greco-Roman classical tradition through their influence on medieval scholars such as the neo-Aristotelian St. Thomas Aquinas and their successors embodied in the Western Renaissance.

The Theologus Autodidacticus was less a work of imaginative science fiction than a continuation of a philosophical thought experiment deriving from the prior Islamic Golden Age works The Incoherence of the Philosophers by Ibn Sina and its more immediate precursor work by Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), the Philosophus Autodidacticus (Ḥayy ibn YaqẓānAlive, Son of Awake” or “The Self-Taught Philosopher: The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan.” These philosophical works sought to explore the relationship of human reason, scientific proof based on individual observation of the world and religious revelation through the thought experiment of placing a feral child on a desert island without human language, society, education or guidance and speculating as to what naked observation of the world and reason would produce in human understanding. Ibn Tufail, like St. Thomas Aquinas seeking to reconcile reason and the creator-God of a rational universe, speculated that the island boy armed only with scientific observation and reason would arrive at the same rational understanding as the most learned philosophers armed with the Islamic and Greco-Roman tradition. Ibn al-Nafis, who was not original but rather copied Ibn Tufail’s desert island feral child motif, sought to take exception with Ibn Tufail and invoke more a process of independent religious revelation which would lead to independent discovery and affirmation of Islam by the feral child, supplementing the role of naked reason and scientific observation. Nonetheless he affirmed that all was reconcilable and harmonious. Both desert island works had far-reaching effects through translation in the West, and Daniel Defoe was known to have read a translation prior to composing Robinson Crusoe, and such speculations informed the reasoning of Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire and the voyage of discovery in Candide, the Cartesian Method of Descartes, and the tabula rasa of Locke, precursors of the rise of science.  

Theologus Autodidacticus thus presents less of a voyage of discovery into an alternative universe than an account of a feral boy’s development on a desert island and his self-education, followed by his discovery and return to civilization by sailors and the attempt to reconcile autonomously-derived understanding with traditional and civilization-derived understanding. The last two chapters of the Theologus Autodidacticus, however, exhibit some characteristics of science fiction as they relate how the feral boy, Kamil, has independently arrived at the Biblical and Koranic prediction of Revelations and the Koran of the Apocalypse, “end of the world” and “Last Judgment” involving the resurrection of the bodies of the dead. He derives this prophetic knowledge scientifically through the study of astronomy, in which he observes a process of the slow destruction of the earth’s ecliptic, or slant relative to the sun from which the seasons arise. Thus in the modern science fiction tradition Ibn al-Nafis in the 13th Century predicts a Climate Change Apocalypse where the slant of the ecliptic will be lost, leading to a destruction of the seasons, the overheating of the equator and freezing of the poles and a consequent forced migration of peoples from now intolerable climates resulting in clashes and a World War of Armageddon which extirpates the human race from the planet. All is not lost however, as the re-tilting of the planet relative to the sun will eventually tilt over in the opposite direction, restoring the seasons, and the benign return of Climate Change will result in a resurrection of the dead bodies and a new cycle of resurgent life.

The other contenders for the title of the first work of science fiction are clearly much weaker. The 1001 Nights Arabian Entertainment, though incorporating some sci-fi motifs is clearly of the fantasy rather than sci-fi genre, with the laws of science not restraining the free play of fantasy and negating the comparability of the fantastic realm with the world of our lived-in reality. The Japanese 10th Century “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” (Taketori Monogatari) presents a fantasy of a “Tom Thumb” sized princess, Princess Kayuga, discovered and born from a bamboo stalk by a cutter who proves to be a princess of the Moon People. The tale tells of how she grows up on earth in the family of the bamboo cutter and is courted by all the earthly princes and proposed to by the Emperor of Japan. She rejects all these suitors, however, until an embassy from the Moon comes to return her to her lunar home, evocative also of the Chinese tale of Chang’E. Though incorporating the motif of interplanetary travel and civilizations, there is little of science or continuity of the laws of nature as a restraint on pure fantasy and impossibility. Thus, on the whole, the title of “The Father of Science Fiction” and “The First Work of Science Fiction” in history and World Literature is best conferred on Lucian and his “True History.”


Gulliver's Travels--Proto-Science Fiction

Gulliver’s Travels–Proto-Science Fiction



Arising from the Age of Reason and the development of modern science itself, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was one of the first true science fantasy works, together with Voltaire’s Micromegas (1752) and Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1620). Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan have termed the latter work the first science fiction story. It depicts a journey to the Moon and how the Earth’s motion is seen from there. The Blazing World written in 1666 by English noblewoman Margaret Cavendish has also been described as an early forerunner of science fiction. Another example is Ludvig Holberg’s novel Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum, 1741. Some have argued that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) was the first work of science fiction.

Following the 18th-century development of the as a novel itself literary form, in the early 19th century, Mary Shelley’s books Frankenstein and The Last Man helped evolve the form of the science fiction novel; later Edgar Allen Poe wrote a story about a flight to the moon. More examples appeared throughout the 19th century as the scientific age took on greater momentum and began to uproot and reform everyday life to a greater and greater extent.




Jules Verne--Father of Modern Science Fiction

Jules Verne–Father of Modern Science Fiction


Most of us grow up with the great classics of Science Fiction, either in books or rendered in movies, with place of honor held by the works of the two great authors of the first age of Science Fiction: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty-Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and many others. They have now risen to become part of the canon of World Literature, creating a body of work that became popular across broad cross-sections of society, well beyond the smaller sub-culture of sci-fi enthusiasts. They arose out of the enthusiasms and anxieties of the Industrial Revolution and Scientific Revolution as technologies such as the telegraph, steam engine, railroads, steamships, the automobile, the tank, submarine and machine-gun, airplane and electric lighting and power were completely reshaping the human landscape of the modern world. They also confronted the dilemmas and challenges that such scientific developments as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity posed for the understanding of the human condition and its traditional institutions such as religion, the nation-state and the family.


H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells


Wells’ The War of the Worlds for example (1898) describes an invasion of late Victorian England by Martians using tripod fighting machines equipped with advanced weaponry. It is a seminal depiction of an alien invasion of Earth, and in presenting a collision with a species more advanced than humanity is a profound shock to our geo-centric and ego-centric pretensions of human superiority and privileged uniqueness. Wells in that work also developed the narrative technique of telling the story by an average person as narrator unexpectedly caught up in a technological cataclysm, allowing a focus not simply on astounding technology, but on the human and psychological dimensions of technological upheaval. This focus would be echoed in the later development of the genre from “Hard Science Fiction” to the sub-genres of “Social Science Fiction” and “Soft Science Fiction” epitomized by such later writers as Phillip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Verne also created iconic characters of great psychological depth such as Captain Nemo and questioned such human institutions as the nation-state, as memorable as the technological speculations concerning undersea submarine travel, space ships on interplanetary journeys, time machines and laser weapons. With such great authors the advance of technology elicited not only admiration and awe, but also concern for the ambivalent meaning and potential of such innovations for morality, the exercise of power, society and the human condition.


Jules Verne's Science Fiction Classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Jules Verne’s Science Fiction Classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea





Olaf Stapledon---Cosmic Visionary

Olaf Stapledon—Cosmic Visionary



Olaf Stapledon, an accomplished Oxford scholar, was a writer of extraordinary depth and breadth of vision who deeply influenced later icons of Science Fiction such as Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke as well as such writers as Borges, H.P. Lovecraft, Priestly, Bertrand Russell and Virginia Woolf. Once again, I shall devote a bit more time and space to Stapledon as he is less familiar to our readers than the better known masters.

Stapledon was a scholar in history at Oxford prior to the First World War and was deeply influenced by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. During WWI he was a conscientious objector and served in the ambulance service at the front in Belgium and France in lieu of military service. After the war he completed a Ph.D in Philosophy, but the success of his science fiction writing enabled him to give up academia to become a full-time writer instead. His first major success was with the publication of  Last and First Men, a work of immense vision and unprecedented scale in the genre,  describing the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen distinct human species, of which our own is the first. Stapledon’s conception of history is based on both Darwin and the Hegelian Dialectic, following a repetitive cycle with many varied civilizations rise from and descending back into savagery over millions of years. In this he was also influenced by the historical theories of Oswald Spengler and Vico, following the rise and fall of civilizations as organic but historically determined entities destined to birth, a limited lifespan and inevitable decline and destruction, which is, however, followed by civilizational rebirth. But this process is also one of a general upward spiraling progress, as the later civilizations rise to far greater heights than the first and earlier ones. The book anticipates the science of genetic engineering, interplanetary colonization and migration, interplanetary and inter-species war, conflict between creator and created species, an altered sexuality with evolution of multiple sexes beyond the male and female, and among the later evolutionary reincarnations of humanity is an early example of the fictional supermind:  a super-consciousness composed of many telepathically-linked individuals. Humanity ends with the occurrence of a supernova which destroys the solar system, but not before the final race devises seed-viruses which are capable of surviving journeys to other solar systems and the seeding of life there in the tradition of interstellar “panspermia” in the hope of a newer evolution of life on the planets of distant stars. The course of evolution from the present human species (the First Men) onwards to the final reported species, the Eighteenth Men:

  • First Men.      (Chapters 1–6) Our own species: the rivalry of America and China, leads to formation of the First World      State followed by its destruction as a result of using up all natural      resources, followed by the Patagonia Civilization      100,000 years hence, with its cult of Youth, and its destruction after the sabotage of a mine      which leads to a colossal subterranean atomic explosion and an ensuing intercontinental nuclear holocaust, rendering most of the Earth’s surface uninhabitable      for millions of years save for the poles and the northern coast of Siberia. The only survivors are thirty-five humans stationed      at the North Pole who eventually split up into two separate species,      the Second Men and some sub-humans.
  • Second Men.      (Chapters 7– 9) “Their heads, indeed, were large even for their      bodies, and their necks massive. Their hands were huge, but finely      moulded…their legs were stouter…their feet had lost their separate toes…blonde hirsuite appearance…Their eyes were large, and often jade green, their features firm as carved granite, yet      mobile and lucent. …not till they were fifty did they reach      maturity. At about 190 their powers began to fail…” Unlike our      species, egotism is virtually unknown to them. At the acme of their      highly advanced civilization, a      protracted war with the Martians finally ends with the Martians extinct      and the Second Men gone into eclipse.
  • Third Men. (Chapter      10) “Scarcely more than half the stature of their predecessors, these      beings were proportionally slight and lithe. Their skin was of a sunny      brown, covered with a luminous halo of      red-gold hairs… golden eyes… faces were compact as a cat’s muzzle,      their lips full, but subtle at the corners. Their ears, objects of      personal pride and of sexual admiration, were extremely variable both in      individuals and in races. … But the most distinctive feature of the      Third Men was their great lean hands, on which were six versatile fingers,      six antennae of living steel.” They are deeply interested in music and in the genetically engineered design of living organisms.
  • Fourth Men. (Chapter      11) Giant brains, built by the Third Men. For a long time they help govern      their creators, but eventually come into conflict. After reducing the      Third Men to the status of lab animals, they eventually reach the limits      of their scientific abilities.
  • Fifth Men.      (Chapters 11–12) An artificial human species designed by the preceding brains: “On      the average they were more than twice as tall as the First Men, and much      taller than the Second Men… the delicate sixth finger had been induced      to divide its tip into two Lilliputian      fingers and a      corresponding thumb. The contours of the limbs were sharply visible, for      the body bore no hair, save for a close, thick skull-cap which, in the original stock, was of ruddy brown.      The well-marked eyebrows, when drawn down, shaded the sensitive eyes from      the sun.” After clashing with and finally eliminating the Fourth Men,      they develop a technology greater than Earth had ever known before. When      Earth ceases to be habitable, they terraform      Venus, committing genocide on its marine native race which tries to resist      them – but do not cope well after the move.
  • Sixth Men. (Chapter      13) “Sadly reduced in stature and in brain, these abject beings…      gained a precarious livelihood by grubbing roots upon the forest-clad      islands, trapping the innumerable birds, and catching fish… Not      infrequently they devoured, or were devoured by, their seal-like relatives.” After tectonic changes      provide them with a promising land mass, they fluctuate like the First Men      and repeat all their mistakes.
  • Seventh      Men. Flying      humans, “scarcely heavier than the largest of terrestrial flying      birds”, are created by the Sixth Men. After 100 million years, a      flightless pedestrian subspecies appears which re-develops technology.
  • Eighth Men.      “These long-headed and substantial folk were designed to be strictly      pedestrian, physically and mentally.” When Venus becomes      uninhabitable, about to be destroyed along with the entire inner solar      system, they design the Ninth Men, who will live on Neptune.
  • Ninth Men. (Chapter      14) “Inevitably it was a dwarf type,      limited in size by the necessity of resisting an excessive gravitation… too delicately organized to withstand the      ferocity of natural forces on Neptune… civilization crumbled into      savagery.” From there, savagery sinks further into brutedom.
  • Tenth to      Seventeenth Men. “Nowhere did the typical human form      survive.” Sentience re-emerges from animals on multiple occasions.      The Fifteenth and Sixteenth achieve a great civilization and learn to      study past minds. (These species are essentially Neptunian versions of the      Second and Fifth Men, respectively.) It is not until the Sixteenth Men,      the first of the Neptunian artificial species, that the cycle of rise and      collapse of civilization is finally ended, and steady      progress takes its place. The Sixteenth Men, frustrated by their inability      to improve their civilization,      decide that their nature is insufficiently advanced to produce a truly      perfect community, and create an artificial species, the Seventeenth Men,      to succeed them; however, the Seventeenth Men are “flawed” in      some unspecified way, unimagined by the 16th due to their lesser      awareness, and last only a short period of time before being replaced by      the Eighteenth Men, essentially a more perfect version of their own      species.
  • Eighteenth      Men.      (Chapters 15–16) The most advanced humans of all. A race of philosophers      and artists with a very liberal sexual morality. “Superficially we      seem to be not one species but many.” (One interesting aspect of the      Eighteenth Men is that they have a number of different      “sub-genders,” variants on the basic male and female pattern,      with distinctive temperaments. The Eighteenth Men’s equivalent of the      family unit includes one of each of these sub-genders and is the basis of      their society. The units have the ability to act as a group mind, which      eventually leads to the establishment of a single group mind uniting the      entire species.). This species no longer died naturally, but only by      accident, suicide or being killed. Despite their hyper-advanced civilization,      they practice ritual cannibalism. They are      eventually extinguished on Neptune after      a supernova infects      the sun, causing it to grow so hot that it consumes the remains of the solar system, faster than any means of escape they can devise.      Unable to escape, this last species of man devises a virus to spread life      to other worlds and cause the evolution of new sentient species throughout      the galaxy.

But the process of evolution can also be downward as well as upward. Stapledon on numerous occasions posits the emergence of “subhuman” human successors who descend towards a lower animality:

  • Baboon-like      Submen. (Chapter      7) “Bent so that as often as not they used their arms as aids to      locomotion, flat-headed and curiously long-snouted, these creatures were      by now more baboon-like than human”.
  • Aquatic Seal-like Submen. (Chapter      13) “The whole body was moulded to stream-lines. The lung capacity      was greatly developed. The spine had elongated, and increased in      flexibility. The legs were shrunken, grown together, and flattened into a      horizontal rudder. The arms also were diminutive and fin-like, though they      still retained the manipulative forefinger and thumb. The head had shrunk      into the body and looked forward in the direction of swimming. Strong      carnivorous teeth, emphatic gregariousness, and a new, almost human,      cunning in the chase, combined to make these seal-men lords of the      ocean”. In this they parallel the actual strange but true      history of evolution of the seal, whale and porpoise from an air-breathing      land animal thought to resemble the dog into an aquatic species on Earth.
  • Period of      Eclipse. (Chapter      14) “Man’s consciousness was narrowed and coarsened into      brute-consciousness. By good luck the brute precariously survived.”      Nature succeeds in colonizing Neptune where sentient life fails.      Human-derived mammals of all shapes come to dominate Neptune’s ecosystem before adapting well enough for the vestiges of      opposable thumbs and intelligence to become assets again.


Olaf Stapldon's Star Maker--The Ultimate Cosmological Vision

Olaf Stapldon’s Star Maker–The Ultimate Cosmological Vision


As if a two-billion year vision of the future of the human species were not enough, Stapledon follows his prophetic masterpiece with an even greater cosmological speculation in Star Maker, transcending the “Big Bang” with a vision of the creation of alternative universes by a Supreme Artist-Quasi-God-Universe Maker, termed the “Star Maker.”

The climax of the book is the “supreme moment of the cosmos”, when the cosmical mind (which includes the psychically-voyaging narrator) attains momentary contact with the “Star Maker” of the title. The Star Maker is the creator of the universe, but stands in the same relation to it as an artist to his work, and calmly assesses its quality without any feeling for the suffering of its inhabitants. This element makes the novel one of Stapledon’s efforts to write “an essay in myth making”.

After meeting the Star Maker, the traveler is given a “fantastic myth or dream,” in which he observes the Star Maker at work. He discovers that his own cosmos is only one of a vast number, and by no means the most significant. He sees the Star Maker’s early work, and learns that the Star Maker was surprised and intensely interested when some of his early “toy” universes — for example a universe composed entirely of music with no spatial dimensions — displayed “modes of behavior that were not in accord with the canon which he had ordained for them.” He sees the Star Maker experimenting with more elaborate universes, which include among others the traveler’s own universe, and a triune universe which closely resembles “Christian orthodoxy” (the three universes respectively being hell, heaven, and reality with presence of a savior). The Star Maker goes on to create “mature” universes of extraordinary complexity, culminating in an “ultimate cosmos,” through which the Star Maker fulfills his own eternal destiny as “the ground and crown of all things.” Finally, the traveler-narrator returns to Earth at the place and time he left, to resume his life there.


KAREL ČAPEK---Czech Inventor of the word "Robot"

KAREL ČAPEK—Czech Inventor of the word “Robot”



Stapledon’s Czech contemporary Karel Čapek is perhaps best known for his coinage of the word “robot” in his early play “R.U.R.—Rostum’s Universal Robots,” which describes the creation of an “android” species of robots endowed with human-like intelligence and consciousness.  Many of his works discuss ethical aspects of industrial inventions and processes already anticipated in the first half of the 20th century. These include mass production, nuclear weapons, and post-human intelligent beings such as robots or salamanders (newts). Čapek also expressed fear from social disasters, dictatorship, violence, human stupidity, the unlimited power of corporations, and greed. Capek tried to find hope, and the way out. Čapek’s literary heirs include Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Brian Aldiss, and Dan Simmons. From the 1930s onward, Čapek’s work became increasingly anti-fascist, anti-militarist, and critical of what he saw as “irrationalism.”


The War With the Newts

The War With the Newts


Čapek’s most mature work was War with the Newts (Válka s mloky) sometimes also translated as War with the Salamanders. The 1936 satirical science fiction novel concerns the discovery in the Pacific of a sea-dwelling race, an intelligent breed of newts, who are initially enslaved and exploited by their human masters and owned by profit-seeking corporations. They acquire human knowledge and intelligence, however, and rebel leading to a global war for supremacy between the two intelligent species on earth. Ultimately the Newts triumph due to human mendacity. There are obvious similarities to Čapek’s earlier R.U.R. which also included conflict between humans and their created “android” species of robots, but also some original themes and the fuller development as a full novel.




In the early 20th century, pulp magazines helped develop a new generation of mainly American science fiction writers, influenced by Hugo Gernsback, the founder of Amazing Stories magazine, after whom the “Hugo” science fiction award for excellence is named. In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs published A Princess of Mars, the first of his three-decade-long series of Barsoom novels, situated on Mars and featuring John Carter as the hero. The 1928 publication of Philip Nolan’s original Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419, in Amazing Stories was a landmark event. This story led to comic strips featuring Buck Rogers (1929), Brick Bradford (1933), and Flash Gordon (1934). The comic strips and derivative movie serials greatly popularized science fiction.

In the late 1930s, John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine and a critical mass of new writers emerged in New York City in a group called the Futurians, including Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Donald Wollheim, Frederik Pohl, James Blish, Judith Marril, and others. Other important writers during this period included E.E. (Doc) Smith, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and A.E. Vogt. Working outside the Campbell influence were Ray Bradbury and Stanislaw Lem. Campbell’s tenure at Astounding is considered to be the beginning of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, characterized by Hard Science Fiction stories celebrating scientific achievement and progress. This lasted until post-war technological advances, new magazines such as Galaxy, edited by H. L. Gold, and a new generation of writers began writing stories with less emphasis on the hard sciences and more on the social sciences.

All three of the giants of contemporary science fiction were members of the WWII Generation that had seen the genre evolve from its beginnings with the Victorian and Edwardian “scientific romances” of Verne and Wells and, supercharged by the acceleration of technological change, looked forward with prophetic vision and imaginative creativity.

All three of the giants of the Golden Age of Science Fiction were members of the WWII Generation that had seen the genre evolve from its beginnings with the Victorian and Edwardian “scientific romances” of Verne and Wells and, supercharged by the acceleration of technological change, looked forward with prophetic vision and imaginative creativity.


Robert A. Heinlein--One of the "Big Three“ Of the Golden Age of Modern Science Fiction

Robert A. Heinlein–One of the “Big Three“ Of the Golden Age of Modern Science Fiction



Robert A. Heinlein has been considered one of the founding fathers of Science Fiction for the last half-century. A graduate of the US Naval Academy and an engineer he brought intimate knowledge of science, engineering technology and military affairs into modern science fiction. In addition to numerous short stories published in such sci-fi magazines as Astounding, he published many novels such as Starship Troopers, Strangers in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which became classics of the Science Fiction canon. Starship Troopers is emblematic of his early phase and classified as one of the “Heinlein juveniles” or books especially aimed at the youth audience. Drawing on his military background it relates the saga of soldiers and “space marines” in a space army defending earth from invasion by an insect-like, or space-arachnid species. His stories in the 50’s popularized the themes of space travel in advance preparation for America’s successful space program leading to the Apollo landings on the moon. His themes beyond mere technological advance and adventure include social questions such as the defense of individual freedom and individuality against a repressive and conformist society, as well as a vindication of the civic and military virtues associated with military service. His middle phase, including Strangers in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress include a defense of sexual freedom alongside political freedom, a theme which appealed to the “hippy” counterculture of the 60’s along with libertarians of both the left and right. The latter novel relates the saga of a rebellion on a penal colony of a future society on the moon and the search for liberty in a repressive environment. His late phase, after recovery from serious illness, and include more speculative philosophical and political themes building on his Future History series. His politics swung widely from an early alignment with Upton Sinclair’s leftist campaigns in Depression era California to later support of the libertarian right, including backing the conservative campaign of Barry Goldwater. His concern with individuality and personal freedom remained a common thread throughout, however.


Heinlein's Classic Starship Troopers

Heinlein’s Classic Starship Troopers




Arthur C. Clarke with Director Stanley Kubrick at the Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke with Director Stanley Kubrick at the Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey


Arthur C. Clarke was a British innovator in the science fiction genre of the same generation as Heinlein and Asimov, coming of age before and during the Second World War in which he served as a radar technician with the RAF. He is credited with envisioning several important technological breakthroughs in world history, most notably his first conception of a telecommunications network of orbiting geostationary satellites which came to fruition in reality. His interest in SCUBA diving led him to emigrate to Ceylon-Sri Lanka where he lived most of his later life.

Clarke and Asimov first met in New York City in 1953, and in an amicable rivalry they traded friendly insults and gibes for decades. They established a verbal agreement, the “Clarke–Asimov Treaty,” that when asked who was best, the two would say Clarke was the best science fiction writer and Asimov was the best science writer. In 1972, Clarke put the “treaty” on paper in his dedication to Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations.


Arthur C. Clarke's Classic 2001: A Space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke’s Classic 2001: A Space Odyssey


Clarke is best known for his works related to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which became an immense success through its embodiment in the epic 1968 Stanley Kubrick film. The works present a spiritual mystery of man’s origins and destiny in the universe, including such iconic scenes as discovery of the black obelisk, the struggle of the protagonist with the homicidal computer “Hal” and the imagery of spiritual rebirth through voyaging through space. It formed the consciousness of a generation decisively convinced that humanity’s spiritual destiny was linked with space exploration. It was followed by numerous sequels.




Isaac Asimov on His Science Fiction Throne of Honor

Isaac Asimov on His Science Fiction Throne of Honor


Isaac Asimov was an American professor of biochemistry who became a leading icon of the Science Fiction world, beginning with his I, Robot series delineating like Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. the relationship of humans and a race of intelligent android robots, followed by his   Foundation series which relates the formation of an interstellar federation and Galactic Empire of civilizations in the future. He also perhaps brought the genre to its greatest literary maturity, writing extensively on Shakespeare and the Bible in relation to science fiction.


Azimov's Classic I,Robot

Azimov’s Classic I,Robot


He is also remembered for his exploration of “robotics,” a word he is credited with coining, including the formulation of the “Three Laws of Robotics” which he postulated as necessary to the programming of intelligent and autonomous robots for governing their relationship to their human creators. The Three Laws are:

  1. A robot      may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to      come to harm.
  2. A robot      must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders      would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot      must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not      conflict with the First or Second Law.
Isaac Azimov's Foundation Series

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series


Beginning in 1942 he published the first of his Foundation stories—later collected in the Foundation Trilogy: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953)—which recount the collapse and rebirth of a vast interstellar empire in a universe of the future. Taken together, they are his most famous work of science fiction, along with the Robot Series. Many years later, due to pressure by fans on Asimov to write another, he continued the series with Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986), and then went back to before the original trilogy with Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1992). The series features his fictional science of Psychohistory in which the future course of the history of large populations can be predicted.

Heinlein, de Camp & Isaac Asimov Meet During WWII

Heinlein, de Camp & Isaac Asimov Meet During WWII





Beyond the “Big Three,” in the 1950s, the Beat Generation included speculative writers such as William S. Burroughs. In the 1960s and early 1970s, writers like Frank Herbert, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison explored new trends, ideas, and writing styles, while a group of writers, mainly in Britain, became known as the New Wave for their embrace of a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, and a highbrow and self-consciously “literary” or artistic sensibility. In the 1970s, writers like Larry Niven brought new life to hard science fiction while Ursula K. Le Guin and others pioneered Soft Science Fiction, including exploration of alternative sexual identities following on the earlier work in this area of Olaf Stapledon.



Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury




Ray Bradbury has resisted characterization as a science fiction writer though in the public mind he is closely associated with its rise and popularization outside narrow sci-fi circles in the 60’s. He prided himself on never having gone to a university, closed to him during the poverty of the Great Depression, and declared that the public libraries were his education. It was through his works Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles that many mainstream readers became interested in science fiction. Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn, gives us an excursion into a future society in which the development of individual consciousness, particularly through the reading of books, is actively suppressed by a totalitarian government which enforces conformity through mass addiction to government controlled electronic media. It tells the story of Guy Montag, who is a “fireman” in a different sense, that is one whose job is to discover the reading of books and other subversive evidence of independent thought and respond to such “emergencies” by burning both the books and the houses of those caught reading them. His disaffection leads to involvement with a counterculture which memorizes and recites books in clandestine meetings. The Martian Chronicles present a collection of interconnected stories telling the saga of successive waves of human conquest and colonization of Mars after society has corrupted and finally destroyed life on earth. Both books were rendered in popular films and achieved high acclaim in mainstream consciousness.


Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin




Science Fiction has overwhelmingly been a world dominated by men and male technological fantasy, which has caused some to welcome the success of Ursula K. Le Guin as a balancing force in the genre. She has been associated with the “soft science fiction” sub-genre, focusing on the anthropology, sociology and psychology of intergalactic civilizational encounters more than on raw technology. Her two major works, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed enjoyed the recognition of both the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction excellence. The Left Hand of Darkness portrays a universe of relatively isolated intergalactic civilizations who are connected by a loose confederation known as the “Ekumen” which coordinates interactions between them. This allows the author to hypothesize a loose collection of societies that exist largely in isolation from one another, providing the setting for her explorations of intercultural encounter. The social and cultural impact of the arrival of Ekumen envoys (known as “mobiles”) on remote planets, and the culture shock that the envoys experience, constitute major themes of The Left Hand of Darkness.

In the 1980s, Cyberpunk authors like William Gibson turned away from the early optimism and seemingly blind support for progress of traditional science fiction. This dystopian vision of the near future is described in the work of Phillip K. Dick, such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, which resulted in the films Blade Runner and Total Recall. The Star Wars franchise helped spark a new interest in Space Opera, focusing more on story and character than on scientific accuracy. C.J. Cherryh’s detailed explorations of alien life and complex scientific challenges influenced a later generation of writers.

Emerging themes in the 1990s included environmental issues, the implications of the global Internet and the expanding information universe, questions about biotechnology and nanotechnology, as well as a post-Cold War interest in post-scarcity societies; Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age comprehensively explores these themes. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels brought the character-driven story back into prominence. The television series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) began a torrent of new sci-fi shows, including three further Star Trek spin-off shows (Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise) and Babylon 5. Stargate, a movie about an ancient portal to other gates across the galaxy, was released in 1994. Stargate SG-1, a TV series, premiered in 1997 and lasted 10 seasons with 214 episodes. Concern about the rapid pace of technological change crystallized around the concept of the “technological singularity” or the rise of intelligent computers and androids to power over humans, popularized by Vernor Vinge’s novel Marooned in Realtime and then taken up by other authors.




Frank Herbert---Author of the Epic Dune Saga

Frank Herbert—Author of the Epic Dune Saga


Frank Herbert (1920 –1986) was a critically acclaimed and commercially successful American science fiction author. Though also a short story author, he is best known for his novels,most notably Dune and its five sequels. The Dune saga, set in the distant future and taking place over millennia, deals with themes such as human survival and evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics and power. Dune itself is the “best-selling science fiction novel of all time” and the series is widely considered to be among the classics in the genre.






The overall genre of Science Fiction has generated numerous sub-genres, or areas of independent focus and concentration such as Hard Science Fiction, Soft Science Fiction, Social Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Superhuman, Military Science Fiction and Apocalyptic Science Fiction. Below are short introductions to these sub-genres to guide the reader to his or her areas of greatest interest.


Hard Science Fiction, or “hard SF” is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in the natural sciences, especially physics, astrophysics and chemistry, or on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible. Some accurate predictions of the future often come from the hard science fiction subgenre, but numerous inaccurate predictions have emerged as well as technology and scientific theory changes and advances. Some hard SF authors have distinguished themselves as working scientists, including Gregory Benford, Geoffrey Landis and David Brin, while mathematician authors include Rudy Rucker and Vernor Vinge. Other noteworthy hard SF authors who are professionals in science as well include Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Hal Clement, Greg Bear and others.



Phillip K. Dick--Blade Runner & Total Recall Films Based on His Stories

Phillip K. Dick–Blade Runner & Total Recall Films Based on His Stories


The description “soft” science fiction may describe works based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology and anthropology rather than primarily focusing on technology. Noteworthy writers in this category include Ursula K. Le Guin and Phillip K. Dick. The term can describe stories focused primarily on character and emotion rather than technology.  Science Fiction Writers’ Association Grand Master Ray Bradbury was an acknowledged master of this art, and indeed declined to term himself a “science fiction writer.” The Eastern Bloc produced a large quantity of social science fiction, including works by Polish authors Stanislaw Lem and Janusz Zajdel, as well as Soviet and Russian authors such as the Strugatsky Brothers, Kir Bulychov, Yevgeny Zamyatin and Ivan Yefremov.

Related to social SF and soft SF are Utopian and Dystopian stories, the most well-known of which include George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Satirical novels with fantastic settings such as Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift might also be considered science fiction or speculative fiction.


Cyberpunk Dialogue

Cyberpunk Dialogue



The cyberpunk genre emerged in the early 1980s; combining cybernetics and punk the term was coined by author Bruce Bethke for his 1980 short story Cyberpunk.  In Cyberpunk works the time frame is usually near-future and the settings are often dystopian in nature and characterized by misery. Common themes in cyberpunk include advances in information technology, especially the Internet, visually abstracted as cyberspace, artificial intelligence and prosthetics, and post-democratic societal control where corporations have more influence than governments. Nihilism, Post-Modernism and film noir techniques are common elements, and the protagonists may be disaffected or reluctant anti-heroes.. Noteworthy authors in this genre are William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson and Pat  Cadigan. James O’Ehley has called the 1982 film Blade Runner the definitive example of the Cyberpunk visual style.


H.G. Wells' The Time Machine

H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine




Time travel stories have antecedents in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first major time travel novel was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and  the most famous, of course,  is H.G. Wells’1895 novel The Time Machine, which uses a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively, whereas Twain’s time traveler is struck in the head. The term “time machine,” coined by Wells, is now universally used to refer to such a vehicle. Stories of this type are complicated by logical problems such as the “grandfather paradox.” Time travel continues to be a popular subject in modern science fiction, in print, movies, and television episodes of Stargate, Stargate SG1and the hit BBC television series Doctor Who.


Alternate (or alternative) history stories are based on the premise that historical events might have turned out differently. These stories may use time travel to change the past, or may simply set a story in a universe with a different history from our own. Classics in the genre include Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore in which the South wins the American Civil War, and The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick, in which Germany and Japan win World War II. The Sidewise Award acknowledges the best works in this subgenre with the name is taken from Murray Leinster’s 1934 story Sidewise in Time. Harry Turtledove is one of the most prominent authors in the subgenre and is sometimes called the “master of alternate history.”


Military Science Fiction is set in the context of conflict between national, interplanetary, or interstellar armed forces; the primary viewpoint characters are usually soldiers. Stories include detail about military technology, procedure, ritual, and history; military stories may use parallels with historical conflicts. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is an early example, along with the Dorsai novels of Gordon Dickson. Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is a critique of the genre, a Vietnam-era response to the World War II–style stories of earlier authors.  Prominent Military SF authors include John Ringo, David Drake, David Weber, Tom Kratman, Michael Z. Williamson, S.M. Stirling, John Carr and Don Hawthorne. The publishing company Baen Books is known for cultivating several of these military science fiction authors.


Superhuman stories deal with the emergence of humans who have abilities beyond the present norm. This can stem either from natural causes such as in Olaf novel Odd John, Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, and Phillip Wylie’s Gladiator. Such powers may also be the result of scientific advances, such as the intentional augmentation in A.E. van Vogt’s novel Slan. These stories usually focus on the alienation that these altered beings feel as well as society’s reaction to them. These stories have played a role in the real life discussion of human enhancement. Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus also belongs to this category.


Apocalyptic fiction is concerned with the end of civilization through war (On the Beach)  pandemic (The Last Man), astronomic impact (When Worlds Collide), ecological disaster (The Wind From Nowhere) or some other general disaster or with a world or civilization after such a disaster. Typical of the genre are George R. Stewart’s novel Earth Abides, and Pat Frank’s novel Alas, Babylon.  Apocalyptic fiction generally concerns the disaster itself and the direct aftermath, while post-apocalyptic fiction can deal with anything from the near aftermath (as in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to 375 years in the future (as in By The Waters of Babylon) to hundreds or thousands of years in the future, as in Russell Hoban’s novel Riddley Walker and Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Liebowitz. Apocalyptic science-fiction is also a popular genre in video games. The critically acclaimed role-playing action adventure video game series, Fallout, is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where civilization is recovering from a nuclear war as survivors struggle to survive and seek to rebuild society.


International Sci-Fi

International Sci-Fi




Although perhaps most developed as a genre and community in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Science Fiction is a worldwide phenomenon. Organizations devoted to promotion and even translation in particular countries are commonplace, as are country- or language-specific genre awards.




Mohammed Dib, an Algerian writer, wrote a science fiction allegory about his nation’s politics, Qui se souvient de la mer (Who Remembers the Sea?) in 1962. Masimba Musodza, a Zimbabwean author, published MunaHacha Maive Nei? the first science-fiction novel in the Shona language, which also holds the distinction of being the first novel in the Shona language to appear as an e-book first before it came out in print. In South Africa, a movie titled District 9 came out in 2009, an apartheid allegory featuring extraterrestrial life forms, produced by globally renowned Peter Jackson.

Science fiction examines society through shifting power structures (such as the shift of power from humanity to alien overlords). African science fiction often uses this genre norm to situate slavery and the slave trade as an alien abduction. Commonalities in experiences with unknown languages, customs, and culture lend themselves well to this comparison. The subgenre also commonly employs the mechanism of time travel to examine the effects of slavery and forced emigration on the individual and the family.




Indian science fiction, defined loosely as science fiction by writers of Indian descent, began with the English-language publication of Kylas Chundar Dutt’s A Journal of Forty-Eight Hours of the Year 1945 in the Calcutta Literary Gazette (1835). Since this story was intended as a political polemic, credit for the first science fiction story is often given to later Bengali authors such as Jagadananda Roy, Hemlal Dutta and the polymath Jagadish Chandra Bose. Similar traditions exist in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and English. In English, the modern era of Indian speculative fiction began with the works of authors such as Samsit Basu, Payal Dhar, Vandana Singh and Anil Menon. Works such as Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome and Salman Rushdie’s Grimus and Boman Desai’s The Memory of Elephants are generally classified as magic realist works but make essential use of science fiction tropes and techniques.

Modern science fiction in China mainly depends on the magazine Science Fiction World.. A number of works were published in installments in it originally, including the most successful fiction Three Body written by Liu Cixin.

Until recently, there has been little domestic science fiction literature in Korea. Within the small field, the author and critic writing under the nom de plume Djuna has been credited with being the major force. The upswing that began in 2009 has been attributed by Shin Junebong to a combination of factors. Shin goes on to quote the Korean science-fiction writer and editor as saying that, “‘It looks like the various literary awards established by one newspaper after another, with hefty sums of prize money, had a big impact.'”  Another factor cited was the active use of Web bulletin boards among the then-young writers brought up on translations of Western SF. In spite of the increase, at the time, there were still no more than sixty or so authors writing in the field at that time.

Chalomot Be’aspamia is an Israeli magazine of short science fiction and fantasy stories. The Prophecies Of Karma, published in 2011, is advertised as the first work of science fiction by an Arabic author, the Lebanese writer Nael Gharzeddine.



Melies Film based on Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon

Melies Film based on Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon

Moonshot from Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), a silent film by George Melies

Jules Verne, of course the best known French novelist known for his pioneering science fiction works (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon) is the prime representative of the French legacy of science fiction. French science fiction of the 19th century was also represented with such artists as Albert Robida and Isidore Grandville. In the 20th century, traditions of French science fiction were carried on by writers like Pierre Boulle (best known for his Planet of the Apes) Serge Brussolo, Bernard Werber, Rene Barjavel and Robert Merle, among others.

In Franco-Belgian comics the bande dessinee (“BD”) science-fiction is a well established genre. Among the notable French science fiction comics, there is Valerian et Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, a space opera franchise lasting since 1967. Metal Hurlant magazine (known in US as Heavy Metal) was one of the largest contributors to Francophone science-fiction comics. Its major authors include Jean “Moebius” Giraud, creator of Arzach, Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky, who created a series of comics, including L’Incal and Les Metabarons, set in Jodoverse, and Enki Bilal with the Nikopol Trilogy. Giraud also contributed to French SF animation, collaborating with Rene Laloux on several animated features. A number of artists from neighboring countries, such as Spain and Italy, create science fiction and fantasy comics in French aimed at a Franco-Belgian market.

In French cinema, science fiction was started with silent film director and visual effects pioneer George Melies, whose most famous film was Voyage to the Moon, loosely based on books by Verne and Wells. In the 20th and 21st centuries, French science fiction films were represented by Rene Laloux animated features, as well as Enki Bilal’s adaptation of Nikopol trilogy, Immortal. Also, Luc Besson filmed The Fifth Element as a joint Franco-American production.

In the French-speaking world, the colloquial use of the term sci-fi is an accepted Anglicism for the word science fiction. This probably stems from the fact that science fiction writing never expanded there to the extent it did in the English-speaking world, particularly with the dominance of the United States. Nevertheless, France has made a tremendous contribution to science fiction in its seminal stages of development. Although the term “science fiction” is understood in France their penchant for the “weird and wacky” has a long tradition and is sometimes called “le culte du merveilleux”. This uniquely French tradition certainly encompasses what the Anglophone world would call French Science Fiction but also ranges across fairies, Dada-ism and Surrealisme.



Metropolis by Fritz Lang

Metropolis by Fritz Lang


The main German science fiction writer in the 19th century was Kurd Lasswitz. In the 20th century, during the years of divided Germany, both East and West spawned a number of successful writers. Top East German writers included Angela and Karlheinz Steinmuller, as well as Gunther Krupkat. West German authors included Carl Amery, Gudrun Pausewang, Wolfgang Jeschke and Frank Schatzing, among others. A well known science fiction book series in the German language is Perry Rhodan which started in 1961. Having sold over one billion copies (in pulp format), it claims to be the most successful science fiction book series ever written, worldwide. Current well-known SF authors from Germany are five-time Kurd-Lasswitz Award winner Andreas Eschbach, whose books The Carpet Makers and Eine Billion Dollar are big successes, and Frank Schatzing, who in his book The Swarm mixes elements of the science thriller with SF elements to an apocalyptic scenario. The most prominent German-speaking author, according to Die Zeit, is the Austrian Herbert W. Franke.

In 1920’s Germany produced a number of critically acclaimed high-budget science fiction and horror films. Metropolis by director Fritz Lang is credited as one of the most influential science fiction films ever made. Other films of the era included Woman in the Moon, Alraune, Algol, Gold, Master of the World, among others. In the second half of the 20th century, East Germany also became a major science fiction film producer, often in a collaboration with fellow Eastern Bloc countries. Films of this era include Eolomea, First Spaceship on Venus and Hard to Be a God.

Russia and ex-Soviet countries

Alisa Selezneva, , a popular heroine of Soviet children’s science fiction, created by Kir Bulychov

Russians made their first steps to science fiction in mid-19th century, with utopias by Faddei Bulgarin and Vladamir Odoevsky. However, it was the Soviet era that became the genre’s golden age. Soviet writers were prolific, despite limitations set up by state censorship. Early Soviet writers, such as Alexander Belayev, Alexey N. Tolstoy, and Vladamir Obruchev employed Vernian/Wellsian hard science fiction based on scientific predictions. The most notable books of the era include Belayev’s Amphibian Man, The Air Seller and Professor Dowell’s Head; Tolstoy’s Aelita and Engineer Garin’s Death Ray. Early Soviet science fiction was influenced by communist ideology and often featured a leftist agenda agenda or anti-capitalist satire. Those few early Soviet books that challenged the communist worldview and satirized the Soviets, such as Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopia We or Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog and Fatal Eggs, were banned from publishing until 1980s, although they still circulated in fan-made copies.

In the second half of the 20th century, a new generation of writers developed a more complex approach. Social Science Fiction, concerned with philosophy, ethics, utopian and dystopian ideas, became the prevalent subgenre. The breakthrough was started by Ivan Yefromov’s utopian novel Andromeda Nebula (1957). He was soon followed by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who explored darker themes and social satire in their Noon Universe novels, such as Hard to be a God (1964) and Prisoners of Power (1969), as well as in their science fantasy trilogy Monday Begins on Saturday (1964). A good share of Soviet science fiction was aimed at children. Probably the best known was Kir Bulychov, who created Alisa Selezneva (1965-2003), a children’s space adventure series about a teenage girl from the future.

Soviet film industry also contributed to the genre, starting from the 1924 film Aelita. Some of early Soviet films, namely Planet of the Storms (1962) and Battle Beyond the Sun (1959), were pirated, re-edited and released in the West under new titles. Late Soviet science fiction films include Mystery of the Third Planet (1981), Ivan Vasilyevich (1973) and Kin-dza-dza! (1986), as well as the world famous  Andrey Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, among others.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, science fiction in the former Soviet republics is still written mostly in the Russian language, which allows an appeal to a broader audience. Aside from Russians themselves, especially notable are Ukrainian writers, who greatly contributed to science fiction and fantasy in Russian language. Among the most notable post-Soviet authors are H.L. Oldie, Sergey Lukyanenko, Alexander Zorich and Vadim Panov. Russia’s film industry, however, was less successful recently and produced only a few science fiction films, most of them are adaptations of books by Strugatskies (The Inhabited Island, The Ugly Swans) or Bulychov (Alice’s Birthday). Science fiction media in Russia is represented with such magazines as Mir Fantastiki and Esli.


The Classic Sci-Fi Film Solaris by Russian Director Tarkovsky Based on the Book by Polish Author Stanislaw Lem

The Classic Sci-Fi Film Solaris by Russian Director Tarkovsky Based on the Book by Polish Author Stanislaw Lem


Other European countries

Poland is a traditional producer of science fiction and fantasy. The country’s most influential science fiction writer of all time is Stanislaw Lem, author of social science fiction books, such as Solaris, make world famous in the Tarkovsky film, Ijon Tichy and Pirx the Pilot. A number of Lem’s books were adapted for screen, both in Poland and abroad. Other notable Polish writers of the genre include Jerzy Zulawski, Janusz A. Zajdel, Konrad Fialkowski, Jacek Dukaj and Rafal A. Ziemkiewicz. As mentioned above, Czech writer and playwright Karel Čapek is credited for invention of the word “robot” for his play R.U.R. (1920). Čapek is also known for his satirical science fiction novels and plays, such as War with the Newts, and The Absolute at Large. Traditions of Czech science fiction were carried on by writers like Ludvik Soucek, Josef Nesvadba and Ondrej Neff.

Italian science fiction is relatively obscure outside the country. However, Italy gave birth to several science fiction writers, including Gianluigi Zuddas, Giampietro Stocco, Lino Aldana as well as comic artists, such as Milo Manara. Valerio Evangelisti is the best known modern author of Italian science fiction and fantasy. Also, popular Italian children’s writer Gianni Rodari often turned to science fiction aimed at children, most notably, in Gip in the Television.




Australia: American David G. Hartwell noted there is “nothing essentially Australian about Australian science-fiction.” A number of Australian science-fiction (and fantasy and horror) writers are in fact international English language writers, and their work is published worldwide. This is further explainable by the fact that the Australian inner market is small (with Australian population being around 21 million), and thus sales abroad are crucial to most Australian writers.



In Canadian Francophone province Quebec, Elisabeth Vonarburg and other authors developed a tradition of French-Canadian SF, related to the European French literature. The Prix Boreal was established in 1979 to honor Canadian science fiction works in French. The Prix Aurora Awards (briefly preceded by the Casper Award) were founded in 1980 to recognize and promote the best works of Canadian science fiction in both French and English. Also, due to Canada’s bilingualism and the US publishing almost exclusively in English, translation of science fiction prose into French thrives and runs nearly parallel upon a book’s publishing in the original English. A sizeable market also exists within Québec for European-written Francophone science fiction literature.


Although there is still some controversy as to when science fiction began in Latin America, the earliest works date from the late 19th century. All published in 1875, O Doutor Benignus by the Brazilian Augusto Emilio Zaluar, El Maravilloso Viaje del Sr. Nic-Nac by the Argentinian Eduardo Holmberg, and Historia de un Muerto by the Cuban Francisco Calcagno are three of the earliest novels which appeared in the continent.

Up to the 1960s, science fiction was the work of isolated writers who did not identify themselves with the genre, but rather used its elements to criticize society, promote their own agendas or tap into the public’s interest in pseudo-sciences. It received a boost of respectability after authors such as Horacio Quiroga and Jorge Luis Borges used its elements in their writings. This, in turn, led to the permanent emergence of science fiction in the 1960s and mid-1970s, notably in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Cuba. Magical Realism enjoyed parallel growth in Latin America, with a strong regional emphasis on using the form to comment on social issues, similar to social science fiction and speculative fiction in the English world.

Economic turmoil and the suspicious eye of the dictatorial regimes in place reduced the genre’s dynamism for the following decade. In the mid-1980s, it became increasingly popular once more. Although led by Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, Latin America now hosts dedicated communities and writers with an increasing use of regional elements to set them apart from English-language science-fiction.




Spiritus Mundi by R

Spiritus Mundi by R


My own contemporary and futurist epic novel Spiritus Mundi includes a large component of Science Fiction themes and topoi. Especially Spiritus Mundi, Book II—Spiritus Mundi, The Romance, focuses on the theme of Time Travel in which the 23rd Century War Criminal Caesarion Khannis uses time travel to escape prosecution in his own time in a Terminator-like attempt to return to our time and bring about WWIII to abort the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, which will lead in the future to the democratic United States of Earth which seeks to incarcerate him for his Crimes Against Humanity. The Chief Prosecutor of the future world government, Senator Abor Linkin uses the same time travel technology to pursue him and bring him back to justice before he can reverse the benign course of history.

Spiritus Mundi in Book II also utilizes the “hollow earth” motif of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, whereby the protagonist Robert Sartorius visits a monastic order located in a subterranean “Middle Earth” headed by the Magister Ludi who presides over a Herman Hesse-esque “Crystal Bead Game” in which the great geniuses of human history such as Goethe and Einstein are united across time to alter the “Spiritus Mundi” or the force of the Collective Unconscious of humanity which is linked to human historical destiny to avert WWIII and the nuclear Armageddon which threatens to bring extinction to the human race.

To save humanity the protagonists embark on a Quest to bring back the Silmaril Crystal for use in the Crystal Bead Game which requires that they transit a Cosmic Wormhole to travel to a Black Hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy to gain the aid of the “Council of the Immortals” to save humanity. The physics of their transit of the Cosmic Wormhole and the configuration of the Black Hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy are consistent with contemporary science and its formulation of the nature of Space-Time. In short, Spiritus Mundi exhibits credible dimensions of Hard Science Fiction, Soft Science Fiction and Social Science Fiction, portraying the possible future evolution of human society and its institutions into the 23rd Century as linked to progressive historical movements in our own time, most notably in the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly for democratic global governance in our Age of Globalization.


2001 c



Science Fiction is the conjunction of “science” and “fiction,” which is to say the world of what we hold to be the most confirmable “reality” of our lives, or “what really is,” in fruitful union with the richest realm of the imagination, our deepest dreams of that alternative reality of “what could be,” or what might most delight us or be desired to be, or that which is most feared to be.  It is also not incidentally, as is all art and literature, among our deepest conjectures of who we are and who we may dream ourselves to be, or to become. The genre of Science Fiction literature and related cinema is alive and well in our collective imaginations in an age of hyper-accelerated technological change and a search for new perspectives and identities amidst mingled hopes and anomie. It will continue to powerfully inform our imaginations about the human condition in extended Time-Space and in the universal condition of our further evolution as human beings.


2001 a


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Something Is Missing From the Olympics---Art, Literature & The Cultural Olympics Originally Intended by Baron de Coubertin

Something Is Missing From the Olympics—Art, Literature & The Cultural Olympics Originally Intended by Baron de Coubertin


By Robert Sheppard, Editor-in-Chief, World Literature Forum

World Literature.02

The “4 1/2 Rings” glitch of the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Olympics is a small reminder that something is missing from the Olympic system as we know it over the last fifty years, both as to the Summer and Winter Olympics. It is a largely forgotten fact that the founding of the Modern Olympics by Pierre de Coubertin included gold, silver and bronze medal competition in the arts as well as in sports. With the founding of the International Olympic Committee  (IOC) in 1894, and the celebration of the first modern Olympic Games, French Baron Pierre de Coubertin saw the fulfillment of his ideals — men being educated in both mind and body, and competing in sport  rather than war. One of his other desires was to combine both art and sport, and he thus originally included artistic competition in the Olympic Games.

In May 1906, Baron de Coubertin organized a meeting in Paris for both IOC members and representatives of artists’ organizations. The meeting ended with a proposal to the IOC to organize artistic competitions at the Olympic Games in five areas: architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. From then on World Literature and the Arts became a regular part of the Olympics until 1954, when the program was discontinued on the grounds that most of the Olympic artists were in fact professionals rather than amateurs, as the Olympic rules of the time mandated. However today, the rules of the  International Olympic Committee (IOC) have long abolished the requirement of amatuerism.  Beginning in 1988 professional athletes were allowed to compete in the Olympic games, until today, with the exception of professional boxing and wrestling, professionals are found in all Olympic sports. The ideals of the Classical world revered by Baron de Coubertin celebrated and required “mens sana in corpore sano” or a sound mind in a sound body, encompassing both physical culture and imaginative culture, and the celebration of the whole human personality, both  sport and in World Literature and the Arts.


See Wikipedia on Olympic Gold Medals in the Arts and Olympic Art Competitions 1912-1952:,wP/a>


Between 1912 and 1952, art competitions were held as part of the Olympic Games, with gold medals being awarded in categories such as architecture, literature,

Between 1912 and 1952, art competitions were held as part of the Olympic Games, with gold medals being awarded in categories such as architecture, literature,


The Winter Olympics are perhaps less dramatic and universally captivating than the Summer Olympics, exciting though they are. This is all the more reason to reinforce the Olympic Spectacle with the Renaissance of the Cultural Games as de Coubertin originally intended, making the Winter Olympic experience more universally attractive to all nations, North and South. De Coubertin’s Cultural Games should also be revived for the Summer Olympics as well.


