Flight To Forever, Poul Anderson, 1950

Anderson’s classic story of one-way time travel. You can go forward but not all the way backwards, and the stalwart 1950s protagonist, Martin Saunders, keeps skipping himself forward, along the surface of an infinite lake, hoping to find some civilization that has perfected backwards time travel so that he can return home to his girlfriend: the conveniently named Eve. He companion is killed in 2500 A.D., and he acquires a new one who searching the future for a sufficiently violent time that will have use for his martial skills. Martin stops in 50,000 A.D. and helps the Galactic Empress regain her throne, and is sent on alone into the future for his trouble. The human race eventually falls, and he is the last human man on Earth. Other races rise, but they are unable to help him. Eventually, weakly godlike entities upgrade his time machine to get him “home,” by having him dive ever deeper into the future. He sees the moon shatter and fall from the sky, the sun wither and die, and finally the heat-death of the entire universe, only for it to be reborn. Saunders keeps traveling, taking the longest way around. The universe is perfectly cyclical. He travels forward until he reaches the point at which he left, settling for the fretful girl who is certainly no beautiful Galactic Empress.

Saunders becomes The Last and First Man, cushioned on each end by millions of years. The exactly perfect cyclical universe is a bleak concept, a black pit of despair that for Neitzsche was the nightmare of being doomed to repeat every mistake you’ve ever made over and over again for eternity. But Anderson goes further than The Eternal Return, stripping uncertainty and free will from his minutely machined universe loop. It would take only the smallest of quantum hiccups in the deep past for conditions to change enough for Saunders to never have been born, or not a physicist, or or or. Anderson’s cold reality is stuck on repeat, growing more boring with every repetition of the same trillion trillion triliion sub-atomic events in perfect timing and order.


Nietzsche and der letzte Mensch

There has always beena contradiction in Nietzsche as he propounds both the notion of The Last Man (der letzte Mensch) and the doctrine of Eternal Recurrence in Also Sprach Zarathustra. How can he discuss the last of anything in a framework where every action, every combination of matter, must reoccur for all eternity? It is a temporary "last"? Doesn't the end of something become hollow when that end is endless? Is this the abyss?

But then, he did call the horror of the Eternal Return das schwerste Gewicht: "the heaviest weight imaginable." Maybe the true Last Man lifts that weight.

Is the Ouroboros eating itself eternally, or is it continuously vomiting itself into being?


The Twilight Zone, "The Mind and The Matter," 1961

Archibald Beechcroft hates the crowded modern world, finally working up to expressing the desire to wipe out all of humanity except for himself. Given a book, "The Mind and The Matter," Beechcroft learns the secret of "ultimate concentration." He then decides to apply his concentration to dealing with the existence of everyone else. He begins by concentrating away his irritating lady-lady. "Today, the landlady... tomorrow...the world!"

Encountering a crowded subway platform, he wishes all the people away. The turnstile admits him with a wag of his finger, the train arrives, automated now to make up for the disappeared conductor. The doors to his office even open when he shakes his newspaper at them. The crowded office is silent. He quickly grows bored at work (why is he at work?) and begins talking to himself in reflections. He grows so bored he even triggers an earthquake, and then a storm.

Still talking to himself, he hits upon a solution: remake the population of the world, but in his image. Dyspeptic, anti-social, and constantly muttering, they are all him now, the women too. Played by the same actor and a few unconvincing masks. Beechcroft resigns himself to returning everything to as is was, bored by loniliness and horrified by literal self-loathing.

Wikipedia page

In many ways an expanded "5,271,009" or a more concise and personal The Lathe Of Heaven or Eye In The Sky. While many people takes away the message of "be careful what you wish for," Serling is, to me, making a more subtle point about the permanent intertwining of utopia and dystopia. They are so intertwined that they are the same thing. There are no perfect societies. Attempting to manufacture them is folly. But, then, I'm not too much on the explicit message that Serling puts in the coda. This is not the best of all possible worlds. Not by a long shot.

The episode could also be read as a rather frightening parable about solipsism. Is Beechcroft actually willing everyone out of existence? Is he a god? Or is he only willing away his perceptions of everyone, and thereby exhibiting an amazing ability to warp his own perceptions, a frighteningly compete control of his flow of subjective reality. Does only Beechcroft have the power? Does everyone have it? (The young man who gives Beechcroft the book relates an incident where he displayed powers to bend someone's will to his own.) Or only readers of the book? And what are the doomsday implications of a book that can turn anyone into a wide-awake George Orr? And assuming that Beechcroft's abilities are effecting objective reality and he is not unique, don't we have to wrap our minds around dueling solipsistic narratives struggling to reshape reality?

The Twilight Zone, "Where Is Everyboby?" 1959

A lone man dressed in an Air Force jumpsuit wanders into a deserted town. Music blares in the nearby cafe. He fixes himself something to eat, shouting out his actions to no one. A bell tolls in the empty town square. Every shop he checks is empty. He spys a woman in a car and tells her he is an amnesiac. When he draws near, she is a mannequin. He continues to talk to her. When a phone rings, he races toward it, and finds no one on the line. Dialing, he reaches an automated operator. He calls for help on a police radio. Panic finally begins to set in and he runs through the streets, yelling the titular question. He begs to wake up and marvels at the detail of his dream. Dejectedly, he spins a paperback rack in the drugstore. All the titles are The Last Man On Earth. When night falls, the town lights up. He is drawn to the movie theater. The movie poster features a figure dressed like him. He speculates that his military uniform means that there has been "a bomb." When the movies begins, he climbs to the projection room. Finding no one, has runs into the lobby and into a mirror. Now in a complete panic, he runs back out in the street. Everything begins to take on paranoid significance. Clinging to a lamppost, he desperately presses the "walk" button to change the stoplight.

