The Last Human: A Novel

The Last Human: A Novel

by Zack Jordan

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Overview

The last human in the universe must battle unfathomable alien intelligences—and confront the truth about humanity—in this ambitious, galaxy-spanning debut
 
“A good old-fashioned space opera in a thoroughly fresh package.”—Andy Weir, author of The Martian
 
“Big ideas and believable science amid a roller-coaster ride of aliens, AI, superintelligence, and the future of humanity.”—Dennis E. Taylor, author of We Are Legion

Most days, Sarya doesn’t feel like the most terrifying creature in the galaxy. Most days, she’s got other things on her mind. Like hiding her identity among the hundreds of alien species roaming the corridors of Watertower Station. Or making sure her adoptive mother doesn’t casually eviscerate one of their neighbors. Again.
 
And most days, she can almost accept that she’ll never know the truth—that she’ll never know why humanity was deemed too dangerous to exist. Or whether she really is—impossibly—the lone survivor of a species destroyed a millennium ago. That is, until an encounter with a bounty hunter and a miles-long kinetic projectile leaves her life and her perspective shattered.
 
Thrown into the universe at the helm of a stolen ship—with the dubious assistance of a rebellious spacesuit, an android death enthusiast on his sixtieth lifetime, and a ball of fluff with an IQ in the thousands—Sarya begins to uncover an impossible truth. What if humanity’s death and her own existence are simply two moves in a demented cosmic game, one played out by vast alien intellects? Stranger still, what if these mad gods are offering Sarya a seat at their table—and a second chance for humanity?
 
The Last Human is a sneakily brilliant, gleefully oddball space-opera debut—a masterful play on perspective, intelligence, and free will, wrapped in a rollicking journey through a strange and crowded galaxy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451499813
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 116,043
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Zack Jordan is a compulsive learner and creator. He holds half an art degree, two thirds of a music degree, and about a quarter of a philosophy degree. He’s worked on projects for FEMA, the U.S. Army, and the Department of Defense, none of which elevated his security clearance. He was a designer on several video games including World of Tanks and the F.E.A.R. series, but he’s more proud of the indie games and music albums he’s released under the name U.S. Killbotics. He lives in Chicago with his wife Tara, and spends his evenings playing various Super Mario games with their two daughters, London and Brooklyn.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Not so many years ago, Shenya the Widow was a void-­cold killer. And as hobbies—no, passions—go, it was extraordinarily fulfilling. Hunt all night, feast at dawn, take one’s pick of the choicest males before the long day’s sleep . . . oh yes. She still fantasizes about it—though, sadly, fantasy is all she has left. This is because Shenya the Widow has been conquered, mind and body, by an ancient and terrible force.

Motherhood.

And so she crouches like death’s own shadow outside a closed bedroom door and flexes a variety of bladed appendages in quiet reflection. Her own mother warned her about this. She could be hunting right now. She could be streaking through a moonlit forest with the rest of her covenant, the bloodlust boiling in her breast, her hunting cry joining those of her sisters in a chorus of beautiful death . . . but no.

She composes a Network message in her mind. [Sarya the Daughter], says the message. [My love and greatest treasure. My child, for whom I would gladly die. Open this door before I cut it out of the station wall.] She attaches a few choice emotions—though she knows her daughter’s unit is too basic to read them—and fires the message through the Network implant in the back of her head.

[Error, unit not receiving], says the return message. [Have a nice day.]

Shenya releases a slow and wrathful hiss. [Very clever], she sends, tapping a black and gleaming blade against the door. [I know you’re receiving, my love. And if you sabotage your unit one more time, well.] She dispatches the message as violently as possible, leans against the hatch, and begins a shrill danger-­rattle with every available blade.

