"Last Man on Earth" Stories
January 25, 2008 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for stories involving "last man on earth" type scenarios.

Recommendations of any media will do so long as it's not on Betamax or Laserdisc. Anything on paper is ideal.

The story doesn't have to be about one person or even a man; it can be about one person or a small band of survivors of the apocalypse or something. I'm interested in the stories of how one or more people cope with the solitude and the ramifications of repopulation (if even possible) when faced with the fact that you're the last of a decimated human population.

I know about the movie "The Last Man on Earth" and the "I am Legend" series (the latter of which has dubious relevance). If I recall correctly the end of Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" focuses on the subject as well. Ellison's "I Have No Mouth..." would count too.

There were also a short series of comics called "The Survivor" in which humanity is wiped out and the world is dominated by robots, save for the female protagonist and a handful of others. Borders on smut, but it counts.

I am *NOT* looking for zombie movies. "28 Days Later" and the Will Smith "I am Legend" do not count. Aliens, maybe.

Thanks for any suggestions :)
posted by Ziggy Zaga to Media & Arts (68 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Ahhh I can't remember the name. There was this book about a guy who was in the mountains and got a snake bite which made him immune to some world ravaging disease. Him and other survivors band together. He was paranoid about saving the books.

Anybody know what I'm talking about?
posted by Defenestrator at 4:30 PM on January 25, 2008

"Post-apocalyptic" is the genre you're interested in. That might help in searching.

The Stand - Stephen King
Z for Zachariah

previous similar questions may help too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:31 PM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

On the Beach
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:32 PM on January 25, 2008

posted by LobsterMitten at 4:33 PM on January 25, 2008

The name was in one of the posts LobsterMitten linked to.

Earth Abides

I remember liking it.
posted by Defenestrator at 4:34 PM on January 25, 2008

There's the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough at Last, which was apparently adapted from a short story.

Mad Max also came to mind, though I'm not sure if that counts. LobsterMitten is right on, though - 'Post-apocalyptic' is the genre.
posted by mysterpigg at 4:36 PM on January 25, 2008


Nick Sagan's Idewild/Edenborn/Everfree trilogy.

Y The Last Man comic book series is about a lone guy in a world of women, not a small population, but still devastated.

Vonnegut's Galapagos

Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon

See also: this wikipedia list of post-apocalyptic novels

TV Shows:

Battlestar Galactica

posted by nerdcore at 4:38 PM on January 25, 2008

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Unfortunately, Oprah picked it for her friggin book club. Don't let that deter you.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 4:38 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should try The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It's not necessarily a "last man on earth" scenario, but close, and very well written.
posted by treesarefree at 4:38 PM on January 25, 2008

Y: The Last Man is a comic about, you guessed it, the last man on Earth. The ladies are still just fine, though, it's only the men who died off mysteriously one day. Except for Yorick and his monkey.
posted by mumkin at 4:39 PM on January 25, 2008

Clifford Simak's City winds down from the end of a man to a time when all that remains are dogs. The middle section, in particular, deals with the last humans on earth.

The latter chapters of The Martian Chronicles have a number of sequences of isolated humans, left behind on Mars, and, in one instance, and automated house that simply continues its daily activities.

Wall•E, when it comes out, is about a robot left behind on earth when humanity abandoned it for the stars.

There is a Twilight Zone episode called Time Enough at Last, about a man who was in a bank vault when the bomb dropped, and realized he is the only surviving human.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:39 PM on January 25, 2008

I know this was mentioned above, but On The Beach, On The Beach, On The Beach.
Ah yes, and The Stand (Stephen King). TV mini-series is enjoyable, too, but no clue where you'd find it.
posted by whatzit at 4:41 PM on January 25, 2008

What about the book "I Am Legend." It is amazing, written in the 50's and nothing like the Will Smith movie. It is mostly about a man learning to be alone, accepting his fate and surviving.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:41 PM on January 25, 2008

I just thought of one other you may be interested in: After London by Richard Jefferies.
posted by treesarefree at 4:48 PM on January 25, 2008

Seriously, check out this little New Zealand movie: The Quiet Earth. It's absolutely wonderful... kind of petters out toward the end, but still very cool.
posted by wfrgms at 4:55 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Last man alive, by A.S. Neill. I read this story as a teen, back in the seventies. The story always stayed with me. About a class that survives "the green cloud".
posted by ouke at 5:06 PM on January 25, 2008

Response by poster: "Post-apocalyptic" is the genre you're interested in. That might help in searching.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:31 PM on January 25 [mark as best answer] [1 favorite +] [!]