The 1928 Olympic Stadium, designed by Jan Wils, won the Olympic Gold Medal in Architecture at the 1928 Olympic Games.

The 1928 Olympic Stadium, designed by Jan Wils, won the Olympic Gold Medal in Architecture at the 1928 Olympic Games.


I would thus strongly urge the IOC and the nations of the world to revive the cultural half of the Olympics, sometimes referred to as the “Delphic Games,” for the narrow reason that the distinction of amateurism in both sports and arts is no longer maintainable, but more importantly for the much broader and wider reason that the restoration of the Arts and World Literature competition would make the Olympic gathering much more attractive to the broader base of the peoples of the world, would add to the financial soundness of the games with arts events, would draw “star quality” music, film, literature and visual arts superstars to the Olympic venue, would contribute to the mission of the Olympics to fight against war and international conflict through mutual understanding derived from both friendly sport and World Literature and the Arts, and would greatly promote an advance the development of the careers and talents of the writers and artists of the world. In this regard let us imagine  a combined global megaevent of an Olympics  integrated and perhaps co-branded with  the Oscars, Emmys, Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals, the award of Nobel Prizes, the Booker and Pulitzer prizes, the Venice Bienniale, the Grammys, American (World) Idol and similar programs for each of the arts.  Global television and Internet rights for the film, art and music competitions would undoubtedly bring in a staggering amount of both viewership and moneys, as well as furthering the more important goal of promoting the in-depth nurturing and development of the arts in every country, attracting young artists and writers to develop their talents.

Furthermore, the re-inclusion of World Literature and the Arts in the Olympic Games would encourage the Arts to become more global and international. Most arts awards today are narrowly nationally based and fixate on national tastes. The Oscars purport to be the ultimate world film award, but in reality are only American, with a small category for international films. Emmys, Grammys, Bookers, Pulitzers, etc are similarly too parochial and nation-state based. Even our “World Series” of baseball is nothing but an American Series and does not include teams from the rest of the “World” at all.  Olympic awards will legitimatize and globalize the arts beyond the limitations of the present systems. In our globalized world and culture artists and writers should be encouraged to create for the seven billion citizens of the planet not just for the home audience. This will strengthen the industries themselves, as for instance most films now earn more money abroad than in their home markets, and Olympic recognition will encourage an international outlook in the performing arts as well as in World Literature, with the art of translation being greatly encouraged. How then did the Cultural Olympics, or Delphic Olympics work when de Coubertin and the International Olympic Committee originally included them in the early Modern Olympics? From 1912 to 1948 rules of the art competition evolved and varied, but the core of the rules remained the same. All of the entered works  had to be original (that is, not be published before the competition). Like in the athletic events at the Olympics, gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the highest ranked artists, although not all medals were awarded in each competition. On a few occasions, in fact, no medals were presented at all, as sometimes occurs with the Nobel or Pulitzer Prizes.  A revival of the Arts half of the Olympics could be modernized, including allowance of both sports-related and non-sports related art, national team and individual entry, professionals and amateurs, and entry of works recently published or released in the past year, (or past four years).


 Luxembourg Olympic Artist Jean Jacoby is the only Artist to win two Olympic Gold Art Medals. He won his second with the above drawing, titled Rugby at the 1928 Olympic Games

Luxembourg Olympic Artist Jean Jacoby is the only Artist to win two Olympic Gold Art Medals. He won his second with the above drawing, titled Rugby at the 1928 Olympic Games


Generally, it was permitted for artists to enter multiple works, although a maximum number was sometimes established. This made it possible for an artist to win multiple prizes in a single Olympic competition, like Michael Phelps! At one time or another, there were suggestions in the past Olympics to also include dancing, film, photography, or theatre, and although none of these art forms was ever included in the Olympic Games as a medal event in the past they could certainly be included in future Olympics.

Coordination with UNESCO and United Nations cultural organs could also encourage development of the arts in each country and early professional development amoung the youth of each country; teams from each nation in the arts could be selected by competitions similar to those in the sports half of the Olympics or otherwise as deemed desirable.  Appreciation for the arts across the broader populations of the competing nations and for works of lesser known nations across the world would be fostered. Participation of women, the elderly and intellectuals not so generally attracted to pure sport would thus democratize and universalize the Olympics. A “Gold” in the Olympic Arts could do much to make an artist’s career and promote the recognition of new and innovative artists, making it possible for artists to support themselves and develop their talents from their creative activity. When the first post-war Olympic Games were held in WWI-ravaged Belgium, Art contests were again on the program, although they were little more than a sideshow. This was different for the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. There the contests were taken seriously for the first time, and 193 artists submitted works. Remarkably, this figure also includes three Soviet artists, even though the Soviet Union officially did not take part in the Olympic Games, which they considered to be a “bourgeois” festival.

The growth continued at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where over 1,100 works of art were exhibited in the Municipal Museum, not including the submissions in World Literature, music and architecture. Artists were allowed to sell their works at the close of the exhibition, which was rather controversial given the IOC’s amateurism policy, which required all competitors to be amateurs. In Amsterdam, the number of events was also increased, as four of the five fields of art were subdivided, creating more events.

Because of the economy and the remote location of Los Angeles, participation in the athletic events of the 1932 Games was lower than that of 1928. The Arts competition did not suffer from this problem, and the number of art works entered remained stable. Their exhibition drew 384,000 visitors to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. Art contests were also held in Berlin (1936) and London (1948), with reasonable success, although the number of entered works had significantly dropped by 1948.

Olympic World Literature

The literature competitions were divided into a varied number of categories. Until 1924 and again in 1932, there was only a single literature category. In 1928, separate categories were introduced for drama, epic and lyric literature. Awards in these categories were also presented in 1948, while the drama category was dropped in 1936.

Entered works in some years were limited in length (20,000 words) and could be submitted in any language, provided they were accompanied by English and/or French translations or summaries (rules varied over the years). A modern revival could considerably enlarge the categories, including novels, short stories, e-Books, Blogs and Flash Fiction of any length as well as popular genres such as Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Historical Novels, Romance, etc. It is of course critical that the subject matter not be limited to writing  about sports, as had been the case in some past Cultural Olympics, but that the categories for all the arts be completely open to include both non-sports related works and a special category for sports related works.  Categories would include special awards for Best Contribution to World Literature. Awards could be coordinated with the Bookers, Pulitzers, Nobels etc. with a view to transcend the national bias of those narrowly national awards and reformulate them on a the global basis of World Literature.

In Ancient Greece it was also the tradition for Poets such as Pindar to extemporize and write poems and songs to celebrate the winners in the sports events, a practice that could also be revived for the Modern Olympics.

Olympic World Music

A single event for music was held until 1936, when three categories were introduced: one for orchestral music, one for instrumental music, and one for both solo and choral music. In 1948, these categories were slightly modified into choral/orchestral, instrumental/chamber, and vocal music. The juries often had trouble judging the pieces, which were entered on paper. Possibly related to the problematic judging, juries frequently decided to award only a few prizes. On two occasions, no award was given out at all (in the 1924 music category and in the 1936 instrumental music category). 1936 marked the only occasion when the winning musical works were actually played before an audience. Josef Suk was the only well-known musician to have competed, winning a silver medal in 1932. In a revival of the Olympic Music event the scope could be much widened to emulate the Grammy’s and other awards for Rock, Pop, Jazz, Blues, Music Videos, Techno, Rap, Hip-Hop, etc. and open the event to all of the professional stars and non-professionals as well. Olympic World Architecture


The 1928 Olympic Stadium, designed by Jan Wils, won the Olympic Gold Medal in Architecture at the 1928 Olympic Games.

The 1928 Olympic Stadium, designed by Jan Wils, won the Olympic Gold Medal in Architecture at the 1928 Olympic Games.


The 1928 Olympic Stadium, designed by Jan Wils, won the gold medal in architecture at the 1928 Olympics.

Until the Amsterdam Games in 1928, the architectural competition was not divided into categories. The 1928 games introduced a town planning category. However, the division was not always clear, and some designs were awarded prizes in both categories. Entries in this category were allowed to have been “published” or built before the Olympics. A notable example of this is the 1928 gold medal for architecture awarded to Jan Wils for his design of the Olympic Stadium used in the same Olympics. The revival of the Architecture Award could be coordinated with the Pritzkers, and include designs for both the Olympic venues and recent World Fairs.

Olympic World Painting


Olympic Gold Medalist for Art Jean Jacoby's Portrait of Lenin

Olympic Gold Medalist for Art Jean Jacoby’s Portrait of Lenin


Jean Jacoby is the only artist to win two gold medals. He won his second with the above drawing, titled Rugby.

As with the other art forms, a single painting category was on the program until 1928, when it was split out into three sub-categories: drawings, graphic arts and paintings. The categories then changed at each of the following Olympic Games. In 1932, the three categories were: paintings, prints , and watercolors/drawings. Four years later, the prints category had disappeared, and had been replaced by graphic arts and commercial graphic art. At the final Olympic art competition, the three categories were applied arts and crafts, engravings/etchings and oils/water colors. A re-included Arts Olympics could include new technologies such as Computer Art, Performance Art, Conceptual Art, Laser and Holographic Art, Murals and Graffiti-Art. Olympic World Sculpture

The sculpture class had only a single category until 1928, when two separate competitions were designated; one for statues and one for reliefs and medals. In 1936, this was split up further, separating reliefs and medals into their own categories.

Olympic Arts Competitors

While several of the Olympic Art medalists have achieved at least national fame, few of them can be considered well-known artists globally. In fact, the 1924 Games featured better known jury members than artists, with artists like Igor Stravinsky judging the entered works. By eliminating the limitation that the works be sports-related as well as opening the Olympic Arts competition to all stars and professional artists as has already been done for athletes, the greatest world artists, writers, film directors and stars will surely make the Olympic Arts events as prestigious as the sports events.

Judging by the medals won, Luxembourg painter  Jean Jacoby was the most successful Olympic Artist, winning the Gold medal for his 1924 painting Étude de Sport, and for his drawing Rugby in 1928 Swiss Artist  Alex Diggleman won three medals, a Gold one in 1936 (for his poster Arosa I Placard), and a Silver and a Bronze in the 1948 applied arts & crafts class, both with commercial posters. Danish writer  Josef Petersen won a Silver medal on three occasions: in 1924, 1932, and 1948.


Alfréd Hajós is one of only two Olympians to have won Olympic Medals in both Olympic Sport  and Olympic Art competitions

Alfréd Hajós is one of only two Olympians to have won Olympic Medals in both Olympic Sport and Olympic Art competitions


Alfréd Hajós is one of only two Olympians to have won medals in both Sport and Art competitions Only two persons have won Olympic medals in both Olympic Sport and Olympic Art competitions. Walter Williams, an American who lived in England, won a gold medal as a marksman at the 1908 Summer Olympicss in the running deer (double shot) competition. In 1912, he won another shooting medal — Silver this time — in the running deer team competition. By then, he had already won a Gold medal for his sculpture An American trotter. The other Olympian with successes in both fields was Alfred Hajos As a swimmer. He won two Gold medals at the 1896 Athens Olympics.Twenty-eight years later, he was awarded a Silver medal in architecture for his stadium design, co-designed with Deszo Lauber. Two Presidents of the International Olympic Committee have also been among the entrants in the Olympic Art competitions. In 1912 Pierre de Coubertin himself under the pseudonym “Georges Hohrod and Martin Eschbach”, entered Ode to Sport, which won the Gold medal.  Avery Brundage, who competed as an athlete at the 1912 Games, entered literary works at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics, earning an honorary mention in 1932. He would serve as the IOC’s president from 1952 to 1971.

Britain’s  John Copely winner of a Silver medal in the 1948 engravings and etchings competition, was 73 years of age, making him the oldest Olympic medalist in history. The oldest Olympic medalist outside the art competitions Swedish shooter Swahn who won his last medal at age 72. Indeed, in a modern world in which lifespans have doubled and the elderly composing up to a third of the population of some countries,it is critical to the Olympic Movement that Senior Citizens be included in the competitions, for which Art and Writing, talents that may mature with years instead of declining, may make a meaningful contribution, a change as important in equality of opportunity as the broadening of the Olympics to include women and the handicapped via the Paralympics. All of this is a good reminder to us all that the Olympic Movement was from its very origin involved with the Arts and World Literature as well as sport. Both halves of the Olympic Movement contribute to the overall goals of overcoming conflict and war between nations, building global understanding and appreciation, and supplanting a Clash of Civilizations with a Clasp of Civilizations. It also from the start encouraged the development of the whole persons of the athletes, including both mind and body. This was a goal of the Ancient Olympics as well as the Modern Olympics.


Of course it may be objected, as some nations indeed did object in the first half of the 20th Century, that art and literature are not competitive sports and the whole idea of reducing a work of art to the “Top Ten” or the “Top Three” could be regarded as an absurdity. I for one would partially agree that to some degree such ranking and awarding is not only vulgar but in some cases idiotic, with each great work being unique unto itself and making its own unique contribution to the body of art and literature from which it evolves. Yet such an “Olympian” view of art from the ivory tower ignores both the ways of the modern world and its addiction to awards, rankings and popular honors. Without the Olympics we already have the Nobels, Pulitzers, Man-Bookers, Pritzkers, Oscars, Grammys and a host of honors which though fundamentally flawed, perform some value in identifying deserving artists and writers (alongside some undeserving of course.) Moreover, the existence of such awards, though flawed, may well serve to launch, nurture and sustain the careers of new Titans of the Arts. On balance the awards may well do more good than harm.


Why were the Olympics held every four years, defining the Olympiad period? In the ancient Olympics this was the case because they were part of a series of Four Panhellenic Games and festivals held each year. In addition to the “Olympics” dedicated to Zeus, in off years there occurred the Pythian or Delphic “Olympics” or Games, the Nemean Games and the Isthenian Games. The Delphic Games in particular emphasized the cultural half of the Olympics with concurrent festivals and awards for music, dance, drama comedy and tragedy. Remember Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes competed for festival prizes every year in the Golden Age of Ancient Greece. We may recall also that education in Ancient Greece included not only academics and philosophy but also music, gymnastics and martial arts, in all cases emphasizing the well-rounded cultivation of the whole person. There have been parallel efforts to revive the Delphic Games or Cultural Olympics in modern times, reflected in the work of the International Delphic Council. But it is obvious that the Delphic Olympic spirit can only be fully revived by the re-inclusion of the Arts and World Literature in the Summer and Winter Olympics with their global prestige, cultural influence  and visibilty. Their re-inclusion will make the Olympics a much more spectacular and richer experience in the future. The goal of the Olympic Movement beyond mere sport has always been to make a meaningful contribution to the development of our Universal Civilization, World Culture and World Peace. It is only through re-inclusion of the Lost Cultural Half of the Modern Olympics that the Modern Olympic Movement can attain the original ends so sagely envisiged by Baron de Coubertin for our Globalized World.




Art competitions were held as part of the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. It was the first time that art competitions were part of the Olympic program. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture), for works inspired by sport-related themes.

Art competitions at the Olympic Games were part of the Olympic program from 1912 to 1948, but were discontinued due to concerns about amateurism and professionalism. Since 1952, a non-competitive art and cultural festival has been associated with each Games.

Medal summary

Category Gold Silver Bronze
Architecture Eugène-Edouard Monod and Alphonse Laverrière (SUI) Building plan of a modern stadium none awarded none awarded
Literature Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin[1] (FRA) “Ode to Sport” none awarded none awarded
Music Riccardo Barthelemy (ITA) “Olympic Triumphal March” none awarded none awarded
Painting Giovanni Pellegrini (ITA) Three connected friezes representing “Winter Sports” none awarded none awarded
Sculpture Walter Winans (USA) Bronze statuette “An American trotter” Georges Dubois (FRA) Model of the entrance to a modern stadium none awarded
  1. Jump up ^ de Coubertin’s entry was submitted by the pseudonym of “Georges Hohrod” and “Martin Eschbach” from Germany.

Medal table

At the time, medals were awarded to these artists, but art competitions are no longer regarded as official Olympic events by the International Olympic Committee. These events do not appear in the IOC medal database and these totals are not included in the IOC’s medal table for the 1912 Games.

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Italy (ITA) 2 0 0 2
2 France (FRA) 1 1 0 2
3   Switzerland (SUI) 1 0 0 1
United States (USA) 1 0 0 1


Olympic Medal Awards for Art at the Antwerp 1920 Summer Olympics

Art competitions were held as part of the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture), for works inspired by sport-related themes.


Medal summary

Category Gold Silver Bronze
Architecture none awarded Holger Sinding-Larsen (NOR) Project for a gymnastics school none awarded
Literature Raniero Nicolai (ITA) “Canzoni Olimpioniche” Theodore Andrea Cook (GBR) “Olympic Games of Antwerp” Maurice Bladel (BEL) “La Louange des Dieux”
Music Georges Monier (BEL) “Olympique” Oreste Riva (ITA) “Marcia trionfale” none awarded
Painting none awarded Henriette Brossin de Polanska (FRA) “L’élan” Alfred Ost (BEL) “Joueur de Football”
Sculpture Albéric Collin (BEL) “La Force” Simon Goossens (BEL) “Les Patineurs” Alphons De Cuyper (BEL) “Lanceur de Poids” and “Coureur”

Medal table


Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Belgium (BEL) 2 1 3 6
2 Italy (ITA) 1 1 0 2
3 France (FRA) 0 1 0 1
Great Britain (GBR) 0 1 0 1
Norway (NOR) 0 1 0 1
Total 3 5 3 11

Art Competitions Olympic Medal Awards at the Paris 1924 Summer Olympics

Art competitions were held as part of the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture), for works inspired by sport-related themes.


Medal summary

Category Gold Silver Bronze
Architecture none awarded Alfréd Hajós and Dezső Lauber (HUN) Plan for a stadium Julien Médecin (MON) Stadium for Monte Carlo
Literature Géo-Charles (FRA) “Jeux Olympiques” Josef Petersen (DEN) “Euryale” Charles Gonnet (FRA) “Vers le Dieu d’Olympie”
Margaret Stuart (GBR) “Sword Songs” Oliver Gogarty (IRL) “Ode to the Tailteann Games”
Music none awarded none awarded none awarded
Painting Jean Jacoby (LUX) “Corner”, “Départ”, and “Rugby” Jack Butler Yeats (IRL) “The Liffey Swim” Johan van Hell (NED) “Patineurs”
Sculpture Konstantinos Dimitriadis (GRE) “Discobole Finlandais” Frantz Heldenstein (LUX) “Vers l’olympiade” Jean René Gauguin (DEN) Boxer
Claude-Léon Mascaux (FRA) Sports medals

Medal table

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Luxembourg (LUX) 1 1 0 2
2 France (FRA) 1 0 2 3
3 Greece (GRE) 1 0 0 1
4 Denmark (DEN) 0 1 1 2
Ireland (IRL) 0 1 1 2
6 Great Britain (GBR) 0 1 0 1
Hungary (HUN) 0 1 0 1
8 Monaco (MON) 0 0 1 1
Netherlands (NED) 0 0 1 1

Olympic Art Competitions and Olympic Art Medals Awarded at the Amsterdam 1928 Summer Olympics

Jan Wils won the gold medal for the design of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam

“Rugby” by Jean Jacoby

Art competitions were held as part of the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture), for works inspired by sport-related themes.

The art exhibition was held at the Stedelijk Museum from 12 June to 12 August, and displayed 1150 works of art from 18 different countries. Additionally, the literature competition attracted 40 entries from 10 countries, and the music competition had 22 entries from 9 countries.[1]

The art competitions at the 1928 Game was larger in scope than for previous Games. Instead of a single competition in each of the five artistic categories, awards were presented in multiple subcategories.[2] The judges of the music competition declined to award any medals in two of the three subcategories, and only presented a single bronze medal in the third.




Category Gold Silver Bronze
Architectural design Jan Wils (NED) Olympic Stadium at Amsterdam[2] Ejnar Mindedal Rasmussen (DEN) Swimming pool at Ollerup Jacques Lambert (FRA) Stadium at Versailles
Town planning Alfred Hensel (GER) Stadium at Nuremberg Jacques Lambert (FRA) Stadium at Versailles Max Laeuger (GER) Municipal Park at Hamburg


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Lyric works Kazimierz Wierzyński (POL) “Laur Olimpijski” Rudolf G. Binding (GER) “Reitvorschrift für eine Geliebte” Johannes Weltzer (DEN) “Symphonia Heroica”
Dramatic works none awarded Lauro De Bosis (ITA) “Icarus” none awarded
Epic works Ferenc Mező (HUN) “L’histoire des Jeux Olympiques” Ernst Weiß (GER) “Boetius von Orlamünde” Carel Scharten & Margo Scharten-Antink (NED) “De Nar uit de Maremmen”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Song none awarded none awarded none awarded
One instrument none awarded none awarded none awarded
Orchestra none awarded none awarded Rudolph Simonsen (DEN) “Symphony No. 2 Hellas”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Paintings Isaac Israëls (NED) “Cavalier Rouge” Laura Knight (GBR) “Boxeurs” Walther Klemm (GER) “Patinage”
Drawings Jean Jacoby (LUX) “Rugby” Alexandre Virot (FRA) “Gestes de Football” Władysław Skoczylas (POL) Posters
Graphic works William Nicholson (GBR) “Un Almanach de douze Sports” Carl Moos (SUI) Posters Max Feldbauer (GER) “Mailcoach”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Statues Paul Landowski (FRA) “Boxeur” Milo Martin (SUI) “Athlète au repos” Renée Sintenis (GER) “Footballeur”
Reliefs and medallions Edwin Grienauer (AUT) Médailles Chris van der Hoef (NED) Médaille pour les Jeux Olympiques Edwin Scharff (GER) Plaquette

Medal table


Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Netherlands (NED) 2 1 1 4
2 Germany (GER) 1 2 5 8
3 France (FRA) 1 2 1 4
4 Great Britain (GBR) 1 1 0 2
5 Poland (POL) 1 0 1 2
6 Austria (AUT) 1 0 0 1
Hungary (HUN) 1 0 0 1
Luxembourg (LUX) 1 0 0 1
9   Switzerland (SUI) 0 2 0 2
10 Denmark (DEN) 0 1 2 3
11 Italy (ITA)

Art competitions at the Los Angeles 1932 Summer Olympics

Richard Konwiarz won the bronze medal for the design of the Schlesierkampfbahn in Breslau.

Art competitions were held as part of the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, United States. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture), for works inspired by sport-related themes.




Category Gold Silver Bronze
Architectural design Gustave Saacké, Pierre Montenot, Pierre Bailly (FRA) Design for a “Cirque pour Toros” John Russell Pope (USA) Design for the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, New Haven, Conn. Richard Konwiarz (GER) Design for a “Schlesierkampfbahn” in the Sport Park of Breslau
Town planning John Hughes (GBR) Design for a Sports and Recreation Centre with Stadium, for the City of Liverpool Jens Klemmensen (DEN) Design for a Stadium and Public Park André Verbeke (BEL) Design for a “Marathon Park”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Literature Paul Bauer (GER) “Am Kangehenzonga” Josef Petersen (DEN) “The Argonauts” none awarded


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Music none awarded Josef Suk (TCH) “Into a New Life” symphonic march none awarded


The artwork which is getting admiring focus of attention is “At the Seaside of Arild” by the artist David Wallin (1876-1957) from Sweden.

Category Gold Silver Bronze
Paintings David Wallin (SWE) “At the Seaside of Arild” Ruth Miller (USA) “Struggle” none awarded
Watercolors and drawings Lee Blair (USA) “Rodeo” Percy Crosby (USA) “Jackknife” Gerhard Westermann (NED) “Horseman”
Prints Joseph Golinkin (USA) “Leg Scissors” Janina Konarska (POL) “Narciarze” (“Skier”) Joachim Karsch (GER) “Stabwechsel”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Statues Mahonri Young (USA) “The Knockdown” Miltiades Manno (HUN) “Wrestling” Jakub Obrovský (TCH) “Odysseus”
Medals and reliefs Józef Klukowski (POL) “Sport Sculpture II” Frederick MacMonnies (USA) “Lingbergh Medal” R. Tait McKenzie (CAN) “Shield of the Athletes”

Medal table


Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 United States (USA) 3 4 0 7
2 Poland (POL) 1 1 0 2
3 Germany (GER) 1 0 2 3
4 France (FRA) 1 0 0 1
Great Britain (GBR) 1 0 0 1
Sweden (SWE) 1 0 0 1
7 Denmark (DEN) 0 2 0 2
8 Czechoslovakia (TCH) 0 1 1 2
9 Hungary (HUN) 0 1 0 1
10 Belgium (BEL) 0 0 1 1
Canada (CAN) 0 0 1 1
Netherlands (NED) 0 0 1 1
Total 8 9 6

Art competitions at the 1936 Summer Olympics

Art competitions were held as part of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture), for works inspired by sport-related themes.

The art exhibition was held in a hall of the Berlin Exhibition from July 15 to August 16, and displayed 667 works of art from 22 different countries. Additionally, the literature competition attracted 40 entries from 12 countries, and the music competition had 33 entries from 9 countries.[1]

The art competitions at the 1936 Games were similar to the 1928 and 1932 Games, with medals being awarded in multiple subcategories for each of the five artistic categories.[2] The judges declined to award any medals for three subcategories, and no gold medals for another three subcategories.

Farpi Vignoli won a gold medal in Statues for his “Sulky Driver” (left).




