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The Last Human

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Published by Del Rey on March 24, 2020

The Last Human tries to fit together a story of computer networks that interface with minds and a story of an organization of alien races that gives order to the galaxy. In a typical mind-network interface story, the minds are human, but in this one, only one human is known to exist. In most organization of species stories, humans are a significant part of the organization. In this one, the organization is more of a hierarchy, ranking species from smartest to dimmest. Humans would apparently be in the dim category if there were enough humans to count as part of the hierarchy. But humans have two qualities that set them apart — violence and selfishness.

For reasons that are eventually made clear (although not entirely clear), humans have disappeared from the future that is the novel’s setting. Countless other intelligent species inhabit the galaxy. More than a million of those have joined the Network, an association that allows member races to benefit from shared knowledge, but at the cost of obedience to certain rules. Humans, as we all know, are not good at obedience. Some will follow authoritarians but others reject authority on principle. Even when rules make sense — like wearing maks in a pandemic — a considerable number of humans will do as they please. Even if humans were still around, they would not be suited for the Network because following rules is not their best talent. The Network apparently learned this the hard way, although the details are again unclear.

Sarya the Daughter is a human who, for unconvincing reasons, is raised by Shenya the Widow, a member of a race whose children typically hatch and immediately battle each other to the death. Sarya is unhappy not to have a network implant — she uses an external device for connectivity — a fact that handicaps her almost as much as her Tier 1.8 intelligence. Sarya is also handicapped by being a human (everyone hates humans for reasons that are eventually revealed) although nobody recognizes her as one because nobody has ever seen a human. The only entity on Watertower Station that seems to know Sarya is human, apart from her mother, is a multi-bodied alien with hive intelligence called Observer.

The orbital Watertower Station is home to Shenya, Sarya, and 24,000 other entities from a multitude of species that have joined the Network. The Network invites species to join when they evolve sufficient (Tier 1.8) intelligence. Species with less intelligence are protected without being networked, although they sometimes provide useful services. The Network provides a common language and shared information that protects against disease, war, famine, “and other such inconveniences.”

It the Network a good thing? Order has value, but Observer views the Network as trading freedom for order. During the course of the novel, Sarya waffles between viewing the Network as good and viewing it as evil. Where she will come to rest in the end is the question that drives the plot after it is finally set in motion.

What does it mean to be human? Many believe that to be human is to be free, to make the choices that suit us. Humans believe that’s a good thing, but since humans often make harmful choices, nonhumans might disagree. The human tendency to choose conquest, to take what they want, to care about themselves and dislike anyone or anything different, makes humanity a species that doesn't play well with others. When Sarya journeys to something she perceives as a planet, she experiences being human on a primal level: walking on grass, breathing unrecycled air, seeing the sky instead of a ceiling, eating meat instead of bland but nutritious food bars, getting buzzed on alcohol, listening and dancing to music (which few Network species define as art).

It takes the plot some time to set up. Circumstances eventually take Sarya on a journey of discovery, which initially involves finding the surviving members of the human race and then forces her to decide whether she should kill them all.

How Sarya acquires and wields the vast power at her disposal near the novel’s end (can she really hold the universe in the palm of her hand?) is unclear, at least to me. In fact, I found it difficult to wrap my head around key plot points. I set aside confusion during much of the novel with the expectation that it would all be clarified at the end. Some things were made clear, some weren’t, and I was still mildly confused by the last page.

Maybe the confusion is my fault. With so many crises brewing in the world, I find myself easily distracted unless a book is particularly gripping. I wouldn’t put The Last Human in that category. There are times when the story zips along and times when it meanders, seemingly searching for a way to recover the plot. The novel has the sense of “I’m making this up as I go along.” Sometimes that works, but sometimes it’s helpful to start out with a map. The Last Human makes some detours that left me lost.

Was Zack Jordan trying to write a comedy or a serious story into which some laughs were injected? Again, I’m not sure that an overall vision existed for this book before it came into being. Chapters that present the Network as a user’s manual are clearly meant to be funny (and some of them are), but the story’s tone suddenly changes, without transition, from whimsical and silly to dark and apocalyptic.