And then with a hiss and the screech of metal on chitin, the hatch slides aside to bathe Shenya the Widow in the blinding glow of her daughter’s quarters. She ignores the pain from her eyes—must her daughter always keep her room so bright?—and waits the moment it takes for her to distinguish the figure that is more collapsed than seated against the far wall. Its utility suit is rumpled, its boots undone, its sleeves and collar pulled as low and as high as they go. Only the head and the ends of the upper limbs are bare, but even that much exposed flesh would have sickened her not long ago.

Back before Shenya the Widow ever dreamed of calling this one daughter, it took her some time to stomach the sight of an intelligence without an exoskeleton. Imagine, a being with only four limbs! And worse, each of these limbs splits into five more at its end—well, that is the stuff of nightmares, is it not? As if that were not horrific enough, this being is wrapped top to bottom not in clean and beautiful chitin but in an oily blood-­filled organ—which is called skin, her research has told her. There is a sporadic dusting of hair over this skin, with a few concentrations in seemingly random spots. Up top there is a great knot of it, long and thick and nearly Widow-­dark, wild and falling down in tangles over the strangest eyes one could imagine. Those eyes! Two multicolored orbs that flash like killing strokes, that express emotion nearly as well as a pair of mandibles. One wouldn’t think it possible but here it is in action. That gaze that is nearly scorching the floor, that somehow radiates from such odd concentric circles—is that a sullen rage?

“Sorry about the hatch,” says her adopted daughter without looking up. Her upper limbs, Shenya the Widow cannot help but notice, are held dangerously close to an obscene Widow sign. “I was getting ready for my field trip.”

And now her mother understands: this is a mighty anger, a fury worthy of a Widow, and it is directed somewhere outside this room.

Shenya the Widow flows into her daughter’s room with the gentle clicks of exoskeleton on metal. She may be an apex predator, a murderous soul wrapped in lightning and darkness, but underneath that she is all mother. There are wrongs to be righted and hurts to be savagely avenged—but before any of that can happen there is a room to be tidied. Shenya the Widow’s many limbs are up to the task.

The spare utility suit, yes, that can go straight to laundry—two limbs fold it and place it by the door. The nest, or bunk, as her daughter now calls it, needs straightening—two more blades begin that noble work. A single blade begins scouting the floor for food bar wrappers, stabbing their silver forms as it finds them. The laundry limbs, mission accomplished, now rescue a soft black shape from the floor. The doll is black and silky and a horrifying caricature of Widow physiology, but Shenya the Widow made it many years ago with her own eight blades, and her hearts still ache to see it banished from the bunk. She places it, carefully, back where it belongs.

“Where is your Network unit, my love?” asks Shenya the Widow in that soft and dangerous voice that comes with motherhood. Her nearly spherical vision examines all corners of the room at once.

Her daughter glares at the floor without answering.

Shenya the Widow narrowly restrains a click of approval. On the one blade, this is a Widow rage—a towering and explosive wrath—and it is beautiful. One spends so much energy attempting to install traditional values in a young and coalescing mind, and it is always rewarding to see effort yield results. But on another blade, well . . . insolence is insolence, is it not?

Happily, she is saved by circumstance. A questing limb reports that it has found the object in question under the bunk. Shenya the Widow drags it out, feeling a twinge of guilt at the strength required. This heavy prosthetic, this poor substitute for a common Network implant, is what her daughter has been forced to wear strapped around her torso for most of her life. It is an ancient device, a budget so-­called universal, only distantly related to the elegant implant somewhere in Shenya the Widow’s head. Both perform the same function, in theory: each connects its user to a galaxy-­spanning Network brimming with beauty and meaning and effortless communication. One does it seamlessly, as smooth as the bond between one neuron and a billion billion others. The other does it through a shaky hologram, some static-­infused audio, and numerous error messages.

[. . . before I cut it out of the station wall], says the Network unit to itself, its trembling hologram flickering in the air above it.

