The Last Legends of Earth was such a brilliant read that I’m still surprised that I only heard of the author, A. A. Attansio, when I bought his book from a charity shop. The praise from Robert Silverberg on the back cover, which favourably compared it to the works of Olaf Stapledon, was the main reason I made the purchase.
It all begins when a family living on an extradimensional farm are massacred by merciless spider monsters. (It’s one of those spatially incomprehensible situations that can only be described by metaphors, but to Attansio’s credit he makes it work.) The lone survivor, Gai, joins her culture’s military and uses experimental technology to create the Chalco-Doror binary star system to bait the spiders. They feed on suffering, so she resurrects a long-extinct race of philosophical reptilian bipeds from Earth’s future purely so that their pain can feed the monsters. The reptiles refuse to participate in her scheme and will themselves into extinction. Gai’s replacement, mankind, proves much more successful. Eventually Gai realises that she must discover the mythical weapon capable of annihilating the spiders, and recruits Ned O’Tennis, a time-travelling pilot looking for his lost girlfriend, to help her. Their quest takes them from the creation of the Chalco-Doror system to its very end.
I’m always up for imaginative future timelines, and it doesn’t get much more creative than a creationist myth with aliens instead of gods, whose creator has a motive beyond artistic expression. Ned O’Tennis’ time traveling an inventive way to showcase the Chalco-Dorers system’s history, allowing Attansio to depict key events in anacronic order and tying them into Ned’s plot. Honestly, his whole plot reminded me a lot of the classic game Chrono Trigger, although that might be inevitable whenever time portals, reptile people and apocalyptic conflicts are involved.
If I say anything more about this book, I run the risk of rewriting the thesaurus entry for the word ‘good’, but the names were pretty great. Take Ned O’Tennis. That’s the sort of character name Clive Barker would invent, by using an ordinary name and a word that isn’t actually a name to create this weird uncanny incongruous effect. There are other characters running around with similar incongruous Barker-style names, like the dapper thief Spooner Yegg, Ned’s girlfriend Chan-ti Beppu and her step-father Nappy Groff. Honestly, I think this naming style works better for Attansio than Barker. It feels like Barker’s characters have weird names for the sheer hell of it, but it makes sense that people in the Chalco-Doror system, a place where humans from every from every era of history have been resurrected, would have mixed-up names.
Seriously though, if you’re some fatcat Hollywood producer who’s just sat through the entirety of Avatar with your annoying grandson and you’re fuming to yourself that you could make a far better futuristic film set on an alien world, with characters that are actually worth paying attention to, call up Attamsio and offer to buy the screen rights for his novel. Get the Jim Henson people involved, throw in Andy Serkis and hire Enya and Justin Hawkins to do the soundtrack, and IMAX would finally have a reason to exist.
For everyone else, read The Last Legends of Earth if you want to experience something between a high fantasy epic and a space opera, with a dash of William Blake. I’ve got another book of Attansio’s waiting on my TBR shelf, The Kingdom and the GRail, and I’m looking forward to it.