I read a previous book by this author and was delighted to find out this one was xenofiction.
An alien race finds out that a human, Andrew Martin, has solved the Riemann Hypothesis and that just would not do. They sent someone out to ensure this information didn’t spread through humanity, and that someone is the narrator of the story.
The alien takes the form of Andrew and attempts to adjust to being human while trying to delete all evidence of the solved hypothesis. This alien was to murder anyone with whom Andrew shared the knowledge.
At first disgusted by humans, AlienAndrew grows to enjoy the company of the son, Gulliver, and the wife, Isobel and chooses to keep them alive rather than kill them. This, obviously, causes problems.
The author manages to highlight a lot of the dichotomies of being human and does so in a manner that never let me forget that the main character is an alien. There’s a lightness in the narration of heavy concepts, which I found delightful.
The book is remarkably moving, well written, and a curious glance into what it means to be human. Definitely would recommend to anyone.
I’ve been looking for books featuring non-humans because I’m writing a novel from an alien species’ perspective and so much writing advice is ‘read your genre’. Xenofiction is a limited genre and while there is some out there it’s hard to find much written after 2000. I really dislike reading science fiction written before then both because of the huge technological changes that have taken place and because I’m really tired of reading books featuring mostly men.
Having said that, The Last Human is written primarily from the human’s pov. There are aliens in it, and we do get to see things from their perspective, so it counts as xenofiction. If any readers find any other current xenofiction, please let me know so I can give it a read.
To Start: This book made my brain feel good. Every loose end was neatly tied up and I felt like there was nothing missing in the story. I didn’t feel like there were extra words here and there cluttering up the pages, and I enjoyed the syntax very much. I’d read something by this author again purely because of that last point.
The Gloss: I like this cover. A human right at the center in a caution symbol and surrounded by many different types of aliens. The title font reminded me of old-timey futuristic font, back when people thought our future had hope.*
The font inside was nice and easy to read. A note at the back of the book said this is in Sabon typeface. I love when books have that little paragraph at the back about the font. No idea why I like it, but I do.
Rather than the page headers be on top, they appeared on the outside edge of each page. Interesting. It helped give the book an odd feel which suited the alien parts nicely.
The copy I read is a library copy and newish, so the pages were unmarred, nice to feel, crisp edges, and good glue.
The Characters: The main character is Sarya the Daughter, a human. Her arc is good. She starts as a human that has to hide her identity to being a human that has the courage to face whatever comes next in her life.
Sarya the Daughter makes some alien friends in her journey, and those are fairly distinguishable from each other. I never confused any of them or had any difficulty in knowing who was speaking.
All of the service drones had some intelligence, like they were AIs. They reminded me of dogs: happy to work, pleased to be assisting higher intelligence entities, and loyal/faithful. I don’t know if the author intended to give that impression or not, but I loved it. They also had some sass and that was fantastic to read.
The Plot: It was easy to follow. Sarya the Daughter starts off wondering what bleak future she has because she’s registered as Spaal, a lower intelligence species, and can’t ever let anyone know she’s human. Because of her lower tier, job opportunities are few and far between. But then someone called Observer tells her they know she’s human and asks if she’d like to meet more humans. Why yes, of course she would. This starts her tumbling off on a wild adventure to save, or destroy, the universe. Or several universes. The whole story gets really big but easy to follow.
The Story: While saving the galaxy/known existence is the plot, the story is more about Sarya learning what she can do as a human and how her actions impact galaxies as a whole.
Overall, this works. There were a few parts that felt like they dragged. The books starts with the immediate questions of why humans are hidden and why she’s the last one. These are both answered very nicely.
The author did a great job in wrapping the story up. The last chapter had a bit of review, which was nice, but not too obviously A Review Of Events. It helped remind me of how far Sarya had come and how much confidence she’d gained.
In between some chapters we had a bit of information disguised as a “Welcome to the Network” manual. This also worked well to supply a bunch of exposition to the reader without feeling like an info dump.
Also, there’s a fair portion of the book taken up by Sarya’s adopted mother’s memories. They help provide some context about what’s going on and the reader gets to see a human through an alien’s perspective.
The World: Very well developed. Beautifully done.
The author didn’t go to great lengths to explain everything, but did manage to indicate that living spaces were engineered for the widest possible array of species. This included food, water, and atmospheric conditions.
Everyone was connected via the Network, an implant in your brain. Sarya didn’t have an implant because the surgery would’ve revealed her human status. Instead she had a bulky prosthetic which was changed early on to a necklace and earbuds. The Network enabled telepathy, including emoticons, even with maintenance drones. Every entity also had a Helper assigned to them, which would be like if you had a constant companion in your head that can offer information, research, advice, or even just a sounding board. This was cool, especially since Sarya learned how to manipulate hers to provide information on humans by saying she had a friend who wanted stories about them.
Sarya’s manipulation of drones and her Helper was a bit of foreshadowing about how a much higher tier intelligence manipulated several other species, and Sarya, to end up at a specific juncture.
Tiered intelligence? Why yes. Every species is rated by intelligence level with drones being the lowest. There are five tiers of intelligence in the book, and Sarya meets someone in each tier. The author manages to explain higher intelligence well and without much confusion, and how small an individual human can be in relation to the galaxy, but also how pivotal that same human is to the galaxy.
I loved how there was no war, no fighting between species. As it’s pointed out late in the book: the universe is vast and empty so when you find others, you get along instead of destroy. Unless you’re human, of course.
Nitpicks: I don’t have any. Huh. Weird for me.
Overall: Tightly written with no extraneous information. It’s like every word was selected with care so as not to have too much additional filler. I’ll edit some books as I read them, this was not the case here. Very well done.
All plot points made sense, although some felt contrived…but aren’t all books contrived to some degree? But really, having Sarya’s home destroyed made it so she couldn’t return and had to carry on. This was good, but a bit convenient. Just like Sarya having no Network implant felt a bit convenient, but it made sense. Also, Sarya could download her adoptive mother’s memories, which was cool, but also a convenient way of adding a bunch of exposition and explanation.
I really enjoyed how the author pulls the reader from the mind of one lowly human all the way up to an entity in charge of the universe, and then back down to one human mind. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Would I read this again? Probably not, but that’s not unusual. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys character based stories with battling forces in the background.
*has anyone else noticed that back in the 1950’s the future was represented as hopeful, innovative, and interesting? Now, our future is represented with dystopia, desolation, overlord monitoring, and lack of privacy.