Post-apocalyptic stress

June 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Last Man on Earth ClubThe Last Man on Earth Club – Paul R. Hardy
Kindle £1.99 ($2.99)

Inter-stellar travel is a bust. The stars are just too far away. How much easier to slip sideways and visit other Earths, infinitely duplicated through a chain of alternate universes.

This is the premise behind Paul Hardy’s highly original novel The Last Man on Earth Club. Exploration teams fan out from the world they call The Hub to visit its doppelgängers. All too often they find disaster: war, genocide and natural cataclysm. The Hub becomes a magnet for refugees and survivors. Among them are six unique individuals, the last members of their respective races. They are gathered together to undergo therapy.

One of the things that makes this book so readable is its clinical approach. It begins as a collection of documents: reports from contact teams and transcripts of individual and group therapy sessions in which the six – all in their different ways severely damaged – introduce themselves and their home worlds. Gradually these merge into a first person account by the therapist (herself a refugee from an Earth that sounds uncomfortably like our own). There are plenty of dramatic twists and revelations, but the measured tone of her voice holds all the threads together.

Hardy has obviously researched his subject (in a note at the end of the book he recommends several works on post-traumatic stress disorder and “post-disaster psychological aftercare”) but he carries his studies lightly and there is no sense of undigested theory. On the contrary, the characters are marvellously strong and varied, as are the layers of guilt they conceal.

He has put together a cocktail of sf scenarios which genre fans will love: nuclear devastation, environmental collapse, AI wars, genetic manipulation, plagues of zombies, the lot. All are dramatised in detail through the survivors’ eyes and all except one are gripping and convincing. The lapse is a ludicrous Marvel Comics world of incompetent superheroes which the author himself doesn’t seem to take quite seriously. A pity – on several occasions it threatens to throw the book off course.

This is not a feelgood story. It has uncomfortable echoes in recent history: the Nazi holocaust; the treatment of native peoples in Australia and elsewhere; earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan. The survivors don’t like one another much. They don’t like themselves. By the end of the book they still have a long way to travel, but we feel they have taken the first steps along the road.

The Last Man on Earth Club Amazon (UK) Amazon (US)

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