Category Gold Silver Bronze
Architectural design Hermann Kutschera (AUT) Skiing Stadium Werner March (GER) Reich Sport Field Hermann Stiegholzer and Herbert Kastinger (AUT) Sporting Centre in Vienna
Municipal planning Werner March and Walter March (GER) Reich Sport Field Charles Downing Lay (USA) Marine Park, Brooklyn Theo Nußbaum (GER) Municipal Planning and Sporting Centre in Cologne


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Lyric works Felix Dhünen (GER) “The Runner” Bruno Fattori (ITA) “Profili Azzurri” Hans Stoiber (AUT) “The Discus”
Dramatic works none awarded none awarded none awarded
Epic works Urho Karhumäki (FIN) “Avoveteen” Wilhelm Ehmer (GER) “For the Top of the World” Jan Parandowski (POL) “Dysk Olimpijski”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Solo and chorus Paul Höffer (GER) “Olympic Vow” Kurt Thomas (GER) “Olympic Cantata, 1936” Harald Genzmer (GER) “The Runner”
Instrumental none awarded none awarded none awarded
Orchestra Werner Egk (GER) “Olympic Festive Music” Lino Liviabella (ITA) “The Victor” Jaroslav Křička (TCH) “Mountain Suite”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Paintings none awarded Rudolf Eisenmenger (AUT) “Runners at the Finishing Line” Ryuji Fujita (JPN) “Ice Hockey”
Drawings and water colours none awarded Romano Dazzi (ITA) “Four Sketches for Frescoes” Sujaku Suzuki (JPN) “Classical Horse Racing in Japan”
Graphic art none awarded none awarded none awarded
Commercial graphic art Alex Diggelmann (SUI) “Arosa I Placard” Alfred Hierl (GER) ““International Automobile Race on the Avus” Stanisław Ostoja-Chrostowski (POL) “Yachting Club Certificate”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Statues Farpi Vignoli (ITA) “Sulky Driver” Arno Breker (GER) “Decathlon Athlete” Stig Blomberg (SWE) “Wrestling Youths”
Reliefs Emil Sutor (GER) “Hurdlers” Józef Klukowski (POL) “Ball” none awarded
Medals none awarded Luciano Mercante (ITA) “Medals” Josue Dupon (BEL) “Equestrian Medals”

Medal table[


Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Germany (GER) 5 5 2 12
2 Italy (ITA) 1 4 0 5
3 Austria (AUT) 1 1 2 4
4 Finland (FIN) 1 0 0 1
  Switzerland (SUI) 1 0 0 1
6 Poland (POL) 0 1 2 3
7 United States (USA) 0 1 0 1
8 Japan (JPN) 0 0 2 2
9 Belgium (BEL) 0 0 1 1
Czechoslovakia (TCH) 0 0 1 1
Sweden (SWE) 0 0 1 1
Total 9 12 11 32

Art competitions at the 1948 London Summer Olympics

Art competitions were held as part of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, Great Britain. Medals were awarded in five categories (architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture), for works inspired by sport-related themes.

The art exhibition was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 15 July to 14 August, and displayed works of art from 27 different countries. The literature competition attracted 44 entries, and the music competition had 36 entries.[1]

The art competitions included multiple subcategories for each of the five artistic categories.[2] The judges declined to award any medals for dramatic works in literature, and no gold medals in another five subcategories. Alex Diggelmann of Switzerland won both a silver medal and a bronze medal for two different entries in the applied arts and crafts subcategory, a feat unlikely to be duplicated in any event in the current Olympic program.





Category Gold Silver Bronze
Architectural design Adolf Hoch (AUT) “Skisprungschanze auf dem Kobenzl” Alfred Rinesch (AUT) “Watersports Centre in Carinthia” Nils Olsson (SWE) Baths and Sporting Hall for Gothenburg
Town planning Yrjö Lindegren (FIN) “The Centre of Athletics in Varkaus, Finland” Werner Schindler and Edy Knupfer (SUI) “Swiss Federal Sports and Gymnastics Training Centre” Ilmari Niemeläinen (FIN) “The Athletic Centre in Kemi, Finland”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Lyric works Aale Tynni (FIN) “Laurel of Hellas” Ernst van Heerden (RSA) “Six Poems” Gilbert Prouteau (FRA) “Rythme du Stade”
Dramatic works Brendan McGoldrick (GB) “Being Orange in a Land of Green” Ronan de Keoghsie (RSA) “Angry with Cider” Jean Rowan (FRA) “United They Fall”
Epic works Giani Stuparich (ITA) “La Grotta” Josef Petersen (DEN) “The Olympic Champion” Éva Földes (HUN) “The Well of Youth”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Vocal none awarded none awarded Gabriele Bianchi (ITA) “Inno Olimpionico”
Instrumental and chamber none awarded John Weinzweig (CAN) “Divertimenti for Solo Flute and Strings” Sergio Lauricella (ITA) “Toccata per Pianoforte”
Choral and orchestral Zbigniew Turski (POL) “Olympic Symphony” Kalervo Tuukkanen (FIN) “Karhunpyynti” Erling Brene (DEN) “Viguer”

Painting and graphic art

Category Gold Silver Bronze
Oils and water colours Alfred Thomson (GBR) “London Amateur Championships” Giovanni Stradone (ITA) “Le Pistard” Letitia Hamilton (IRL) “Meath Hunt Point-to-Point Races”
Engravings and etchings Albert Decaris (FRA) “Swimming Pool” John Copley (GBR) “Polo Players” Walter Battiss (RSA) “Seaside Sport”
Applied arts and crafts none awarded Alex Diggelmann (SUI) “World Championship for Cycling Poster” Alex Diggelmann (SUI) “World Championship for Ice Hockey Poster”


Category Gold Silver Bronze
Statues Gustaf Nordahl (SWE) “Homage to Ling” Chintamoni Kar (GBR) “The Stag” Hubert Yencesse (FRA) “Nageuse”
Reliefs none awarded none awarded Rosamund Fletcher (GBR) “The End of the Covert”
Medals and plaques none awarded Oskar Thiede (AUT) “Eight Sports Plaques” Edwin Grienauer (AUT) “Prize Rowing Trophy”

Medal table

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Finland (FIN) 2 1 1 4
2 Austria (AUT) 1 2 1 4
3 Italy (ITA) 1 1 2 4
4 Great Britain (GBR) 1 1 1 3
5 France (FRA) 1 0 2 3
6 Sweden (SWE) 1 0 1 2
7 Poland (POL) 1 0 0 1
8   Switzerland (SUI) 0 2 1 3
9 Denmark (DEN) 0 1 1 2
South Africa (RSA) 0 1 1 2
11 Canada (CAN) 0 1 0 1
12 Hungary (HUN) 0 0 1 1
Ireland (IRL) 0 0 1 1
Total 8 11 13 32
1 0 1
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Robert Sheppard, Editor-in-Chief, World Literature Forum

Robert Sheppard, Editor-in-Chief, World Literature Forum


by Robert Sheppard

Editor-in-Chief, World Literature Forum




Bestseller 7



All literary authors have a love-hate relationship with the institution of “The Bestseller,” ranging in serial mood swings from maddening envy to contemptuous disdain. Do they not belong to that category of “throw-away literature” that the stampeding lemmings “must have” this year and are mercifully forgotten the next? Are not the 80 million copies sold of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code living proof of the devil’s dilemma that bad writing in the dumbed-down demotic idiom of “Bestsellerese” spiced with a little cheap sensationalism will make the hottest commodity?——a fortiori the case of the 90 million copies sold of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, a work whose writing, plot and characters are so vapid as to even leave in despair any hope of rising the level of literary mediocrity? Mephistopheles as a literary agent remains heavily overbooked, and not a few authors of possible talent have exchanged the dream of the “Gadarene marketing moment” for that of the epiphany of the spirit.

Yet many books that proved to be part of the canon of masterpieces also attained remarkable sales: Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities sold 200 million copies, Tolstoy’s War and Peace 40 million, and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Orwell’s 1984 achieved 25 million each. That is not to mention the mega-distribution of the great religious scriptures with the Bible printed in over 5 billion copies and the Koran close behind at 4 billion. Such classics, however, rarely made the “Bestseller Lists” as they had rather the long-term staying power of the “slowseller,” the classical tortoise which eventually surpasses the exhausted hare of the bestseller sprint.

In the book publishing trade, however, the notion of the “Bestseller” usually is confined to fiction or non-fiction, with a special focus on the bestselling novel which attains a high volume of sales in a short period, perhaps in the corruption of language better described as a “Fastseller” or “Bigseller” than a single “Bestseller” per se. Indeed, the term “Bestseller” is a corruption in logic, as “best” implies only a single superlative book, whereas in the common idiom of the “Bestseller List” the status is conferred weekly or annually on at least ten books simultaneously.

Yet the phenomenon of “the Bestseller,” despite the common deficit of quality remains a category of great interest, presumed to conceal some long sought for “secret of success,” and moreover a very meaningful “snapshot of public consciousness,” which like the ever shifting Gallup polls gives insight into the shifting life of the public mind over time.  It is a key to the much beloved quest to “get rich quick.” It is also an x-ray or diagnostic photo of the commercial structure of the book industry including its evolving institutions of publicity, promotion, discount selling and pricing, pulp and paperback distribution, the movie-like “star system” of author personal branding,  the concentration of the publishing industry into oligopolistic mega-firms themselves part of diversified media and advertising complexes, and even most recently, with the rise of the Internet, the e-Book and viral marketing exemplified in such phenomena as “Fifty Shades of Gray,” a reflection of the changing core technology, concept and essence of “the book” itself.


Bestseller 5




Of course authors for centuries have sought the key to the puzzle of what makes a bestseller. While there are some recurrk) patterns the answer remains elusive. Take the year 1923, the date of the emergence of James Joyce’s Ulysses, voted the greatest novel of the last hundred years by critics in 2000, alongside T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and D.H. Lawrence’s Aaron’s Rod. The Number One bestselling novel of that year, however, was far from any of those classics, but rather Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton, a semi-sci-fi tech fantasy account of a women’s rejuvenation through a Viennese scientist’s then cutting-edge X-ray technology. This mythos of the eternally youthful beautiful woman was part of the “Roaring 20’s” cult of “the Flapper” or independent woman cut free from tradition, biology and time, itself a subset of the “Golden Youth” generation epitomized by Fitzgerald’s “be forever young or die now” novel The Beautiful and the Damned of the same year and The Great Gatsby published two years later. It was a forerunner of the later work After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Aldous Huxley’s saga of an ageing California billionaire’s high-tech search for the biological secret of immortality. Black Oxen thus epitomized and gave expression to the “consciousness of the moment” and became “the book of the day” for its camera-flash moment, to be deservedly forgotten as that moment in history faded and passed away.


Statue of Liberty With Book




The old Hollywood saw, that “show business” is half “show” and half “business” is equally valid for the literary scene, as the existence of the phenomenon of “the bestseller” is also a reflection of the evolution and pressures of book trade and book market as business as much as a reflection of the collective stream of human consciousness. The existence of any book is half the product of creative art and half the product of business. “Bigness” is synonymous with “Americanness.” In the book trade, it was in America that the market for books first grew to the Brobingdadian proportions which would make the blockbuster numbers of copies sold and the concept of “The Bestseller” possible.

But it was not only the demographics of shear numbers which made huge book sales possible, but also the quintessentially American democratic rise of mass literacy and middle-class incomes, coupled with a highly competitive book market which drove down the price of books to allow the public to make mass-volume purchases.

The dynamics of the literary marketplace and its practices also drive the quest for bestsellerdom. In traditional mass marketing for trade books there is a narrow “window of opportunity” for a new release novel. The practice of “remainder and return” allows book retailers in traditional marketing channels to bulk order, display the new release on the shelves and then, if the book does not sell, return the unsold books to the publisher without cost or for credit. Thus practically speaking a new release must get out of the gate running and “do or die” within a month or two. This encourages the retailer to take a chance on the book but also encourages it to pull the plug on the book. Thus, all new releases are forced to compete for “bestseller status” on penalty of marketing death, a “winner take all” form of capitalism that celebrates the bestseller winners but ignores the death of the much greater number of new releases without as efficient a marketing machine behind them.


Charles Dickens Complained Bitterly That US Law Did Not Protect Foreign Copyrights and His Books Were Mercilessly Pirated in America

Charles Dickens Complained Bitterly That US Law Did Not Protect Foreign Copyrights and His Books Were Mercilessly Pirated in America




The achievements of American capitalism have always been ambiguous. The “Robber Barons” have shown the vicious side of capitalism alongside the “creative entrepreneurs” and innovative enterprisers. For the first one-hundred years of the history of the American publishing industry the “flag of free enterprise” was that of the Jolly Roger. Bestsellers were priced low enough to become accessible to the ordinary middle-class reader in significant part because most of the editions were pirated by virtue of the refusal of the US government until 1891 to join in the relevant international copyright conventions that were beginning to secure authors’ rights across Europe. The dominance of American publishing was built on blatant theft and piracy of famous works by European authors, a condition famously denounced by Dickens on his visits to America and hypocritically forgotten by those wishing to paint America as the eternal champion of intellectual property rights.  The scholar F.L. Mott in his seminal work “Overall Best Sellers in the United States” surveyed the history of book sales in the US for books which sold copies numbering over 1% of the total population in the decade of their publication, his working definition of “bestsellerdom.” He found that from 1776 to 1900 of the 124 “bestsellers” thus defined in America, 74 were of British origin and largely published in pirated American editions which paid no copyright to their authors, while another 15 were by other European authors, leaving native American authors who were protected by American copyright far behind. Thus the “Mother Country” continued to subsidize her rebellious American offspring and underwrite its literature far after political independence. The American book, piratically immune from the cost of copyright evolved as a radically less expensive book sold closer to production cost that ultimately was affordable to the common man. US book prices often being five to ten times less expensive than premium editions of the same book in Britain, a foundational fact which made the rise of the American bestseller possible. This piratical condition persisted until 1891 when the passage of the Chase Act in the US finally brought American law into accord with European copyright by recognition of the enforceability of foreign copyright rights within America.


Robber Barons at Work

Robber Barons at Work




While freewheeling piratical capitalism drove down the price of books in the US and nurtured a book-buying middle class mass market, monopoly capitalism and price-fixing cartels in the UK drove the price up and resulted in a middle-class book-borrowing public who subscribed to commercial and public lending libraries to deal with the artificially high cost of books. A principal reason for this was the price-fixing system known as the “Net Book Agreement” whereby the top British publishers formed a cartel and a system of contractual controls over retailers and distributors forbidding “discounting” of books, or lowering the price below the high price fixed by the publisher—-forbidding any “sale” or promotion. Free market-minded violators would be subject to industry boycotts, reprisals and law suits and generally driven out of business by the ruling cartel. Adam Smith, often quoted as the father of the “free enterprise system” was nevertheless a canny enough observer of actual market capitalism to observe and warn: “Put any three members of the same profession in a room for fifteen minutes and you are sure to generate a conspiracy against the public.” In this the British publishing industry proved true to form in enforcing a high cost of books to the general public for their private profit through both the Net Book Agreement (NBA) and its twin pillar of monopoly cartelization, the Traditional Marketing Agreement (TMA). The results of this anti-competitive system were not all bad however, as protected publishers had the extra resources to develop new authors and talent as well as means of compensating authors well with royalties. The system also subsidized the smaller “highbrow” market for quality literary works with profits derived from the low and middle-brow mass markets. The system militated, however, against large “bestseller” sales comparable to the American market and encouraged library borrowing rather than individual consumer purchasing of high-priced books. The absence in Britain of the American practice of publishers accepting returns of unsold book inventories without cost to the retailer also discouraged bulk stocking and buying for resale and hence impeded large-volume bestseller marketing. The cartelized price-fixed structure of the British market under the Net Book Agreement continued until 1995 when it was abolished as incompatible with the free market and anti-monopoly principles of the European Union. Thereafter, under the pressures of free and fierce competition the American and British markets tended to merge into one Transatlantic market whose larger scale increased the scope for “bestsellers,” and indeed encouraged the movement towards Mergers & Acquisitions in which the large publishing houses swallowed up one another to become global conglomerates such as HarperCollins, often attached to larger media and multi-national marketing complexes. Such mega-firms looking to global markets increasingly raised the stakes in search of “blockbusters” or super-star global bestsellers, often squeezing out or buying out smaller rivals in a “winner takes all” literary marketplace.

The “Traditional Marketing Agreement” (TMA) was a parallel system for dividing the English-language publishing market into protected “spheres of influence” grounded in the geographical division of copyright rights transferred by authors to publishers. If you are an author who has dealt with a literary agent and publisher you may wonder why the copyright rights are divided into “American Rights” and “British & Commonwealth Rights” and sold separately. This derives from an imperial division of the global English-language book market between the American publishers and the British publishers after the accession of the US to international copyright protection in the 1890’s. That development might have resulted in global competition across national borders in a free for all that might have lowered the cost of English-language books for consumers worldwide. But, the big players in the industry had a “better idea.” Instead a delegation of British publishing magnates crossed the Atlantic and in New York negotiated the “Traditional Marketing Agreement” whereby the two publishing communities, American and British, agreed not to compete head to head but to confine themselves to protected spheres of influence. Copyright rights for the same book were negotiated separately for the American sphere of influence and the British sphere of influence, and if successful the book was sub-contracted for publication in the other’s sphere of influence to a leading status quo publisher there, rather than opening up head-to-head Transatlantic direct competition. The result was a global condominium of profits controlled by the big publishers in their respective domains. Like the Net Book Agreement these price-fixing and cartelization regimes continued until challenges from anti-trust authorities in the US and EU along with competitive and technological pressures resulted in their breakdown towards the end of the 20th Century, ushering in an era of globalized market competition and global industry consolidation.

In fact, the culture of the British publishing industry for the hundred years from the 1890’s to the 1990’s was hostile to the idea of the bestseller, with the more genteel and upper-class disdain for the “consumer stampede” by the masses in their millions for a mass-commodity. Even the practice of compiling “Best Seller Lists” as exemplified in the US by the New York Times Bestseller List, the “Bookman” List from 1895, the “Publisher’s Weekly” List from 1912 and others, was frowned upon in the UK as an American barbarism of Babbitian proportions, and it was only in the 1970’s  and the increasing Americanization and Thatcherization of the British publishing industry including the rise of the chain stores that “Bookseller” began to assemble such statistics for the UK trade and the Sunday Times began to make them available for the reading public.


A Special Relationship

A Special Relationship




Winston Churchill once famously quipped that America and Britain were two nations “divided by a common language.” That Churchill had an American mother and partnered with Franklin Roosevelt in saving the world from Fascism in WWII underscores the resilience of the “special relationship” which extends to the present not only in political cooperation but also through a shared literary and cultural community. Before 1776 America was decidedly junior in this relationship. As has been observed above, from 1776 to 1900, abetted by copyright piracy, British authors actually constituted the majority of bestsellers in America. With the loss of Empire and the foundational fact that the US had six times the population of the UK and commercial dominance after 1900 the American side of the partnership gradually became ascendant until the marketplace after the 1990’s merged into a common Transatlantic English-language publishing market. Even with the ascendency of the US the tradition of strong British literary influence and leadership continued, even as America found itself largely parochial and resistant to reading works from non-English outside authors. The bond of a common language and shared culture of ideas has proven resilient. The following table illustrates the continuing strong Transatlantic British literary influence over the past century:



1900-09 86 14 0
1910-19 76 23 1
1920-29 71 28 1
1930-39 68 28 4
1940-49 85 11 4
1950-59 82 11 7
1960-69 83 16 1
1970-79 71 27 2
1980-89 84 16 0
1990-99 94 6 0
TOTALS: 1900-2000 80 18 2

Reciprocally, leveraging the huge home market of American publishers along with the rise of globally recognized American authors allowed American books to heavily influence British and Commonwealth literature, just as Hollywood often dominated the English-language film market in Britain, the Commonwealth countries and Europe.

Money: The Supreme Fiction of Our Times

Money: The Supreme Fiction of Our Times





Of course there is no fixed rule for defining “bestseller” status. In any year the “Number One” on the relevant lists may sell from hundreds of thousands to millions of copies. As Einstein is reputed to have observed “everything is relative.” One measure used by the scholar F.L. Mott cited above was the criterion that the book sales attain 1% of the total population of the relevant market in the decade of publication. In an America of 300 million persons that would require sales of at least 3 million, with at least 1 million in the first year of publication. Just as movie box-office ticket and revenue numbers are constantly increasing with increased population and globalized markets over the years, so the quantitative definition of bestsellerdom is in constant flux. Nonetheless, in modern times first-year sales in excess of one million have become unexceptional for big-name authors and titles, a considerable shifting of the goalposts from a century before:


1900 250,000 Mary Johnston, To   Have and to Hold
1910 250,000 Florence Barclay, The   Rosary
1918 500,000 Vincent Ibanez, The   Four Horsemen
1928 240,000 Thornton Wilder, The   Bridge at San Luis Rey
1936 1,000,000 Margaret Mitchell, Gone   With the Wind
1945 868,000 Kathleen Winsor, Forever   Amber
1951 240,000 James Jones, From   Here to Eternity
1958 421,000 Boris Pasternak, Doctor   Zhivago
1968 300,000 Arthur Hailey, Airport
1969 418,000 Phillip Roth, Portnoy’s   Complaint
1972 1,800,000 Richard Bach, Jonathan   Livingston Seagull
1976 250,000 E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime
1977 1,000,000 J.R.R. Tolkien, The   Silmarillon
1978 851,000 James Michener, Chesapeake
1991 2,000,000 Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett (From Gone With the Wind)
1994 4,000,000 Robert James Waller, The   Bridges of Madison County

By the 1990’s first print runs of 1 million or more were routine for novelists such as Jean Auel, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham and Danielle Steele. From 1986, the year that the hardcover went mass market Auel’s The Mammoth Hunters, Michener’s Texas and Garrison Keilor’s Lake Woebegon Days all sold more than one million expensive hardback copies in the first year. A first year sales volume of more than 1,000,000 in today’s enlarged market is far from exceptional for the “A-Listers.”





Tom Paine's Common Sense Sold One Book for every Five Men, Women and Children in 1776 in America

Tom Paine’s Common Sense Sold One Book for every Five Men, Women and Children in 1776 in America


In America perhaps the first acclaimed “bestseller” was not a work of fiction but rather the political tract “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine, a British author turned American citizen at the time of the American Revolution. In 1776 this book reportedly attained sales of over 500,000 copies at a time when the total population of the 13 American colonies totaled only 3 million, ensuring that distribution effectively reached every American family. This revolutionary work truly influenced World History as few have ever done, and is credited with turning the American people decisively towards the Declaration of Independence in 1776, as well as being a key document in catalyzing the French Revolution in its Declaration of the Rights of Man and the abandonment of the institution of monarchy in 1789. Indeed, many bestsellers connected with key social issues are intimately connected with the rise of democracy upon a tide of public consciousness, as for example the immense success of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin upon the upsurge of the Abolitionist Movement and the rise of Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath upon the upsurge of the Democratic Party and Roosevelt’s New Deal following the Great Depression.


Uncle Tom's Cabin---Bestseller of Social Conscience

Uncle Tom’s Cabin—Bestseller of Social Conscience


In Britain, Sir Walter Scott developed the mass market with his historical romances such as Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and the Waverly novels, a development that had worldwide influence. James Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels such as The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer were an Americanization of Scott’s formula, shifting the venue to the American frontier. So great was the influence of Scott’s historical romances that Mark Twain, in riposte to Abraham Lincoln’s famous greeting of Harriet Beecher Stowe with the observation “So you are the little lady that started the big war” blamed the excessive Romanticism in the pirated editions of Walter Scott, particularly in the American South, for the beginnings of the American Civil War.

Mass publishing developed further with the close nexus between novels and newspapers both in America and across Britain and Europe. One of the problems with estimating the extent of “bestsellerdom” from the 1830’s onward was the fact that many novels were first serialized either in newspapers or in pulp literary magazines before the chapters were bound together and published as complete books. Thus Dickens’ major novels such as Great Expectations and Oliver Twist achieved massive serialized publication that dwarfed the later sales of the books. In essence the serialized chapters were the equivalent of modern television series and dominated popular consciousness to such an extent as illustrated by the classic anecdote of the longshoremen in New York calling up to the British sailors on deck of the arriving oceanliners and asking on the gangplanks “Is Little Nell dead?” Similarly in France Dumas’ works such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo had immense serialized newspaper and magazine circulation in addition to the bound book sales. From the 1840’s in America many novels were given away or sold serialized as “Extras” or supplements within newspapers. Bestseller statistics often overlook this form of mass circulation of novels.


Gone With the Wind: From Blockbuster Bestseller to Immortal Cinema Classic

Gone With the Wind: From Blockbuster Bestseller to Immortal Cinema Classic




Popular fiction after the Civil War also developed in the direction of “Pulp” or “Dime Novels” with such series as “Deadwood Dick,” “Nick Carter,” “Horatio Alger,” “Ragged Dick” and “Buffalo Bill Cody.” These were forerunners of genre fiction including, Westerns, Romance, Detective Stories, Melodrama and Horror which would sell millions of copies. Many of these fiction genres developed further to become the classical genres of movies and later television series, again exemplified by Westerns, Romance, Crime and Detective fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thrillers, Gothic, Horror, Action and Adventure Films, Children’s stories and cartoons, Melodrama and “Soap Operas,” and situation comedies. For many of us we are more familiar with the movie and television adaptations than the original genre or bestselling books they are based on: Zane Grey’s westerns such as Riders of the Purple Sage, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes, Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason  series, Louis L’Amour’s Hondo, Max Brand’s Destry Rides Again and Doctor Kildare, Owen Wister’s The Virginian, and Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, all of which sold millions of book copies before and after being transformed into movies or televisions series.

The first novel ever to be optioned and rendered as a movie was Thomas Dixon’s Ku Klux Clan epic The Clansman, a bestseller in 1905. D.W. Griffiths paid $2000 for the subsidiary rights to the book and rendered it in his “Birth of a Nation,” which despite its controversial subject matter for many years remained both the top-grossing film in cinema history and a touchstone for the development of the art of cinematic narrative.

“Hard-boiled” detective and private-eye fiction developed millions of readers before being transformed into the “noir” film genre epitomized by such classics as Dashiell Hammet’s Sam Spade thriller The Maltese Falcon later filmed by John Huston with Humphrey Bogart, Lon Chaney and Sidney Greenstreet. Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlow was introduced in 1938 with The Big Sleep, accompanied by such classics as James Caine’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and others of the noir genre.

Britain also had its parallel tradition, with Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes at the forefront, along with Sapper’s upper-class clubland thug Bulldog Drummond, Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar in The Saint, and of course the Queen of the Whodunit, Agatha Christie.