This is Jordan’s first novel. His ambition may have exceeded his ability to deliver. Yet the characters of Sarya and Shenya are engaging, the background is interesting, and the book shows promise, even if it doesn’t fully succeed.

RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS
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Well written and unique storytelling. Not my typical genre but I’m trying to broaden my literary horizons and this was a goos choice for that.
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The Last Human is a futuristic sci-fi featuring Sarya, the last Human in the universe, and the adoptive daughter of a dangerous, aggressive, quick to destroy, Shenya the Widow, a giant beetle-ish creature. Sarya has been living under a false identity ever since she was found by Shenya but their luck has run out, as she has been discovered by a bounty hunter. All hell breaks out when Shenya puts an end to the bounty hunter's quest, and Sarya is on the run, with the help of a cast of characters that may or may not want to help her. My favorite character is Eleven, a sentient bodysuit, but I also enjoyed the arguing of a couple of her other mates. 

The book is clever, though too wordy, and at some point, pretty much lost me. I enjoyed the first part of the book and thought I was going to be there for the entire ride but at a certain point, my brain started taking vacations, especially during the philosophizing where things got too deep and boring for me to continue to make heads or tails of what was going on in the story. I did finish the story because I wanted to know Sarya's fate, but it was a long, long, journey to the end, for me.  

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and NetGalley for this ARC.
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Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC on this. I really think that I like my space operas to be visual experiences. I keep thinking I am going to love books that are space operas because I love movies and comics that are. This really dragged. I wanted to care, but I just couldn’t engage. There seemed to be a lot of secrets for the sake of secrets going on. That gets old. I am glad other people enjoy it.
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This was interesting. I've never read something like this. I don't usually read this kind of books, but I liked. It's not the best book I've read, but I would read another book by this book. It was different, innovative and weird. And I like weird.
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The story follows Sarya, the last human in the universe, as she navigates her life and her place in society. She goes on quite a few wild adventures, meets an varied cast of characters, and discovers a lot about herself. So your basic coming of age story, with a SciFi twist.

Sadly, I felt the book suffered from a serious case of overreaching. There were too many suppositions, too many convenient plot devices, and not enough connections between reader and main character. While and interesting and worthwhile premise, Last Human fell flat for me in quite a few areas, and didn’t live up to the standards of sci-fi it was proposed to stand alongside.

3 stars for interest and uniqueness.

Thanks to NetGalley, Zach Jordan, and Del Rey for a galley of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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The Last Human is a very interesting take on a character who is the last human to exist in the galaxy.. Title pretty much nails it, right?

The world building, in terms of the city-scape and technology was interesting and well done. I think the themes explored in this were interesting, such as the idea of what constitutes as a person and how this related to the idea of artificial intelligence. I think the author also integrates common issues with technology into the story in a way that we can relate to in our current world and the ever growing influence of technology.

But one major messy thing: rapidly changing goals. This book all over the place. It does not have an overarching plot. This leads to a very fast pace and a sense of not knowing what will happen, which is good. This also leads to several issues that destroy The Last Human's overall quality. It felt like there was so much scrambling toward the second half. It’s worth noting that I did enjoy this. Even when plot twists were obvious, I found myself turning pages pretty quickly and enjoying the buildup to said plot twists. And wanting to find out what happened with these characters. Maybe there’s something to be said for being so fast-paced the reader doesn’t notice the crap?

