If The Last Man is in some sense a “conventional” text of the period, it is also intensely personal in its origin; Shelley refers in her journal to the last man as her alter ego, “the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.” The novel thus develops out of and contributes to a network of story and idea in which fantasy, allusion, convention, and autobiography are densely interwoven.
This new version of the first edition (1826) sets out to provide not only a thoroughly annotated text, but also contextual materials to help the reader acquire knowledge of the intellectual and literary milieu out of which the novel emerged. Appendices include material on “the last man” as early nineteenth-century hero, texts from the debate initiated by Malthus in 1798 about the adequacy of food supply to sustain human population, various accounts of outbreaks of plague, and Shelley’s poems representing her feelings after the death of her husband.
For years, the third moon in the Alphane system was used as a psychiatric hospital. But when war broke out between Earth and the Alphanes, the hospital was left unguarded and the inmates set up their own society, made up of competing factions based around each mental illness. When Earth sends a delegation to take back the colony, they find enclaves of depressives, schizophrenics, paranoiacs, and other mentally ill people coming together to repel what they see as a foreign invasion. Meanwhile, back on Earth, CIA agent Chuck Rittersdorf and his wife Mary are going through a bitter divorce, with Chuck losing everything. But when Chuck is assigned to clandestinely control an android accompanying Mary to the Alphane moon, he sees an opportunity to get his revenge.