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.
I’m on a real science-fiction kick at the moment, the more end-of-the-worldy the better (let’s call it, getting in the right mindset).
The Last Astronaut just about qualifies, I reckon.
Seventy odd years from now, an object appears in the solar system that may, or may not be, an alien space craft. As one would expect, the craft is on a collision course with Earth, so what’s left of NASA puts together a team to make contact with the whatever-it-is. The team, made up of quite a stereotypical bunch of barely-trained spacers, is led by Sally Jansen, the woman who is widely seen as responsible for the failure of the first Mars Mission thirty years before, in which a crew member met a rather grisly end. Since NASA was pretty much dismantled after the disaster, Sally is not just their best shot; she’s their only shot.
Quite a topical one this: I have a vague recollection of something travelling into telescope range a few years ago, that was a very similar shape to the one the author describes in the book; so now I know why they sometimes call this Speculative Fiction. This is a couple of hundred pages speculating what the object might be, and it’s a pretty scary guess.
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.