Meet Ruslan, the acerbic last survivor of the human race, which has chosen to eradicate itself throughout the galaxy by engineering a virus without thinking that maybe engineering a cure would’ve been a good idea too. After spending decades wandering his homeworld alone, Ruslan is discovered by a benevolent alien race called the Myssari, who take him back to their planet to live out his final years as their honoured guest and much-loved research project. The Mysarri treat Ruslan very well, but the last human grows restless; he longs for true companionship, so he strikes a reluctant bargain with his benefactors. If they help him search the universe for the lost planet Earth, where he might find another survivor (hopefully female), he promises (and this is where the “reluctant” part comes in) to let them use his genetic material in a somewhat misguided scheme to restart the human race. (I mean why, for God’s sake – we’re a danger to everything everywhere.)
So let’s get the first question out the way: is the book any good? Short answer: Hell, yes.
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.
This was first published in 1974, so I’m getting to it a tad late. I wasn’t sure what to read next, so for me, that’s a good time to dip into the SF Masterworks collection.
Now if you’ve read anything about Inverted World then you’ll be expecting something exceptionally mind-blowing. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as that, but it certainly qualifies as mind-bending.
The story is set on a planet that might be Earth … or might not and follows the life of Helward Mann, a denizen of a city that, for the past few hundred years, has been dragged around across the continent on rails in order to stay ahead of some unknown catastrophe. Helman works his way through a youth opportunity programme that will eventually see him graduate as a member of the Guild of Surveyors which is tasked with mapping the land ahead so that the Guild of Navigators, Bridge-builders, and the Traction Guild can work together to keep the city (inconveniently called Earth) moving.