One might assume that a certain physiology is required to hold oneself like a Widow, but her daughter proves this untrue. She sits up, wrapping upper limbs around lower with movements as Widowlike as they are—well . . . what she is. It is these familiar motions that unlock the deepest chambers of Shenya the Widow’s hearts. The untidy room, the insolence, the disrespect for property—all that is forgotten. Her many limbs abandon their myriad tasks and regroup on the figure of her daughter, stroking skin-­covered cheeks without the slightest hint of revulsion. They straighten the utility suit and slide through the hair and caress those ten tiny appendages. “Tell me, Daughter,” whispers Shenya the Widow with a sigh through mandibles as dangerous as her blades. “Tell me everything.”

Her daughter takes a deep breath, lifting her shoulders with that dramatic motion that people with lungs often use. “We’re going to one of the observation decks today,” she says quietly. “They have six openings for trainees.”

Shenya the Widow chooses her words carefully, missing the effortless precision of mental Network communication. “I did not know you were interested in—”

And now, finally, that fiery gaze rises from the floor. “You know what the prerequisites are?” asks her daughter, glaring at her mother through a tangle of dark hair.

They are ferocious, those eyes, and Shenya the Widow finds herself wondering how another of her daughter’s species would feel caught in this three-­color gaze. White outside brown-­gold outside black outside . . . fury. “I do not,” she answers cautiously.

“I bet you can guess.”

“I . . . choose not to,” says Shenya the Widow, still more cautiously.

“Tier two-­point-­zero intelligence,” says her daughter in a tight voice. “Not, say, one-­point-­eight.” The beloved figure slumps in a way that would be impossible with an exoskeleton. “No, we wouldn’t want a moron at the controls, would we?” she murmurs to the floor.

“My child!” says Shenya the Widow, shocked. “Who dares call the daughter of Shenya the Widow such a thing?”

“Everybody calls me such a thing,” says her daughter, again straying perilously close to disrespect, “because I am registered as such a thing.”

Shenya the Widow chooses to ignore the accusatory tone. This conversation again.

