Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Last Generation

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Department of Where London Stood: by an entirely accidental Google hit, I just ran into this curious little post-apocalyptic novelette The Last Generation: A Story of the Future by the poet, novelist and playwright James Elroy Flecker.

A fable directed at human hubris, told through the vehicle of the narrator being contacted by the time-travelling "Wind of Time", it tells of the extinction of humanity: not through external disaster, but through a dictator's plan - out of his disillusionment with human progress - for a collective suicide pact.

A visionary Birmingham politician, Joshua Harris, attains world domination as "King Harris". Through a scheme of female sterilization, with death sentences for non-compliance, the discovery of a universal contraceptive, "Smithia", and a fostering of cheerful acceptance among a hedonistic intellectual elite, he succeeds in fulfilling his aim that that this will be the last generation of humanity.

The Wind takes the narrator through the decades of decline that follow until he finds the last man, who dies at the altar of "a massive half-ruined Dome that had been used for the worship of some God" (the book cover suggests it to be St Paul's). But then, it's implied, the whole cycle starts again:
I saw the vast Halls and Palaces of men falling in slowly, decaying, crumbling, destroyed by nothing but the rains and the touch of Time. And looking again I saw wandering over and above the ruins, moving curiously about, myriads of brown, hairy, repulsive little apes.

One of them was building a fire with sticks.
The Last Generation: A Story of the Future (JE Flecker, London / New Age Press, 1908, Internet Archive ID lastgenerationst00flec).

- Ray

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