The characters in THE LAST GENERATION OF MAN, originally titled "A Letter to 2499," live in the un-named yet last habitable continent, in 2499 and it's suddenly the most important place on Earth, at the very moment of its greatest impotence and ignorance, awaiting the inexorable end of humankind due to unspeakable global warming impact events 30 generations from now.
Readers today of THE LAST GENERATION OF MAN, originally titled "A Letter to 2499," are of course shocked to see themselves so cast. Says one reader: "This short story haunted me ... Nowhere was safe. I felt so alone, so unprotected by the adults, who seemed to be unaware of the danger."
But it was in the US and UK that the story had its greatest impact, rousing readers from an uneasy stupor and becoming one of the Anthropocene Age's most powerful cultural artifacts.
Into an eerily somnolent world was THE LAST GENERATION OF MAN, originally titled "A Letter to 2499," published, first at Medium's Mattter website and later on several blogs.
Debate about climate change was underway in the US about future global warming impact events and the short story was indeed full of topicality. The writer appears to be pessimistic. Her story epitomised the apathy and complaisance of the times: thus her observation that man-made global warming had changed "everything except the nature of man".
Advance copies of THE LAST GENERATION OF MAN, originally titled "A Letter to 2499," were sent to a host of politicians, including the US president, and to senior military officials. Some had offered startlingly candid endorsements.
"Every American should read THE LAST GENERATION OF MAN, originally titled "A Letter to 2499," said one literary critic. "I hope it is fiction."
Some critics complained that the short story's resolutely depiction of human extinction was unconvincing: people just wouldn't die that way. Yet readers identified readily with the characters' quiet dignity. This conventional short story, a novella almost, about global warming became "the most influential work of its kind for the next quarter of a century and the only one most people ever read" - as one critic put it - precisely by being simple:
The author directly addresses the most primal fears of the human race which has spent most of its history denying or compensating for the fact of personal death, and does so with a relentlessness which the complex technique of a more sophisticated writer might have muted. For once there are no distractions: no invading aliens, no climate refugee shelters to protect the protagonists, no struggle back from a dreadful post-AGW barbarism. There are simply a man and a woman reaching the agonizing decision to kill their only child in its crib as the rest of the human race expires round them.
THE LAST GENERATION OF MAN, originally titled "A Letter to 2499," remains devastating, and that the author could dare write a story in 2015 like that concerning what one critic called "the most carefully avoided topic of general significance in the contemporary world" is an astounding achievement.
And how many read have THE LAST GENERATION OF MAN, originally titled "A Letter to 2499"? The short story was the great popular work on the gravest matter besetting civilisation. If it doesn't meet current taste in agitprop, or if the author seems an awkward fit in the liberal pantheon, then perhaps the relevant criteria require review.