" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Last American by John Kessel

Earlier I briefly discussed the work of John Kessel here.  
(cover above by Edward Munch)

Some time ago I received this lovely copy of H.G. Wells The Shape of Things to Come from a friend. I had been looking over Last and First Man by Stapledon and wanted to compare the two. So that night I opened the Wells and read the introduction/fictional rational for his book. I will say, while I love historic science fiction and future histories these are books/tomes I delve into rather than read cover to cover. 

I did want to mention the story the Last American does not appear in the Arkham House collection, Meeting in Infinity pictured above.  I read it in the Hartwell anthology. 
It also appears in the Kindle edition The Collected Kessel.

The next day I was meeting a friend at a pub for lunch so I took also the 13th volume of Hartwell's Year's Best. I noticed a Kessel story, 'The Last American The Life of Andrew Steele Recreated by Fiona 13 Reviewed by The Old Guy" Wow it was another future history. This kind of coincidence always charms me.

"In this new biography of Steele, Fiona 13, the Grand of her long career recreating lives for the Cognosphere. Andrew Steele, when he died in 2100, had come to exemplify the twenty-first century, and his people, in a way that goes beyond the metaphorical. Drawing on every resource of the posthuman biographer, from heuristic modeling to reconstructive DNA sampling to forensic dreaming, Ms. 13 has produced this labor of, if not love, then obsession, and I, for one, am grateful for it. Fiona presents her new work in a hybrid form. Comparatively little of this biography is subjectively rendered. Instead, harking back to a bygone era, Fiona breaks up the narrative with long passages of text—strings of printed code."

And what a story it is, we follow Andrew Steele from abused child to blogger, war criminal, incredibly successful writer/producer for movies, religious leader to president. And through the life of Allen Steele we see a world at times distressingly like the most appalling aspects of our own as it moves towards a far-off posthuman future. I don't intend to say more about the story. Rather I will try to convey my reaction. I read, my friend came we had lunch. On the way home I stopped at the CO-OP for groceries. When I went to check out I arrived at the line about the same time as another old codger. I waved him in and immediately pulled out the book to continue reading. I never do that. I seldom read in public and never become so engrossed in a story that I read in line. Kessel's work is very often quite good, the plots are interesting and the twists unexpected.  He often gets me to read types of stories I do not normally read, I don't like time travel, but read "The Pure Product" and "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue" did I like them? I am not sure, but I remember them and I looked for more of his work. I have no interest in stories about politics and the near future. That said "The Last American "is one of the best reads I have had in quite some time. I indeed to read it again just to see how he did it. And I will be reading more of Kessel's work in the future. You should as well.

I am a bit rushed today so I apologize for any typos, omissions or oversights etc. 


  1. Thank you for your review! I haven't read any of Kessel's work and I look forward to acquiring a copy of Meeting in Infinity: Allegories & Extrapolations.

  2. Hi Joachim

    I think he will appeal to you but I wanted to mention that the story the Last American does not appear in the Arkham House collection, Meeting in Infinity. I read it in the Hartwell anthology. It also appears in the Kindle edition The Collected Kessel.

    Thanks for commenting