The scene changes to a room of men listening to him beg for help. He is in an isolation chamber, part of an experiment to test how a man will stand up to the loneliness of a lunar trip. He has been in the box for 20 days.

Wikipedia page

"Where Is Everybody?" was the first episode of The Twilight Zone that aired. The character's mind does make an effective nightmare to torture him with. The panic of amnesia. The cruel taunt of the mannequin. The dozens of books titled as his growing fear that he may be the last man on Earth. But it also gives him breadcrumbs to find his way out. The Air Force jumpsuit. He is hungry yet stumbles upon a stocked cafe and soda shop. He even has money in his pockets, so that he won't feel like he's stealing the food. And even though it is ultimately a twist ending, keeping Rod Serling from having to deal with the roundabout of dealing with a character that really is the last man on Earth, the isolation feels real, as does the creation of a claustropobic feeling in open air filming.

I do wonder how much of the imagary was influenced by The World, The Flesh, and The Devil, which was released in theaters only 5 months earlier.


The Underdweller, William F. Nolan, 1957

Lewis Stillman loots the convenience stores of Los Angeles at night, creeping past and hiding from small gangs of inhuman enemies: “They came closer, crowding the walk, their small dark bodies crowding the walk, six of them, chattering, leaping, cruel mouths open, eyes glittering under the moon.” Stillman ruminates on lost love and the precariousness of his existence. He is lonely and searches for survivors of his like kind. Three years of searching Los Angeles has convinced him that he is the last man alive in the city. Stillman sleeps in the storm drains, tormented by dreams of women or of being caught. The storm drains are how he survived the unprovoked attack by aliens that killed every other man and woman six years earlier. For three years he worked with his enemies and for three years he has run from them. Stillman fashions human figures for company and argues with them as he goes insane. Venturing forth to find books to read, he comes upon a bookstore they have destroyed, ripping the pages out of thousands of volumes. Stillman has been lured into a trap and they attack him in force. He kills as many as he can with a machine gun, but is overwhelmed in a tide of feral children.

"The Underdweller" is a variant title. It has also appeared under the title "Small World" and "The Small World Of Lewis Stillman."

Curtis and The Last Man On Earth

The rather innocuous daily newspaper comic strip Curtis is using a wish-granting mouse to explore the old saw that peace on Earth is only capable on a depopulated planet. The wish that the character Andrew make leaves him the last person on Earth. Andrew goes on to drive fancy cars and sleep in "grand bedrooms."

Andrew wanders an empty Manhattan.


The Twilight Zone, "Two," 1961

Another heavy-handed Cold War parable from The Twilight Zone. Wikipedia already contains a fine synopsis. While it is never specified that the characters are the only remaining humans, the shadow of The Shaggy-God falls over the whole affair.

Even though billed in the voiceover as taking place "perhaps a hundred years from now, or sooner, or perhaps it's already happened two million years," Charles Bronson speaking English and Elizabeth Montgomery speaking Russian doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room. At least we are spared them being explictily identified as Adam and Eve.

Season 3, episode 66, written and directed by Montgomery Pittman.

While the similarities are suspicious, I imagine John Christopher's "Two" (1952) was probably not directly taken by Pittman for his plot. The durability of The Shaggy-God story is such that it seems to spontaneously erupt in science fiction cautionary tales. It was used in at least two other Twilight Zone episodes, after all: "Probe 7, Over And Out" and "Third From The Sun." (Although to be fair, "Third" is really more of an "ancient astronauts" riff.)

"Two," John Christopher, 1952

Protagonist has traveled the world looking for signs of life in major cities, only to find them empty. Everyone else is dead of radiation poisoning and he was spared because of a special serum. All warm-blooded mammals are dead in Europe. He sails for The Middle East, "the land of the two great rivers." He walks until he encounters a land rich with all types of plants and animals. In his loneliness, he wakes up to find thw woman he has wished for sleeping beside him. The final line: "'I am Adam,' he told her, 'and you are Eve."

One page Cold War/Shaggy-God mash-up. Cribs from Shelley's The Last Man and Sheil's The Purple Cloud. Lands on the page with an audible thud.

Not listed in the ISFDB entry on Christopher. The story might have its only publication in Esquire, May, 1952.

See also "Two"


Yo Dawg!

4 koma comic strips
see more Comixed


Forever, Damon Knight, 1981

In 1887, the secret of immortality is discovered and administered to the Gerd Essenwien, the 12-year-old son of the discoverer. It becomes apparent that it also stops aging as well, trapping him in a boy’s body. Shortly after this event, a serum is discovered to stop all bacteriological disease, a universal vaccine. Both are adopted widely and having children falls out of fashion. People still die of accidents and heart disease and cancer, so the population of the Earth begins to dwindle. When humanity panics over the looming end of the human race, they find that the youngest women are still over two hundred years old and infertile.

Gerd Essenwein is eventually the last man on Earth, keeping in touch via shortwave with the last woman on Earth, a Japanese woman with the apparent age of 16. She travels by bicycle to Europe so they can meet (it takes her eleven years.) When he shows her that he cannot perform sexually, she returns to Japan and disappears from shortwave contact a few years later. Aliens arrive and ask Gerd to come with them when they find he is the last man on Earth. Gerd refuses and they leave.

ISFDB bibliography


Last Man, Jon Inouye, 1976

Overpopulation is solved by the systematic extermination of women and heterosexual men. Three hundred years later, a male homosexual culture has colonized the entire solar system, even, somehow, the sun. Reproduction is achieved through cloning and splitting a single “parent” consciousness through several bodies. In eliminating binary gender and heterosexuality, the culture also retires the term “man” and “mankind,” substituting “personkind” exclusively.

