Star of the Unborn (1946)

Franz Werfel's novel Der Stern Der Ungeborenen (trans. as Star of the Unborn) is something of a throwback. Hailed by some as a "visionary" novel or a "science-fiction classic," in fact, it is neither. It is a something of a medieval morality tale, having more in common with Everyman than 1984 or Brave New World. The plot is transparently thin; our hero, named F.W. and writing in the first person throughout, delivers what he calls a travelogue through time to the Eleventh Cosmic Capital Year of Virgo, an unspecified time 100,000 years or so in the future. There he sees the sights, meets archetypes and is present at several "historic" events, if the term may be used.

The format is a time honoured one, if a bit archaic; Werfel himself makes the obvious comparison to Dante's Inferno. The prose, originally in German, is dense in translation and laden with classical allusion and sprinkled with bits of Latin and Greek, as well as a few original psuedo-Classical coinages. At times, the style can be plodding, but at other times it reaches rather impressive heights of lyricism.

Stylistically dated, freighted with classicisms and dense prose, and taking a medieval structure, one might expect the book to be awful. However, it is actually quite fine. I would not consider it a classic, nor would I consider it science-fiction precisely, but as a philosophical meditation on the place of man and his institutions in the universe and his relationship with God it works pretty well. Werfel clearly wrestled with issues of evil and religion, unsurprising for a German speaking Czech Jew who fled Austria to avoid the Nazis, and those issues permeate the book.

Ultimately, the book is an interesting travelogue, not though the sites of the Eleventh Cosmic Capital Year of Virgo but through the mind of Franz Werfel himself.

Overall Grade: C+/B-

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