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