The Case of Agatha Christie: Over 2 Billion Books Sold But Never a Bestseller

The Case of Agatha Christie: Over 2 Billion Books Sold But Never a Bestseller




Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was never “Number One” on any bestseller list. She only came close in 1975 placing as No. 2 with Curtain and No. 2 in 1976 with Sleeping Murder. Yet her cumulative sales have been credited by the Guinness Book of Records as the very bestselling novelist ever, with a cumulative total, including translations into all major languages, of over two billion volumes—ranking with the Bible and Koran in mass distribution. This highlights an internal contradiction and conundrum in the very concept of “the bestseller” as the best selling genre novelist over half a century never attained the “fastseller” status of attaining the top spot on the lists, as had Margaret Mitchell with Gone With the Wind at over 1,000,000 first year sales or Harper Lee with To Kill A Mockingbird. Tellingly of the “bestseller” category, both Mitchell and Lee only wrote a single novel, a relative “flash in the pan” compared to the decades-long productivity of Christie. Similar conditions recur with genre-prolific writers such as Barbara Cartland and her 600+ romances, Georges Simenon, Louis D’Amour and others.




D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover

D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover


“Sex Sells” is a byword of popular advertising and a genre of the “sex novel” developed to prove its validity. Anita Loos pioneered this in the 20’s with her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, later to be made into a classic movie starring Marilyn Monroe. Erskine Caldwell achieved similar success with steamy Southern sagas as God’s Little Acre and Tobacco Road, also rendered as hit films. Similar sexual supersellers include Harold Robbins, The Carpetbaggers, loosely based on the life of Howard Hughs, and Phillip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. In the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960’s, coupled with the “Paperback Revolution” in lower-cost bestsellers, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover finally overcame legal persecution and suppression to become a bestseller and a popular film. Genre sexuality kept its momentum with Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place along with romances and “bodice rippers” such as Cartland, Danielle Steele and Jacqueline Suzanne’s The Valley of the Dolls (No. 1 in 1966).




Charton Heston as Ben Hur in the Movie from the Bestseller by Lew Wallace

Charton Heston as Ben Hur in the Movie from the Bestseller by Lew Wallace


If the attractions of the flesh are always with us, so also is the call of the spirit, especially in religious America. The religious theme seems to be a recurrent niche in the domain of bestsellerdom, with such works as Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur, Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis, Lloyd Douglas’ The Robe and Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps attaining bestseller status and rendition in film. Tim La Haye gave this area a new twist with the Left Behind fictionalization of the Book of Revelation, as did Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code.


Global Blockbuster Bestseller The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Global Blockbuster Bestseller The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown




Author Ian Fleming and His Cinema James Bond Superspy Heroes

Author Ian Fleming and His Cinema James Bond Superspy Heroes


Somerset Maugham established the genre of the MI6 spy thriller with his Ashenden in 1928, building on prior classics such as Conrad’s Secret Agent. John Buchan had already made significant headway in this area during the war years with Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps, rendered in film by Alfred Hitchcock and Greenmantle.  The genre came into prominence after WWII with the epic James Bond series of Ian Fleming, complemented by Graham Greene and such masters as John Le Carre with bestsellers such as The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Honorable Schoolboy. Tom Clancy rendered the format in the American context of the CIA with his Jack Ryan series including Patriot Games and The Hunt for Red October also rendered on the big screen.


Bond Franchise Bestsellers

Bond Franchise Bestsellers




ET Bestseller Book & Blockbuster Movie

ET Bestseller Book & Blockbuster Movie


Ray Bradbury with novels such as Fahrenheit 451, his satire on philistine driven TV culture, broke out of the genre ghetto and began to attract a mass readership and critical acclaim. Epics such as Frank Herbert’s Dune became cult classics, as did Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.  Michael Crichton’s technothriller The Andromeda Strain was the first Science Fiction work to break into the Bestseller ranks. Arthur C. Clarke’s novelization of Stanley Kubrick’s epic film 2001 A Space Odyssey (originally based on one of Clarke’s short stories) leveraged the cinema exposure to attain bestseller status. Similarly, such tie-ins as William Kotzwinkle’s novelization of ET: The Extraterrestrial and The Return of the Jedi Storybook achieved No. 1 Bestseller status.




R.L. Stine's Goosebumps Franchise---Over 300 Million Copies Sold

R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps Franchise—Over 300 Million Copies Sold


Children’s books are often some of the highest selling publications, though not often as year to year bestsellers. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exuperay sold more than 140 million copies cumulatively  while C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe sold over 85 million. Anne of the Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web and Black Beauty each achieved sales of 50 million. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter sold over 45 million copies. Some children’s’ series have achieved prodigious sales, such as R.L. Stine’s child-horror series which has had sales of over 300 million copies, and even such works as Clifford the Big Red Dog have reached sales of over 110 million copies.





Tolkien's Lord of The Rings Trilogy: Over 140 Million Copies Sold

Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings Trilogy: Over 140 Million Copies Sold


The father of the fantasy genre and a cult classic was J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings Trilogy, later rendered into Oscar-winning films. Sales of the Tolkien franchise reached over 150 million. That incredible volume was overshadowed by another Britisher, J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise, which sold over 450 million.


J.K. Rowling and the HarryPotter Franchise: 450 Million Copies Sold

J.K. Rowling and the HarryPotter Franchise: 450 Million Copies Sold





Spiritus Mundi by Robert Sheppard---Reportedly the Next Big Blockbuster!

Spiritus Mundi by Robert Sheppard—Reportedly the Next Big Blockbuster!


Yes, Yes, Yes!—–Everyone close their eyes and repeat after me: “I believe, I believe, I believe!” The “Big M”—-Momentum for Spiritus Mundi’s bestseller status is building even as we speak, and shortly, very shortly, the evidence of its sales potential for dwarfing “Fifty Shades of Grey” will become as apparent to everyone as the morning’s rising sun! One would be well advised to get your copy now before the global stampede carries away all available stock! I caution the big Hollywood studios to make their bids for the subsidiary film rights now before they are snatched away by the more farseeing masters of the big screen to whom the future belongs.  Yes, I know some have said Spiritus Mundi is of too high a literary quality and of too great a universal vision to fit into the traditional commercial genres and is really too good to become a bestseller, but remember Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities with 200,000,000 sales and Tolstoy’s War and Peace with 40 million! I would even settle for the 25,000,000 sales of Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby and Orwell’s 1984—-I’m not greedy, really—–You know I write to make our world and our literature richer and something as low-minded as fame, money and royalties hardly enters my mind—————much.  I know that God is just and His Eye watches over our earth and universe noting the fall of every sparrow, let alone the fate of works of genius and suffering writers—–and His loving Invisible Hand is at work as we speak!




Bestseller 7


Whither then the Bestseller? Digitization has impacted every aspect of book publishing, even far beyond the rise of the e-Book and e-Commerce marketing platforms such as The technological revolution has impacted composition, printing, inventory control, POS (Point-of-Sale) monitoring and marketing, generally reducing the cost of books and thus indirectly enabling the mass-volume sales at the heart of bestsellerdom. Even though the physical traditional may look the same the machinery behind it is half a millennium different.

Marketing and publicity channels have also been revolutionized, with author sites, reader networking sites such as Goodreads, publisher sites, e-Commerce sites such as and blogs exercising a profound influence alongside the “e-Word-of-Mouth” or “Word-of-Mouse” that has digitally supercharged the old channels of Word-of-Mouth and reviews that drove the emergence of traditional bestsellers. Viral marketing, the blogosphere, blogcrit, blogbuzz and bloghype magnify the old interpersonal interactions that have always been at the heart of the literary marketplace.

At the same time the rise of the Global e-Book has expanded the marketplace to worldwide proportions and multiplied potential buyers of books by millions across the globe, bypassing traditional distribution channels, customs control, copyright restrictions and logistical delays. All of this magnifies the potential for newer and greater bestsellers and sales volumes.

Some, nonetheless, have predicted that the Age of the Internet would spell the doom of the bestseller. The argument was that the Internet and e-Commerce would fragment the literary marketplace into a myriad of small niches and genre-specific networks, or result in data-mining and consumer profiling which would focus on the individual, precluding the common mass market on which the bestseller is predicated. In short, the argument was that the new e-Publishing marketplace would be less “List-Driven” and more “Web-Driven.”

The case of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” perhaps the first true “e-Bestseller” belies these conjectures and assures us that the stampede mentality and “Gadarene dynamics” are alive and well on the Web as well as in the traditional channels of “word-of-mouth” and consumer social dynamics. “Man is a social animal” as Aristotle is wont to observe, and the herd instinct and its excesses and irrationalities will probably always be with us no matter how digitized and computerized markets such as the literary marketplace or the stock market become. “Fifty Shades” is definitive proof that the e-Stampede of the consumer lemmings is alive and well in the Age of the Web as before it, and quite as potent in driving the public off the cliff of quality and into the abyss of mass-consumed vapidity.

Reading, it is safe to prophesy, will survive and thrive beyond any technological threshold it is called upon to transit in the course of history. The appetite for on-page (digital or print) fiction and imaginative experience looks to be as insatiable as it ever was, even in competition with its transformations into cinema, video and online media. In the Age of Globalization, which is also the Age of the Internet and Digitization, the literary marketplace seems set to go on expanding, and lowered costs of e-Books, along with rising incomes, higher-education and literacy rates and the continuing role of the English language as the international language of the world supplemented by ample resources for translation, augurs well for the rise of the consumption of literature, good and bad, as well as the periodic emergence of bestsellers and blockbusters across all of the new and old media within this vastly expended literary marketplace. The globalization of the literary marketplace also creates new opportunities for people of all nations and cultures to partake of other cultures and literatures as well as participate in the emergence of our emerging World Literature and of global consciousness shared by all citizens of the world generally. In theory, the marketplace and niche for quality literature should also expand as well as that for “e-Pulp and e-Pap.” We only hope that with time the taste and maturity of the reading public will improve and the quality of those future bestsellers along with it.


Bestseller 2


List of best-selling single-volume books

More than 100 million copies



Original    language

First    published

Approximate    sales

A Tale of Two Cities Charles   Dickens English 1859 200 million
The Lord of the Rings (Sometimes considered a series.) J.   R. R. Tolkien English 1954–1955 150 million
Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry French 1943 140 million
And Then There Were None Agatha   Christie English 1939 100 million
紅樓夢/红楼梦 (Dream of the Red Chamber) Cao Xueqin Chinese 1754-1791 100 million
The Hobbit J.   R. R. Tolkien English 1937 100 million
She: A History of Adventure H. Rider Haggard English 1887 100 million

Between 50 million and 100 million copies



Original    language

First    published

Approximate    sales

The Lion, the Witch and the   Wardrobe C. S.   Lewis English 1950 85 million
The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown English 2003 80 million
Think and Grow Rich Napoleon   Hill English 1937 70 million
The Catcher in the Rye J.   D. Salinger English 1951 65 million
O Alquimista (The Alchemist) Paulo   Coelho Portuguese 1988 65 million
Steps   to Christ Ellen   G. White English 1892 60 million
Lolita Vladimir   Nabokov English 1955 50 million
Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre (Heidi’s Years of Wandering and Learning) Johanna   Spyri German 1880 50 million
The Common Sense Book of   Baby and Child Care Dr. Benjamin   Spock English 1946 50 million
Anne of Green Gables Lucy Maud Montgomery English 1908 50 million
Black   Beauty: His Grooms and Companions: The autobiography of a horse Anna   Sewell English 1877 50 million
Il Nome della Rosa (The Name of the Rose Umberto   Eco Italian 1980 50 million
The Eagle Has Landed Jack   Higgins English 1975 50 million
Watership   Down Richard   Adams English 1972 50 million
The   Hite Report Shere Hite English 1976 50 million
Charlotte’s   Web E.B. White;   illustrated by Garth Williams English 1952 50 million
The   Ginger Man J.   P. Donleavy English 1955 50 million
The Bridges of Madison County Robert James Waller English 1992 50 million

Between 30 million and 50 million copies



Original    language

First    published

Approximate    sales

The Tale of Peter Rabbit Beatrix   Potter English 1902 45 million
Harry Potter and the Deathly   Hallows[32] J. K.   Rowling English 2007 44 million
Jonathan Livingston Seagull Richard   Bach English 1970 40 million
A Message to Garcia Elbert   Hubbard English 1899 40 million
Sofies verden (Sophie’s   World) Jostein   Gaarder Norwegian 1991 40 million
Flowers in the Attic V. C.   Andrews English 1979 40 million
Angels   & Demons Dan Brown English 2000 39 million
Как закалялась сталь (Kak   zakalyalas’ stal’; How the Steel Was Tempered) Nikolai Ostrovsky Russian 1932 36.4 million copies in USSR
Война и мир (Voyna i mir; War   and Peace) Leo   Tolstoy Russian 1869 36.0 million copies in USSR
Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia   di un burattino (The Adventures of Pinocchio) Carlo   Collodi Italian 1881 35 million
You Can Heal Your Life Louise Hay English 1984 35 million
Your Erroneous Zones Wayne Dyer English 1976 35 million
The Late, Great Planet Earth Hal   Lindsey, C. C. Carlson English 1970 35 million
Kane and Abel Jeffrey   Archer English 1979 34 million
In His   Steps: What Would Jesus Do? Charles M. Sheldon English 1896 30 million
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee English 1960 30 million
Valley of the Dolls Jacqueline Susann English 1966 30 million
Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell English 1936 30 million
Het Achterhuis (The Diary of a Young Girl, The   Diary of Anne Frank) Anne Frank Dutch 1947 30 million
Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) Gabriel García Márquez Spanish 1967 30 million
The Purpose Driven Life Rick   Warren English 2002 30 million
The   Thorn Birds Colleen McCullough English 1977 30 million
The Revolt of Mamie Stover William Bradford Huie English 1951 30 million
Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) Stieg   Larsson Swedish 2005 30 million
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle English 1969 30 million

Between 20 million and 30 million copies



Original    language

First    published

Approximate    sales

Молодая гвардия (The Young Guard) Alexander Alexandrovich Fadeyev Russian 1945 26 million copies in USSR
Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson English 1998 26 million
The   Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald English 1925 25 million
The Wind in the Willows Kenneth   Grahame English 1908 25 million
Nineteen Eighty-Four George   Orwell English 1949 25 million
The 7 Habits of Highly   Effective People Stephen   R. Covey English 1989 25 million
Поднятая целина (Virgin Soil Upturned) Mikhail Sholokhov Russian 1935 24 million copies in USSR
The Celestine Prophecy James   Redfield English 1993 23 million
The   Hunger Games Suzanne   Collins English 2008 23 million
Дядя Степа (Uncle   Styopa) Sergey   Mikhalkov Russian 1936 21 million copies in USSR
The Godfather Mario Puzo English 1969 21 million
Love Story Erich   Segal English 1970 21 million
狼图腾 (Wolf Totem) Jiang   Rong Chinese 2004 20 million
The   Happy Hooker: My Own Story Xaviera Hollander English 1971 20 million
Jaws Peter   Benchley English 1974 20 million
Love   You Forever Robert   Munsch English 1986 20 million
The Women’s Room Marilyn   French English 1977 20 million
What to Expect When You’re   Expecting Arlene Eisenberg and Heidi   Murkoff English 1984 20 million
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain English 1885 20 million
The Secret Diary of Adrian   Mole, Aged 13¾ Sue   Townsend English 1982 20 million
Kon-Tiki:   Across the Pacific in a Raft Thor   Heyerdahl Norwegian 1950 20 million
Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za   světové války (The Good Soldier Švejk) Jaroslav   Hašek Czech 1923 20 million
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice   Sendak English 1963 20 million
The Power of Positive Thinking Norman Vincent Peale English 1952 20 million
The Shack William   P. Young English 2007 20 million
The Secret Rhonda   Byrne English 2006 20 million
Fear of Flying Erica Jong English 1973 20 million

Between 10 million and 20 million copies



Original    language

First    published

Approximate    sales

Goodnight   Moon Margaret Wise Brown English 1947 16 million
Die unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story) Michael   Ende German 1979 16 million
Guess How Much I Love You Sam McBratney English 1994 15 million
Shōgun James   Clavell English 1975 15 million
The Poky Little Puppy Janette Sebring Lowrey English 1942 15 million
The Pillars of the Earth Ken   Follett English 1989 15 million
How to Win Friends and   Influence People Dale   Carnegie English 1936 15 million
Das Parfum (Perfume) Patrick Süskind German 1985 15 million
The Grapes of Wrath John   Steinbeck English 1939 15 million
The Horse Whisperer Nicholas   Evans English 1995 15 million
La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind) Carlos Ruiz Zafón Spanish 2001 15 million
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the   Galaxy Douglas   Adams English 1979 14 million
Tuesdays with Morrie Mitch   Albom English 1997 14 million
God’s Little Acre Erskine   Caldwell English 1933 14 million
Va’ dove ti porta il cuore (Follow Your Heart) Susanna   Tamaro Italian 1994 14 million
The Old Man and the Sea Ernest   Hemingway English 1952 13 million
The Outsiders S. E.   Hinton English 1967 13 million
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl English 1964 13 million
Life   After Life Raymond   Moody English 1975 13 million
ノルウェイの森,   Noruwei no Mori (Norwegian Wood) Haruki   Murakami Japanese 1987 12 million
Peyton Place Grace   Metalious English 1956 12 million
Dune Frank   Herbert English 1965 12 million
La Peste (The Plague) Albert   Camus French 1947 12 million
人間失格 (No   Longer Human) Osamu   Dazai Japanese 1948 12 million
The   Naked Ape Desmond   Morris English 1968 12 million
Ein Psychologe erlebt das   Konzentrationslager (Man’s Search for Meaning) Viktor   Frankl German 1946 12 million
Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy) Dante   Alighieri Italian 1304 11-12 million (during 20th   century)
Things Fall Apart Chinua   Achebe English 1958 11 million
The Prophet Khalil   Gibran English 1923 11 million
The Exorcist William Peter Blatty English 1971 11 million
The   Gruffalo Julia   Donaldson English 1999 10.5 million
Catch-22 Joseph   Heller English 1961 10 million
Eye of the Needle Ken   Follett English 1978 10 million
A Brief History of Time Stephen   Hawking English 1988 10 million
The Cat in the Hat Dr. Seuss English 1957 10 million
The   Lovely Bones Alice   Sebold English 2002 10 million
Wild Swans Jung Chang English 1992 10 million
Santa   Evita Tomás Eloy Martínez Spanish 1995 10 million
Un di Velt Hot Geshvign (Night) Elie   Wiesel Yiddish 1958 10 million
The   Kite Runner Khaled   Hosseini English 2003 10 million
于丹《论语》心得 (Confucius from the   Heart) Yu Dan Chinese 2006 10 million
The Total Woman Marabel   Morgan English 1974 10 million
知価革命 (Knowledge-value   Revolution) Taichi Sakaiya Japanese 1985 10 million
中国社会主义经济问题研究 (Problems in China’s Socialist   Economy) Xue Muqiao Chinese 1979 10 million
What Color is Your Parachute? Richard Nelson Bolles English 1970 10 million
The   Dukan Diet Pierre   Dukan French 2000 10 million
The   Joy of Sex Alex   Comfort English 1972 10 million
The Gospel According to Peanuts Robert   L. Short English 1965 10 million
A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle English 1962 10 million
Life of Pi Yann   Martel English 2001 10 million

No reliable sales figures

Note: These books do not have reliable sales data; however, there is evidence that they have sold at least 10 million copies, and therefore belong on this list.



Original    language

First    published


Don   Quixote Miguel de Cervantes Spanish 1605
Harry Potter and the   Philosopher’s Stone J.K.   Rowling English 1997
Harry Potter and the Chamber   of Secrets J.K.   Rowling English 1998
Harry Potter and the   Prisoner of Azkaban J.K.   Rowling English 1999
Harry Potter and the Goblet of   Fire J.K.   Rowling English 2000
Harry Potter and the Order   of the Phoenix J.K.   Rowling English 2003
Harry Potter and the   Half-Blood Prince J.K.   Rowling English 2005
Twilight Stephenie   Meyer English 2005
New   Moon Stephenie   Meyer English 2006
Eclipse Stephenie   Meyer English 2007
Breaking   Dawn Stephenie   Meyer English 2008

List of best-selling book series

At least 100 million copies

Book    series


Original    language

No.    of installments

First    published

Approximate    sales

Maigret Georges   Simenon French 75 novels + 28 short-stories 1931-1972 853 million
Harry   Potter J.K.   Rowling English 7 + 3 supplements 1997-2007 450 million
Goosebumps R. L.   Stine English 62 + spin off series 1992–1997–present 300 million
Perry Mason Erle Stanley Gardner English 82 1933 — 1970 300 million
Berenstain   Bears Stan and Jan Berenstain English over 300 1962 — present 260 million
Choose Your Own Adventure various authors English 185 1979 — 1998 250 million
Sweet Valley High Francine   Pascal and ghostwriters English 400 1983–2003 250 million
Noddy Enid   Blyton English 24 1949–present 200 million
Nancy Drew various authors as Carolyn   Keene English 175 1930 — present 200 million
The Railway Series
(spawned Thomas the Tank Engine &   Friends)
Rev.   W. Awdry, Christopher Awdry English 41 1945–2011 200 million
San-Antonio Frédéric Dard French 173 1949–2001 200 million
Robert   Langdon Dan Brown English 4 2000–present 200 million
The Baby-sitters Club Ann   Martin English 335 1986 — present 172 million
Star Wars various authors English over 300 1977 — present 160 million
Peter   Rabbit Beatrix   Potter English 6 1902–1930 150 million
Chicken Soup for the Soul Jack   Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen English 105 1997 — present 130 million
Frank   Merriwell Gilbert   Patten English 209 1896 – 125 million
Dirk Pitt Clive   Cussler English 19 1973 — present 120 million
宮本武蔵 (Musashi) Eiji   Yoshikawa Japanese 7 1935–1939 120 million
American Girl various authors English 1986 — present 120 million
The Chronicles of Narnia C. S.   Lewis English 7 1949–1954 120 million
Mr. Men Roger   Hargreaves, Adam Hargreaves English 43 1971 — present 120 million
Twilight Stephenie   Meyer English 4 + 1 Novella + 1 Guide 2005–2011 120 million
Clifford the Big Red Dog Norman   Bridwell English 1963 — present 110 million
James Bond Ian   Fleming English 14 1953–1966 100 million
Martine Gilbert   Delahaye, Marcel Marlier French 60 1954 — present 100 million

Between 50 million and 100 million copies

Book    series


Original    language

No.    of installments

First    published

Approximate    sales

Fifty Shades of Grey E. L.   James English 3 2011–2012 90 million
Nijntje (Miffy) Dick Bruna Dutch 119 1955 — present 85 million
Fear   Street R. L.   Stine English 114 1989 — present 80 million
The Vampire Chronicles Anne Rice English 12 1976-2003 80 million
Pippi Longstocking Astrid   Lindgren Swedish 3 + 3 picture books 1945-2001 80 million
OSS 117 Jean Bruce French 265 1949–1992 75 million
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Jeff Kinney English 8 2007–present 75 million
Winnie-the-Pooh A. A.   Milne; illustrated by E. H. Shepard English 2 1926–1928 70 million
Magic Tree House series Mary Pope Osborne English 43 1992–present 70 million
Left Behind Tim LaHaye,   Jerry B. Jenkins English 16 1996 — 2007 65 million
A Series of Unfortunate Events Lemony   Snicket aka Daniel Handler English 13 1999–2006 65 million
Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder English 12 1932–2006 60 million
Jack   Reacher Lee Child English 16 1997–present 60 million
Millennium Trilogy Stieg   Larsson Swedish 3 2005–2007 60 million
Discworld Terry   Pratchett English 39 1983–present 55 million
Where’s   Wally?[174] Martin   Handford English 13 1987–present 55 million
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from   Venus John Gray English 15 1992–present 50 million
The   Hardy Boys various authors as Franklin W. Dixon English 190 1927–present 50 million
The Bobbsey Twins various authors as Laura   Lee Hope English 72 1904–1979 50 million
Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs English 26 1914–1995 50 million
The Hunger Games trilogy Suzanne   Collins English 3 2008–2010 50 million

Between 30 million and 50 million copies

Book    series


Original    language

No.    of installments

First    published

Approximate    sales

A Child’s First Library Of   Learning various authors English 29 1980 – 45 million
Junie   B. Jones Barbara   Park English 30 1992 – 44 million
The Wheel of Time Robert   Jordan, Brandon Sanderson English 14 1990 – 2013 44 million
Harry   Bosch Michael   Connelly English 15 1992 – 42 million
Harry Hole Jo Nesbø Norwegian 9 1997–present 40 million
连环画 铁道游击队 (Picture-and-story book Railway Guerilla) original author: Liu   Zhixia Chinese 10 1955–1962 36.52 million
Paddington   Bear Michael   Bond English 70 1958–present 35 million
The Inheritance Cycle Christopher Paolini English 4 2002–2011 33 million
徳川家康 (Tokugawa   Ieyasu) Sohachi Yamaoka Japanese 26 1950–1967 30 million
Ramona Beverly   Cleary English 8 1955–1999 30 million
The Dark Tower Stephen   King English 8 1982-2012 30 million
The Destroyer Warren   Murphy and Richard Sapir, various authors English 150 1971–present 30 million

Between 20 million and 30 million copies

Book    series


Original    language

No.    of installments

First    published

Approximate    sales

ノンタン (Nontan) Sachiko Kiyono Japanese 25 1976–2006 28 million
Curious   George Hans   Augusto Rey and Margret Rey English 58 1941–present 27 million
グイン・サーガ   (Guin   Saga) Kaoru   Kurimoto Japanese 118 1979–2009 26 million
Captain Underpants Dav Pilkey English 1997–present 26 million
三毛猫ホームズシリーズ (Calico Cat Holmes   series) Jirō   Akagawa Japanese 43 1978–present 26 million
Rich Dad, Poor Dad Robert   Kiyosaki Sharon Lechter English 18 1997- 26 million
Kurt   Wallander Henning   Mankell Swedish 10 1991–2002 25 million
Sagaen om Isfolket (The Legend of the Ice People) Margit   Sandemo Norwegian 47 1982–1989 25 million
The Sword of Truth Terry   Goodkind English 12 1998–2007 25 million
鬼平犯科帳 (Onihei Hankachō) Shōtarō Ikenami Japanese 24 1968–1990 24.4 million, only bunkobon
The Shadowhunter Chronicles Cassandra   Clare English 8 + 1 supplement + 2 tie-ins (at   least 13 + 2 supplements planned) 2007–present 24 million
Brain Quest series various authors English 1992–present 23.7 million
かいけつゾロリ (Kaiketsu   Zorori) Yutaka   Hara Japanese 41 1987–present 23 million
South   Beach Diet Arthur   Agatston English 6 2003–present 22 million
竜馬がゆく (Ryoma ga Yuku) Ryōtarō Shiba Japanese 5 1963–1966 21.5 million
Artemis Fowl Eoin   Colfer English 8 2001–2012 21 million
ズッコケ三人組 (Zukkoke Sanningumi) Masamoto Nasu Japanese 50 1978–2004 21 million
Shannara Terry   Brooks English 20 1977–present 21 million
Redwall Brian   Jacques English 22 1986–present 20 million
Malazan Book of the Fallen Steven   Erikson English 10 1999 – 2011 20 million
Maisy Lucy   Cousins English 23 1990–present 20 million
Dragonlance various authors English more than 150 1984 — present 20 million
幻魔大戦 (Genma   Taisen) Kazumasa Hirai Japanese 20 1979–1983 20 million
青春の門 (The Gate of Youth) Hiroyuki Itsuki Japanese 1970–present 20 million
The Foundation Trilogy Isaac   Asimov English 3[214] 1950–1953 20 million
Horrible Histories Terry   Deary English 24 1993–present 20 million
Rainbow   Magic Daisy   Meadows English 80+ 2003–present 20 million
Morgan   Kane Louis   Masterson Norwegian 90 1966– 20 million
The Southern Vampire Mysteries Charlaine   Harris English 13 2001–2013 20 million

