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This book has two authors, one contemporary with its readers, the other an inhabitant of an age which they would call the distant future. The brain that concieves and writes these sentence lives in the time of Einstein. Yet I, the true inspirer of this book, I, who have begotten it upon that brain, I, who influence that primitive being's conception, inhabit an age, which, for Einstein, lies in the very remote future.

The actual writer thinks he is merely contriving a work of fiction. Though he seeks to tell a plausible story, he neither believes it himself, nor expects others to believe it. Yet the story is true. A being whom you would call a future man has seized the docile but scarcely adequate brain of your contemporary, and is trying to direct its familiar processes for an alien purpose. Thus a future epoch makes contact with your age. Listen patiently; for we who are the Last Men earnestly desire to communicate with you, who are members of the First Human Species. We can help you, and we need your help.

Welcome to the future of mankind.

Written by Olaf Stapledon in 1930, this future history is perhaps the Trope Maker of future histories, as it relates a story of over two billion years in which the protagonist is mankind in a quest across three planets and eighteen species for greater intelligence. Mankind rises and falls many times, and, although it falls to the very depths of nonsentience (each time progressively more savage), each height it rises to is greater than the last. In a curious choice, the reader's glimpse of the future becomes increasingly broad and vague as time progresses. This is especially true when one compares the whole chapters devoted to modern Man and his immediate descendants to the single-paragraph mentions of the distant ones.


Tropes used in Last and First Men include:
  • Adaptive Ability: The Martians are described as doing this against the Second Men during their extremely long war. Every time the Martians come back, they are described as immune to what defeated them last.
  • Honorary Alternate History: The immediate future concerns regional conflicts (World War II never occurs as OTL) and the mutilation of Europe in the hands of the United States.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Invoked by many later men and especially the Martians.
  • Brain In a Jar: The Fourth Men are literally this.
  • Colony Drop: Due to changes in the laws of physics, the Moon starts spiraling in towards the Earth. Rather slow-mo, however, as it takes ten million years for the Moon to hit, giving the Fifth men time to genetically engineer the Sixth Men to live on a newly terraformed Venus.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: The Second, Fifth, and Eighteenth Men.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Applies both for the author and the different species of Man. This is especially true to the Last Men, who treat ritual cannibalism as a sacred death practice.
  • Eternal Recurrence: Stressed over and over all throughout.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: After fifty thousand years of intermittent warfare between the Second Men and the Martians there is no hesitation to use a bioweapon that kills all the Martians and leads to the downfall of the Second Men.
  • Harsher in Hindsight-America's rather mindless pop culture has taken over much of the globe, Europe has been exhausted by wars and China is now the world's #2, a Russo-German happened with Germany led by a man who wrote a crazy book considering Slavs subhumans, Europe, exhausted by wars, has created a Union. Whoa.
    • The final struggle is between China, dominated by a disciplined if xenophobic political party, and an America controlled by billionaires and religious fanatics with eccentric takes on Christianity. The subsequent American world-state collapses after a few centuries because it has pissed away all the world's fossil fuels.
      • In fact a dictator heavily implied to be Mussolini gets lynched after Italy loses a war.
  • Heavyworlder: Invoked by the Eighth Men when engineering the Ninth Men to live on Neptune, when that still seemed possible.
    • Apart from the (today) obvious uninhabitability of Neptune, the Ninth Men are a relatively realistic example - they're scaled-down Eighth Men that take advantage of the Square-Cube Law.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight- The fact that it takes millions of years and the rise and fall of several civilizations for humans to acheive space travel.
  • Human Subspecies: The Trope Maker, which details the history of over a dozen of humanity's descendants!
  • Intangible Time Travel: See the introduction to the book. The Last men can do this, as can other species, starting with the Fifth. It is the best and most reliable method of historical research.
  • Interactive Narrator: The "true inspirer" of this work would technically qualify.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Obviously.
  • One World Order: The Americanized World State. It lasts for millennia; yet its downfall rapidly leads to a new dark age.
    • It's also mentioned as happening numerous times over the eons.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Played with. Though patterns of faith/rationalism conflict recur over the course of Man's future history.
  • Planet Looters: The Martians colonize earth during the reign of the Second Men seeking our plants, water, and diamonds.
  • Science Marches On: For instance, the outer planets (and Neptune especially) are treated like they have a solid surface. See also Heavyworlder on this same page.
    • This also extends to how geology and evolution itself is treated.
  • Starfish Aliens: the Martians, a kind of sentient, electromagnetic gas-cloud. They spend a long time assuming that the radio transmitters of the Second Men are in fact Earth's dominant life-form.
  • Terraform: To escape a doomed Earth, mankind has to enrich Venus's atmosphere with oxygen. Too bad this means killing the whole native population.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": None of the characters mentioned or focused on are given any actual names, with the exception of a brilliant Chinese physicist later deified as Gordelphus.
  • Values Dissonance: Since this was written in 1930, it shouldn't be a surprise if some things seem off to modern readers.
    • Such as the constant obssesion over national characteristics (ie Americans are all overconfident and arrogant), simplistic cosmopolitanism and promotion of eugenics.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Most of the other species of Man, but especially the Last Men, who usually live about 250,000 years and do not die of old age.
  • Would Be Rude to Say Genocide: Type B: as the author puts it, humans are terribly sorry they have to kill all Venusians in the terraforming process, but there's no other solution. Stapledon was quite critiqued for this.
  • Writer on Board: Mr. Stapledon had some gripes with Americans, which shows in the earlier segments. He acknowledges and apologizes for this, however, in the prelude.
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