The Last Human by Zack Jordan science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last Human: I want to read Zack Jordan’s next bookThe Last Human by Zack Jordan

This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s almost soul-crushing. I adored the first 25% of Zack Jordan’s The Last Human. It was on its way to being my favorite book so far this year. It was imaginative, clever, exciting, funny, and warm. I loved it. Then, it took a turn, and I struggled to finish it.

The Last Human (2020) is about a girl named Sarya who is being raised by a huge sentient black widow spider. Sarya is a human, but she and her mother hide this fact from others. This is easy to do because nobody knows what a human looks like anymore. The race is supposedly extinct, which is a good thing. The rest of the universe (over 1.4 million different species in more than 1 billion star systems) is afraid of humans — they’re immature, uncivilized, and not very smart. If they knew Sarya was one, she’d be in a lot of danger.

The race that Sarya pretends to be (the one her widow mother put on her adoption certificate) is one that’s less intelligent even than humans. Because society divides individuals into castes depending on the intelligence of their species, Sarya’s access to specific places and jobs is limited and everyone treats her like she’s stupid.

When we first meet Sarya, she has just received a new device that allows her to connect with the network, a huge universe-spanning internet that contains a vast amount of data that anyone can access so they can get any kind of information at faster than light data transfer speeds. Now Sarya can, for example, look up facts and interpret other species’ facial expressions in a millisecond.

While on a field trip with her new device, a creature shows up and claims to know what Sarya is, though it’s been over a thousand years since anyone saw a human being. When he suggests where Sarya can go to get answers about humanity and where she came from, she gets curious. Thus begins an adventure that seems like it should be extremely exciting and enlightening but instead becomes erratic. While there continue to be scenes that are engaging, others are rambling, talky, and confusing. Most disappointingly Sarya, who had previously been a force to be reckoned with, becomes passive as she leaves the space station she lived on and becomes overwhelmed with the author’s vast and unsettling universe.

Zack Jordan’s writing style is breezy and pleasant. His world building is really cool, as is the scenery and the characters. The relationship between Sarya and her mother is amusing and sweet. I loved the idea of citizens being divided into castes and restricted by their species’ average intelligence. To be clear, I wouldn’t want to live in a society like that, but I’m interested in the evolution of intelligence and consciousness and I was expecting this set-up to make a fun story, especially in this case when Sarya was smarter than the label she was given when adopted.

In addition to the discussions about intelligence and consciousness, I also enjoyed thinking about the evolution of species, free will, networks, and the dimensionality of the universe (here described as similar to Edwin A. Abbott’s explanation in Flatland).

The best part of The Last Human, though, is that the audiobook is narrated by Bahni Turpin who is one of my favorite narrators. She is so funny and she gets a lot of credit for my enjoyment of the first part of the story. Her interpretation of the scene at the field trip where a kid of another species is talking to Sarya like she’s an idiot is hilarious. There are many hilarious scenes, actually, and Turpin gives a brilliant performance.

I’m disappointed in The Last Human, but impressed with Zack Jordan nonetheless. There is so much potential here. I am sincerely looking forward to his next book which I will certainly read. The Last Human didn’t work for me, but I think something else will.

Published in March 2020. The last human in the universe is on the run from a godlike intelligence in this rip-roaring debut space opera. Sarya is the civilized galaxy’s worst nightmare: a Human. Most days, Sarya doesn’t feel like the most terrifying creature in the galaxy. Most days, she’s got other things on her mind. Like hiding her identity among the hundreds of alien species roaming the corridors of Watertower Station. Or making sure her adoptive mother doesn’t casually eviscerate one of their neighbors. Again. And most days, she can almost accept that she’ll never know the truth — that she’ll never know why humanity was deemed too dangerous to exist. Or whether she really is — impossibly — the lone survivor of a species destroyed a millennium ago. That is, until an encounter with a bounty hunter and a miles-long kinetic projectile leaves her life and her perspective shattered. Thrown into the universe at the helm of a stolen ship — with the dubious assistance of a rebellious spacesuit, an android death enthusiast on his sixtieth lifetime, and a ball of fluff with an IQ in the thousands — Sarya begins to uncover an impossible truth. What if humanity’s death and her own existence are simply two moves in a demented cosmic game, one played out by vast alien intellects? Stranger still, what if these mad gods are offering Sarya a seat at their table — and a second chance for humanity? The Last Human is a sneakily brilliant, gleefully oddball space-opera debut — a masterful play on perspective, intelligence, and free will, wrapped in a rollicking journey through a strange and crowded galaxy.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.