Thanks for the responses, and so quickly!

While I'm already a fan of the genre, "post-apocalyptic" is not exactly what I had in mind when I posed the question. I feared requesting "post-apocalyptic" stuff would get me suggestions such as "The Postman" or the "Fallout" games when they don't *quite* fit the bill. A sense of civilization still exists in both; there are plenty of people, just not as many as there were before the bombs. I'm looking for stories that really bring out the sense of isolation you get when there are less than a handful of people on the planet.

By all means, please keep up the deluge of suggestions though.

I am planning to nag my roommate to let me borrow his "Y: The Last Man" run. I've heard a lot of good things about it elsewhere.

posted by Ziggy Zaga at 5:07 PM on January 25, 2008

A boy and his dog.
posted by O9scar at 5:08 PM on January 25, 2008

Seconding The Quiet Earth.
posted by neuron at 5:16 PM on January 25, 2008

two movies: the war of the roses and solaris. the latter is based on a novel by stanislav lem with the same title.
posted by krautland at 5:17 PM on January 25, 2008

The Quiet Earth is also a book; the author is a former lecturer of mine.
posted by Paragon at 5:21 PM on January 25, 2008

There's a really intense book called Wittgenstein's Mistress about a woman who thinks she's the last person on earth. It's in the first person and it kind of made me a little crazy to read it, but I think it would make anyone a little crazy to be the last person on earth. Also, I know next to nothing about Wittgenstein. But it's definitely one of my more memorable reading experiences.
posted by witchstone at 5:23 PM on January 25, 2008

How about The Girl Who Owned a City. I have not read it since grade school, but I remember really enjoying it then. All the worlds adults die off, and only kids under 12 are left alive.
posted by travis08 at 5:26 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

How is The war of the roses relevant. I have not seen it in ages, but it can't remember anything about it that would pertain to this question.
posted by travis08 at 5:29 PM on January 25, 2008

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
posted by valleys at 5:35 PM on January 25, 2008

I love this stuff. Try Children of the Dust, a story or two in Octavia Butler's Bloodchild (I think), Wolf of Shadows (I used to check this out over & over from the YA section as a kid). I also was traumatized by a book called The Last Bomb, but I can't find it. I remember waves of rats in an abandoned fairground.
posted by changeling at 5:36 PM on January 25, 2008

On the Beach isn't a "last man" but a "last stand" of humanity tale. In this vein, I recommend Steel Beach.
posted by Mblue at 5:41 PM on January 25, 2008

nthing The Quiet Earth and fond of the ending.
posted by Tuwa at 5:46 PM on January 25, 2008

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard. I think there are still human societies elsewhere in the world, but the story is about a very small expedition exploring London after everyone else is gone. I remember that I was very moved by it and that the writing was envy-inducingly good.

I agree very much with AZ that the Martian Chronicles often has that spooky "last one to leave please turn out the lights" feeling, whether it's about the humans or what remains of the martians, and with thebrokenmuse that Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (made into lesser movies three times ffs!) is a somewhat-overlooked great, and not just by genre standards IMO.

Someone on the blue recently linked to Charles Stross' novelette A Colder War and it wasn't bad.

If you are up for post-apocalyptic stories containing more than just a very few people, and might enjoy/would be able to stand a very odd sort of picaresque with an invented dialect, Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban is set among the remnants of civilization who have made it just about back to the Iron Age or so.

