The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

Our next tale of dystopian science-fiction misery is The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, who is one of the QI Elves no less. So at the very least, I think we can expect the science behind the fiction. The premise is stark in simplicity: following a celestial event millions of miles away, Earth’s rotation begins to slow down, until eventually stops. The planet still orbits the sun, but without the its own rotation, days on side of the planet are perpetual, as is the night on the other. Most of the world is either too hot or too cold to support life, and the few countries where people can still survive face starvation as crops fail, and complete breakdown of global communication as the world’s satellite array fails.

The book does a decent job of explaining how the implausible might happen, but that’s not really what it’s about. Once you’re past the background of the global catastrophe (that they did have about thirty years to prepare for), we move on to how the human race adapts when the world stops turning.

The story is set in a future Britain which, in response to the crisis, has become a totalitarian state that ruthlessly defends its borders without even a passing nod to decency and humanity (leave it, Dom, leave it). The people are starving, and cancer is rife from constant exposure to the sun. Any crime against the state is punished by death or transportation to work (until you die) in the failing crop fields of Western Europe.

Yes, it’s pretty grim, but fortunately, a scientist/reluctant freedom fighter marshals a disparate group of academics and journalists to answer questions about the planet’s future … such as, does it even have one.

It’s a great book; well written with deeply emotional and deeply flawed characters on both sides. The world it covers is vast, sad and hopeless. You know that there’s no real fix for this, but you hang on, hoping that something, somewhere is going make things a little easier for the good guys.

The pace is pretty even throughout, which works for the majority of the book, though I did feel that it could have done with a bit of speeding up in places, but nothing that really detracted from my enjoyment of the writing which was fluid and tight. There’s a lot of introspection going on around the main character, which provided a deep background to her past and emotions which made her motivation a lot more believable. It was nice to see her courage and belief in herself grow as her situation became more desperate.

The “impending end of the world” scenario is nothing new, so it might be getting increasingly difficult to find a completely new take on it (not helped by the fact that we’re all apparently living it right now). But the writer has just about managed it by focussing on the small group of people living through the disaster, rather than the disaster as a whole. I also suspect that he looked closely at our government and came up with a pretty good model on the kind of behaviour we’d see from them.

Well worth a look.

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