Jim's Reviews > The Last Man

The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
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bookshelves: 1audio, 2fiction, 3classics, apocalyptic

That was long! Good in places, boring in others, it wasn't really what I expected. From the author of Frankenstein: The 1818 Text & set in the end of the 21st century, I expected some SF elements, but there were none. The war is one that could have taken place any time in the prior centuries & was taking place then. While there is some travel by balloon, most is by horse. Ships still rely on sails save for a few steam powered ones. Being published in 1826, there is no knowledge of germ theory so the plague is basically the Black Plague on steroids, but she left out or skimmed over many of the most horrific parts.

Few stories could have used an editor more. If they were to make a movie of this brick, they could pack it into a 2 hour made for TV movie without much trouble. The story is worth reading, though. It gets 3 stars for in it lie the seeds for many great action, SF, apocalyptic, & post apocalyptic novels, but be warned; most are contained in the last half of the last volume. It's a long hike to get there. Although it contains spoilers, I'd highly recommend reading the Wikipedia entry on this story.

The introduction uses an interesting device for finding the story. Shelley is on vacation & finds her way into the rarely visited, scary cave of Sibyl where she finds Verney's manuscript. Edgar Rice Burroughs adored this device & used it often. He shared Shelley's theories of physiognomy which I remarked on in my recent review of The Mucker, too.

The book is broken into 3 volumes. The first is a pastoral English novel that introduces the characters in 'stunning' detail. By 'stunning', I mean that I was almost stunned into insensibility by sheer boredom. Think Pride and Prejudice on Prozac. The most redeeming features were the autobiographical (She's Verney.) & biographical references/comparisons to her circle of friends (Most especially Percy as Adrian & Byron as Raymond.) so if you're not familiar with who she was & hung out with, read her bio on Wikipedia first. These references run throughout the novel.

The second volume is about the final war between Greece & Turkey in which the plague is born, but not through any scientific artifice, just typical bad sanitation, siege, & general war. Warning, the Plague is first mentioned not long before the 40% mark - a LONG time coming, IMO. The Plague strikes the world & generally everything breaks down, but Adrian provides a shining example. There's a thread of just how good benevolent tyrants are for a nation.

The final volume was by far the best part & even that is told in a distant voice that rarely elicits much in the way of empathy. Verney tells of great emotions, but I never really felt them due to the writing style & his self-centeredness. For instance, at the end, wretched with loneliness, he finds a dog who is really happy to see him, but he doesn't mention anything about making provisions for it in his final journey. As a dog lover, that's an oversight that I can't overlook.

It's this final volume that holds the germ of so many great & popular novels that came after. Verney's access to the abandoned fruits of civilization, the dog, the False Prophet, & more were brought to life in I Am Legend & Earth Abides. Toss in zombies & you have "Dawn of the Dead". His visit to the abandoned monuments forms an iconic scene in This Immortal. The Road has the same despair & aimless wandering. (OK, the last isn't even particularly good, but it does have some popularity.)

Shelly has a real flair for description, although a grounding in the classics is required to understand many of her allusions. There I was on firm ground, but again I wish I knew Latin. I had to translate that which required searching the text copy & I don't spell Latin any better than American. It was trying at times, but generally the meaning was clear enough without translation. I see her influence here on Zelazny & this part of her style, more than anything else, gave me the ability to get through the seemingly interminable first volume.

My edition (I'll try to correct it later.) is the Librivox recording which can be found here:
It's 30 chapters were read by a dozen or so narrators so the quality varied, but most were quite good & all were acceptable. My appreciation to all of them. The text is available for free on Project Gutenberg in a variety of formats here:

Overall, I recommend this to anyone with an interest in the origins of SF who is feeling somewhat masochistic.
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Reading Progress

November 18, 2017 – Started Reading
November 18, 2017 – Shelved
November 18, 2017 – Shelved as: 1audio
November 18, 2017 – Shelved as: 2fiction
November 18, 2017 – Shelved as: 3classics
November 20, 2017 – Shelved as: apocalyptic
November 20, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Kathy (new) - added it

Kathy This has been on my shelf for years and I keep putting it off. Now I'm not so sure. lol. Thanks for breaking it down like you did. It definitely gives me something to think about.

message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim You're welcome.

message 3: by Cheryl (new) - added it

Cheryl Kathy wrote: "This has been on my shelf for years and I keep putting it off. Now I'm not so sure. lol. Thanks for breaking it down like you did. It definitely gives me something to think about."

Yes, I'm actually taking it off my to-read list now. Ty JIm.

message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim You're welcome. I did give it 3 stars which means I thought it was worthwhile to suffer through. I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to SF, though. If you have a copy, I'd recommend trying to read just the third volume & see how that goes. I think you could fill in the back story pretty quickly or read the Wikipedia entry above for a synopsis.

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