/Goes back to reading The Road
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:47 PM on January 25, 2008

noahs ark?
posted by white light at 5:49 PM on January 25, 2008

There was a short-short in Omni some years back, and I can't remember the title. The last man on earth is a German boy whos aging has retarded. The last woman on earth is a Japanese girl with the same problem. They talk by radio, and the rest would be spoilers. Beautiful story. I think it was "Forever" by Damon Knight, but don't quote me.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:49 PM on January 25, 2008

Kalki, by Gore Vidal.
posted by dilettante at 6:04 PM on January 25, 2008

Oh, coming from a totally different angle, Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth sort of fits the bill without having any of the conventional Mad Maxiness of the genre. There is no apocalypse per se, but the sun is going to go out in not too long, the population is depleted, civilization's risen and fallen so many times that people are kind of over it and dissolute and weird, and, well, then there are the sorcerors and rogues and what-have-you. But, to his credit, the D&D stuff was based on Vance's writing, not the other way around.

But skip the two incredibly long stories about Cugel the Total Asshat (he might have been called something else in the books) because, no. Not good. The rest of it has its impressive and strange moments, though.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 6:08 PM on January 25, 2008

Marooned in Real Time by Vernor Vinge has a last woman on Earth scenario. It's post-singularity rather than post-apocalypse.
posted by zanni at 6:18 PM on January 25, 2008

Oh, sorry, didn't see the OP's clarification that isolation is most important. Never mind!
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 6:21 PM on January 25, 2008

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

The anthology The Last Man on Earth has numerous stories in this vein.

Emergence by David R. Palmer is an excellent novelette about a teenage girl who survives the apocalypse.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:25 PM on January 25, 2008

Stephen King's The End of the Whole Mess is at least somewhat in this vein. The protagonist isn't the last person on Earth per se, but....
posted by Chrysostom at 6:28 PM on January 25, 2008

It might be hard to find but the movie The World, The Flesh and the Devil fits the bill. Harry Bellafonte is a miner who is trapped in a cave-in. When he digs himself out, everyone has vanished. He finds a woman, and then eventually another man. There's a whole race/sex undercurrent to the movie too.

In a less serious vein, Night of the Comet has a vaguely similar story but with, like, valley girls.
posted by ninazer0 at 6:47 PM on January 25, 2008

Much, much older novel in this vein: Mary Shelley's The Last Man.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:14 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

The Children of Men - P.D. James (also a recent movie)

Devastating Novels about the End of the World

Washington State University has a huge database of post-apocalyptic titles (which I realize is not your primary interest).

I'm trying to think of two specific titles -- one was a zeppelin or airship that happens to be over the south pole when something bad happens to earth, and another being a family in a cabin in the remote Quebec wilderness when a plague hits earth. I'll try to google those up.
posted by Rumple at 7:46 PM on January 25, 2008

Add me to the list of fans for The Quiet Earth.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 8:12 PM on January 25, 2008

Douglas Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma culminates with the protagonists being the last people on earth.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 8:43 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is a running theme in all the incarnations of the Twilight Zone. Here are the best example episodes from each series, IMO. In the first (1960s) series, the famous "Time Enough at Last" and "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air." In the second (1980s) series, the shattering "A Little Peace and Quiet." In the third (2000s) series, one of the few really good episodes, "Sunrise" (technically, Sunrise is a sort of "last few kids on Earth" story -- still unique and memorable).
posted by lorimer at 8:58 PM on January 25, 2008

The Taking by Dean Koontz, though it's less about the whole survival portion as it is the events leading up to it.
posted by joshrholloway at 9:34 PM on January 25, 2008

Summer of the Apocalypse
Eternity Road

both have some small civilization but still quite good reads
posted by jockc at 9:40 PM on January 25, 2008

In a very similar vein as The Stand, Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon. I tremendously enjoyed reading it years ago, but I can't vouch for the quality of the writing. I seem to recall some of his other stuff being rather... hokey.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 9:42 PM on January 25, 2008

Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka, especially the Future episode. Review here.
posted by misozaki at 12:46 AM on January 26, 2008

Thirding Earth Abides
Adding Into The Forest -- not exactly "last man on earth," but two sisters stranded in a forest cabin due to the general collapse of civilization
posted by salvia at 3:56 AM on January 26, 2008