The last “man” on Earth, a heterosexual specimen of the old race, is kept alive through longevity drugs and stored in a museum . Inexplicably, he wakes and escapes, screaming homosexual epithets and crushing the skulls of “the weak.” He flees to the mountains, convinced that heterosexual men and women must have survived in isolation. When he finds them, they have reverted to a primitive lifestyle and immediately attack him. Dejected, he returns to the “personkinders,” his fate uncertain.

ISFDB bibliography


The Last Man, Seabury Quinn, 1950

The story begins with Roger Mycroft, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, visiting Monsieur Toussaint, a voodoo spiritualist who purports to speak with the dead. Initially skeptical, Mycroft is convinced by Toussaint's serious demeanor and agrees to return the next evening.

Back at home, Mycroft embarks on a long flashback to the his time during the war when he and the soldiers in his squad were guests of a rich landowner, Don Jose Rosales y Montalvo and his beautiful daughter, Juanita. Over the next few days, Juanita is courted by every one of the soldiers and refuses them all in turn. On the soldiers' last night in Cuba, Juanita promises to marry the last surviving man, as so to spare the feelings of his fellows . The soldiers form a tontine and Last Man's Club* and meet once a year to reminisce (and, presumably, to see who's died in the interim.) After many years, Mycroft is the last man alive and can marry Juanita.

Mycroft returns to Toussaint to have him raise the spirits of his fellow soldiers. He discovers that she too has died in the intervening decades and appears to him. She lures Mycroft out of the protective hexagram that Toussaint has drawn on the floor. Mycroft falls dead and joins his demon bride.

Weird Tales, May 1950, v. 42, n. 4

*While the tontine and the Last Man's Club are often conflated ideas, the military veteran Last Man's Club is a pact made to meet once a year often with the agreement that the last surviving member drink a toast at the last meeting to his deceased comrades, and thus differs from a tontine in that there is no prize or payout.


Review of Stewart and Shiel

The SF Site does a tandem review of M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud and George R. Stewart's The Earth Abides.



The Long, Loud Silence, Wilson Tucker, 1952

World Without Men, Eric Charles Maine, 1958

It's five thousand years in the future and the Earth is populated with only women. "There was one all-important project that supplied humanity's only motive for continued existence--the struggle to re-create the male sex." This is the novel that launched as thousand women's studies theses.

It's odd to think that a world without men would lead to silver lipstick, overstarched and functionless dickies, purple and teal hair, and green eyeballs. And strapless bras that seem to offer no support and can only be best described as "Boob Cups," but do come in such fetching colors as blue and silver.

The tag line: "They had forgotten what men looked like" could really use a few exclamation points.


Nietzsche and The Last Man

A few sources have used the term "Last Man" in ways unrelated to the genre fiction concept. One is Friedrich Nietzsche and his concept of the "Last Man" as the final dissolution of the human will to strive toward being the Übermensch. Nietzsche's Last Man is content, believes he has created the best of all possible worlds through conformity--the death of imagination, creativity, and individuality. Mostly irredeemably in Nietzsche's eyes, The Last Man is cautious, never taking even the smallest chances and especially not those that could lead to greatness.

"Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.

'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the last man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.

'We have invented happiness,'say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth...

One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.

No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.

'Formerly, all the world was mad,' say the most refined, and they blink...

One has one's little pleasure for the day and one's little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.

'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink."
Thus spoke Zarathustra, Walter Kaufmann transl.


Last Man On Earth, Brendon Day, 2002

A heavily workshopped short story set in the 1950s that echoes elements of Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick and William Gibson’s “The Gernsback Continuum” revolving around Sidney Davison (“Davis” throughout) an elevator operator who escapes his life through science fiction. Davis has written a radio script called “The Last Man On Earth” that he has loaned to a boorish tenant named Thomson in hopes to get it produced. The script contains no dialogue and relates the tale of the last man alive in a disaffected narrative as he wandered through a deserted city.

The action of the story centers around Davis, Thomson, and Thomson’s date, Liddy on a trip in the elevator. Liddy flirts with Davis openly and convinces him to take all three of them up on the roof. Thomson stops off at his apartment and returns with a mysterious doctor’s bag that might or might not contain Davis’ script. Liddy takes something out of the bag that might be a Flash-Gordonesque ray-gun or a bong. Liddy describes what she thinks the plot of Davis’ “The Last Man On Earth”: World destroyed, boy is left alive, he meets last girl and it’s someone who rejected him in high school, they fall in love. The end. The story drifts off with Davis imagining baroque airships and rocket travel.

The Purple Cloud covers


The Custodian, William Tenn, 1955

After scientists discover that the sun will go nova in a hundred years, humanity divides into two warring sect, The Affirmers and The Custodians. Affirmers eschew everything but the strictly utilitarian in a effort to transport the entire population to the safety of extra-solar colonies. Custodians seek the aesthetic and wish to die with the Earth than live without art. The Affirmers triumph politically and they begin a mass evacuation of Earth, evenually forcing Custodians to leave with them.

The story begins with the Custodian granted the privilege to die with the Earth. Only a few years remain before the nova. He is left with a functioning spaceship and is tasked with making sure no Custodian hold-outs remain by monitoring the planet for human life signs. He spends his days flying around the world and viewing all the art and natural beauty left behind. Eventually he discovers a group of Custodians who had hidden themselves to avoid evacuation. The adults are dead due to a malfunction in the machines that kept them hidden. He adopts the surviving infant and the responsibility of fatherhood teaches him that life is more precious than art or artifacts. He loads the spaceship with as much art as he can, and they leave for the colony orbiting Alpha Centauri.

ISFDB Publication History

5,271,009, Alfred Bester, 1954

During a session of drug-induced psychoanalysis, the protagonist wills himself into different ideal scenarios that reveal themselves to be less than ideal upon examination. One of them is a devastated world where the protagonist is the last man on Earth, he meets the last woman on Earth and the story begins to move to a Shaggy God resolution. However, he reveals an infected or an impacted tooth. When he realizes that there are no dentists, he kills himself to relieve the pain and wakes up.

