Instrument of the Apocalypse: A particularly nasty plague.
Summary: Part futuristic science fiction novel (the book is set in the late 21st century, which closely resembles the early 19th century, except the British monarchy has been abolished), part melodrama, part political commentary, and part thinly-disguised autobiography — the main characters are based heavily on Shelley and her husband and friends — The Last Man relates the many adventures of one Lionel Verney and his circle. Through the friendship of Adrian, son of the last (abdicated) King of England, Lionel evolves from a sullen and obnoxious young tough into a principled and noble man who wins the heart and hand of Adrian’s sister. But then a terrible plague overtakes the world, and the body count starts to rise… and rise and rise and rise.
Overall, Shelley is more interested in speculating on the political scene in Britain circa 2092 than she is in painting an compelling picture of what the future might actually look like. However, there are a few nice apocalyptic touches, including a “black sun” that causes widespread panic and a fanatical religious sect led by a man known as the Imposter who evokes the Antichrist quite effectively.
On Screen: Contemporary critics savaged The Last Man, and it was largely ignored by the public until the 1960s. The film industry followed suit; a little-known, poorly-reviewed adaptation, which appears to have been very loosely based on the novel, came and went without fanfare in 2008.
Yet, will not this world be re-peopled, and the children of a saved pair of lovers, in some to me unknown and unattainable seclusion, wandering to these prodigious relics of the ante-pestilential race, seek to learn how beings so wondrous in their achievements, with imaginations infinite, and powers godlike, had departed from their home to an unknown country? I will write and leave in this most ancient city, this “world’s sole monument,” a record of these things. I will leave a monument of the existence of Verney, the Last Man.