A futuristic novel by Mary Shelley, published in 1826, a forerunner of science fiction. She is best known as the creator of Frankenstein, and The Last Man is not as good in literary quality, but is still fascinating.

This is set in England in the distant future: I forget the year, but I think it's about 1972. The last King of England abdicates, and his friend is installed as Protector of the new republic. The king adopts the (prophetic) title of Earl of Windsor. (The Shelleys had a house on the edge of Windsor Great Park in the time they were living in England.) The gentle, saintly king, originally a foundling until his true identity was discovered, was based on Mary's late husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; while the vigorous, dynamic Protector was based on Byron. Mary cast herself as the Earl's (male) friend.

A great plague descends on the world, and all the world's population gradually die off. The three friends go on a quest into Europe: the Turks are still occupying Constantinople, and the Byron figure is still trying to help the Greeks free it. Eventually, everyone dies of the plague. The tale is recorded on a few leaves in a Sibyl's cave. (This annoyed the hell out of me when I kept asking myself how many leaves were there altogether, and only at the end realised she just meant pages!)

One amusing thing is the striking "science fiction" device of high-speed balloons. They can travel from Windsor to Edinburgh in the astonishing time of (if I recall right) thirty-six hours. The balloons are propelled by giant wings, with feathers, flapping up and down.

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