THE LAST GENERATION – A STORY OF THE FUTURE (1908) – Written by James Elroy Flecker. A poet longs to see beyond his own era and experiences. He is visited by a time-travel phenomenon which is similar to a wind. The Time Wind transports him to various periods in the future.
First the wind takes him to future Birmingham, England, where a mad fanatic named Joshua Harris and his co-conspirators are planning to launch their coup the next day. He and his followers aren’t motivated by pure politics but by their belief that all of life is nothing but misery and can be ended only by death. They plan to seize power and set the human race on the path to extinction.
Next, the Time Wind takes him years further in the future, when Harris and his followers have conquered not just England, but the entire world. (Well, they did have the advantage of not caring how many allies or enemies die to achieve their ends.)
Joshua has rechristened himself King Harris and has decreed that no more children may be born. Any violators are put to death immediately, along with the child. Harris’ regime has perfected a fail-safe contraceptive and slips it into all food and drinks.
Meanwhile, in Germany, a Mutual Extermination Club has been formed, in which people who wish to commit suicide – which is encouraged – can be summarily shot to death. In America a forbidden baby has been born. The parents fearfully debate how to get rid of it and ponder clubbing it to death or boiling it for food.
France, characteristically, is home to an underground organization of hedonists called the Florentine League. With the global regime threatening to close in on them at any moment, they carry out their orgiastic partying. The narrator stays with them, making love and enjoying the finer things in the shadow of death. Eventually, they all commit suicide and the wind transports our main character again.
The Time Wind takes our narrator further into the future, with the final few remnants of the human race awaiting death. The narrator clashes with an elderly man and kills him, learning before the man dies that his victim is King Harris himself.
Next, the wind lets him see the world over forty more years ahead, so he can see the last two humans die out.
For the last glimpse of the future, the narrator sees that apes are now primed to become the Apex Predators and have learned to make fire. That is the end of the story, in the best “Hurts, don’t it? BYE!” tradition. Believe it or not, some covers for this book give away the ending with the cover illustration.
The Last Generation makes for a nice change of pace in terms of end of the world science fiction. Instead of being wiped out by our own technology, or from war or disease or collision with an asteroid, the human race is done in by a pernicious nihilism that spreads throughout the world.
James Flecker is often praised for his poetry and I personally think this tale might have worked better in verse form. There is no real characterization outside a trace or two with Joshua Harris and with no defined human interest a poetic framework might have been more effective. Especially if conveyed through the figurative point of view of the wind itself.
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