Relic by Alan Dean Foster. (Far Future SF Novel, 2018).
A veteran and best-selling author published in a wide range of genres, but most famed for his SF work, Alan Dean Foster sets this thoughtful yet exciting book quite far in the distant future. How far distant? Well, the spreading of humanity through space to colonize countless worlds throughout our arm of the galaxy is very old news here. So is the subsequent fall of humanity–almost all of us struck down by a biological weapon engineered by (yes, of course) members of our own notoriously self-destructive species.
The title ‘relic’ here is a very old man named Ruslan, who seems to be the lone survivor of this self-inflicted holocaust. Or at least the alien race who found him, decades after the plague ran out of people to kill, have located no one else on dozens of former-human worlds they have explored by the start of the novel. These 3-legged and 3-gendered aliens, the Myssari, have a society quite appropriately different from what Ruslan was used to in his youth, before the plague swept his world. He has slowly grown accustomed to his benefactors’ way of life. And they want very much to resurrect humankind–for both scientific and philosophical reasons.
Their first idea is to clone cells donated by Ruslan and tweak them to ensure genetic diversity, as well producing individuals of both sexes that can then reestablish humanity as a viable race. Ruslan is grateful to these Myssari, but doubts his species is worth saving. However, when they pledge to try and locate the all-but-mythical ancestral homeworld called Earth, he reluctantly agrees to cooperate.
And who knows? If one human among billions had a natural immunity to the now-extinct disease, might there be a few more out there?
Meanwhile, other space-going species have begun to explore the regions formerly dominated by humans. The Vrizan in particular are rivals of the Myssari, competing for colonies left vacant by the dead humans and for scientific knowledge about them. They aren’t monsters, but aren’t above bending rules, threatening force and maybe even doing a bit of kidnapping to get what they want. And they sure want to get hold of the only known living human.
I believe it’s not an unacceptable spoiler to note that the key plot question of whether Ruslan is, indeed, the very last living homo sap (I’ve always loved Heinlein and companies cynical/satiric variation on our kind’s formal name) is answered partway through the novel. And rather than ending Ruslan’s journey of personal discovery, it’s truly only the midpoint of the adventure, danger, heartbreak and hope-driven ultimate revelations for him and several other well-drawn characters.
The book first appeared in a hardcover edition is 2018 and the paperback was released in 2019 (where I encountered it). It’s richly imagined, especially in its portraits of 2 alien cultures, as well as our own flawed yet resourceful species.