Between 15 million and 20 million copies

Book    series


Original    language

No.    of installments

First    published

Approximate    sales

科学のアルバム (Kagaku no album) various authors Japanese 1970–present 19 million
剣客商売 (Kenkaku Shobai) Shotaro   Ikenami Japanese 18 1972–1989 18 million
Erast   Fandorin Boris   Akunin Russian 12 1998–present 18 million
吸血鬼ハンターD (Vampire   Hunter D) Hideyuki   Kikuchi Japanese 17 1983–present 17 million
涼宮ハルヒシリーズ(Haruhi   Suzumiya Series) Nagaru   Tanigawa Japanese 11 2003–present 16.5 million
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the   Galaxy Douglas   Adams, plus a final book by Eoin   Colfer English 6 1979–2008 16 million
Bridget   Jones Helen   Fielding English 2 1996–present 15 million
The Riftwar Cycle Raymond   E. Feist English 25 1982–present 15 million
Percy Jackson & the Olympians Rick   Riordan English 5 2005–2009 15 million
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Alexander McCall Smith English 9 1999–present 15 million
ぼくらシリーズ(Bokura series) Osamu Soda Japanese 36 1985–present 15 million
His Dark Materials Philip   Pullman English 3 1995–2000 15 million
銀河英雄伝説 (Legend of the Galactic Heroes) Yoshiki   Tanaka Japanese 14 1982–1989 15 million
Der Regenbogenfisch (Rainbow Fish) Marcus   Pfister German 1992–present 15 million
A Song of Ice and Fire George R. R. Martin English Currently 5; 7 Planned. 1996–present 15 million




Original   language

First   Published

Approximate   copies printed

The Bible Authors of the Bible Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek 223 CE (Compiled) 5 billion+
The   Holy Quran Verbally revealed from God to Prophet   Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel Arabic 609 CE – 632 CE 4 billion+
Quotations from Chairman Mao Mao Zedong Chinese 1964 800 million
新华字典 (Xinhua   Zidian)   Dictionary Ministry of Education of China Standard Chinese 1953 400 million
A Tale of Two Cities Charles   Dickens English 1859 200 million
Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry French 1943 200 million
Book   of Mormon Joseph   Smith English 1830 150 million copies by 2011
The Lord of the Rings J.   R. R. Tolkien English 1954–1955 150 million
The Hobbit J.   R. R. Tolkien English 1937 100 million
紅樓夢/红楼梦 (Hóng Lóu Mèng; Dream of the Red Chamber) Cao Xueqin Chinese 1759–1791 100 million
And Then There Were None Agatha   Christie English 1939 100 million[
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David & Isabel Crook 1947---Amoung the First Foreign Experts in China

David & Isabel Crook 1947—Amoung the First Foreign Experts in China


Robert Sheppard




This week the approach of the Chinese New Year marks a major celebration of the role of Foreign Experts in making a major contribution to the building of modern China, highlighted in the speech of Premier Li Keqiang before an assembly of many noted expatriate scholars, experts and educators. The Premier, together with State Foreign Expert Bureau Deputy Director Liu Yangguo, also announced a major initiative inviting all Foreign Experts to share their experience working in China and to make suggestions, both towards the development of China nationally, and also towards the strengthening and reform of Foreign Expert system itself.


Dr. Robert Sheppard---20-Year Veteran Foreign Expert in China at a State Banquet at the Great Hall of the People (Chamber of the Chinese National People's Congress) on the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China

Dr. Robert Sheppard—20-Year Veteran Foreign Expert in China at a State Banquet at the Great Hall of the People (Chamber of the Chinese National People’s Congress) on the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China


I had the pleasure of meeting with the Premier at the Great Hall of the People on a similar occasion sponsored by the State Foreign Expert Bureau in 2009 on the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.  This year marks the 20th Anniversary of my work in China, beginning in 1993, most of which was in the status of a “Foreign Expert,” or foreign Professor teaching at most of the most celebrated universities in the nation: Peking University, Tsinghua University, People’s Renmin University, Bei Wai, or the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the China University of Political Science and Law, the Guanghua School of Management MBA Program, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Law Institute and Graduate School, among others,  in the three primary areas of International Law, Literature—Western, American, British and World Literature, and Business and MBA Studies.

In these fields I have been honored and happy to make a small contribution to China’s development.  At the Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences I participated in the drafting  and revision process of the National People’s Congress in formulating the Chinese “Basic Legislation Law (Li Fa Ji Ben Fa)” together with other legal experts from the US, Germany and Canada under the auspices of the Ford Foundation and International Republican Institute. At Peking University I taught a course in Public International Law and in the International Relations Department helped to institute a program where the BeiDa students of International Relations for the first time visited the American, Canadian, Indonesian and European Union Embassies on bussed field trips and spoke face-to-face with the Ambassadors and frankly questioned their staffs on their bi-lateral and multi-lateral relationships with China, including meetings with American Ambassador James Sasser, EU Ambassador Endymion Wilkinson, and Canadian Ambassador Howard Balloch and others. I also taught a course training the Intellectual Property Judges of the Appeals Court of the State Intellectual Property Organization (SIPO) in copyright, trademark, patent and other forms of Intellectual Property worldwide, a key to China’s economic development. As a literary author, poet and novelist I also have been happy to introduce the great Classics and Masterpieces of Western Literature, American, British and World Literature to China’s best university students and future writers and scholars, and hope that their experience will help to shape China’s culture and literature into the future.


Robert Sheppard---20 Year Veteran Foreign Expert in China----Giving a Public Lecture at China People's University on the Concept of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly

Robert Sheppard—20 Year Veteran Foreign Expert in China—-Giving a Public Lecture at China People’s University on the Concept of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly


Professor Robert Sheppard giving a Public Lecture and Seminar at Renmin People’s University on the Concept of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, a globalized version of the EU Parliament  Model as a new organ of the UN.


Dr. Robert Sheppard Giving a Seminar at the Law School of China People's Renmin University, Beijing on the Concept of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly

Dr. Robert Sheppard Giving a Seminar at the Law School of China People’s Renmin University, Beijing on the Concept of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly


In the second decade of my work in China much of my public work focused on various aspects of the United Nations in China. I worked as a Senior Consultant to UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization during the time of China’s accession to the WTO and transition to the age of E-Commerce, giving lectures, training seminars and investment recruitment conferences for state-owned company managers and foreign investment officials at MOFTEC in second-tier industrially-challenged cities such as Harbin, Changchun, Xining, and Changsha on how to adapt to the WTO and E-Commerce. Additionally, as a Senior Associate of the Committee for a Democratic United Nations I gave public lectures at Tsinghua University and at People’s Renmin University, introducing the concept of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, a globalized version of the EU Parliament as a new organ of the United Nations system for a more democratic system of global governance.

In 2008 I worked at the Beijing Sports University (Ti Yu Da Xue) making preparations for China’s first successful hosting of the Olympic Games. In recent years a greater part of my activity in addition to teaching has focused on being a professional writer, publishing in 2013 my two-part best-selling novel Spiritus Mundi, in which about a third of the action takes place in China. In short, my experience as a “Foreign Expert” has been swept along in the tide of amazing historical development which is the saga of the rise of modern China in our times.


Spiritus Mundi Novel by Robert Sheppard--Bookcover

Spiritus Mundi Novel by Robert Sheppard–Bookcover


Book Cover of Spiritus Mundi, Novel by Robert Sheppard 2013





The Foreign Expert system of China is a great institution which has allowed hundreds of thousands of foreign scholars and educators to experience life and culture in China while making a major contribution to China’s development. But it, like the related laws and regulations on visas, permanent residence and the status of all foreign persons in China suffers from serious flaws and still uncompleted reforms that leave serious shortcomings for both the foreign experts and for the benefit of the nation as a whole. In many cases well-intentioned reforms have been begun but are still half-incomplete.




David & Isabel Crook 1947---Amoung the First Foreign Experts in China

David & Isabel Crook 1947—Amoung the First Foreign Experts in China


Foreign Experts: Isabel and David Crook in 1947 near Yanan before National Liberation



Isabel Crook---Chinese Foreign Expert at 98 years

Isabel Crook—Chinese Foreign Expert at 98 years


Isabel in her 90’s:  A Lifetime of Service to China

This week’s coverage of Premier Li Keqiang’s celebration of the contribution of Foreign Experts in the China Daily, including an eye-witness account by Ravi Shankar Narasimhan, gave a rightful place of honor to Isabel Crook, doyenne of the foreign expert community from Bei Wai, the Beijing Foreign Studies University, a remarkable woman of 98 years, the last 75 years of which she has spent in China, who is the epitome of that sub-class of foreign experts who have given not one or two years to China, but their entire lives. Her late husband David Crook was a good friend of mine when we were both at Bei Wai, and we often had extended conversations together both at the Foreign Expert building and at the Friendship Hotel, where we would often go swimming at the only pool in the area in those early days, often meeting there other life-term expats such as Israel Epstein or Sydney Shapiro and recounting his remarkable experiences of the Spanish Civil War,  his service as a KGB Anti-Trotskyist Spy, WWII, his marriage and family, Liberation and his imprisonment for five years during the Cultural Revolution.

For David Crook’s generation of Communist Party members the conundrum of Social Security, immigrant status and tenure was ironically more straightforwardly solved as they became Chinese citizens and were then eligible for normal permanent tenure and employment in their Chinese University. They received permanent housing from their work unit, or “Danwei” and a conventional pension on retirement. For later “Foreign Experts” such as myself this path to full citizenship and integration was either not open or desired.

One serious shortcoming of the Foreign Expert system today is the lack of a legal or contractual framework for foreign experts to attain either permanent employment, academic “tenure” or the concomitant job security, advancement, retirement and health benefits of such a status. The Foreign Expert contract is invariably a one-year contract which may be renewed for successive years with mutual agreement but is never permanent and never includes any prospective retirement benefits or security of tenure.  It’s original concept, no longer necessarily true, was that it was a temporary job with no career path, “job equity” or job security attached. Thus while a US Permanent Resident or Green Card holder may be granted tenure, promoted to departmental chairmanships, and enjoy pension, health, disability and pension rights on an equal basis with US Citizens, such remains an impossibility to even a Foreign Expert with Chinese Permanent Residence. To be fair, this usually met the needs and desires of the majority of both the foreign experts and the employers, who usually only contemplated a few years of service at most before returning inevitably to their home countries to take up their lives they left behind. Most foreign experts were recent college graduates out to experience Chinese life and culture or have an adventure in the world, or perhaps were retired teachers seeking a stimulating one-year experience to prevent retired life degenerating into the life of the “couch potato” at home. Quite a few were sponsored by religious organizations from their home countries with a covert religious agenda.

However, life has its “Law of Unexpected Consequences” and persons such as myself after coming to China to savor Chinese culture found ourselves as I did, marrying a Chinese girl, having children and being transformed from the “transient” expectations of the normal foreign expert into a permanent member of the community with a career inside China. The trouble, however, is that the “Foreign Expert System” simply had no legal or contractual framework for such an existence or its unforeseen consequences. For the long-term or life-long foreign expert such as myself there is no permanent job beyond one-year contracts, no framework for job security or long-term career path, no workable retirement system, no system for our children’s education, no permanent health-care beyond the current employer or upon retirement, no system for assistance in acquiring permanent housing and no system for assistance in repatriating back to one’s country of origin after an extended stay in China, such as portability of unemployment benefits, retirement benefits or social security credits or other transitional assistance. Perhaps it was always sometimes tacitly assumed that “all foreigners are rich” and can take care of themselves without institutional support or that their home countries would provide such assistance. In the era of the “World Economic Crisis” of depression-like proportions for some countries and vulnerabilities for the poorly-paid class of teachers and both the young and the “too old,” this is far from the case.

Let’s look at how the present “Foreign Expert System” fails long-term foreign experts such as myself who have given “the best part of their lives” to China, despite some very substantial reforms China has recently made to accommodate them. I am twenty-years resident in China, having married a Chinese woman and fathered two children in Beijing and been granted the still relatively rare status of a “Chinese Permanent Resident” or “Chinese Green Card” holder. Despite the reforms of two years ago which theoretically extended applicability of the Chinese Social Security system to all foreigners, not only foreign experts, including liability for Social Security tax I still have no prospect of qualifying for Chinese retirement benefits. Why? Because although the law gives us a right to participate in the retirement system after fourteen years of employment in China and at 62 I am past the normal Chinese retirement age of 60, the benefits only derive from and are calculated from having had a Social Security account into which the employer has paid Social Security tax over the years of employment. Here the “Catch 22” is that until two years ago employers of foreign experts, mostly universities, while having deducted income taxes over the last twenty years did not make any contributions year-by-year for the foreign expert to any Social Security account. Thus by law I am fully eligible for Chinese Social Security, but because for those twenty years the universities have made no contribution to a Social Security account in the employee’s name, the reality is that I am entitled effectively to zero benefits. Under the US system I again qualify for US Social Security benefits, but since working in China for twenty years no credit has been made to my Social Security account in the US, so that the level of benefit based on contributions before coming to China is averaged down by the many years of no contribution while in China, with the result that benefits are skewed artificially down to the minimum level, inadequate to sustain life in retirement either in the US or in China.  Similarly, there is no retirement health benefit available for the retired expat foreign expert living in China. Since there are only some 6000 expats who have qualified for Chinese Permanent Residence, all of this conundrum is further exacerbated by the fact that for all others one’s visa and residence status will automatically expire when your last job ends. Therefore, you will have to leave the country before you can qualify for unemployment or retirement benefits anyway, though most likely you will discover they don’t really exist in reality anyway despite the law granting them. Unlike the Crook generation, the contemporary retiring foreign expert will also not retain housing from the “danwei” or university or other employer, nor any employment-based private pension. Indeed, the contemporary retiring Foreign Expert will soon discover that “You’re on your own, buddy.”

David Crook in our swimming expeditions from Bei Wai to the Friendship Hotel used to laugh that one of his duties as a KGB spy in Spain during the Spanish Civil War was to maintain surveillance of George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, a suspected “Trotskyist” and an author I much admired. One of the most poignant and heart-wrenching episodes of the Animal Farm allegory, you may recall, comes when the “inner party of pigs” discover that the work horses who have shouldered the main burden of the farm’s work have been thoroughly exhausted and worn out by old age and can no longer work. They are callously sold off and shipped to the meat factory to be butchered into dog food when they can no longer work. China has made immense progress in avoiding the condition or the Orwellian dystopian prophecy and should hasten and complete its reforms of the Foreign Expert System to prevent the foreign experts who have given the better part of their lives to China from suffering such an Orwellian end.

Thus, at a minimum to begin serious reform of the Foreign Expert System in respect of job security and Social Security, the Chinese government should study the implementation of the following possible reforms: 1) Extend retroactive credit within the Social Security system for qualifying for benefits to Foreign Experts reaching retirement age based on Income Tax paid by the foreign expert before the law changed requiring and enabling payment of Social Security Tax; 2) Negotiate immediately bi-lateral Social Security Portability treaties or with the nations from which most Foreign Experts come from—the US, Canada, Australia, UK and the EU, among others—providing for mutual recognition of contributions in bother systems and enjoyment of benefits across borders of both systems; 3) Negotiate bi-lateral Unemployment Insurance Portability treaties respecting the eligibility of persons returning from employment in one country for Unemployment Insurance benefits in the other country based on mutual recognition and credit of taxes paid in the other to support the repatriation process; 4) Provide for old-age medical and disability insurance and retirement housing assistance for Foreign Expert retirees at least on an equal basis of other Chinese nationals; 5) Implement regulations authorizing and promoting permanent employment and academic tenure on an equal basis with Chinese nationals for long-term Foreign Experts with Chinese Permanent Residence, rather than insecure one-year contracts, with legal protection against discrimination in hiring, retention, renewal of contracts , ordinary advancements and dismissals.


President Xi Jin Ping Outlines the Chinese Dream

President Xi Jin Ping Outlines the Chinese Dream



“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a teacher is in want of adequate compensation,” is a global truism in apt paraphrase a well-known authoress. This is also true of the Foreign Expert in China, whether of the garden variety such as English and basic academic instructors or even of the special categories of foreign experts created to attract specialized talent. While on “Teachers’ Day” cards and flowers may be offered as a token of the Confucian sentiment of honor towards scholars, in China as well as most countries of the world governments, universities, schools and employers are most reluctant to “put their money where their mouth is.” This remains true even where vast fortunes are being made in the “industry” of education where parents are being drained of excessive amounts out of a frenzied desire to secure their children’s futures by hook or by crook.

The pay for ordinary Foreign Experts is poor. On the whole it is adequate to the condition of the typical foreign expert—a young college graduate looking for a cultural overseas adventure, first international job or travel opportunity or an older Western retiree seeking a twilight challenge or covert religious mission with church sponsorships and subsidies. For a single person without family burdens the pay is adequate for a modestly comfortable life in China, though the amount it is possible to save and take home on return after a year is so small as to hardly pay for a week in a hotel in the US. Exchange scholars and professors seconded or on leave from their home universities who enjoy their home salaries on top of the low-level Chinese salary have no problems. For these classes it is quite possible to have a comfortable and enjoyable year or two, especially with the benefit of the free housing and air-ticket home usually provided in the ‘Foreign Expert Package.” For long-term foreign experts unsubsidized from their home country, especially those with children and families the compensation is grossly inadequate for ordinary needs, let alone the exorbitant cost of children’s overseas education, forcing universal moonlighting and forced repatriation to attempt to make ends meet.

This is in no way accidental. The market for Foreign Expert’s professional services is a completely rigged and fixed system based on government monopoly. All universities and schools are required by law to base their teachers’ compensation levels on “State Foreign Expert Bureau Guidelines” which generally forbid universities and schools from paying more than a base level for each category of qualification, generally in the area of 4000-7000 RMB per month. Nor will the band of compensation increase with any achievement or accomplishment. The inevitable result of this monopoly government price fixing is that the best people after their year of new experience are quick to look for other employment in the sectors of the economy not price-fixed. The typical foreign expert job is seen only as a temporary stepping-stone to something better with a future. One of the greatest absurdities of this system I have witnessed firsthand is the outrageous disparity of the Foreign Expert salaries for professors at Peking University and Tsinghua University—supposedly the Harvard and MIT of China—-in which I have seen English-speaking Kindergarten teachers being paid literally three times the monthly salary of PKU or Tsinghua professors with PhD’s teaching advanced university graduate courses! Why? Because the for-profit Kindergartens are not within the leaden price-fixing system of the State Foreign Expert Bureau and respond to market demand and the near manic compulsion of Chinese parents to give their children even the slightest head start or advantage in the perceived crawl to the top of the heap.

To be fair, this system that keeps Foreign Experts poor had important justifications in its origins. At the beginning of the PRC China was in fact extremely poor and could only afford to pay little to foreigners. After “Kai Fang” or the “Opening Up” policy after 1979 it remained important to both conserve scarce funds and foreign exchange and to give poorer areas some chance to compete with the major centers in attracting foreign talent by not becoming perpetual losers in a bidding war. Foreigners were “assumed to be rich” and their pay in any case was more than their comparable Chinese colleagues, who suffered at least triple the underpay and exploitation as their relatively privileged foreign counterparts. Most foreign experts, moreover, were not motivated by money but rather by cultural curiosity, a spirit of adventure, altruism or other motives and were planning only a short sojourn before moving on to bigger and better things elsewhere.

Now, however, as China is moving fast towards “Xiaokang” or moderate prosperity many of those valid early justifications for the system have begun to obsolesce. As Premier Li and President Xi emphasize, the deepening of the market-based reforms applied to other sectors may now be usefully extended in the area of education. The price-fixing system for keeping Foreign Expert salaries low and uniform should be abolished or modified to allow greater compensation to greater talents, achievements and qualifications. Better compensation to highly skilled Foreign Experts is not only now affordable, but is essential for retention, development and deployment of their talents to meet China’s aspiration to develop a quality of education equal to and competitive with developed countries in the second-half of its national development. Foreign Experts, teachers and professors should be allowed to freely unionize and engage in collective bargaining to improve their compensation and working conditions. And Chinese teachers and scholars should be similarly empowered to bargain collectively with their employers for improvement of their much more severe conditions of undercompensation and exploitation! Though in the short-term this will be costly and inconvenient for the schools and government, in the long-run it will be the only way to lift the quality of the Chinese educational system and transform it into a system capable of fostering the critical thinking, innovative and creative capacity capable of raising China to fulfill its still unmet aspiration of a fully developed and globally competitive nation and economy, based on quality and not just bulk quantity. With due sensitivity to questions of cultural and political control, the scope for private and Chinese-Foreign joint-venture education should be markedly opened in the educational sector as it has been in the industrial sector, including increased attraction and participation of foreign talent and foreign experts at increasing levels of management.





One of the serious shortcomings of the present Foreign Expert system in China is its lack of provision for the children of foreign experts, both those born abroad and accompanying their parents and those born in China, often of marriages with Chinese national spouses. These children often suffer severe challenges and vulnerabilities in securing adequate educational opportunities in China, both for economic reasons and because they are often caught between two cultures, two educational systems, two immigration and regulatory systems and nationality systems, leading to entrapment in perilous “Catch 22” dilemmas.

All expatriates in China, not only Foreign Experts have serious problems securing adequate educations for their children. In simple money terms, the cost of expat children’s education is astronomical. It is literally true that it often costs more to send foreign children to international kindergarten, elementary and high schools in China than to send them to a university in the US or other Western nations. Initial enrollment, “capital contribution” or other fees may reach $10-20,000 even before annual tuition per child of similar amounts. Disraeli famously observed that Britain was in danger of becoming “Two Nations: Rich and Poor,” and the expatriate community in China and other countries is even more polarized into two classes: 1) the corporate and embassy employees whose employment contract “package” provides a full employer-paid subsidy for payment of the exorbitant costs of overseas education for their children, and 2) the vulnerable, insecure underpaid independents and Foreign Experts whose employers provide no subsidy for their children’s education and have no free public school system to help them as they would have in their home countries. Needless to say, a Foreign Expert on a standard contract salary of perhaps 5000 RMB per month cannot pay the 100,000’s of RMB to send each of his children to such international school as ISB, WAB and others utilized by employer-subsidized corporate and diplomatic staff through their “fat package” employment contract provisions.  A number of Chinese public schools have lower-cost “International Departments” such as the Fang Cao Di elementary school and the No. 80 Middle and High School in Beijing which accept children of foreign experts, but even these have initial enrollment fees plus annual tuition fees both in excess of 50,000 RMB. How can a Foreign Expert on 5000 RMB per month pay such an amount per child? The standard Foreign Expert Contract has no provision for the employer paying accompanying children’s educational cost. The result is extreme hardship for any children of Foreign Experts relying on earned income to educate their children.

Other barriers are those of the children’s language ability and the need for them to re-enter their own country’s educational system on repatriation from China. A very common initial total lack of Chinese language by the Foreign Expert’s children may preclude them from functioning in a Chinese-language public school (though it may be great for acquiring the language eventually) and a lack of money may deny them access to a bi-lingual or English-language International School. Even if these factors are overcome, the school may ill prepare them for competing to enter university in their home countries, including necessary subjects for college entrance exams.

In my own children’s case, Claire and Joseph were born in Beijing to parents of mixed US and Chinese citizenship, each with Permanent Residence in the other’s country. They attended Fang Cao Di, a Chinese public elementary school with an “International Department” for foreign children and had a successful experience growing up bi-lingual.  Middle school was more problematical. Claire, the eldest had a Beijing Hukou and was assigned by lottery to No.13 Middle School but had great difficulty adapting to the regimented environment of a 100% Chinese school. We moved her to Xin Dong Fang’s Foreign Language School after they offered to give her free tuition in exchange for me giving some classes at the school.  For Joseph No. 80 Middle School’s International Department proved workable at a cost of some 50,000 Rmb per year per child. In all cases the children’s educational costs would be unpayable from a Foreign Expert’s standard salary, and were only managed by supplementary outside income sources.

High School, however, found Claire trapped in a “Catch 22” situation that may ensnare foreign children born in China. She was accepted by No. 80 High School’s International Department but a new regulation of the State Education Commission required each student enrolling in an International School at the high school or higher level to have an updated visa in their foreign passport. But when we went to the Public Security Bureau with her US Passport to update a current visa they refused to issue one on the ground that she was born in Beijing to a Chinese mother and thus could be claimed as a Chinese citizen with a Beijing Hukou. Chinese law and treaties do not provide for dual citizenship. Thus they refused to issue a current visa until she went through a procedure to formally renounce her entitlement to Chinese citizenship, an unfortunate decision to force on a child and her parents, and one which takes more than a year to complete. So she could not enter any International High School because she lacked a current Chinese visa in her US Passport. She however could not enter any Chinese high school because she had not taken the “Zhong Kao” or Chinese Middle-School Entrance Exam. The result of the new regulation was that she was locked out of both Chinese and International High Schools, a tragic “Catch 22” with a deadly bite for those vulnerable and innocent children who are born between two nationalities.

In conclusion, with respect to the children of Foreign Experts, China should consider the following possible reforms to the Foreign Expert System: 1) With regard to the “Catch 22” exclusion of foreign children born in China from International Schools, regulations should be adopted immediately requiring all International Schools to accept such children legally resident in the country without regard to visa status, and the PSB should be forbidden to require children born in China to foreign parents to renounce any claim to Chinese citizenship prior to issuing a current Chinese visa prior to the child’s 18th birthday; 2) Provision of education for Foreign Expert’s accompanying children should be a mandatory term of the standard Foreign Expert Contract; 3) To accomplish this state regulations should require all International Schools to accept and educate the children of foreign experts at fees no greater than 10% of their contracted Foreign Expert yearly salary; 4) Where no International Schools exist in the area, local Chinese schools or those attached to universities should be required to accept and make special provision for the education of the children of Foreign Experts at a cost not to exceed average fees charged to local Chinese children in the same area; 5) Foreign Expert contracts should require employers to provide full medical coverage for all children of foreign expert employees; 6) Discrimination in hiring, firing or non-renewal of Foreign Expert Contracts because of the presence of accompanying children should be illegal and subject to award of lost compensation and reinstatement by the Foreign Expert Bureau; 7) Employers of Foreign Experts should be required by regulation and the terms of the standard Foreign Expert employment contract to provide housing appropriate to the needs of families with children or the cash equivalent; 8) Employers of Foreign Experts should by regulation be required to file an annual Foreign Expert Dependent Children Educational Plan detailing their written agreement with local schools to provide for such children’s education in the coming year as a condition of renewing their authorization to employ Foreign Experts; 9) International treaties should be negotiated between the principal countries requiring each country to provide a voucher or payment to each child of its nationality to cover the costs of public education of each child in the foreign country—guaranteeing for instance that each US national child in China receives public funds from the US at least equivalent to the average expenditure of public funds in public schools per child in the US to insure their education in China, and each Chinese child in the US receives a voucher or payment equivalent to the average expenditure of public funds per child in China. This should insure that no child should be deprived of equal access to basic education regardless of their parents’ temporary country or place of residence, and redress the inequity that expatriate parents from the US must pay their US income taxes as well as Chinese income taxes but are deprived of the use of that tax money they have paid for the education of their children merely because of residence abroad.



With regard to medical care for expatriate Foreign Experts in China my experience is that despite State Foreign Expert Bureau regulations and standard Foreign Expert Employment Contract provisions which mandate that all employers provide such care to the standard of the care enjoyed by comparable Chinese national employees, and despite recent laws extending comparable guarantees to all foreign workers in China, the actual care received, especially in medical emergencies such as required operations, births, and emergency hospitalization are far from adequate.

We all know how hospitals and health care providers are grossly overburdened and inadequately staffed to handle the incredible numbers of both Chinese national patients and the few foreign patients they are responsible for. A visit to a Chinese hospital or doctor will involve a wait in incredible lines and a very limited time with the doctor for communicating, diagnosing and treating the problem. This is a regrettable condition we hope will improve with time for both Chinese and foreign patients, and this is not the time or place to analyze the entire medical care and medical insurance program of the nation as a whole, which is slowly improving. I will make only a few comments and suggestions more specific to the experience of the average Foreign Expert with a serious medical condition.

For ordinary problems in a major city like Beijing foreign experts can generally receive adequate care if they are patient enough to go through the lines and waits and manage the communication and language problem by bring along a Chinese colleague or friend to translate. Many bigger hospitals like Xie He Hospital in the Embassy district have an international department which makes communication easier and lines shorter, though sometimes at a slightly increased but generally moderate cost. If a foreign expert wishes to pay a considerably higher fee out of his own pocket, which may not be reimbursed by the employer or its standard care plan he is free to use Western-oriented hospitals such as the Sino-Japanese Hospital or the Beijing Family United.

When a major medical emergency requiring hospitalization of a Foreign Expert occurs, however, the response of the employer is often far from adequate. The first major problem is that the Chinese hospital will require 100% prepayment before treatment or hospitalization. This means that for something big you have to first pay cash out of your own pocket, get receipts and then take them to the employer and beg for reimbursement, which may or not occur. For a major operation if you do not have 10-50,000 RMB in your pocket you would find great difficulty getting your employer to advance payment or a voucher for the funds. This system is detrimental because it forces people to often delay treatment until the condition worsens and costs more and more money.

Moreover, when major operations or hospitalization occurs for a foreign expert the university or employer is often obstructive and evasive in providing for reimbursement. The usual reason for this is that the employer has no system of funding, budgeting or insurance for its legal liability to the Foreign Expert under the employment contract and Foreign Expert Bureau Regulations. Costs of a hospitalization or major operation will come out of surplus funds already coveted by high administrators for their own perks and pet projects at best, and corrupt diversions of funds at worse. The employer will therefore often deny liability, insist you should have gotten your own insurance, delay, and often descend into dishonest practices in your greatest time of need. They may even take away your pay for the time you are disabled for the medical treatment and recovery. The foreign expert may be strongly urged to return his own country for treatment or deceptive reasons given for discontinuing the contract. In my own experience over twenty years most of the time I was very healthy and minor problems were managed reasonably. When I required an emergency hernia operation while employed as a professor at Peking University, however, I found that the supposedly top university was far from forthcoming and shamefully failed to meet its legal obligation of reimbursing health care to its Foreign Experts. To prevent such shortcomings every employer of Foreign Experts should be required to file an Annual Plan for meeting the unforeseen medical needs of foreign staff including either a third-party insurance or a pre-budgeted purpose-specific reserve fund account set aside for such emergencies. The State Foreign Expert Bureau should have a specific office available for Foreign Experts to appeal to with power to review and order delinquent payment by the employer, failure of which would cause cancellation of the school or employer’s authorization to employ Foreign Experts. Another shameful consequence of a Foreign Expert having a medical emergency is the very likely prospect that the contract will be cancelled or almost certainly the contract will not be renewed, simply because the employee is seen as a potential drain on funds. This is shameful behavior by employers of Foreign Experts. Having enjoyed the benefit and contribution of the worker for years the merest medical expense often results in showing the unfortunate worker the door at the time of greatest family need. The Foreign Expert Bureau should issue explicit regulations making it illegal to terminate or fail to renew a Foreign Expert’s employment because of past medical conditions or legitimate medical costs when the worker is capable of resuming their work. Appropriate temporary disability coverage by the employer should be required. Treatment of Foreign Experts as “disposable” upon encountering insurable medical costs and conditions is a gross breach of trust and waste of the talent contributing to China’s future.

Another area of abuse is the frequent failure of the employer to pay the return-air-ticket fee which is part of every Foreign Expert contract. In many instances if the Foreign Expert does not permanently return to his home country but instead changes to a new employer at the end of the year the Foreign Affairs Office of the school or employer often improperly refuses to pay and simply pockets the air-ticket money, often for official perks or worse. The Foreign Expert Bureau should have a Hotline to report and correct such abuses.


Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom---Let a Hundred Schools Contend

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom—Let a Hundred Schools Contend




“Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools contend!”—President Xi and Premier Li have asked for a gathering of experiences and of recommendations from Foreign Expert community in China for the better development of China, the Foreign Expert System and for a better global world of our future. I shall always treasure the experience and opportunities which I have had to contribute to the rise of China during the past twenty years of my service here. I hope that service and the suggestions made here based on that experience may make some small further contribution to improving our common future together.








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#EtinneDearlove, #Dearlove, #MI6, #CIA, #Ukraine,#Crimea, #JamesBond, #TheNewJamesBond, #WWIII,#TheNewFleming,#‎TheNewJackRyan‬, ‪#‎TheNewClancy‬,‪#‎Clancy‬, ‪#‎JackRyan‬,‪#‎SpyThriller‬,‪#‎JackSartorius‬, ‪#‎SpiritusMundi‬,‪#‎RobertSheppard‬, ‪#‎Snowden‬

Spiritus Mundi Book Cover.80.3

Follow the spellbinding Thriller Scenario of a threatened Russian-Iranian-Chinese Pearl Harbor-like sneak attack on the Middle-East Oil Reserves to permanently take away the dominance of the West with a New Eurasian Axis!———-Follow the exploits of MI6’s newest Superspy Etienne Dearlove—The New James Bond—-as he penetrates the closed world of the Chinese Politburo in Beijing to uncover the Secret Geopolitical Conspiracy to fatally change the world’s Balance of Power!——-How will it all end? —-Find out now in the Thriller Geopolitical WWIII Thriller Spiritus Mundi by Robert Sheppard!

World Literature Forum  is honored to announce that Spiritus Mundi, the acclaimed Cyberthriller Action Novel by Robert Sheppard, the defining work of our Snowden-Orwellian Era,  has been included in the nominations for the presitigious 2014 Pushcart Prize. The thriller action of the novel follows a NSA/CIA/MI6 Counterterrorism team’s cat and mouse cyber-pursuit of nuclear terrorists bent on infiltrating a group of global idealists campaigning for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly for global democcracy, then  unearthing a much bigger Apocalyptic conspiracy to start WWIII between a secretly allied China, Russia and Iran to make a Pearl Harbor-like sneak attack on the Middle-East’s oil reserves, severing the energy jugular of the vulnerable declining West. Cutting edge MI6/NSA Cyber-techno-penetration  of  the top-secret communications network of the  Chinese Politburo through the tech-avvy and sexual wiles  of neo-Bondian 21st Century MI6 Superspy Etienne Dearlove gives the West its last chance to head off Armageddon.  Find out the final fate of the world by reading Spiritus Mundi now!




Spiritus Mundi Book I, The Novel (5.0 Stars on Smashwords)


In celebration of the Pushcart Prize Nomination  for Spiritus Mundi a Pushcart Prize  Giveaway Celebration has been declared as an introductory offer in which Spiritus Mundi, Book I will be made available free on Smashwords and affiliated outlets, including Barnes & Noble and many others. It is hoped that readers will be inspired by Book I to purchase Book II, Spiritus Mundi the Romance, either later or at the same time at the discount price of $3.99 (Remember you have to read Book II to find out how the story of Book I ends!).

The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot”published in the small presses over the previous year. Magazine and small book press editors are invited to nominate up to six works they have featured. Anthologies of the selected works have been published annually since 1976.

The founding editors are Anaïs Nin, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Newman, Daniel Halpern, Gordon Lish, Harry Smith, Hugh Fox, Ishmael Reed, Joyce Carol Oates, Len Fulton, Leonard Randolph, Leslie Fiedler, Nona Balakian, Paul Bowles, Paul Engle, Ralph Ellison, Reynolds Price, Rhoda Schwartz, Richard Morris, Ted Wilentz, Tom Montag, and William Phillips.

Among the writers who previously received early recognition in Pushcart Prize anthologies were: Kathy Acker, Steven Barthelme, Rick Bass, Charles Baxter, Bruce Boston, Raymond Carver, Joshua Clover, Junot Diaz, Andre Dubus, William H. Gass, Seán Mac Falls, William Monahan, Paul Muldoon, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Brien, Lance Olsen,Peter Orner, Kevin Prufer, Kay Ryan, Mona Simpson, Ana Menéndez, and Wells Tower.

Included in the Pushcart 2014 Nominations were several of well-known author Robert Sheppard’s “Poems from Spiritus Mundi” including “Moby Dick” and “Zeno’s Paradox” which were published in and nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Poetry Pacific and available here and on their website:


Author’s E-mail:


“Read Robert Sheppard’s sprawling, supple novel, Spiritus Mundi, an epic story of global intrigue and sexual and spiritual revelation. Compelling characters, wisdom, insight, and beautiful depictions of locations all over the world will power you through the book. You’ll exit wishing the story lines would go on and on.” May 13, 2012

Robert McDowell, Editor, Writer, Marketer, Editorial Cra, The Nature of Words


“Robert Sheppard’s novel, “Spiritus Mundi,” has everything. “Spiritus Mundi” is Latin, meaning “spirit” or “soul of the world.” According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, the phrase refers to “the spirit or soul of the universe” with which all individual souls are connected through the “Great Memory.” This amazing novel is all inclusive and unceasingly riveting. If you are interested in politics, philosophy, human relationships, sex, intrigue, betrayal, poetry and even philosophy — buy and read “Spiritus Mundi”!”November 18, 2012

Raymond P. Keen, School Psychologist, Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS)


“Robert Sheppard’s new novel “Spiritus Mundi” is a new twist on a well-loved genre. Robert leaves no stone unturned in this compelling page turner you’ll experience mystery, suspense, thrills, and excitement. Robert touches on sexuality and spirituality in such a way that the reader is compelled to ask themselves “what would you do if faced with these trials?” Robert is a master at taking the reader out of their own lives and into the world he created. If you’re looking for a “can’t put down” read pick up Spiritus Mundi!” May 20, 2012

Nicole Breanne, Content Coordinator, _____________________________________________________

“Longing for a thrilling experience of the sexual and spiritual world? Expecting a thorough summoning of your inner heart? Aspiring to find an extraordinary voice to enlighten your understanding heart? Then you can’t miss this extraordinary novel, Spiritus Mundi by Robert Sheppard. The author will spirit you into a exciting world filled with fantasy, myth, conflicts and wisdom from a fresh perspective. Don’t hesitate, just turn to the 1st page and start out enjoying this marvellous journey.”November 17, 2012

Alina Mu Liu, Official Interpreter, Editor & Translator, HM Courts & Tribunal Service, London UK & the United Nations

—————————————————————————— “Robert Sheppard’s Spiritus Mundi is a literary novel for those with an extensive vocabulary, and who believe how you tell a story is as important as what occurs in it. It is as current as today’s headlines.

Jaime Martinez-Tolentino, Writer” November 19, 2012


“Robert Sheppard’s exciting new novel, Spiritus Mundi, is an unforgettable read and epic journey of high adventure and self-discovery across the scarred landscape of the modern world and into the mysteries beyond. Its compelling saga reveals the sexual and spiritual lives of struggling global protesters and idealists overcoming despair, nuclear terrorism, espionage and a threatened World War III to bring the world together from the brink of destruction with a revolutionary United Nations Parliamentary Assembly and spiritual rebirth. This modern epic is a must read and compelling vision of the future for all Citizens of the Modern World and a beacon of hope pointing us all towards a better world struggling against all odds to be born.” May 19, 2012

Lara Biyuts, Reviewer and Blogger at and Revue Blanche


“Robert Sheppard’s “Spiritus Mundi” is a book of major importance and depth. A must read for any thinking, compassionate human being living in these perilous times. I highly recommend this powerful testament of the current course of our so-called life on his planet. April 25, 2012

Doug Draime Writer, Freelance


“This new novel ‘Spiritus Mundi’ brings together history, politics, future society, and blends with a plausible World War Three scenario. I have read it and find it over the top fascinating. I am very glad to see Robert share his creativity with the world through this work of fiction, and know it will be a huge hit.” April 28, 2012

Jim Rogers, Owner and Director, AXL


“Robert Sheppard is an exceptional thinker! His work should be read and made the subject of critical study.”May 26, 2012

Georgia Banks-Martin, Editor, New Mirage Journal


“This novel rocks the reader with its supple strength. You want to say “No, No,” and you end up saying, “Maybe.” Political science fiction at its highest, most memorable level.”November 17, 2012

Carl Macki, Owner, Carl Macki Social Media


“Robert Sheppard’s Novel Spiritus Mundi confronts politics and philosophies of the world. He’s examined multiple layers of personality in his characters; male, female, Chinese, Arab, English, and American melding them into a story of possible outcomes. How else can I convey the intelligent presentation of fiction woven with sensitivity to our world’s governments, religious influences and sectarian principles? We must not forget the influence of a largely secular world. Robert tirelessly checked, rechecked and triple checked his resources in order to bring a fiction of occurrence, and psychological impact as set forth in his novel Spiritus Mundi.”November 18, 2012

Glenda Fralin, Author, Organization NWG


“Robert was one of my best guests. His novel is as wide ranging as are his interests and expertise. He can explain his various ideas with great clarity and he does this with compassion. Novel is worthwhile reading.”November 18, 2012

Dr. Robert Rose, Radio Show Host,


Related Links and Websites:  Spiritus Mundi, Novel by Robert Sheppard

For Introduction and Overview of the Novel:

For Updates on the Upcoming Movie Version of the Novel, Spiritus Mundi & Casting of Actors and Actresses for Leading Roles See:

To Read Abut the Occupy Wall Street Movement in Spiritus Mundi:

For Author’s Blog:

To Read a Sample Chapter from Spiritus Mundi:

To Read Fantasy, Myth and Magical Realism Excerpts from Spiritus Mundi:

To Read Sexual Excerpts from Spiritus Mundi: The Varieties of Sexul Experience:

To Read Spy, Espionage and Counter-terrorism Thriller Excerpts from Spiritus Mundi:

To Read Geopolitical and World War Three Excerpts from Spiritus Mundi:

To Read Spiritual and Religious Excerpts from Spiritus Mundi:

To Read about the Global Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly in Spiritus Mundi

To Read Poetry from Spiritus Mundi

For Discussions on World Literature and Literary Criticism in Spiritus Mundi:

For Discussions of World History and World Civilization in Spiritus Mundi:

To Read the Blog of Eva Strong from Spiritus  Mundi:

To Read the Blog of Andreas Sarkozy from Spiritus Mundi:

To Read the Blog of Yoriko Oe from Spiritus Mundi:

To Read the Blog of Robert Sartorius from Spiritus Mundi:

I write to introduce to your attention  my double novel Spiritus Mundi, consisting of Spiritus Mundi, the Novel—Book I, and Spiritus Mundi, the Romance—Book II. Book I’s espionage-terror-political-religious thriller-action criss-crosses the globe from Beijing to New York London to Washington, Mexico City and Jerusalem presenting a vast panorama of the contemporary international world, including compelling action from the Occupy Wall Street Movement to espionage and a threatened World War Three, deep and realistic characters and surreal adventures, while Book II dialates the setting and scope into a fantasy (though still rooted in the real) adventure where the protagonists embark on a quest to the realms of Middle Earth and its Crystal Bead Game and through a wormhole to the Council of the Immortals in the Amphitheater in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy in search of the crucial Silmaril Crystal, and to plead for the continuance of the human race in the face of threatened extinction from a nuclear World War III, all followed by a triple-somersault thriller ending in which a common garden-variety terrorist attack is first uncovered by MI6 and the CIA  as the opening gambit a Greatpower Game of States threatening World War III and then, incredibly, as the nexus of a Time Travel conspiracy involving an attempt by fascist forces of the 23rd Century to alter a benign World History by a time-travelling raid on their past and our present to provoke that World War III, foiled by the heroic efforts of the democratic 23rd Century world government, the Senate of the United States of Earth, to hunt down the fascist interlopers before their history is irrevocably altered for evil.

When activist Robert Sartorius, leading a global campaign  to create a European Parliament-style world-wide United Nations Parliamentary Assembly presses  the proposal in New York on his old friend the UN Secretary-General and is rebuffed due to the hostile pressure of the conservative American administration, his Committee  resolves to fight back by launching a celebrity-driven Bono-Geldof-Band Aid/Live 8-style “People Power” media campaign and telethon, allied to the Occupy Wall Street movement and spearheaded by  rock superstars Isis and Osiris and former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to mobilize global public support and pressure.  The Blogs of Sartorius, activist Eva Strong and Committee Chairman Andreas Sarkozy reveal the campaign’s working struggle, their tangled love affairs, a loss of faith, attempted suicide, reconciliation of father and son after divorce,  and recovery of personal love and faith.

Things fall apart as the idealists’ global crusade is infiltrated by a cell of jihadist terrorists using it as a cover, then counter-infiltrated by CIA agent Jack McKinsey and British MI6 agent Etienne Dearlove. A cat-and-mouse game of espionage and intrigue ensues pitting them against the Chinese MSS espionage network allied with the Iranian Quds Force crossing  Beijing, London, Moscow, Washington and Jerusalem unleashing an uncontrollable series of events which sees the American Olympic Track and Field Team bombed on an airplane in London, uncovers a secret conspiracy of China, Russia and Iran to jointly seize the oil reserves of the Middle-East, and witnesses  Presidents Clinton and Carter taken hostage with Sartorius, McKinsey, Eva and other activists at a Jerusalem telethon rally cut short by the explosion of a concealed atomic device in a loaned Chinese Terracotta Warrior, then flown by capturing terrorists to Qom, Iran as “human shields” to deter a retaliatory nuclear attack.

In Book II, Spiritus Mundi, the Romance they encounter Iran’s Supreme Leader in Qom as the world teeters on the brink of nuclear confrontation and World War III, while mysterious events unfold leading Sartorius and McKinsey from their captivity in the underground nuclear facilities of Qom into a hidden neo-mythic dimension that takes them to a vast ocean and land at the center of the world, Middle Earth, Inner Shambhala, and to involvement in a mysterious Castalian “Crystal Bead Game” linked to the destiny of the human race on earth. They then embark on a quest for the Silmaril, or Missing Seed Crystal to the central island of Omphalos in the Great Central Sea in the middle of the globe, aided by Goethe, the Chinese Monkey King, Captain Nemo, the African God-Hero Ogun, and a Sufi mystic they traverse a ‘wormhole’ at the center of the earth guarded by ‘The Mothers’ and the fallen angel tribe of the Grigori (Genesis 6:1-4) which leads the way to critical meeting of the “Council of the Immortals” at the Black Hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy to determine the final fate of the human species. The heroes battle and overcome the treacherous opposition of Mephisto and his satanic subaltern Mundus through their Underworld and Otherworld adventures and successfully plead the cause of the continuation of the human species before the Immortals, returning with the critical Silmaril Crystal. resolving the Crystal Bead Game and thereby inspiring through the Archangel Gabriel a dream in the mind of Iran’s Supreme Leader which brings a new Revelation causing him to release the hostages and an end the crisis. China and Russia stand down from aiding Iran in seizing the Mid-East oil reserves, but in a treacherous blow the Chinese instead utilize their forward-positioned armies to attack their former ally Russia and seize Siberia with its large oil and gas reserves instead. President Barret Osama, America’s newly-elected first black President then invites Russia, Japan and  South Korea to join NATO and together they succeed in expelling the Chinese from Siberia and usher in a new Eurasian and global balance of power and a New World Order.

Rock Superstar Osiris meanwhile, after undertaking a narcissistic Messianic mission in the wake of the Jerusalem atomic blast is dramatically assassinated on live world-wide television on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa by a disillusioned follower. His wife and rock-star partner Isis then leads a spiritual movement to reconcile and unite the clashing religions and catalyze a common global spiritual Renaissance through a Global Progressive Spiritual Alliance which seeks to construct an Inter-faith Temple on the ruins of the atomic blast in Jerusalem. In counter-reaction to the cataclysmic events the world finally implements Sartorius’ crusade for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, but not before Sartorius has himself has died, Moses-like of a heart attack while helping to foil a metaconspiracy mediated by Time Travel in which a fascist agent from the 23rd Century who has time-transited back to our time to alter a benign history by causing WWIII and thus preventing the evolution of a democratic world government, the United States of Earth, which follows him through time and nabs him just in the “nick of time” to prevent Aramgeddon.  The book ends with the opening ceremony of the UN Parliamentary Assembly which is attended in Sartorius’ name by his widow Eva Strong, whom Sartorius had fallen in love with and married in the course of the novel, and by their son Euphy, newborn after Sartorius’ death. They are joined in cinematic climax at the ceremony by newly chosen UN Secretary-General Clinton, President Osama and UN Parliamentary Assembly Committee Chairman Andreas Sarkozy who have just received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in creation of the world’s first world parliamentary assembly within the United Nations, bringing together the representative voices of the peoples of the world in face-to-face assembly and dialogue for the first time in world history.


