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Literature / Odd John

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

As John slowly matures into adulthood, he commits several murders, sells various inventions worth millions of dollars, becomes a communist, slowly loses 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 himself 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 (1973) 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.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: John and the other children.
  • May–December Romance: John briefly has an affair with a woman much older than 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. However, 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: John begins to develop these.
  • Staged Pedestrian Accident: 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.
  • Übermensch: The theme of the book.