ISFDB Publication History


Def: Shaggy God Story

The lead in that I wrote for the Wikipedia entry.

Shaggy God story

A Shaggy God story is a minor science fiction genre characterized by an attempt to explain Biblical concepts with science fiction tropes. The term was coined by writer and critic Brian W. Aldiss in a pseudonymous column in the October 1965 issue of New Worlds (magazine). The term is a pun on the concept of a Shaggy dog story. In its original sense a Shaggy God story features a heterosexual pair of astronauts landing on a lush and virgin world and in the last line their names are revealed as Adam and Eve. The term has now spread into general usage to mean any science fictional justification of theology. It is widely considered a cliché.

The creation of the term is often misattributed to Michael Moorcock. Moorcock edited the issue of New Worlds where Aldiss coined the term in a pseudonymous column. It has been suggested that many assumed Moorcock to be the author of the column. The issue was cleared up in an August 2004 David Langford column in SFX magazine.

The genre as a cliché

"The shaggy god story is the bane of magazine editors, who get approximately one story a week set in a garden of Eden spelt Ee-Duhn."

--Brian W. Aldiss, writing as Dr. Peristyle, New Worlds October, 1965.

Brian Stableford notes in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2nd ed.) that “a considerable fraction” of stories submitted to science fiction magazines feature a male and female astronaut marooned on a habitable planet and “reveal (in the final line) that their names are Adam and Eve.”

The genre is also listed a cliché in the Science Fiction Writers of America's Turkey City Lexicon: A Primer for SF Workshops and David Langford's July 2004 SFX magazine column on the same.

The Tale of the Last Man, Richard Shaver (1946)

Gradual winnowing of the population through sterility has resulted in the last man on Earth. He is elderly and lonely and much of the story is spent on him reflecting on the world that no longer exists, especially fixated on never having even seen a woman. He eventually clones himself (with half of the clones created as females) and repopulates the world. They call him “God” and he muses about the circularity of time.

Almost a text book example of the Shaggy God story, slightly hampered in achieving full cliché bloom by the fact that the protagonist understands that he is becoming “God” and reflects on the irony. Like the Genesis account, not a moment is spent on the genetics of populating the Earth with the offspring of gender-swapped clones. The story is quite maudlin as well, ascribing the universal sterility that lead to the depopulation of the Earth as:

“Women had ceased to conceive, for man was a being no longer capable of love (144)”

ISFDB Publication History

The Last Man, Adam Nemett, 2006

A short, confusing story of a college campus cut-off by the rising waters of a worldwide flood. Leadership during the crisis is seized by a self-styled Übermensch, Vitali Zinchenko, acting consciously in the Nietzschean mode. He warns his followers against becoming The Last Man – self-satisfied with the world they have made and therefore pathetic and week. His aura of power is supported by drugs doled out by his second-in-command, the narrator. When the scene is finally set, the story trails off before anything resembling a plot appears.


Adam and No Eve, Alfred Bester, 1941

Black as night.

Stephen Krane develops a catalyst that induces iron into "atomic disintegration" uses it to power a rocket. Despite warnings of dire consequences and acts of sabotage, he takes off in the rocket with his dog in tow. Knocked unconscious during the takeoff, he wakes in time to see the entire Earth engulfed in flame. Leaking catalyst sets off all of the iron atoms in the atmosphere like tiny nuclear weapons. He and the dog land on a devastated world full of nothing but ashes. The story is told in flashbacks as he crawls with broken leg toward an uncertain destination. He hallucinates conversations with the saboteur and his fiancée Evelyn. Eventually his starvation-mad dog attacks him and he is forced to kill him. He builds a funeral pyre for the dog and his remaining possessions. Story ends as he is waiting to die, hoping that the bacteria in his body will live and eventually evolve into intelligent life.

One of the few stories where the protagonist is the literal last man on earth, is actually responsible for the death of everyone else and never meets another person.

ISFDB Publication History

Possible Title

You're Only Free When Everyone Else Is Dead:
The Last Man on Earth in Literature and Film


The World The Flesh and The Devil on TCM

Turner Classic Movies is showing The World, The Flesh, and The Devil on May 9th at 9:45pm EST. Never released on DVD in the US, I've only seen it once at the George Eastman House Film Preservative Archives in Rochester, NY. Double feature with Panic In The Year Zero.

I think I wouldn't mind being the Last Man on Earth if Inger Stevens was the Last Woman...



via wikipedia:

Gendercide is a neologism that refers to the systematic killing of members of a specific sex, either males or females.

In science fiction, the term is associated with the death of all or most of one sex.

Partial Bibliography of Gendercide Titles

Gleaned from FeministSF

Tiptree, James, Jr.
Houston, Houston, Do You Read? (1976)

Gardner, Thomas S.
"The Last Woman."
Wonder Stories (April 1932)

Keene, Day (pseud. for Gunard Hjerstedt, 1903-1969) and Leonard Pruyn
World Without Women (1960)

Draulans, Dirk
The Red Queen: A Novel of the War Between the Sexes (1997)

Ellison, Harlan
"World of Women"
Fantastic Science Fiction (February, 1957)

Young, F. E.
The War of the Sexes (1905)

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man (1975)

more to follow


More Apocalypse Kitsch

From Zazzle.

A fine encapsulation of the ideas behind The Last MAN on Earth subcategory, even down to the dramatic capitalization.

Standard dating jape.

Dating questionnaire:

Will you go on a date with me?

__Yes, I'd love too
__No, not if you were the last man on earth

Metafilter: "Last Man on Earth" Stories? thread


Sadly, most of them are not Last Man stories at all.