I think this book is a unique, quick read that can present some interesting ideas to think about, but lacks coherence and organization.
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A quirky, high-concept space opera, THE LAST HUMAN, by Zach Jordan, follows Sarya, a rather plain person in a galaxy of infinite diversity.  Sarya's true identity as a human is a closely held secret by her and her adoptive mother, a violent species more apt to kill than love.  When an assassin shows up to exterminate Sarya, she is quickly catapulted in a race to protect herself, all the while realizing she is really just a pawn in someone's galactic master plan and Sarya must decided who to trust and quickly, before an apocalyptic catastrophe unfolds.
  Jordan creates a reality in space that so humongous that it is hard to even grasp.  Throughout the book, I was constantly trying to keep up with the concept of his reality that I felt like I was missing some of the nuances and small details of the main characters, particularly Sarya, and therefore I couldn't fully connect with her.  That being said, the story was unique, mindbending, and exciting.  Jordan's ability to create and describe aliens was load of fun to read as well.  The was a little Hitchhiker's Guide feel to the book.
   I enjoyed read THE LAST HUMAN and would recommend it to sci-fi fans looking for a new take on space and how good and evil unfodd within it.
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Sarya the daughter is the Last Human in the galaxy. She spends her days on Watertower Station with her adopted mother, think something akin to a Black Widow spider named Shenya the Widow. When she is recognized, Sarya's world begins to crumble, creating a chain of events that may vary well destroy the galaxy. 

This is a well written book that falls short for me in the end. The writing, world building, and imagery are amazing. The author puts you in each scene he creates. However, at the midway point, things unravel some and the way the story moved became a little confusing for me. I would have to reread at times, wondering, "How did we get here?"  I believe the philosophical points in the story could have benefited from a little more hashing out and that the ending was wrapped up just a bit too quickly. 

My thanks to the author, Ballantine, Del Rey, and NetGalley for a gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.
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This is science fiction set in the far future.  The author works hard to create a unique world; however, it falls into the trap of placing those silly humans as the most disliked species in the universe.  Perhaps in a world turned upside down by a worldwide pandemic I could not “ suspend my disbelief” and enter into Mr. Jordan’s universe. I appreciate NetGalley for the chance to read “ The Last Human” and hope the book does well.
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The Last Human starts out really well. We meet a large intelligent Black Widow spider raising a human child in a vast Network of species. Shenya the Widow must however keep the real species of her adopted child Sarya the Daughter from everyone else on the space station on which they live, since humans were the most dangerous race in the Universe until they were destroyed. Sarya must pretend to be Spaal, a species with a low level of intelligence, when your intelligence Tier is everything in the world of the Network.

The culture of the Widow is fascinating and detailed. Pain without fear is a central proverb. If you don’t like it, you are free to borrow one of my blades. The standard Widow apology is Beware. Widows are incredibly dangerous, but they are “allowed to mingle with Network society because, like any other evolved complex individual, she is in control of her instincts.” (p. 63) Unlike humans.

There is no doubt this book is imaginative. There are nice twists of phrase, like “whatever plots your orbit” (p. 43). The relationship between Sarya and Shenya and the world building is great. Then – a shift. A shift to a lot of aimless philosophical wandering. Followed by a complete train wreck after going off the rails into a ruin of one star plotting and characterization.

The second half of the book is so different from the first it’s almost like it was written by someone else. However, 50% of the Goodreads ratings (as of 5/17/2020) are four or five stars. If you are at all intrigued by The Last Human you’ll have to read it for yourself and decide what you think of it. The Last Human has touches of Men in Black, the Borg from Star Trek, and my least favorite parts of Douglas Adams.

I read an advance reader copy of The Last Human from Netgalley.
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This was a fun read. Sarya is the only human left in the universe and is being raised by a gigantic spider-like alien, Shenya. The way society is structured by "intelligence" among different castes was interesting and provocative. All together, a good example of how sci-fi can provide a framework to explore moral and ethical situations and ideas – all while keeping things light and funny.
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Set in a galaxy, far, far, away, humans have been driven to the brink of extinction and are one of the most despised species in the universe due to the havoc and destruction they've caused. Sarya believes she the last human in the in existence but must use disguises to protect herself. However, this all changes with the arrival of a bounty hunter leading to a strange and action-packed adventure.

Fell in love with the concept, not so impressed by the execution. The plot tried so hard to be quirky and humorous akin to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but it was confusing and often went off on random tangents. New characters are constantly introduced and a lot of things happened in between but I really couldn't get into the plot The two stars are given for the worldbuilding because that aspect was absolutely phenomenal and so well developed. 

*Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing a free ARC
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Review: Whew! I thought this was just going to be fun and silly - and don't get me wrong, parts of it are very much fun and silly - but it was actually brilliant. There's a whole lot going on that makes me award it this adjective and I'm not sure where to start. The writing is funny. The structure works really, really well, using the ranked intelligence system in the book's universe as a parallel for the way the narrative draws upward and outward. There's a whole lore/fairytale-but-make-it-sci-fi vibe going on that I really like (I think it works even better than Marissa Meyer's Cinder series). And the plot is one of the most original I've ever come across. As I read it, it just kept getting better and better. 100% on board for the next book and hoping it focuses on the sub-legal intelligences, who had all the best lines in this one.
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I have such mixed feelings on this one!

OVERALL, I enjoyed the book. The author has big ideas mostly well done (I'll get back to that), great characters, and an interesting plot. The writing was warm and humorous, and it makes you think about the involvement of tech in our lives (and our dependence on it, whether we want to admit it or not.)

The characters were my favorite part of the book. Sarya is the last human (that she knows of) in the universe, but since her race was so dangerous, she has to hide her identity. Part of hiding it means that she has been assigned a level 1 intellect. She's much smarter than what people expect of her, and there was a lot in this that made her very relatable. Her adoptive mother is Shenya the Widow, a fierce warrior (I kept picturing a black widow spider with blades for legs, but honestly, I'm still not sure what she was), and despite being completely alien in looks, her protective nature made her one of the most relatable (if you've ever woken a tired mom up from a nap, you'll get a laugh here.)  The other characters - a rogue sentient bodysuit named Eleven, the AI that lives in her head has the best personality, the fuzzball alien with a massive IQ, and even The Observer - reminiscent of The Borg, only in a friendlier body that I imagined looked more like Mr. Magoo - which makes them just as confusingly scary.

The plot had a great premise and there were some great twists. I definitely didn't know who should be trusted - the Observer, or the Network, and in the end, I can honestly say I still don't know. And that's part of my struggle with the story. I loved the first third of the story - it was fast-paced, I was quickly drawn in. Then came a plot point where I pretty much had to suspend disbelief and push through - and that's where my struggles started. I really wanted to put it down, but the characters were interesting, and I wanted to see where it was going. The story nipped along, but Sarya's personality changed. I don't know if it was the change in her agency or a shift soon after where the writing got a lot more... philosophical, maybe?

But it was the last third that I really had to push through. There was another major plot point that required me to suspend disbelief. (Actually, I don't know if it was suspending disbelief or pretending I knew what was supposed to have happened in order to make the next bit of plot work.) And I feel like it all kind of went totally off the rails at the end.

This book had a lot of humor and heart, some big ideas on intelligence and technology, interesting reflections on technology, our place in the universe - but in the end, it didn't quite do it for me. I loved what the author was trying to do - and maybe a better explanation of the science, with the multiple universes, and a clearer picture of the world he has built would help.

This story did have a lot going for it and might be the perfect book for other sci-fi fans.
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The Last Human is a difficult-to-classify work of speculative fiction by Zack Jordan. Released 24th March 2020 by Penguin Random House on their Del Rey imprint, it's 448 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a difficult book for me to review. It starts out like a coming of age adventure quest novel with alien life-forms, rebellious teenager, spaceships, quirky sidekicks and all, and then it shifts major gears a couple of times and left me scratching my head by the end. One thing through all the tiers/cycles of the book though, this author can write very very well. There are a number of technically demanding constructions in the book including what is, effectively, telepathic communication on a huge scale, and the author handles it deftly and understandably.

There was a moderate amount of humor included in the dialogue and plot and a majority of it fell flat for me. Some of it was situational (the last human, an angsty teenager whose mother is a giant vicious spider alien called appropriately enough, The Widow, having typical mother daughter issues), some of it was just too vague to strike me as funny/humorous. I do understand that humor is darned difficult under the best of circumstances and this book had so much going on that it's no wonder it didn't always work.

I left this review for more than a week and it has grown on me, but it wasn't a book which grabbed me by the face and wouldn't let go. The author is quite devastatingly capable however, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future works.