Customer Reviews

The Last Human 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Linda romer 4 hours ago
I liked The Last Human, but I think I burned a few brain cells trying to get through it. It was a good story but way to long. Just trying to understand some things was difficult to me. I liked Sarya and Shenya. I found the story interesting, the plot complex and the characters original. #TheLastHuman #NetGalley
geni91782 3 days ago
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. Though I am a lover of sci-fi, I had noticed recently that the genre was woefully underrepresented on my shelves, both read and unread. I think this is because a lot of the sci-fi that catches my eye also happens to be chonky. Looking at you, Leviathan Wakes… And big books are intimidating, y’all! I decided that I need to face my fears, though, and have actively been seeking out more sci-fi recently. So when I came across this book on Netgalley and read the synopsis, I decided to request it. This is the story of the last surviving human stumbling into something so mind-bending it threatens the entire galaxy! The whole vibe made me think of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is one of my favorite sci-fi novels of all time, so that maaaay have influenced my decision Either way, I’m happy that I decided to give this a shot! The Last Human has that special mix of humor and convoluted philosophical questions that I honestly appreciate in my science fiction. Not only did this book make me laugh out loud multiple times, it really made me think about concepts like free will and community and belonging. It had my emotions bouncing all over the place! I would be rooting for Sarya, then wondering what the hell she was doing! It was complex, but fascinating all at the same time. Speaking of Sarya, I don’t think I’ve ever empathized with a character so much who I also wanted to strangle. She was so frustrating! But in a realistic way, ya know? I mean, she is a teenager (I think?) who is thrown into an overwhelming series of circumstances without any kind of guidance. If I had to go through half the crap she does in this book as a teenager, the entire galaxy probably would have imploded. Seriously. That didn’t stop the frustration, though And Sarya wasn’t the only character that has stuck in my mind. All of the characters in this book have a richness to them that I appreciated. It can be easy to let the secondary characters in a book like this be flat and only there as support for our main character’s story. Not so with these ones! Honestly, my favorite character is Sarya’s adoptive mother, Shenya the Widow. Trust me… she’s amazing! And the crew that end up in Sarya’s life all have layers and I loooove it. I wish we had actually spent more time with them. Especially when it came to developing the relationship between the crew and Sarya. Hmm… here I was whining about the length of sci-fi books and I’m wishing this one had more! I will say that some of the science talk got a bit convoluted. Not in a “I can’t understand this” kind of way. More of a “Let’s make this as mind-numbing and twisty as possible” kind of way. But those bits weren’t too overwhelming, so it was easy to move past it. Most of it was mind-bending in the best of ways! It was fast-paced and thought-provoking and, honestly, just a really fantastic read. Final thoughts: This is a incredible romp through space that makes you think about a lot of big concepts. It’s a quick read that will have you rooting for Sarya at the same time that you’re questioning all her decisions. If you’re intimidated by science fiction or space operas, I think this would be a fantastic jumping-off point!
Karen_Benson 4 days ago
I typically love space operas and have read some really good hard sci-fi books. With that said, for most of The Last Human, I had no idea what I was reading. There were some really good parts about Sarya the Daughter and her adopted mother, and Sarya with her friend, Eleven, the spacesuit. But that’s really all that stands out. The rest was nonsensical to me. I started wanting to DNF this at about 1/3 in. But I just didn’t want to admit that I didn’t get it so I kept trudging through. At 50% I took a break and thought that maybe it was my mood. Nope. It wasn’t. At 73%, I had put too much of my time in that I was determined to finish and hope the end would make it better. The end did make it a little bit better which is why this got 2 stars instead of 1. The cover pretty well shows the variety of aliens in this book. Notice that the lone human is the only species with a danger sign. That was interesting, but there were so many species that I couldn’t really keep track of who was which species of alien. I see that many people are giving this book great reviews, so I’m guessing that it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I do prefer to not have to work to understand a book I’m reading. I love the science of my sci-fi books. But this one was just a bunch of nonsense... Not really science to me. Honestly, I’m relieved to be done! *I received an advance copy from NetGalley and Del Rey.*
OllieSpotReview 4 days ago
Thank you to Net Galley and Del Rey for providing an Electronic Uncorrected proof in exchange for a fair review. I’m so happy I was given the opportunity to read this. I love scifi and space opera and when I saw this book mentioned, and saw the awesome cover, my interest was piqued. As someone new to this blogging and reviewing world I was nervous about requesting a book thru NetGalley, and this one was not up for request, you had to “wish” for it. Wish for it I did. Lo and behold, about a month later, I was notified that it was approved -yay- and my wish had been granted. The Last Human was a really fun, unique twist on the scifi space opera genre. Beginning at the The Watertower Space habitat/station, where we meet Sarya The Daughter. Sarya lives with her mother, Shenya the Widow. Shenya is intimidating, has sharpened claws instead of fingers, very intelligent and very protective of her daughter, but also a killing machine. She is raising Sarya as her own, as a Widow. Sarya though, looks nothing like them, she is described as ugly because she is a creature with bones and tissue on the inside(yuck), which of course says a lot about the alieness of Shenya. Sarya has been presented as having been