Main things to investigate:

There was a short-short in Omni some years back, and I can't remember the title. The last man on earth is a German boy whos aging has retarded. The last woman on earth is a Japanese girl with the same problem. They talk by radio, and the rest would be spoilers. Beautiful story. I think it was "Forever" by Damon Knight, but don't quote me.

Marooned in Real Time by Vernor Vinge has a last woman on Earth scenario. It's post-singularity rather than post-apocalypse.

Edit: Read 2008 May. Story doesn't fit into genre. She knows other people are alive, she just can't live long enough to see them again.

This is a running theme in all the incarnations of the Twilight Zone. In the second (1980s) series, the shattering "A Little Peace and Quiet."

Edit: Story is actually about a woman who stops time to prevent nuclear war, but then is trapped forever. If she unfreezes time, the missiles hanging over America will detonate. An altruistic re-tread of first Twilight Zone series episode A Kind Of Stopwatch.


Silver Age Yorick

Spoof of Y: The Last Man, casting it as a rip-off of an obscure Silver Age girl's romance comics. Fantastic.

Unsurprisingly, the writer of Yorick, The Last Man On Earth was a woman: Sally Polenti, a trailblazer in the comics field and almost totally unknown today. Her work on Yorick is more soap-opera-ish, perhaps, than Brian K. Vaughan’s - but then again, she also doesn’t have any of those Trivial Pursuit factoids Vaughan seems compelled to insert into any and all narratives he writes. And if you thought Vaughan’s depiction of the longing between 355 and Yorick was hot - well, Polenti’s positively smolders. Plus, mad scientists in just about every issue. Girls Romance Comics went out of business in 1958, and most of its writers went into television writing, explaining why it’s now a footnote in comics history. Highly recommended.



Notes Toward Zombie Popularity

While the vampire (especially the gothic mode) is a study in the repulsion/attraction dynamic the modern world feels toward hereditary aristocracy, the zombie narrative allows anyone to imagine themselves to be free in a depopulated world filled with riches. It is a anti-authoritarian fantasyscape. All the (primarily masculine) skills the modern world has little use for become paramount in the post-zombie apocalypse: self-reliance, individuality, gun-play, mechanical inventiveness, bravery. Just as the image of the space-age / interplanetary pioneer was crucial to Heinlein's vision of expansion libertarianism, the later-day zombie narrative can attract those bored with the inaction and routine of daily life in the modern first world.

This renders the zombie narrative a portion of the survivalist fictions whose extreme expression is the Last Man On Earth trope.


Reason Articles on Zombies and Politics

We the Living Dead
The convoluted politics of zombie cinema
Tim Cavanaugh | February 2007

It’s vain to argue that zombie politics don’t lean left, but the positioning is not simple. Bob Clark’s 1970 film Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, for example, is something of a reactionary fantasy, with the undead attacking the most irritating band of flower children in movie history—possibly the exact moment America turned decisively against hippies.

George Romero's Diary of the Dead
David Weigel | February 18, 2008, 9:26am


Discussion Thread on Frederic Brown's "Knock"



"The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door..."


Apocalypse Kitsch

The Last Man On Earth T-Shirt, for sale at Frankenstein's Attic.

T-Shirt logo is based on the 1964 Vincent price adaption of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.



"Even with nobody left, hell is still other people."

Richard Harlan Smith
Package insert for the DVD release of The Quiet Earth.


Themes: Unaffected Pockets

Last "Men" survive through luck (or no reason), immunity, or physical protection from the destroying element. One theme is the unaffected pocket of land or valley or island. Best used for Last Man genre in Z For Zachariah. Also used in two atomic war films, The Offshore Island and The Day the World Ended.

Bibliography: The Last Man Alive

The Last Man Alive
Alexander Sutherland Neill

Entire work online.

A. S. Neill on Wikipedia


Time Magazine review: The World, The Flesh and The Devil (1959)

Monday, Jun. 01, 1959

The World, The Flesh and The Devil (MGM) is a passionately sincere, pictorially brilliant, monumentally silly example of how people who are obsessed with the race question tend to see everything in Black and White. In this instance, the audience is asked to believe that when most of humanity has been wiped out by a cloud of radioactive sodium, the three people who have managed to save their skins will spend most of their time worrying about the color of them.

The start of the film is striking. The hero, a young Negro (Harry Belafonte), is trapped by a mine cave-in. Five days later he digs his way back to the surface. "I made it!" he shouts in triumph, but nobody replies. The pit head is deserted. The town is deserted. The highways are deserted as the hero, panic-stricken, goes speeding off toward Manhattan, the nearest big city, in the first car he finds. At the Hudson River he is stopped short. The George Washington Bridge is jammed to the rails with abandoned automobiles, all arrested in a desperate plunge toward the suburbs of no return; the Lincoln Tunnel is the same.

The hero crosses to Manhattan in a rowboat with an outboard motor, wanders half insane with loneliness and terror through the enormous canceled city. "I'm alive!" he screams, "I'm alive!" But by this time he has lost all hope that anybody else is. He takes up residence in a pleasant apartment on lower Fifth Avenue, begins to make the best of his mournful immense inheritance of culture and convenience.

So far so good. But then the moviemakers feel obliged to give their black Adam a white Eve (Inger Stevens), and all at once the grand drama of humanity's survival collapses into an irrelevant wrangle about racial discrimination that has no more real significance, under the circumstances of the story, than a hotfoot in hell. Adam and Eve fall in love, but Adam refuses to accept the fact. He cannot begin a new world because he cannot forget the old; he cannot let social injustice die with the society that fostered it. At this point the moviemakers introduce a particularly amiable snake into their unedifying Eden. A cultivated white man (Mel Ferrer) wanders into town; and of course he too falls in love with the heroine.

