Top Five Tips for The Last Man on Earth

1. Arm yourself. In all probability you are not alone. Handguns for now.

2. Look around, cautiously. Do the best you can to determine what kind of empty world you are in… don’t yell to find other people until you know you want to meet them. They might be zombies, mutants, alien zookeepers, etc. Ask yourself some basic questions: Are the animate dead walking the street and hungering for living flesh? What do you smell? rot? decay? Is the hideous shambling form you spot in the distance a horrible mutated survivor or the undead? Will the mutants hate you for your good looks or blame you for destroying the bulk of humanity? Will the alien zookeepers bring you a mate? Will she be hot? It will take at least one act before you know for sure what’s going on, so stay flexible in the first few days.

3. Get some wheels. A motorcycle will get you through all the wrecked and abandoned but you have to worry about wrecking it (no doctors) and it really can’t carry much in the way of ammunition and supplies. A rugged off-road vehicle with simple mechanics would be best, but nothing with an open top (zombies.) Take spare tires and basic vehicle fluids and parts and equipment (battery, spark plugs, distributor cap, etc.) Fill up as many gasoline cans as practical before the power goes off. Getting gas out of underground tanks is not as easy as it looks in the movies and siphoning gas out of other cars is time consuming and leaves you exposed (zombies.)

4. Hit the grocery store. Stock up on canned goods, can openers and calorie-dense foods with a reasonably long shelf life such as nuts, chocolate, and dried fruits. Eat all you want… your weight will never be a problem again. (If there is a last woman, she’ll accept you for who you are.) Bottled water, medications, hygiene products are also on the shopping list, but don’t try to get everything, this is all just to tide you over until you…

5. Get out of the city. Hundreds of tiny events out of your control can go wrong in a city and kill you: fires, disease, roving gangs of mutants, etc. You want to think fortress. Find a little place in the country and clear the trees around it for a free-fire zone. Stock up on firewood and candles. Keep a generator going if you must, but ease back on it so that when it breaks or there’s no more gas, it won’t come as such a shock. Make trips back to urban centers to stock up on food, medicine, and to hunt for the last woman on Earth (unless you already found her… but would a spare really hurt?) Stockpile, stockpile, stockpile. Food, weapons, ammunition, medicine, pornography, clothing, fire extinguishers, how-to books and tools. Take up farming. And if any lived, get a dog.


Bibliography: Newman, Kim

"I think the appeal is getting rid of all the boring people in the world. One of the few films that plays with the actual wish-fulfillment fantasy of the end of the world as we know it is the much-misunderstood Red Dawn, which expresses precisely that strange survivalist mix of preparedness and eager anticipation that characterizes popular images of the apocalypse. Except for a few gloomy nuke dramas, not many end of the world stories involve imagining oneself among the many, many dead. In a sense, end of the world dramas are the ultimate Reggie Perrin fantasy, doing away with the old life and starting over again. Also, There's an aesthetic pleasure in ruins (at its most extreme, see the bucolic apocalypse of After London) and a Peter Pan-like joy to playing pirates. There's the selfish fact that we all envy posterity. When we die, we miss the end of the story and that can be infuriating. There's a sense that if we have to go, we'd rather the board were swept clean with us."

-Kim Newman, Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema


Bibliography: Brians, Paul

Brians, Paul. Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984.

Shaggy God

"An important subcategory of the post-holocaust love story is the Adam and Eve formula, in which the two survivors of a holocaust must mate to ensure the continuation of the human race. The genre is a large one, including many stories not depicting a nuclear war, and was well established long before the atomic era. One of the best known early examples is Alfred Noyes's 1940 novel No Other Man, mercilessly satirized in Ronald Duncan's 1952 atomic test catastrophe novel The Last Adam (London: Dobson). Satiric treatment of the formula also figures in Damon Knight's "Not With a Bang" (1950; note the punning title), which is little more than a joke criticizing female prudishness. At the end of the story the last man stands paralyzed and dying in a men's room while the last woman waits outside, too proper to enter and see what is taking him so long."

The Last MAN on Earth
"Another way in which atomic warfare is connected with sexuality is in its effect on reproduction. In The Man with Only One Head (1955), Densil Barr depicts universal sterilization from cobalt-bomb-induced radiation as creating a frenzy of illicit copulation (one would suppose no contraception was available in 1955); adultery is consequently made a capital crime, despite the fact that 43 percent of the married population is indulging. Barr satirizes the values of his time by stating that men would rather see the human race die out than have their wives impregnated by the one man left fertile on Earth."


Sub-Categories Ordered by Degree of Concept

1st Order
The main character is the last living example of homo sapiens on a world devoid of other sentience, either terrestrial, extra-terrestrial, or artificial.

2nd Order
At some point in the narrative, the main character is presented to the reader or thinks him/herself to be the last living homo sapiens. The narrative contains the primal scenes of the Last Man genre. The character eventually comes in contact with one or more sentient beings. The stories vary in length of time before contact, the nature of that contact and the results of that contact. A critical difference is also to be found in the number of people left alive that are eventually discovered.

3rd Order
Stories that use gendercide to drive the plot. While not all gendercide in fiction results in a Last Man (or woman) story, some are pitched directly as that by using the phrase.

4th Order
Stories that whittle a group of characters down to an Adam and Eve Shaggy God plot, technically resulting in a “Last Man.” This is to be differentiated from 2nd order stories where a classic Last Man meets a surviving Last Woman.

5th Order
Stories that are a pun on the phrase “Last Man on Earth.” Also stories that refer to the Biblical notions of the "Last Man," i.e. the generation that will witness the return of Christ.


Common Plot Structures

Last Man stories can be organized into a number of sub-categories based on how the Last Man concept or situation is conceived and used in the story. These are by no means exclusive divisions. Many stories exhibit a mixture of two or more of these. The following reviews will be tagged by category.

The Last Man on Earth
Stories that feature the main character as the last living human being on Earth in total isolation from any other sentient beings (terrestrial of extraterrestrial in origin, organic or artificial in sentience.) These stories can either feature a plot where everyone dies or disappears around the main character or where the mechanism of the death/disappearance of every one else sets the plot in motion.

The Last Woman on Earth
A rare gender reversal of the basic Last Man theme.

The Last Man on Earth (for now)
Many of these begin by suggesting the character is the Last Man, but other people (mainly fellow survivors) gradual appear or are encountered. Many feature periods of isolation broken by contact. Since this is the form that most Last Man stories take, the period of time before the main character meets other survivors is a distinguishing feature.

This has the further sub-types:

The Last Heterosexual Couple on Earth
The basic science fiction Adam and Eve story. They are depressingly common; sometimes referred to as “Shaggy God” stories. The more facile form results in the story being set thousand of years ago and the plot reveals the couple as being the Biblical Adam and Eve, asserting the literal truth of Genesis. They can also come in the form of a story set in the future, were the two must re-populate the Earth with no apparent concept of inbreeding.

The Last Love Triangle on Earth
The conflict of the love triangle can range from an unspoken attraction all the way up to pitched battle in the empty streets. A surprising number of these stories have been created.

The Last Groups on Earth
Instead of the Last Man encountering just a few survivors, enough come together to (or attempt to at least) restart a society.

There are also stories that do not feature the (overwhelmingly temporary) total isolation and the primal scene of the Last Man trope of travel or investigation of the de-populated world. The “Last Men” of these stories do not think at any point they are the last senitent being on the earth.

The Last (Hu)man on Earth
Last Man stories in that the world is de-populated of human beings but not of other sentient entities (intelligent animals, zombies, mutants, artificial intelligences.)

The Last Male on Earth / The Last Female on Earth
Another ironic take on the notion of the Last Man, where a male main character is/becomes or a female main character discovers/creates the only male in a world populated only with females. The story reversed in gender is quite rare. Stories of this nature often grapple with the theme of gendercide.

The Last (Fertile) Man on Earth
Stories where all men are impotent/sterile save one.

The Last MAN on Earth

An odd sub-set that should not be considered Last Man stories at all. The emphasis of the title is on the masculinity of the main character and not the de-population of Earth. Connotations with the Nietzschean conception of the Last Man are often present as well as a sub-text of anti-feminism or, at least, pro-masculinity. The main character is the last potent man on Earth, however the story chooses to define that term.


Bibliography: The Last Man on Earth (anth.)

Asimov, Isaac, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh (eds). The Last Man on Earth. New York: Fawcett, 1982

The New Reality • (1950)
novelette by Charles L. Harness

Knock • (1948)
short story by Fredric Brown

Kindness • (1944)
short story by Lester del Rey

A Man Spekith • (1969)
novelette by Richard Wilson

Continuous Performance • (1974)
short story by Gordon Eklund

The Coming of the Ice • (1926)
novelette by G. Peyton Wertenbaker

Trouble With Ants • (1951)
novelette by Clifford D. Simak

The Second-Class Citizen • (1963)
short story by Damon Knight

Flight to Forever • (1950)
novella by Poul Anderson

Lucifer • (1964)
short story by Roger Zelazny

Original Sin • (1946)
short story by S. Fowler Wright

Resurrection • (1948)
short story by A. E. van Vogt

In the World's Dusk • (1936)
short story by Edmond Hamilton

Day of Judgment • (1946)
short story by Edmond Hamilton

Eddie for Short • (1953)
short fiction by Wallace West

The Underdweller • (1957)
short story by William F. Nolan

The Most Sentimental Man • (1957)
short story by Evelyn E. Smith

Introduction (The Last Man on Earth)
essay by Isaac Asimov


Bibliography: Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank,
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten,
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine,
Life must go on
I forget just why.

Bibliography: Newman, Kim

Newman, Kim. Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

UK edition: Millennium Movies: End of the World Cinema. London: Titan,1999.

Pg. 18
The more complicated a civilization becomes, the more fun it is to imagine the whole works going up in flames.

Pg. 18

What if the world we know were destroyed, but you alone (or suitably partnered) survived? The commonest recurring image of the Apocalypse, in literature and film, is the dilapidated and depopulated city. As the survivors tour corpse-littered streets, we are allowed to peer at a world caught unaware by the moment of its extinction. To be the inheritor of worthless riches and an inexhaustible supply of canned food is not perhaps such an unattractive prospect.

Pg. 19
…a half-wished for descent into the dog-eat-dog barbarity and the extermination of all the boring people in the world.

Hatch, Robert
Review of Five in The New Republic
“To suppose that the atom will bring quick death for millions and a bright, clean world for a bright, clean boy and girl to repopulate is to tell a fairy story to the soft-minded.”

On The World, The Flesh, and The Devil
Buildings are left intact, but people are instantly vaporized—one wonders if the inventors of the neutron bomb were trying to mimic the effect.


Genre Defintion

Last Man stories are a sub-set of the Post-Apocalypse/ Post-Holocaust genre whose narratives feature a main character who believes that they may be the last person alive on the earth. The primal scene of the Last Man story is the main character wandering through a deserted city center in search of other survivors of the catastrophe that depopulated the world or local area.

Rarely do Last Man stories actually feature a world in which only the main character is left alive. There is very little drama in the struggle of a lone character with the elements and general entropic traumas of civilization collapse or de-evolution. Those that do are often savagely ironic short stories.

There are also stories that are called Last Man stories that do not contain a sole main character and often begin with a cast of characters that have survived the catastrophe. Likewise, some stories that refer to themselves as Last Man stories are adopting the Nietzschean meaning of the phrase or a Biblical interpretation that refers to the last generation before the return of Jesus Christ and the subsequent chaos of "The End Times."

I will attempt to review and categorize the major sub-sets of the Last Man genre in written fiction and film. I will also provide synopses of stories and films that could be considered part of the genre in order to build a canon of works.