All the Highlights of the novel cannot be contained in such a short Introduction, but a few of them would include:

1.  Spiritus Mundi is the first novel in world history to portray the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assemblyon the working model, inter alia, of the European Parliament;

2.   Spiritus Mundi is a prophetic geo-political WWIII novel of the near future forseeing a conflict and conspiratorial surprise attack by a resurgent “Axis” of China, Russia and Iran seeking by a decisive blow in jointly seizing the Middle-East oil fields to radically alter the global balance of power vis-a-vis the West in the world and Eurasia. Like Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon, it forsees the inclusion of Russia in NATO, and goes far beyond in forseeing the inclusion of South Korea and Japan, following a joint Chinese-Russian occupation of a collapsing North Korea and the Axis strike at the Middle-Eastern oil fields;

3. Spiritus Mundi is an exciting espionage thriller involving the American CIA. British MI6, the Chinese MSS, or Ministry of State Security and the Russian SVR contending in a deul of intrigue and espionage;

4. Spiritus Mundi is a Spellbinding Terrorism/Counterterrorism novel involving a global plot to conceal an atomic bomb in a Chinese Teracotta Warrior to be detonated in Jerusalem;

5. Features the romantic and sexual searching and encounters of dozens of idealist activists, rock-stars, CIA and MI6 agents, public-relations spinmeisters and billionaires with a detour into the bi-sexual and gay scenes of Beijing, New York, California, London and Tokyo:

6.   Establishes and grounds the new genre of the Global Novel written in Global English, the international language of the world,

7. Spiritus Mundi is a novel of Spiritual Searching featuring the religious searching of Sufi mystic Mohammad ala Rushdie, as well as the loss of faith, depression, attempted suicide and recovery of faith in life of protagonist Sartorius. Follows bogus religious cult leaders and the Messiah-Complex megalomanic-narcissistic mission of rock superstar Osiris that leads to his dramatic assassination on worldwide television in Jerusalem, followed by the religious conversion of his wife and rock-star parner Isis;

8.   Features the search for love and sexual fulfillment of Eva Strong, a deeply and realistically portrayed divorced single mother involved in the United Nations campaign, who reveals her tortured heart and soul in her Blog throughout several disastrous sexual affairs and ultimately through her final attainment of love and marriage to Sartorius;

9.   Features Sartorius’ experience of a bitter divorce, alienation and reconciliation with his son, his loss of faith and attempted suicide, his battle against drugs and alcoholism, his surreal and sexual adventures in Mexico City, and his subsequent redeeming love and marriage to Eva Strong;

10.   Contains the in–depth literary conversations of Sartorius and his best friend, Literature Nobel Laureate Günther Gross, as they conduct  worldwide interviews and research for at book they are jointly writing on the emergence of the new institution of World Literature, building on Goethe’s original concept of “Weltliteratur” and its foundations and contributions from all the world’s traditions and cultures;

11.   Predicts the emergence of the institution and quest of “The Great Global Novel” as a successor to the prior quest after “The Great American Novel” in the newer age of the globalization of literature in Global English and generally;

12.   Features the cross-cultural experiences and search for roots, sexual and spiritual fulfillment and authenticity of Asian-American character Jennie Zheng, and  Pari Kasiwar of India;

13.         For the first time incorporates in the dramatic narrative flow of action the mythic traditions of all the cultures and literatures of the world, including such figures as Goethe, The Chinese Monkey King, the African God-Hero Ogun, surreal adventures in the ‘Theatro Magico’ in Mexico City bringing to life figures from the Mayan-Aztec Popul Vuh, Hanuman from the Indian classic the Ramayana, and many more;

14. Book Two, Spiritus Mundi, the Romance is a fantastic Fantasy, Myth and Magical Realism Rollercoaster Ride:   The more mythic Book Two utilizes a Wellsian motif of Time Travel to explore the making of history and its attempted unmaking (a la Terminator) by a hositile raid from the future on the past, our present, and the foiling of the fascist attempt by an alliance of men and women of goodwill and courage from past, present and future generations united in a Commonwealth of Human Destiny; Like Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day and Welles’ Journey to the Center of the Earth it involves a journey to an interior realm of the “Middle Earth;” it also contains a futuristic travel through a wormhole to the center of our Milky Way Galaxy for a meeting with the “Council of the Immortals” where the fate of the human race will be decided;

15.  Is a fantastic read on a roller-coaster ride of high adventure and self-exploration!

C   Copyright 2011 Robert Sheppard   All Rights Reserved


Spiritus Mundi Book Cover.80.3


We are pleased to announce the launch of SPIRITUS MUNDI on AMAZON , including both Spiritus Mundi, Book I: The Novel (5.0-Star Amazon Rating Average), and Spiritus Mundi, Book II:The Romance (5.0-Star Amazon Rating Average). You can browse and sample both onlline for free now, then purchase immediaetly by clicking on the following Amazon sites:

Spiritus Mundi, Book I: The Novel:

Spiritus Mundi, Book II: The Romance


Book I (5.0-Stars on Goodreads)

Book II (5.0-Stars on Goodreads)

CHECK OUT A FULL SUMMARY OF SPIRITUS MUNDI ON SHELFARI before purchasing at:—Book-I-The-Novel—Book-II-The-Romance

Spiritus Mundi is also available on SMASHWORDS in ALL FORMATS:

Book I (5.0 Stars on Smashwords) Book II (5.0 Stars on Smashwords)

Spiritus Mundi is also now available at the following sites:

Spiritus Mundi: Book I: The Novel

Spiritus Mundi – Book II: The Romance

CELEBRATING SPIRITUS MUNDI’S AMAZON RELEASE DAY WITH MAY 17 BLOGTALKRADIO AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH DR. ROBERT ROSE 10:00 AM PST __________________________________________________________________________

We also invite you to listen in to the  BlogTalkRadio Interview with Dr. Robert Rose interviewing Robert Sheppard on the topic of “World Consciousness and the Emergencer of World Literature” pre-recorded May 17, 10:00 AM, PST:

How to Tune In: ============ You can tune in by clicking on the following BlogTalkRadio link:

or you can listen in anytime to the recorded Podcasts of the May 17 Interview, or past Interviews:–spiritus-mundi-a-novel

Spiritus Mundi, Novel by Robert Sheppard: Table of Contents

Spiritus Mundi


Book One Spiritus Mundi: The Novel Chapters 1-33

  1. Departure (Beijing)
  2. A Failing Quest (New York)
  3. War Council & Counteroffensive (Geneva)
  4. New Beginnings (London)
  5. Republic of Letters (Berlin)
  6. Fathers and Sons (Washington,D.C.)
  7. Ulysses: Blogo Ergo Sum (Beijing)
  8. Frequently Asked Questions (London)
  9. In the Middle Kingdom (Beijing)

10. Past and Present (London-South Africa)

11. Telemachus (Washington, D.C.)

12. The Everlasting Nay (Beijing)

13. My Brother’s Keeper (London)

14. In the Global Village (Beijing-Tokyo)

15. Deceits and Revelations (London)

16. Be Ready for Anything (Beijing)

17. The Obscure Object of Desire (London-Pyongyang)

18. Sufferings (Beijing)

19. Of the Yearnings of the Caged Spirit (London)

20. Cyclops (Washington, D.C.)

21. The Engines of Illusion (Beijing)

22. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (London)

23. The Temptation of the Sirens (Beijing)

24. Truth or Consequences (London)

25. Lazarus Laughed (Beijing)

26. Neptune’s Fury & The Perils of the Sea (The Maldive Islands)

Naval Diaries and Ship’s Logs of Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius (1780-1875)

27. Penelope (London)

28. The Volcano’s Underworld (Mexico City)

Teatro Magico

29. The Everlasting Yea (London)

30. Paradise Regained (Little Gidding)

31. To the South of Eden (Kenya-to Midrand-Johannesburg South Africa)

32. In a Glass Darkly (London)

33. Spiritus Mundi

Book Two Spiritus Mundi: The Romance Chapters 1-21

  1. Gerusalemme Liberata & Orlando Furioso (Jerusalem)
  2. In a Glass Darkly (London)
  3. Great Expectations (Jerusalem)
  4. The Parable of the Cave (Qom, Iran)
  5. The Xth Day of the Crisis (London)
  6. The Supreme Leader & The Three Messiahs (Qom)
  7. Going for the Jugular (London)
  8. The Night Journey, Goethe & The Monkey King (Qom)
  9. The Central Sea, The Crystal Bead Game & The Quest

10. The Island of Omphalos & The Mothers

11. The Council of the Immortals & The Trial By Ordeal

12. Nemesis

13. Armageddon (London)

14. The Fever Breaks

15. High Noon & Showdown at the OK Corral (Washington, D.C.)

16. Ecce Homo (Jerusalem)

17. Deliverance (London/Lhasa)

18. For Every Action…. (Moscow/Beijing)

19. The Burial of the Dead (London/Little Gidding)

20. Spiritus Mundi (London/Jerusalem)

21. In My End is My Beginning

—-The Convening of the First Meeting of the

United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (New York)

Appendix 1: A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly: Frequently Asked Questions

Appendix 2: Spiritus Mundi: Index of Principal Characters

C  Copyright Robert Sheppard 2011 All Rights Reserved

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The Travels of Ibn BattutahThe Travels of Ibn Battutah by ابن بطوطة My rating: 5 of 5 stars


For most of us coming from a Western background when we think of the great travelers and travel accounts of world history the name that first comes to mind is of course that of Marco Polo, the 13th Century Venetian whose Odyssey took him to the China court of the Mongol Emperor of Yuan Dynasty Kublai Kahn in 1275, and from whence he returned by sea via India and Persia to his native land years after his departure to dictate in a Genoese prisoner-of-war compound his immortal “Travels of Marco Polo.” We may thus approach the travels and writings his contemporary Moroccan Muslim world traveller Ibn Battuta (or Battutah) by thinking of him initially as “The Muslim Marco Polo,” though giving to each equal dignity, and given that Ibn Battuta’s journeys from 1325 to 1354 totalled over 73,000 miles, nearly three times the distance covered by Marco Polo, including not only their common visits to China, India and Persia, but ranging much farther, transiting the whole of North Africa from Morocco to Cairo, down the Swahili Coast of East Africa to Kenya and across the Sahara southwards from Morocco to the Niger River Kingdom of Mali in the deep interior of West Africa, we would be equally justified in considering Marco Polo, “The Western Ibn Battuta.”

Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta

That Marco Polo became the much more famous of the pair was owing less to the prowess of his travels than the fact that his book was far more widely circulated and read, especially after the Gutenberg Revolution of the printing press made his works extensively available across Europe, having a profound effect on public consciousness, whereas Ibn Battuta’s work languished relatively obscure and unknown, even in the Muslim world, until re-discovered and brought to light by Western scholars of the 19th Century.

Ibn Battuta's Travels

The travels of Ibn Battuta are truly awe-inspiring in their scope and range, especially considering the limits of transportation technology of his and Marco Polo’s age. He set out alone at the age of 21 on a Hajj to Mecca from his native Tangier in Morocco in 1325, one year after Marco Polo’s death in the Venetian Republic, leaving behind his tearful mother and father whom he would never see alive again. The challenge was perhaps even greater for Battuta compared to Polo, since although the young Marco departed at the younger age of 17, it is often forgotten that Polo was accompanied through his entire journey by his father and uncle who had both been to the Mongol capital on a previous journey and already knew the route well, whereas Batutta struck out alone and had no experienced guide. Luckily, the travel infrastructure of the Hajj throughout the Muslim world to and from Mecca would make his journey possible, though still extremely difficult.

The first leg of Battuta’s transcontinental travels began with a long camel caravan across North Africa from Morocco to Cairo in Egypt that would last 16 months. His departure from the home he would not see again for another 24 years was solemn:

“I set out alone, finding no companion to cheer the way with friendly intercourse, and no party of travellers with whom to associate myself. Swayed by an overmastering impulse within me, and a long-cherished desire to visit those glorious sanctuaries, I resolved to quit all my friends and tear myself away from my home. As my parents were still alive, it weighed grievously upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted with sorrow.”

Ibn Battuta in Egypt

Ibn Battuta in Egypt

After arriving in Cairo, the capital of the Mamluk Sultanate, Battuta attained his goal of visiting Mecca by the roundabout path to Damascus and down through the holy sites of Jerusalem and Medina. Not quitted of his Wanderlust even then, after a soujourn in Mecca he joined a caravan of homeward bound pilgrims and ventured northward into Iraq and Persia, where he met the last surviving Mongol ruler of the conquest of the Mongol Khans, Abu Sa’id in Baghdad before returning again to Mecca.

Ibn Battuta in Tabriz, Mongolian Persia

Ibn Battuta in Tabriz, Mongolian Persia

Battuta then stayed in Mecca for three years, continuing the law studies he had begun in Tangier and advancing in the profession. This was an important skill that enabled him to pay for and prosper on his travels in the Muslim world, where he continuously was employed as a judge or legal scholar or administrator of the Sharia law, a skill much in demand in the outlying regions of Islam.

The next great leg of his travels was a sweep down the Red Sea into East Africa where he visited such Arab trading centers as Mogadishu in Somalia, Mombassa in modern Kenya, Zanzibar and Kilwa, a region known as the Swahili or Arab Slave Coast. There as throughout the Muslim world he encountered the trade and practice of slavery, which had endured for centuries since before even the Roman Empire. Indeed it is estimated by some scholars, surprisingly to many, that the total Arab Slave Trade From East and West Africa into the Muslim world from the time of Mohammad until slavery’s abolition by the Western Powers in the 19th Century (650-1900) totalled 12-18 million Africans exceeding the total numbers of slaves transported to the Americas, the 12-13 million via the “Middle Passage” (1500-1900) by several millions, albeit over a much longer time frame. To this is added the several million white European slaves captured and sent to the Muslim world, especially the Slavs, some of whome became mainstays in the Ottoman Janissary corps, and ironically, after a revolt of these European Mamluk slave-soldiers in Egypt, they became the rulers of the Mamluk Sultanate,(Slave Kings)the only force to have defeated the Mongol armies in their conquest from China to Palestine. Famous slave uprisings in the Muslim world occured intermittently, such as the  Zanj Rebellion in Basra, Iraq in 869 which involved the temporarily successful rising of 500,000 slaves, mostly African, rivaling the Spartacus Rebellion of Rome in scope, and successful for fifteen years until brutally crushed by the Caliphate. Ibn Battuta himself bought and sold slaves on his travels, and fathered several children by his slaves, including one Greek woman slave. As a Sharia law judge he held that though fornication and adultery were forbidden, sex and engendering children with owned slave women was lawful. When he was a magistrate to the Musllm Sultan of Dehli and later appointed as the Sultan’s Ambassador to the Chinese Emperor in India a gift of 100 Chinese slaves to the Sultan’s royal court was reciprocated with a countergift of 200 Indian slaves sent by the Sultan in return to the Chinese court.

Returning from the Swahili Slave Coast he then spent another year in Mecca in his legal work before undertaking a journey to take up employment as a Sharia judge and magistrate in India in the Sultanate of Dehli, headed by Sultan Muhammud bin Tugluq. His route carried him into the realm of the Mongol Golden Horde, where he met its leader Uzbeg Khan. There he was engaged to accompany one of the Khan’s wives, a Byzantine princess given to the Kahn in a diplomatic marriage who was pregnant and wished to return to her family in Constantinople to give birth. While in Constantinople, which would become the modern city of Istanbul after the Ottoman conquest a century later, he met the Christian Emperor of Byzantium Andronikos III Palaiologos and visited the famous Greek Orthodox cathederal, the Hagia Sophia, which would later be converted into a mosque after the conquest, and whose domed design was the Western model for much of Arabic architecture.

Thereafter, returning from Constantinople he passed through the realm of the Mongol Golden Horde and beyond until descending through Afghanistan and Sind he reached India and Dehli. A second reason for Battuta’s success in travel was the well developed infrastructure of the Mongolian Empire, suradded to the travel routes within the Muslim world developed for purposes of the Hajj. Indeed,, we can say that without the Mongol Empire’s accomplishment of uniting and pacifying Eurasia neither Marco Polo nor Ibn Battuta would have been able to complete their transcontinental journeys and leave behind their accounts to the world. Travel in the Mongol empire was relatively safe and provided an unending chain of hostelries for caravans and travellers from Europe to China. We can say that the Mongol interlude of Globalization is a forgotten but highly significant aspect of the unification of the world and an underrated era of World History, second only to the impact of Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

By connecting by their conquest East and West, the Mongols catalyzed the transfer of many of the seeds of the Rise of the West, ironically sometimes derived from the East, such as the transfer of the technologies of gunpowder, printing and advanced papermaking and the compass, none of which the Mongols were the originators of, but of which they enabled the diffusion. Even Marco Polo’s very fame through the printed book, which became common in Europe about a century after his death with the Gutenberg Revolution in the 1450′s, would have been impossible without the seed technologies of proto-printing and papermaking from China and the East. Columbus’s later voyage, inspired by Marco Polo’s book, would also have been impossible without the transfer of the Chinese compass for navigation via the Arab or Mongol world.

But as the return of Ibn Battuta later in his story proves, the logistical linking of East and West by the Mongol Empire was not at all completely benign, and had evil aspects rivaling the impact of Columbus’ linking of the New and Old Worlds. For in the very year Battuta arrived in Damascus on his return from China, 1348, the Black Plague, or Bubonic Plaugue, also known as the Black Death broke out in Europe and the Middle-East. Modern scientists have retraced the roots of the Black Plague from its origins in Yunnan, China across Eurasia, through the Crimea to the Mediterranian and throughout Europe. One result of the Mongolian Globalization was the death of perhaps 200 million people across the world from the Black Plague, which took the lives of from one-third to one-half of the populations of many countries in Europe. It is often forgotten that the Black Plague also killed a similar proportion of urbanites in Egypt, Syria, Pelestine and Arabia and many parts of the Muslim world and was never a strictly European phenomenon. Indeed the country of origin of the Black Plague, China, also suffered massive depopulation and mass deaths of urban populations in the same era. Thus it is very likely Battuta himself or his traveling companions and their animals in caravans or on ships laden with rats may have brought some of the fleas which transferred the disease.  While never affected by the disease personally, he was indirectly affected, as before resolving to return to his home in Tangiers he first considered seeking the patronage of his old friend Abu Sa’id, the last Mongol ruler of the Ilkhanate over Persia and Iraq. But when he got to Basra he discovered that Abu Sa’id had died, probably of plague, and in the wake of his death a fierce civil war broke out between the remaining Mongols and the Persians. In light of his lost prospects and the impact of the plague elsewhere, he decided to return to Morocco.

From both the Mongol conquest, as well as the conquest of the Americas proceeded good and ill. Thus Globalization in history has proven far from wholly benign, with the Mongol Empire Globalization effacing 200 million through the Black Death across Eurasia and the Columbian Transatlantic Globalization resulting in the death of 80% of the populations of Aztec Mexico, Incan Peru and the New World, driven by the lack of any immunity of the indigenous population to smallpox, plague, malaria and other Eurasian diseases. You are recommended to read Jared Diamond’s excellent work on this topic, “Guns, Germs and Steel” to realize the depth of the impact of contagious disease and globalization on World History. The same plague that affected Ibn Battuta also gave us Boccaccio’s Decameron, however, without which we may not have had Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so the hand of nature or God giveth even while it taketh away.

Dehli Ruler's Tomb Whom Ibn Battuta Served As Qadi

Dehli Ruler’s Tomb Whom Ibn Battuta Served As Qadi

Arriving in India he gained the favor of the Sultan of Delhi, Muhammud bin Tugluq, and gained employment as a qadi, or Sharia law judge and magistrate, based on his excellent scholarship derived from his years in Mecca. The Sultan of Dehli was the reputed wealthiest man in all Islam and gave patronage to Muslim sscholars, teachers, artists, architects and sufis. He sought Ibn Battuta’s aid in extending Islam and Sharia law amoung his Indian subjects, but found little success amoung the Hindu subject population, with its influence extending little beyond the royal court and its attached communities.

The roots of Ibn Battuta’s travel to China came through his service at the court of the Sultan of Dehli in India. The Sultan was erratic, sometimes rewarding Battuta and sometimes suspecting him of conspiracy or treason. Battuta wished to leave and requested permission to return to Mecca but was refused. The Sultan, however, did consent to send him as his Ambassador to the court in China, the genesis of Battuta’s trip further eastward. The embassy to China was ill fated, however, as the travellers were attacked by bandits and pirates and ships were sunk in storms. Battuta was stranded in southern India for a time, then detoured to the Maldive Islands. His skills as an Islamic Sharia judge were in demand on the Islands as the Muslim rulers were hard put to convert the Buddhist nation to Islam. Battuta stayed for nine months, taking a member of the Muslim royal family as a new wife. There his semi-Puritanical streak began to show as he loudly objected to the native women going about in public virtually naked, or naked from the waist up, and vented his anger at the women’s refusal to abandon “the garb of Eve” for traditional Muslim dress.

Maldive Islands

Maldive Islands

Finally he left the islands and was able to continue his mission to China, sailing to Sumatra, Singapore and finally arriving in the great Chinese port of Quanzhou. Later he made his way to Hangzhou, which he observed to be the most magnificent city he had ever seen, seconding the opinion of Marco Polo when he had been there a generation before. He made his way to Beijing and the Mongol Yuan court, then back to Quanzhou in Fujian province where he was able to book passage on Muslim trading ships headed back to India and the Middle-East. He decided it dangerous to return to Dehli for political reasons, and as mentioned above considered going to Abu Sa’id in Persia and Iraq, but with his death and the Black Plague hitting the Muslim world and soon Europe, he decided home was best and headed back to Morocco. He succeeded in returning home, but not happily, as on arrival he learned his father had died fifteen years ago and his mother heartbreakingly only a few months before his return.

The Great Wall of China Desciribed by Ibn Battuta in his Travels

The Great Wall of China Desciribed by Ibn Battuta in his Travels

Partly because of this he soon set out on the last leg of his travels, this time south from Morocco across the Sahara and deep into the interior of Africa, reaching the Niger River and the Mali Kingdom. This would be the same region later visited by the famous British traveller Mungo Park, who also wrote a memorable travel account of his adventures.

Madrassa in Timbuktu visited by Ibn Battuta

Madrassa in Timbuktu visited by Ibn Battuta

On his return from Mali and the Niger, Ibn Battuta was celebrated and the ruler of Morocco insisted that he must write an account of his travels for posterity. The circumstances of his composition of the “Rihla,” his record of his travels thus proved to be remarkably similar to that of Marco Polo, albeit luckily without the imprisonment. A scholar was assigned to Battuta, Ibn Juzayy, and Battuta embarked on dictating orally to him, which the scribe wrote down and edited. Marco Polo composed his Travels by dictating to a fellow prisoner, the romance writer Rusticello de Pisa, who wrote down and edited the manuscript. Perhaps surprisingly, but not really, neither Marco Polo nor Ibn Battuta had kept any notes, diary or travel records, or had lost anything they had. Both had to dictate from memory alone. The scholar helped Battuta to remember this incredible thirty year adventure, sometimes by refreshing his memory from other writings. This led to claims by some in both the cases of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta that their accounts were not authentic or derived from hearsay and never occured. However recent scholars in both instances have verified their essential authenticity from numerous details impossible to know if they had not personally been on the scenes described. Omissions, such as Polo’s non-relating of Chinese details such as the Great Wall, chopsticks or foot binding have been explained as either lapses of memory, selective or negligent recording of their dictation or the circumstance that they lived with Mongol rulers and not common Chinese. Discrepencies in Battuta’s narrative are likewise explicable as additions of the scholar from other sources or lapses of memories thirty years old on dictation.


Marco Polo

Marco Polo

Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) was an Italian merchant traveller whose travels are recorded in Livres des merveilles du monde, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned the mercantile trade from his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, who travelled through Asia, and apparently met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa; Marco was imprisoned, and dictated his stories to a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married and had three children. He died in 1324, and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo.

Route of the Travels of Marco Polo

Route of the Travels of Marco Polo

Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China, but he was the first to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience. This book inspired Christopher Columbus and many other travellers. There is a substantial literature based on his writings. Polo influenced European cartography, leading to the introduction of the Fra Mauro map:


Map inspired by Marco Polo's Travels

Map inspired by Marco Polo’s Travels



Narrative of the Travels of Marco Polo


Early Ediion of Il Milione, The Travels of Marco Polo

Early Ediion of Il Milione, The Travels of Marco Polo


The book opens with a preface describing his father and uncle traveling to Bolghar where Prince Berke Khan lived. A year later, they went to Ukek and continued to Bukhara. There, an envoy from Levant invited them to meet Kublai Khan, who had never met Europeans.In 1266, they reached the seat of the Kublai Khan at Dadu, present day Beijing, China. Khan received the brothers with hospitality and asked them many questions regarding the European legal and political system. He also inquired about the Pope and Church in Rome.After the brothers answered the questions he tasked them with delivering a letter to the Pope, requesting 100 Christians acquainted with the Seven Arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy). Kublai Khan requested that an envoy bring him back oil of the lamp in Jerusalem. The long lapse between the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268 and the election of his successor delayed the Polos in fulfilling Khan’s request. They followed the suggestion of Theobald Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt, and returned to Venice in 1269 or 1270 to await the nomination of the new Pope, which allowed Marco to see his father for the first time, at the age of fifteen or sixteen.

Polo wearing a Tartar outfit, age of print unknown.

In 1271, Niccolò, Maffeo and Marco Polo embarked on their voyage to fulfill Khan’s request. They sailed to Acre, and then rode on camels to the Persian port of Hormuz. They wanted to sail to China, but the ships there were not seaworthy, so they continued overland until reaching Khan’s summer palace in Shangdu, near present-day Zhangjiakou. Three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, Khan welcomed the Polos into his palace. The exact date of their arrival is unknown, but scholars estimate it to be between 1271 and 1275. On reaching the Yuan court, the Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to their patron.

Marco knew four languages, and the family had accumulated a great deal of knowledge and experience that was useful to Khan. Thus he became a government official; he wrote about many imperial visits to China’s southern and eastern provinces, the far south and Burma.

Kublai Khan declined the Polos’ requests to leave China. They became worried about returning home safely, believing that if Khan died, his enemies might turn against them because of their close involvement with the ruler. In 1292, Khan’s great-nephew, then ruler of Persia sent representatives to China in search of a potential wife, and they asked the Polos to accompany them, so they were permitted to return to Persia with the wedding party – which left that same year from Zaitun in southern China on a fleet of 14 junks. The party sailed to the port of Singapore, travelled north to Sumatra, sailed west to the Trincomale port of Jaffna under Savakanmaindan and to Pandyan of Tamilakkam. Describing the Pandyan kingdom  as the richest empire in existence, Polo arrived during the reign of Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I son of Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I and one of five brother kings on the continent. Eventually Polo crossed the Arabian Sea to Hormuz. The two-year voyage was a perilous one – of the six hundred people (not including the crew) in the convoy only eighteen had survived (including all three Polos).[The Polos left the wedding party after reaching Hormuz and travelled overland to the port of Trebizond on the Black Sea, the present day Trabzon.

Thus the Travels of both Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta have rightfully taken their place in the canon of great travel writing in World Literature, alongside other greats such as the Travels of Captain Cook, Mungo Park in East Africa, Sir Richard Burton in Africa and the Muslim world, the travels of Xuan Zang from Tang China to India to seek out Buddhist scripture immortalized in the “Journey to the West” of Wu Chengen, the Travels of the “Ottoman Marco Polo” Evliya Celebi, the travels of the Japanese monk Matsuo Basho,the Voyages of the French explorer Bougainville, Stanley and Livingston and many others. In addition travels of the imagination, such as Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” based on Polo’s work or Pynchon’s zepplin travels of “Against the Day” enrich our World Literature.

Spiritus Mundi Book Cover.80

My own recent novel, Spiritus Mundi, draws on many aspects of the Classics of World Travel Literature. Book I of Spiritus Mundi includes Ibn Battuta as a fictional character in the account of Sartorius’ ancestor Admiral Sir George Rose Sartorius’ shipwreck on the Maldive Islands and his encounter with the “Sultan of the Sea of Stories,” related to Ibn Battuta’s sojourn on the Islands, and includes a mythic account of Battuta’s role in converting the islanders from Hinduism to Islam, as well as Admiral Sartorius’ encounter with “Sir She” the sorceress Lilith on the same voyage. The protagonist of Spiritus Mundi, Robert Sartorius completes a circumnavigation of the world traveling to China, the Maldives, London and New York, symbolically also completing the Odyssey of his family from its origin in Little Gidding, England and back.

I highly recommend and invite everyone to read and enjoy the Travels of Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo, and the novel Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard, all of which contribute to our vision of our globalized world and to this genre of World Literature.

For a fuller discussion of the concept of World Literature you are invited to look into the extended discussion in the new book Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard, one of the principal themes of which is the emergence and evolution of World Literature:

For Discussions on World Literature and Literary Criticism in Spiritus Mundi: http://worldliteratureandliterarycrit

Robert Sheppard

Editor-in-Chief World Literature Forum Author, Spiritus Mundi Novel Author’s Blog: https://robertalexandersheppard.wordp… Spiritus Mundi on Goodreads:… Spiritus Mundi on Amazon, Book I: The Novel: Spiritus Mundi, Book II: The Romance

Copyright Robert Sheppard 2014 All Rights Reserved

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