The story falls into the predictable triangular pattern, which soon resolves into the predictable eternal question: Which boy will get the girl? In this instance, the answer is intended to answer the race question, but since Actor Belafonte's skin seems just about as light as Actor Ferrer's, the audience may justifiably wonder if the question itself is not almost academic. Anyway, black boy gets white girl—or seems to. But then in the confusing finish (which was reshot after a big front-office foofaraw), all three wander off together hand in hand—with the girl in the middle.

Survival scenarios paper

Surviving Armageddon: Beyond the Imagination of Disaster
Mick Broderick

Science Fiction Studies
#61 = Volume 20, Part 3 = November 1993


Online Dating Persona Test

The Last Man on Earth

Shit, rejected again. You are The Last Man on Earth.

Sorry, but most women would rather see the human species wither to an end--and therefore deny the most fundamental instinct that living creatures have--than sleep with you.

We've learned the following: you don't think things through. You're haphazard. You're dangerous. You're somewhat inexperienced. It's totally obvious that you're a horny bugger, as well. Everybody knows that and steers clear.

To top things off, when you do find your way into a relationship, you tend to be a dick somewhere down the line and fuck it all up.

There's a small, but negligible, chance we're wrong. In any case, your friends find your shit hilarious. There's nothing cooler than a dude reducing himself to human rubble.

FACT: The apocalypse has come. All are dead. You never should've asked her out.

"The Last Man on Earth" Brendan Day

Published in Polyphony 2, Wheatland Press, 2002

Tangent Short Fiction Review
Polyphony 2 ends with Brendan Day's first story about the "Last Man on Earth." This story magnificently captures the stereotypical science fiction reader/writer who feels isolated from the rest of the world and finds himself in a dead-end job. "Davis" Davison is working as an elevator operator who uses the quiet times to read his pulp magazines and dream of his own success. Day manages to capture the perfect feel for this story, both disjointed and focused at the same time, providing a strong exit from the anthology.

Mumble Reader
Last in this volume is Brendan Day's "Last Man on Earth," a Kavalier and Clay-like story of an elevator operator with a passion for the pulps and a screenplay titled, you guessed it, "Last Man on Earth." There's an odd series of events which lead him to the roof, with his supervisor and his supervisor's girlfriend, who don't seem to be what they are, and who show him some of what will be . . . very little of which matches his Campbell-fueled dreams. This story left me with a lot of questions, but it also intrigued me.

Time Magazine review of Alfred Noyes "The Last Man" (aka "No Other Man")

Apocalypse, Pugnacity

No OTHER MAN—Alfred Noyes—Stokes ($2.50).

THE TWENTY-FIFTH HOUR—Herbert Best—Random House ($2.50).

ATTACK—Leland Jamieson—Morrow ($1.50).

Coming fashions in war books are forecast in two novels from England, one from the U. S. From England comes apocalypse, from the U. S. pugnacity.

In No Other Man and The Twenty-Fifth Hour British Authors Alfred Noyes and Herbert Best offer their visions of the destruction of the human race and civilization in war. Both are good enough stories in themselves. As examples of what English men of letters are providing for beleaguered Britons to read while waiting for total war, they are two of the most curious documents ever written.

Both books begin in the last of the great World Wars. In The Twenty-Fifth Hour mankind dies out doggedly from plagues brought on by bacteriological war fare. Author Best writes with a kind of exaggerated pulp-paper toughness. His de cline of the west is slower, crueler, more realistic, less snagged with philosophical, religious and artistic asides than Poet Noyes's. A buzzard broods over his all-but-dead planet, whose curse is that there is still some doomed life left on it. Only the women are halfway happy as barbarians. Explains Author Best's hard-boiled hero: formerly most women were the drudges of lazy, torpid husbands. The roving sol diers, who kill these husbands and take their places, are more loverlike, practice such endearing military virtues as cooking, washing and mending their own socks.

Poet Noyes's world (No Other Man) is ended at one stroke by a death ray. Only survivors are Hero Mark. Heroine Evelyn (they were submerged in a submarine and a diving bell respectively when the ray struck); some citizens of Assisi, Italy; several herds of contented cows. Author Noyes does not explain how the citizens of Assisi survived or who milks the cows twice daily on a depopulated planet.

Noyes thinks that annihilation is the best thing that could have happened to the debased human race. He has a high old time making his death ray catch in compromising positions all kinds of people who have irked Poet Noyes for years. There is moralizing Critic Sir Herbert Boskin & wife. On a sofa Lady Boskin "was in the arms of a dead man with a long, pale nose, and a red mustache, which gave a touch of macabre comedy to their attitude. . . ." Sir Herbert was in another room, "as dead," observes Poet Noyes gleefully, "as Napoleon. ... On a table beside him there was a magnificently bound copy of a pornographic work. . . ."

Though Authors Noyes and Best differ as to how the old world will end, they are in entire agreement about the nationality of the survivors who will carry on the race. In both novels the Adam & Eve of the new world are an English university graduate and a U. S. girl.

Significantly different from these books of doom in pulse, pace and outlook is a story of war and sudden death by U. S. Author Leland Jamieson. It is a simple, all-action narrative (recently serialized in the Saturday Evening Post) about outnumbered U. S. planes and a power-diving hero in an undeclared Blitzkrieg against the U. S. Fatigue sickens the young airman, fear of death cramps his stomach muscles, terror of being lost at sea in the night momentarily deprives him of his senses. But the last thing he thinks about is the end of the world.

