2011 Proverse Prize Finalist
To the post-modern savages, the future is not science fiction,
but a lonely journey of self-discovery for themselves and mankind.
Man’s Last Song is about the human race facing imminent extinction in the future, but is not science fiction or apocalyptic thriller. The story is set in Hong Kong, with many international characters and events.
In 2090, the global population is less than half a million; median age is about sixty. After forty years of universal sterility, humanity is vanishing while the rest of the planet makes a happy comeback. A small group of survivors in Hong Kong face the challenge of adjusting to life as post-modern savages, rediscovering instincts that had long been suppressed by civilisation.
Their relationships with nature, each other, and themselves have fundamentally changed. The dilemmas, pains and pleasures of love, friendship, compassion, ageing, and loneliness are heightened by pragmatic concerns. The unknowable: God, Dao, death, even reality, have all assumed new and shifting dimensions in man’s dying world.
A barren human world remains ironically over-populated for many years after the last baby has been born. In this End-time scenario, people go to work in the morning rather than watch dragon fights from the balcony. Retirement is postponed indefinitely. People depend on a social order to make a living; and society depends on them being stuck in the rut to function.
Eventually, the ageing remnants of the human race return to a Stone Age lifestyle. They farm and gather, occasionally challenging the commercial expiry dates on an old can of food for a treat. The pressure to mindlessly overstock is gone. The facade of modernity has crumbled. They survive without utilities, commerce, or medicare, and are again the honest social animals that their distant ancestors once were.
Reality and priorities have changed. Some are comical. Some are troubling and painful. Others are touching, even sad. Losing one’s dental filling or spectacles can be a comical disaster. Rotten neighbours, more slippery than stiff, require proper disposal before the dogs get to them first. Chickens must also be protected from the dogs, which are vying for a good position in a brave new food chain, one that their ex-best friends, the humans, no longer enjoy eating at the top by default.
But unlike their Stone Age forebears, post-modern savages have knowledge and secure shelters to make life easier. There are even plenty of leftover fine spirits. Over a glass of exquisite wine, they re-examine humanity from its fading end, and discover love in its true and ruthless form between woman and man, friends, father and son. They wonder about God, Dao, and why people in their past worked so hard to accelerate self-extinction.
While the men philosophise, a woman quietly evolves on the side, refusing to give up . . .
Our World Now . . . in Hindsight
The post-modern savages may not know where they’re heading, but they’ve all come from a past — the world we now live.
Reflected with fictional detachment and simulated hindsight, it looks absurd: Overpopulation is a fundamental problem denied by politics. To sustain an abundant populace, the economy must grow indefinitely at suicidal rates. Resources are consumed without beneficiaries. Wastage is encouraged by design, and greed revered. The resultant pollution is so threatening and far-reaching, and the science behind so incomprehensible and controversial, most choose to ignore.
Climate change, epidemics, cyclical collapses of mega economic bubbles inflated by fake money, and loneliness are met with ludicrous denial. Homo sapiens, the thinking monkeys, are a thoughtlessly self-endangered species.
Song Sung, 42, is the youngest person alive. When he was born, only two births had happened in Hong Kong in the previous five years; both had died before turning one. His parents tried to protect him from the poison of instant fame and insane adulation. They anticipated how the world might wind down as infertility continued, and trained their son to be a tough survivor. Sensitive by nature, Song has been brought up to live in a primitive world.
He can run two marathons a day, but does that qualify him to be a post-modern savage?
Rhea, 48, like Song Sung, is Eurasian. She grew up in the lost world of the super-rich, and never had a real relationship with her parents. She was closer to her grandparents who had a mansion in Repulse Bay, and a similar villa fifteen minutes away in Shek O. When Grandpa came home from a long day of work that he didn’t need to do, but refused to let go, the magnificent sea view had dimmed down to his million-dollar pitch-darkness.
From not knowing where potatoes come from, and a lifetime engagement in leisurely activities just to kill time, Rhea follows her raw feminine instincts into the future without hesitation, philosophising, or questioning.
The future is, of course, just like the very distant past.
Ma was a prodigy in particle physics. It dawned on him one day that building longer accelerators to bang electrons with more energy is endlessly futile. One can’t measure infinity with increasingly longer tapes. He quit a prestigious research career to concentrate on Qigong and Daoism — things he discovered and learnt from his Scottish landlady and mentor Mary Scott at Oxford.
Ma eventually returned to Hong Kong to work for the Government — just one way of making a living to support his hobbies. He hid behind the baffling vanity of the system with cynical cunningness, and avoided doing anything substantial in a long and peaceful career in the civil service.
At 68, the accomplished Qigong master and Daoist follows the flow of life to the very end of a civilisation that he questioned, dealing with his own human weaknesses as they surface.
Johnson and Ma are antithetical buddies. In the opinionated world of their past, they probably would not have bothered to speak with each other, not to say becoming best friends.
A few years Ma’s junior, John grew up in the suburban felicity of Kansas City. At 18, his universe fell apart when his Dad’s extramarital affair had been disclosed. He joined the Marines to escape the situation, and to become a warrior. Instead, he became disillusioned. An attempt to rebuild values and beliefs through theology did not work. He could not convince himself that Jesus, a revolutionary thinker, would be Christian if still alive. He switched to Business Administration, then joined an oil company and spent his career as an expatriate in Asia, devoting to work ethic.
Song Sung’s father was an engineer, a pragmatist who dealt with the world through analysis and numbers. His love for Sari Salonen ignited a passion he had suppressed, but not enough. As humanity dwindled, he projected the future on a spreadsheet, and tried to prepare his son accordingly.
One day in 2081, after disposing of a decomposing neighbour’s body, he realised ageing and sickness could make life unlivable for him and his son. He started to plan his exit.
Finally in solitude, the past comes back to him, mixed with a future that’s increasingly surreal. Is it possible that for most of his life, he had not been himself?
Guji - Lonesome in Chinese - flickers in and out of this world. She lived near Rhea on the Peak for a while, but moved to avoid contact.
Insanity once saved her life. But can she survive the return of reality?
Table of Content
1.6 a samaritan dilemma
1.7 goodbye house
2.2 bread delivery
2.3 isa's ashes
2.4 ultrasound ghosts
2.5 baby tom
2.6 life and death
2.7 fertility crisis
3.1 qigong rhapsody
3.2 awaiting death
3.3 the daoist
3.4 oxford tai chi
3.5 ultimate particle
3.7 generation z
4.1 tears in shek o
4.4 Melody's encounter . . .
5.3 hole digging economy
5.4 about god
5.5 queen’s pier
6.1 slippery stiffs
6.2 letter to son
6.3 crossing neverland
6.5 first stop
6.7 one night stand
7.1 birthday party
7.3 what's love?
7.6 lonely awakening
7.7 o sole mio
More about the story and Book Events:
Read Chapter ONE