Literature / Odd John

Odd John is a 1935 Science Fiction novel by British writer Olaf Stapledon which explores the theme of the ubermensch. The book follows John Wainwright through the entire period of his life. John is not like most people; ever since he was born he displays tremendous intelligence, for example at age four he has already mastered the English language, mathematics and becomes able to see into n-dimensional space.

As John slowly matures into adulthood, he has committed several murders, sold various inventions worth millions of dollars, becomes a communist, is slowly losing his grip on humanity, and starts to display Psychic Powers.

Eventually John becomes convinced that there is no place for him in the world with regular people and starts seeking various others like him from all over the globe to live in peace on a remote island. Then things start to go horribly wrong for John as the world starts to find out the truth about him.

Not related to the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz.

Tropes appearing in Odd John include:

  • Author Appeal: As with many Stapledon protagonists, the main character is a communist.
  • Brainy Baby:
    • John in his infancy.
    • The Baby that Ng-Gunko was taking care of is apparently smarter than all of the children and despite being only being a year old, can already talk and hold a conversation.
  • Character Filibuster: A lot of the novel is devoted to John's sardonic speeches about the flaws of humanity, which tend to go on for pages.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Possibly the ur-example of the name Homo Superior, which has since been used everywhere from pulp sci-fi to Marvel Comics to The Tomorrow People to refer to superhumans as the "next stage of evolution".
  • Evolutionary Levels: Odd John is one of a new species of supermen who happen to be born here and there around the world at roughly the same time.
  • Flopsy: Odd John used this repeatedly, though not for monetary gain (at least, not directly). Instead, he'd fake an accident so that he could be carried into the homes of prominent men while a doctor was sent for (this being before the days of paramedics) which would give him an opportunity to study the ruling class at close range.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: John and the other children.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The book has a dramatization example.
  • May–December Romance: John briefly has an affair with a woman much older then him during his teenage years.
  • Mercy Kill: John claims that he only kills people for this reason.
  • Mighty Whitey: The book both subverts and plays this straight. Roughly half of the super-intelligent mutants are of East Asian descent and there seems to be no racial discrimination between them. However, the protagonist and de facto leader is still a white man of mixed European ancestry. Though it's made clear that there are several members of the mutant species/ race with powers and intelligence far in advance of Odd John, including a Tibetan and an Arab, and most of them think of John's venture as another Children's Crusade.
  • Parental Incest: It's implied that John sleeps with his mother.
  • Psychic Powers
  • Übermensch