"The Last Man" by Mary Shelley






Rothwell's portrait of Mary Shelley


We received an email recently from a reader who asked why we don't showcase female authors in this column.  We love our readers and we love to highlight quality Science from people of any race, gender, religion, or nationality.  I responded in the only way I could which was to inform him that if he would provide a recommendation we would be more than happy to do a segment.  I assure our readers, there is no bias when it comes to the works we search out.  Please bear in mind that there are very few writers in general who meet the criteria for this column and even fewer still of varying ethnicities and genders.  I also pointed out that we did a segment a while back on Leigh Brackett and her book "The Black Amazon of Mars" and Andre Norton's "Storm Over Warlock".  

This week's subject should be of particular interest to those seeking out more pre-Bronze Age Science Fiction by women.  To date, only one is known to exist and that is Mary Shelly.  Often people cite her as the first Science Fiction author, and I've always found that claim to be dubious.  But then I am always skeptical of the human need to attribute something to a group for the sake of political or social expedience.  However, last year I discovered a lesser know work of Shelley's entitled "The Last Man".  It remained in near complete obscurity for more than a century until some academics decided to lend a more critical eye to the totality of Shelley's works.  In the 60s and 70s it became more widely read in university circles.  And honestly I've seen the book before but never considered the possibility that it might be considered Science Fiction until I gave it a read.

Not only is this a Science Fiction work, but it deals with themes and ideas almost exclusively found in modern apocalyptic and dystopian Science Fiction.  One could say that she was among the first, if not the first, to deal with such themes in such a detailed way.  The story is about a group of noblemen who survive the outbreak of a plague around the year 2092 (I know right!).  They encounter a whole host of perils, not the least of which is the plague itself, while attempting to navigate their changed reality.  At one point they even encounter a religious doomsday cult headed by a messianic demagogue.  What I found of particular interest was this very scientific idea that the group formed by the main characters, thought it best if they continue to move in hopes that certain climates would suppress the propogation of the disease.  It's an idea that we see often if shows like "The Walking Dead" and movies like "World War Z".  We also see it in real life in war and disease ravaged parts of the world.  The idea, as put for by Shelley is not only progressive, it's prophetic.

 "The Last Man" by Mary Shelley Kindle
 "The Last Man" Audiobook