Monday, Jul. 29, 1940


Top Five Tips for The Last Man on Earth

1. Arm yourself. In all probability you are not alone. Handguns for now.

2. Look around, cautiously. Do the best you can to determine what kind of empty world you are in… don’t yell to find other people until you know you want to meet them. They might be zombies, mutants, alien zookeepers, etc. Ask yourself some basic questions: Are the animate dead walking the street and hungering for living flesh? What do you smell? rot? decay? Is the hideous shambling form you spot in the distance a horrible mutated survivor or the undead? Will the mutants hate you for your good looks or blame you for destroying the bulk of humanity? Will the alien zookeepers bring you a mate? Will she be hot? It will take at least one act before you know for sure what’s going on, so stay flexible in the first few days.

3. Get some wheels. A motorcycle will get you through all the wrecked and abandoned but you have to worry about wrecking it (no doctors) and it really can’t carry much in the way of ammunition and supplies. A rugged off-road vehicle with simple mechanics would be best, but nothing with an open top (zombies.) Take spare tires and basic vehicle fluids and parts and equipment (battery, spark plugs, distributor cap, etc.) Fill up as many gasoline cans as practical before the power goes off. Getting gas out of underground tanks is not as easy as it looks in the movies and siphoning gas out of other cars is time consuming and leaves you exposed (zombies.)

4. Hit the grocery store. Stock up on canned goods, can openers and calorie-dense foods with a reasonably long shelf life such as nuts, chocolate, and dried fruits. Eat all you want… your weight will never be a problem again. (If there is a last woman, she’ll accept you for who you are.) Bottled water, medications, hygiene products are also on the shopping list, but don’t try to get everything, this is all just to tide you over until you…

5. Get out of the city. Hundreds of tiny events out of your control can go wrong in a city and kill you: fires, disease, roving gangs of mutants, etc. You want to think fortress. Find a little place in the country and clear the trees around it for a free-fire zone. Stock up on firewood and candles. Keep a generator going if you must, but ease back on it so that when it breaks or there’s no more gas, it won’t come as such a shock. Make trips back to urban centers to stock up on food, medicine, and to hunt for the last woman on Earth (unless you already found her… but would a spare really hurt?) Stockpile, stockpile, stockpile. Food, weapons, ammunition, medicine, pornography, clothing, fire extinguishers, how-to books and tools. Take up farming. And if any lived, get a dog.


Bibliography: Newman, Kim

"I think the appeal is getting rid of all the boring people in the world. One of the few films that plays with the actual wish-fulfillment fantasy of the end of the world as we know it is the much-misunderstood Red Dawn, which expresses precisely that strange survivalist mix of preparedness and eager anticipation that characterizes popular images of the apocalypse. Except for a few gloomy nuke dramas, not many end of the world stories involve imagining oneself among the many, many dead. In a sense, end of the world dramas are the ultimate Reggie Perrin fantasy, doing away with the old life and starting over again. Also, There's an aesthetic pleasure in ruins (at its most extreme, see the bucolic apocalypse of After London) and a Peter Pan-like joy to playing pirates. There's the selfish fact that we all envy posterity. When we die, we miss the end of the story and that can be infuriating. There's a sense that if we have to go, we'd rather the board were swept clean with us."

-Kim Newman, Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema


Bibliography: Brians, Paul

Brians, Paul. Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984.

Shaggy God

"An important subcategory of the post-holocaust love story is the Adam and Eve formula, in which the two survivors of a holocaust must mate to ensure the continuation of the human race. The genre is a large one, including many stories not depicting a nuclear war, and was well established long before the atomic era. One of the best known early examples is Alfred Noyes's 1940 novel No Other Man, mercilessly satirized in Ronald Duncan's 1952 atomic test catastrophe novel The Last Adam (London: Dobson). Satiric treatment of the formula also figures in Damon Knight's "Not With a Bang" (1950; note the punning title), which is little more than a joke criticizing female prudishness. At the end of the story the last man stands paralyzed and dying in a men's room while the last woman waits outside, too proper to enter and see what is taking him so long."

The Last MAN on Earth
"Another way in which atomic warfare is connected with sexuality is in its effect on reproduction. In The Man with Only One Head (1955), Densil Barr depicts universal sterilization from cobalt-bomb-induced radiation as creating a frenzy of illicit copulation (one would suppose no contraception was available in 1955); adultery is consequently made a capital crime, despite the fact that 43 percent of the married population is indulging. Barr satirizes the values of his time by stating that men would rather see the human race die out than have their wives impregnated by the one man left fertile on Earth."


Sub-Categories Ordered by Degree of Concept

1st Order
The main character is the last living example of homo sapiens on a world devoid of other sentience, either terrestrial, extra-terrestrial, or artificial.

2nd Order
At some point in the narrative, the main character is presented to the reader or thinks him/herself to be the last living homo sapiens. The narrative contains the primal scenes of the Last Man genre. The character eventually comes in contact with one or more sentient beings. The stories vary in length of time before contact, the nature of that contact and the results of that contact. A critical difference is also to be found in the number of people left alive that are eventually discovered.

3rd Order
Stories that use gendercide to drive the plot. While not all gendercide in fiction results in a Last Man (or woman) story, some are pitched directly as that by using the phrase.

4th Order
Stories that whittle a group of characters down to an Adam and Eve Shaggy God plot, technically resulting in a “Last Man.” This is to be differentiated from 2nd order stories where a classic Last Man meets a surviving Last Woman.

5th Order
Stories that are a pun on the phrase “Last Man on Earth.” Also stories that refer to the Biblical notions of the "Last Man," i.e. the generation that will witness the return of Christ.


Common Plot Structures

Last Man stories can be organized into a number of sub-categories based on how the Last Man concept or situation is conceived and used in the story. These are by no means exclusive divisions. Many stories exhibit a mixture of two or more of these. The following reviews will be tagged by category.

The Last Man on Earth
Stories that feature the main character as the last living human being on Earth in total isolation from any other sentient beings (terrestrial of extraterrestrial in origin, organic or artificial in sentience.) These stories can either feature a plot where everyone dies or disappears around the main character or where the mechanism of the death/disappearance of every one else sets the plot in motion.