Three and a half stars (rounded up for quality writing).

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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Sometimes I pick up books on NetGalley because they sound interesting, then I forget about them for a while in the middle of grad school and teaching, and when I open them up I have no idea what I'm going to be reading. The Last Human was like opening a present- suddenly I went from my everyday life of routine and was completely drawn in to this world of weird cyber spider-like beings, intelligences with ratings, and humans are the worst part of galactic... humanity. I absolutely loved this, especially since it felt fresh and funny and crazy and the main character is deeply flawed but also totally bad ass.

Super fun sci-fi, and the more cerebral it gets, the more it's balanced by action and adventure. Five faster than lightspeed stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for my unbiased opinion.
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This debut space opera was lots of fun for me.   Some thrilling action in the first half and thoughtful philosophical interludes on human limitations and free will in the later parts.  Lots of quirky characters, both aliens and artificial intelligences, and good doses of humor for comic relief. 

A sulky bored teenaged girl on a space station colony, Sarya, gets drawn into an attempt to save the galaxy from an overmind behind the vast “Network” connecting over a million intelligent species across a billion star systems.  The Network offers those species who join the technology of implants to intercommunicate mentally, a pathway to harness all of a star’s output for energy and operation of wormholes for interstellar travel, and other privileges depending on tiers of intelligence and track record of non-violent compliance.  This apparent utopia is obviously not so happy for many species and artificial intelligences at the lower end of the IQ scale.  They get exploited for all the gruntwork to make the system run.   

Sanya is supposed to be in such a low-tier species, but feels too smart for the blue collar-type of jobs she faces on the space station.  She has come to learn that the irascible spider-like mother who raised her (“Shenya the Widow”) is hiding her identity as possibly the last human after the species was wiped out for violently defying the Network’s control.  But now an advanced hivemind species, the Observer, tries both stick and carrot approaches to get her to join in their search for a hidden colony of humans, and the Network entity itself, wary to the Observer species’ motives, engages her as a spy.   How can young Sarya begin to ascertain the truth and outwit beings so much smarter than she is? 

As a sample of the author’s writing, here is a reverie of Sarya’s mother: 
'Back before Shenya the Widow ever dreamed of calling this one daughter, it took some time to stomach the sight of an intelligence without an exoskeleton.  Imagine a being with only four limbs? …As if that were not horrific enough, the being is wrapped top to bottom not in clean and beautiful chitin but in an oily blood-filled organ—which is called skin …Those eyes!  Two multicolored orbs that flash like killing strokes, that express emotion nearly as well as a pair of mandibles.'

In the following example, we are party to the superior attitude of a young, ambitious member of a species rated as much smarter than humans who also is trying to manipulate Sarya for their own purposes:

'Take a Human’s inflated sense of self, its lack of respect for boundaries and order.  Combine that with a Widow’s hunter focus, weaponized rage, and love of violence.  Blend well, and you get this thing standing in Sandy’s doorway.  This Human has its own goals, and it wants to make its own decisions to get there.  It wants control of its own destiny.  However, it has yet to learn one very important lesson.  In this galaxy, no one has control of their own destiny.'

This book was provided by the publisher for review through the Netgalley program.
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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.
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THE LAST HUMAN is the debut sci-fi novel from Zack Norman, and I must say it is an ambitious and entertaining read!
*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD* As might be guessed by the title, Jordan makes humans the most hated species in the galaxy, which in itself is an idea that only a few authors have seriously try to toy with. But this debut novel has a lot of elements to keep in line: Insectoid aliens that serve as the main source of the vocabulary and mindset of the main character; a vastly superior artificial intelligence that basically runs the entire galaxy of sentient beings - both organic and synthetic; shared consciousness and a vast hive mind being that is virtually omnipotent but also pretty seriously crazy. Throw in some well-rounded characters and humorous dialogue as the participants in the story face challenges and intellignences that are both awesome and dangerous.  A most noteworthy debut and recommended for fans of mind-bending yet relatable sagas set in the farflung future!
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