born as a member of another one of the lesser seen, lesser intelligent species in the universe. That of course is to dissuade anyone from thinking she is actually a Human, a species that rejected the Network, and as a result, has offended the many alien species thriving throughout the universe, all connected to Network. Network is the all pervading, all connecting technology that makes progression in the universe possible. Network allows faster than light communication, synchronizes citizens, and all technology. Network gives you an intelligence rating that determines what you are capable of and is always there with you to guide and assist. Every citizen has a piece of network implanted, and acts as a friendly helper for that person. Back to the story. Sarya knows shes a human, has never seen another one and is pretty depressed to be the only one of her kind, all the while impersonating a species known for not being very intelligent, so not expected to perform anything complex as far as her future career goes on the space station. She goes to school with a variety of other unique citizens of this vast network, but is not highly thought of. There are interesting moments talking to the drones and machines that keep the station going I found hilarious. The story really takes off and things spin out of their controlled orbits when she is offered the opportunity to leave and actually meet another human. From here, it would be all spoilers, so I’ll talk about how this book made my head spin with it’s almost manic story progression and character development. Zack Jordan does a fantastic job creating “big moments” filled with action, presenting big science concepts that are pretty easy to understand. There are universe sized intelligence’s, there is destruction on a massive scale, heart warming friendship, sacrifice and loss, and redemption to follow. My only criticism(minute is that I felt like I never had the clearest picture of what Roche, one of her friends and partners really looked like, I never had the clearest picture in my mind. It’s possible that was my own lack of attention, or imagination, so nothing to really complain about as this book was great, fully engaging, and so unique. One of the really cool touches I really loved was the s
JuneauJim 4 days ago
Sarya was raised by a giant spider. Her journey starts small but ends like an out of control freight train jumping the track. I could not put this book down.
HannahMVestal 4 days ago
Sarya the Human is relatively harmless. Why then, is she having to hide the fact she is human from an entire galaxy? The Last Human takes us along with Sarya on a daring, quirky space adventure of universal proportions. When her world is dashed to pieces, how will she survive being the last of her long-hunted species? Filled with unusual aliens, such as furballs, sentient space suits, and two battling egomaniac hive minds, this is a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat! This book exceeded my expectations and left me wanting more. I loved the worldbuilding and how unique the aliens were. In fact, the aliens are so alien that you really begin to feel as Sarya does: isolated and alone as the last of a species. The story did feel like it lagged a little bit in the middle, but it’s an important part of building Sarya’s backstory and character, so it’s definitely worth sticking it out. The Last Human is a science fiction story with a twist, reminiscent of the classic Star Trek episodes, where Kirk is facing off against a computer or some other “higher intelligence”. It’s fun, funky, and thought provoking. Thank you NetGalley and Del Ray Books for allowing me to read this book as an eARC in exchange for an honest review!
CaptainsQuarters 4 days ago
Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . . I was so excited to be granted a wish to read this book.  The blurb is awesome.  A young human girl, Sarya, is being raised by her adopted mother who happens to be a killer giant black widow spider like thing.  Only Sarya has to keep her identity hidden because she is the last human and humans are considered to be space's most dangerous and terrifying species.  Panic would ensue and Sarya's life would be at risk. I absolutely adored the beginning of this novel and the setup.  I loved Sarya.  I loved her scary mom. I loved the society status based on tiered intelligence levels.  I love the machines and bots.  I even loved the info dumps in the forms of instruction manuals that were dumbed down to match lower intelligence levels (like mine). The first quarter of the book was so wonderful and action packed and interesting.  At around 25%, the location changed and tone shifted.  I thought about stopping there.  Sarya's actions do not fit with how she presented in the first quarter.  She becomes rather fickle and whiny.  New characters were haphazardly introduced and confusion started to begin.  It's not that I didn't love the ideas of the new characters (like the space suit) but the narrative starts to disintegrate into philosophical ramblings that bored me.  The plot began to feel haphazard. Though I thought about abandoning the book again at the 50% mark, I kept reading for the small snippets of hinted potential.  I loved the mom's perspective and some things about Sarya's new shipmates.  I stopped for the last time at the 64% mark.  The story had lost the personal narratives and ceased to be character driven.  The best part of the novel was the world building, developing relationships, and watching Sarya grow.  The growth stopped, the plot died, and the plot twist happened.  I didn't like that the big idea took center stage and everything I had loved about the writing ended. I normally like discussions about artificial intelligence, personhood, technology, and the like.  However, the beginning of this book led me to certain expectations and I did not like when the author decided to drop Sarya's agency and mission.  I went online to read other reviews to see if I should soldier on but decided against it.  Others may have better mileage. This looks like the book was the author's debut.  Based on the strong foundation of the beginning of this novel, I would be willing to try more of his future work.  But this one ended up being unsalvageable.  Arrrr! So lastly . . . Thank you Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine!