The galaxy depicted in The Last Human, by Zack Jordan, is huge, home to countless trillions of beings and connected by an unimaginably complex communications and transportation network. Sarya, who’s considered just barely legally sentient, couldn’t possibly begin to understand the vastness of the galaxy, nor the network that binds it together. But despite her lowly status and seeming insignificance, Sarya has one dubious distinction. She is the galaxy’s last human.
But it’s nothing to brag about. No one can know she’s human. The human species was deemed too dangerous to exist and was wiped out. She’ll never know her own people. And her adoptive mother, a member of the warrior spider species known as Widows, has no interest in talking to her about humanity or why the human race was eliminated. It seems Sarya has no choice but to settle for a life as a mere 1.8 on the galactic intelligence scale, pretending to be a member of the innocuous Spaal species, and knowing nothing of her past or her family.
But things change when a member of a collective intelligence hints that he knows what she is and knows where to find others of her kind. Following the violent death of her adoptive mother and the catastrophic destruction of her home, Sarya flees and attempts to find her place in a galactic society that has little respect for “lesser” lifeforms and a genocidal fear of humans.
Though the setting of The Last Human is vast in scale, the author still manages to ground the story in the lives and perspectives of its characters. Sarya is a determined yet remarkably sane girl despite being raised by a retired spider warrior who once reveled in the violence and thrill of the hunt. Her adoptive mother, Shenya the Widow, is considered so dangerous that warning labels were put on their cabin door after a few of her neighbors died. Yet Shenya feels genuine affection for her adoptive daughter, even if Sarya’s squishy bits are on the outside instead of underneath a proper exoskeleton.
One of the fun parts of The Last Human are the humorously condescending entries from the Welcome to the Network handbook. Interspersed throughout the story are excerpts from the handbook welcoming new species to the galactic network. These excerpts provide the reader with useful background information on how galactic society works, but it’s their snarky, better-than-you tone that makes them fun. Sure, new member species benefit from joining the galactic network, but the handbook’s tone makes it very clear that newcomers need a couple hundred thousand more years of development to earn other species’ respect.
With its blend of epic adventure and humor, The Last Human is a welcome departure from other sole survivor tales, which are usually more grim (we’re looking at you The Road). If you’re looking for grand science fiction adventure that deals with big ideas while not taking itself too seriously, The Last Human is the book for you. For another fun read with engaging insights, try All Systems Red by Martha Wells, about a security android that becomes self aware and discovers it’s more interested in being left alone and binge watching TV than providing security to its human companions.