The Last Woman on Earth
A rare gender reversal of the basic Last Man theme.

The Last Man on Earth (for now)
Many of these begin by suggesting the character is the Last Man, but other people (mainly fellow survivors) gradual appear or are encountered. Many feature periods of isolation broken by contact. Since this is the form that most Last Man stories take, the period of time before the main character meets other survivors is a distinguishing feature.

This has the further sub-types:

The Last Heterosexual Couple on Earth
The basic science fiction Adam and Eve story. They are depressingly common; sometimes referred to as “Shaggy God” stories. The more facile form results in the story being set thousand of years ago and the plot reveals the couple as being the Biblical Adam and Eve, asserting the literal truth of Genesis. They can also come in the form of a story set in the future, were the two must re-populate the Earth with no apparent concept of inbreeding.

The Last Love Triangle on Earth
The conflict of the love triangle can range from an unspoken attraction all the way up to pitched battle in the empty streets. A surprising number of these stories have been created.

The Last Groups on Earth
Instead of the Last Man encountering just a few survivors, enough come together to (or attempt to at least) restart a society.

There are also stories that do not feature the (overwhelmingly temporary) total isolation and the primal scene of the Last Man trope of travel or investigation of the de-populated world. The “Last Men” of these stories do not think at any point they are the last senitent being on the earth.

The Last (Hu)man on Earth
Last Man stories in that the world is de-populated of human beings but not of other sentient entities (intelligent animals, zombies, mutants, artificial intelligences.)

The Last Male on Earth / The Last Female on Earth
Another ironic take on the notion of the Last Man, where a male main character is/becomes or a female main character discovers/creates the only male in a world populated only with females. The story reversed in gender is quite rare. Stories of this nature often grapple with the theme of gendercide.

The Last (Fertile) Man on Earth
Stories where all men are impotent/sterile save one.

The Last MAN on Earth

An odd sub-set that should not be considered Last Man stories at all. The emphasis of the title is on the masculinity of the main character and not the de-population of Earth. Connotations with the Nietzschean conception of the Last Man are often present as well as a sub-text of anti-feminism or, at least, pro-masculinity. The main character is the last potent man on Earth, however the story chooses to define that term.


Bibliography: The Last Man on Earth (anth.)

Asimov, Isaac, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh (eds). The Last Man on Earth. New York: Fawcett, 1982

The New Reality • (1950)
novelette by Charles L. Harness

Knock • (1948)
short story by Fredric Brown

Kindness • (1944)
short story by Lester del Rey

A Man Spekith • (1969)
novelette by Richard Wilson

Continuous Performance • (1974)
short story by Gordon Eklund

The Coming of the Ice • (1926)
novelette by G. Peyton Wertenbaker

Trouble With Ants • (1951)
novelette by Clifford D. Simak

The Second-Class Citizen • (1963)
short story by Damon Knight

Flight to Forever • (1950)
novella by Poul Anderson

Lucifer • (1964)
short story by Roger Zelazny

Original Sin • (1946)
short story by S. Fowler Wright

Resurrection • (1948)
short story by A. E. van Vogt

In the World's Dusk • (1936)
short story by Edmond Hamilton

Day of Judgment • (1946)
short story by Edmond Hamilton

Eddie for Short • (1953)
short fiction by Wallace West

The Underdweller • (1957)
short story by William F. Nolan

The Most Sentimental Man • (1957)
short story by Evelyn E. Smith

Introduction (The Last Man on Earth)
essay by Isaac Asimov


Bibliography: Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank,
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten,
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine,
Life must go on
I forget just why.

Bibliography: Newman, Kim

Newman, Kim. Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

UK edition: Millennium Movies: End of the World Cinema. London: Titan,1999.

Pg. 18
The more complicated a civilization becomes, the more fun it is to imagine the whole works going up in flames.

Pg. 18

What if the world we know were destroyed, but you alone (or suitably partnered) survived? The commonest recurring image of the Apocalypse, in literature and film, is the dilapidated and depopulated city. As the survivors tour corpse-littered streets, we are allowed to peer at a world caught unaware by the moment of its extinction. To be the inheritor of worthless riches and an inexhaustible supply of canned food is not perhaps such an unattractive prospect.

Pg. 19
…a half-wished for descent into the dog-eat-dog barbarity and the extermination of all the boring people in the world.

Hatch, Robert
Review of Five in The New Republic
“To suppose that the atom will bring quick death for millions and a bright, clean world for a bright, clean boy and girl to repopulate is to tell a fairy story to the soft-minded.”

On The World, The Flesh, and The Devil
Buildings are left intact, but people are instantly vaporized—one wonders if the inventors of the neutron bomb were trying to mimic the effect.


Genre Defintion

Last Man stories are a sub-set of the Post-Apocalypse/ Post-Holocaust genre whose narratives feature a main character who believes that they may be the last person alive on the earth. The primal scene of the Last Man story is the main character wandering through a deserted city center in search of other survivors of the catastrophe that depopulated the world or local area.

Rarely do Last Man stories actually feature a world in which only the main character is left alive. There is very little drama in the struggle of a lone character with the elements and general entropic traumas of civilization collapse or de-evolution. Those that do are often savagely ironic short stories.

There are also stories that are called Last Man stories that do not contain a sole main character and often begin with a cast of characters that have survived the catastrophe. Likewise, some stories that refer to themselves as Last Man stories are adopting the Nietzschean meaning of the phrase or a Biblical interpretation that refers to the last generation before the return of Jesus Christ and the subsequent chaos of "The End Times."

I will attempt to review and categorize the major sub-sets of the Last Man genre in written fiction and film. I will also provide synopses of stories and films that could be considered part of the genre in order to build a canon of works.