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The Last Man on Earth Club

by Paul R. Hardy

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244777,565 (3.31)None
Six people are gathered for a therapy group deep in the countryside. Six people who share a unique and terrible trauma: each one is the last survivor of an apocalypse.Each of them was rescued from a parallel universe where humanity was wiped out. They've survived nuclear war, machine uprisings, mass suicide, the reanimated dead, and more. They've been given sanctuary on the homeworld of the Interversal Union and placed with Dr. Asha Singh, a therapist who works with survivors of doomed worlds.To help them, she'll have to figure out what they've been through, what they've suffered, and the secrets they're hiding. She can't cure them of being the last man or woman on Earth. But she can help them learn to live with the horrors they survived.'This one won't leave you with the warm and fuzzies, but it will leave you thinking, and for me that's the mark of great science fiction.' - Sift Book Reviews… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
Good, but missing something. ( )
  Drunken-Otter | Aug 20, 2021 |
The conceit behind The Last Man on Earth Club is without a doubt the most original idea for a science fiction novel I've come across in a long, long time. On a multiversal hub world to which refugees of apocalypses (apocalypti?) galore are brought after being rescued from Earth's destruction by everything from solar flares to zombie plagues to Heaven's Gate-style mass suicides on a planetary scale, six people, each of whom is the sole survivor of his home universe's variant on the human species, are treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as part of the process of integrating them into a brand new society. That's the book in a nutshell, setting, cast and plot all in one. Such a schtick carries with it both the potential to be horrible and gimmicky, and the potential to be weirdly awesome.

I'm happy to say it's weirdly awesome, though I was left feeling a little dissatisfied with the ending.

But the beginning and middle are all kinds of inventive fun, fun that manages to have a real sense of authenticity to it.*

Fans of post-apocalyptic fiction will enjoy the veritable buffet of ways the world has ended in these survivors' experiences. Hardy explores nuclear war (from the perspective of the man who just might have been the one to push the big red button that started it all), alien suicide cults (from the perspective of the only person to survive his blissful attempt to join those bright white energy balls who promised Heaven to anyone with the courage to join them -- and who is still trying to spread the faith in his new world), Matrix/Terminator-esque man vs machine wars (from the perspective of a cyborg found drifting naked in outer space), the ever popular zombie apocalypse (from the perspective of an embittered doctor who tried to fight it), a horrible history of slavery and final extermination of one human species by another who shared the planet with it (from the perspective of the last survivor of a failed captive breeding program to preserve the species in a zoo), and a comic book world where just over half of the population has some kind of superpower but that couldn't save them from some kind of mad science experiment gone horribly wrong and spontaneously combusting them all (from the perspective of a ditzy office girl who thinks everyone just took off and hid from her as a practical joke). As the stories are told, the survivors emerge as distinctive personalities and fully-rounded characters, characters in a lot of pain and denial and trauma, trying to cope with what happened and with each other's foibles.

This would be enough for a pretty interesting book, but author Paul R. Hardy was much more ambitious than that. Rather than just creating a sort of post-apocalyptic Breakfast Club**, he turned his novel into a serious discussion of refugee care, genocide, justice and jurisdiction in a way that still has me astonished.

He also spun all of this into a sort of mystery plot, tantalizingly hinting at the possibility that some or all of these planetary destructions and extinctions are linked, that they might have been the deliberate work of one or more races of bad actors. Several of the characters, in the course of their therapy, reveal clues to who this might have been and how it might have come to pass, and as the Hub prepares to receive another huge wave of refugees from a universe in which the Earth is being destroyed by solar flares gone wild (that might just have been deliberately set off, one suspicious survivor hints), resolve to try to take on this unknown entity and deliver to it/them the punishment/justice that the IU looks unlikely to ever mete out. Interesting stuff, this (but isn't it all?), but it is here that my dissatisfaction comes in: this is never tied up, really, at all. None of it is, really. The novel just sort of ends -- on a semi-promising note, sure, but not with any conclusions or finality. I've not seen any word on whether a sequel is in the works, but there had better be, Mr. Hardy.

There had better be.

*Having been treated for PTSD myself, I found the novel's depiction of this difficult, chancy and inexact process to be wonderfully true to life, even as the stories emerging from individual and group sessions were the stuff of pulp fiction and comic books. I admire the balance the author struck there exceedingly.

