I finished The Last Human, Zack Jordan’s debut novel and had to stop to wonder what the hell it was I just read. What started out as a clever, interesting story about what appears to be the last human in the universe and her relatively miserable existence devolves into an utter mess with twist after twist meant to prove certain characters’ superior intelligence over everyone/thing else. It gets into some weird shit, folks.
I hate when good books go bad like this. I mean, Sarya’s adopted mother is some sort of gigantic, evolved black widow spider, and I LIKED that character. This is me – someone who could barely get past any scene with Aragog in the Harry Potter books and still cannot watch those scenes in the movies, and I believe Senya the Widow is one of the book’s strongest and most enjoyable characters. Such promise!
The problem lies in the fact that in Mr. Jordan’s universe, each species has an intelligence level assigned to it. Most creatures hover around tier two. Tier threes are rare, and tier fours are almost nonexistent, but they exist. Mr. Jordan tries to play with these intelligence levels by showing how a rare tier three creature manipulates the lower tiers with ease – because they think of cause and effect and plan things so much farther in advance. Then we meet not one but two tier fours, and the story essentially dies. From what I can understand, the tier fours spent hundreds of thousands of years plotting and planning against each other, using Sarya as their conduit in order to control the universe. Basically, no one has free will because someone or something else already plotted out their life for them. No, thank you.
What makes it worse is that Mr. Jordan uses descriptors that make no sense given his world. In a novel where there are multiple universes, billions of species, and the technology that makes faster than light travel possible, to have Sarya compare something to cancer eating cells is mystifying. One would imagine that there is no such thing as cancer, or any illness, given the technology that allows all species to cohabitate on space centers together. And yet, she compares something to a body riddled with cancer, and that is just one example.
I admire what Mr. Jordan attempts to do in The Last Human. It really does start out so well. The opening chapter with Sarya and her mother had me stifling my laughter so that I didn’t wake up my husband (I started reading it around midnight). Unfortunately, the story becomes a victim of its own cleverness. In attempting to create characters that are 144 times more intelligent than humans, Mr. Jordan loses the plot. Making things worse, his world-building is extremely weak, and he forgets things like science that would help readers understand his world a little more. Instead, we are thrust into Sarya’s world with no clear picture of what that world is. There is no doubt that The Last Human is an ambitious debut. Sadly, it is not a good one.