Did anyone mention Red Dwarf?
posted by JaredSeth at 4:11 AM on January 26, 2008

Someone already mentioned "Oryx and Crake," but I'll second the suggestion. I really enjoyed it. Snowman's definitely isolated and the whole book is about learning how he came to be that way.
posted by web-goddess at 4:15 AM on January 26, 2008

"The Silent Towns" is a story from Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles about the last man on Mars.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:05 AM on January 26, 2008

Just wondering: is it always "last man on earth?" Do any of these books have a female protagonist?
posted by Shebear at 6:31 AM on January 26, 2008

Lucifer's Hammer
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:42 AM on January 26, 2008

The Apocalypse Reader is cool - it's a collection of short stories, some by the very famous (Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson) and some complete unknowns. I heard about it on this episode of To the Best of Our Knowledge, which has some other suggestions you may find interesting.
posted by donnagirl at 9:19 AM on January 26, 2008

Z for Zachariah.
posted by melodykramer at 1:28 PM on January 26, 2008

The 1948 short story "Knock" by Frederick Brown opens with the lines: "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." It was adapted for broadcast on the radio program "X minus one".
posted by amphioxus at 2:09 PM on January 26, 2008

Sorry if I have overlooked this, but . . . there was a much-anthologized short story that featured a terribly lonely guy, last on earth so far as he could tell, who eventually finds and meets someone who might be the last woman -- and can't stand her. The ending has him ignoring the telephone when it occasionally rings. More comic than thoughtful, to my recollection.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:23 PM on January 26, 2008

By all means, please keep up the deluge of suggestions though.

posted by pracowity at 4:28 PM on January 26, 2008

Clyde, that's Ray Bradbury's "The Silent Towns". He's the last man on Mars.
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:15 PM on January 26, 2008

I can't believe no one has mentioned A Scientific Romance. It's wonderful, and very much a last-man-on-earth narrative.
posted by minervous at 6:38 PM on January 26, 2008

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
While it's not strictly a last-man-on-earth story, it is a man-alone-on-earth story.
And considering how much of a classic it is, one might even argue that it's the prototype for all similar last-man-whatever stories which have been written since.
posted by archae at 3:01 AM on January 27, 2008

Seconding "Lucifer's Hammer". Brilliant book.
posted by grumpy at 7:54 AM on January 28, 2008

I would certainly recommend Camille Flammarion's novel Omega: The Last Days of the World (amazon link). In it, the protagonist, Omegar, finds himself the last man on earth (and about to die) after a comet hits the earth. It is quite engaging after the first half, in which Flammarion insists in first making a portrait of the "future" (our present) before getting to the interesting bits.

Flammarion (wikipedia), a very famous astronomer, was also a well regarded and popular SciFi author at the end of the XIX century in France, and elswhere, and was translated into many languages. I've done my research about him as I am named after his character in this novel, Omegar.

Also, Miche Houellebecq's (wiki) The Possibility of an Island (amazon) is quite a good novel in the same French SciFi style, but far more contemporary, about the last men on earth and life in a desserted planet (or almost) as an immortal. Nearly everything by Houellebecq is quite good, if you like "end of the world" scenarios, I specially recommend The elementary Particles
posted by omegar at 8:27 AM on January 28, 2008

Shebear asked:
"Just wondering: is it always "last man on earth?" Do any of these books have a female protagonist?"

Into The Forest by Jean Hegland has two sisters.

note: just finished a week ago and I'm still not sure if I liked it but it was interesting
posted by jaimystery at 8:59 AM on January 28, 2008

A genuine classic and one of my faves: Fritz Leiber's A Pail of Air. Don't read the intro -- it has spoilers. Originally published in the December 1951 issue of Galaxy magazine.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:49 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ooh! Ooh! The Time Machine.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:51 PM on January 28, 2008

List of some relevant films here.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:49 PM on January 29, 2008

When I was but a wee lad, I remember being so mesmerized by this short story in my Lit book, about a group of people who, for all purposes, thought of themselves as the last people on the planet. Even though it could be considered "post-apocalyptic", my dim memory tells me it does a good job of conveying the sense of isolation you're looking for.

It's called By the Waters of Babylon, by Stephen Vincent Benét. A Caltech machine has the full text.
posted by papafrita at 4:10 PM on January 29, 2008

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