**Though on this level the book works just as brilliantly as the John Hughes film I refer to. These characters are vivid as hell, and while none of them could ever be called likable, they nonetheless inspire both sympathy and empathy and feel utterly real and believable. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
Reading this was a strange and intense experience. It was also a very draining experience for me, because I’m in the very bad habit of getting really into the emotional struggles of characters; this novel is so different, and quite special.

As I’ve said some time before, apocalyptic plots are not something I especially enjoy; nifty ways for my world to end are not necessarily my shade of fun, and that’s how I generally feel about novels that go about one way for the world to end. Paul R. Hardy went all out and pictured numerous ways for a world to end, and all the worlds he thought up were delightfully different, but all human. They felt human, all the bloody problems felt human and real, all the issues, all the rotten mentalities – it was thoroughly overwhelming.
The plot is something very much so original, and it brings a fresh and really well built perspective on the evolution of civilizations. Of course, being a fan of psychology, the therapy part was also plenty interesting.

The characters are all very layered and interesting, very different from each other. I enjoyed Asha, the therapist, and I loved her open-mindedness and constant will to help her patients. The therapy group has a really interesting dynamic, and just when you think you’ve got them all figured out, there’s a major shift and they reveal a whole new side of themselves. The life stories of the members of this group are way beyond tearjerkers, in fact I found them profoundly touching. I was really close to tears for many of them, but combined it was so shocking that you’re past tears, you’re just stunned, stupid-silent and wide-eyed.

They all were dealing with the same terrifying fact: they were the only survivors of their world, the last ones of their races, of their ways of life, of their beliefs. In some cases I will shamelessly say I didn’t feel that sad the world was wiped out; when reading you’ll understand why I’m saying that.
Pew was, for some reason, the one I felt the most heartbroken about. My heart went out to Kwame, and his disorientation and pain seemed almost impossible to cope with, but he was brave. Olivia is one remarkable lady, and in all honesty, my personal favorite character. She’s tough, pragmatic, abounding of attitude, really strong and a big deal stubborn. I loved her from her first grumpy comment. Iokan’s troubles are tangent on a religious take of things beyond understanding, and I found his struggle to come to terms with a harsh reality really soul-wrenching. Liss was the more spunky of them all, I guess, and perhaps her lively attitude made me feel like she could deal a bit easier with her situation. The Katie/Elsbet duo was a very interesting idea to ponder on, and their end of the world gives a lot to think about, but then again, all ends of the worlds give a lot to think about. It’s like a really nice, emotionally charged, map of many things that could easily go wrong enough to become ends of worlds.

I was very into this novel, and I invested a lot of myself in the healing process of the group therapy members. Perhaps because of that, I felt the need to take pauses from reading, and it took me a lot longer then it usually does to read it. During the last quarter or so of the novel, there were a few times when I felt my interest slightly flicker, for some reason. Perhaps because by that time hopes I’d had in the beginning were proving to be unrealistic (aren’t they always?…*sigh*), and I felt a very personal disappointment in the fact all wasn’t going to be well. Of course, the amount of trauma and issues you’d be left with if you were the sole survivor of your planet are unthinkable, and perhaps not something one can really sort out in any way. But you hope it will be all right-ish, you know?

All in all, I found The Last Man on Earth Club very interesting, and I’d recommend it to sci-fi fans, especially to apocalyptic stories fans, but also to anyone who likes touching stories and well written characters. ( )
  L.E.Olteano | Aug 17, 2011 |
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. ( )
  Martin_Cooper | Aug 5, 2011 |
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Six people are gathered for a therapy group deep in the countryside. Six people who share a unique and terrible trauma: each one is the last survivor of an apocalypse.Each of them was rescued from a parallel universe where humanity was wiped out. They've survived nuclear war, machine uprisings, mass suicide, the reanimated dead, and more. They've been given sanctuary on the homeworld of the Interversal Union and placed with Dr. Asha Singh, a therapist who works with survivors of doomed worlds.To help them, she'll have to figure out what they've been through, what they've suffered, and the secrets they're hiding. She can't cure them of being the last man or woman on Earth. But she can help them learn to live with the horrors they survived.'This one won't leave you with the warm and fuzzies, but it will leave you thinking, and for me that's the mark of great science fiction.' - Sift Book Reviews

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