It is the year 2021. The last birth recorded on earth occurred in 1995 (Year Omega). In England, Xan Lyppiatt is Warden; he promises security, comfort, and pleasure to his people. Xan's cousin, Theo Faron, Ph.D., retired professor of history at Merton College, Oxford, becomes involved with 5 people who oppose Xan's worst policies: the Quietus ("voluntary" mass suicides of the elderly), the sending of all criminals to the Man Penal Colony where there is no one to control cruelty, the rules forbidding Brits from traveling abroad and allowing only Sojourners (slave/workers) to emigrate, the compulsory testing of sperm and routine examinations of healthy women, and state-run porn shops. Theo and the 5, one of whom is pregnant, flee to avoid capture by Xan's men.


Man is diminished, states a character, "if he lives without knowledge of his past; without hope of a future he becomes a beast." This novel comments interestingly on the inability of Western science to prevent the impending end of the species or to discover the cause of sterility and on how lack of a visible future affects the human race with apathy and cruelty.

Dolls replace babies as objects of women's affections; animal births are cherished events. Safety and comfort are prime government promises. People with any kind of disability (from diabetes to withered limbs) are second-class citizens, not included in compulsory fertility testing.

Two of these disenfranchised people (part of the group of 6 who oppose Xan's policies) come together to produce the first "new" baby. Even with this new birth, however, the future isn't rosy, for Theo kills Xan (who wants, to increase his power, to take credit for the new baby), dons Xan's Coronation Ring, and, the author hints, may end up having the same desire for total power that infected Xan. As an imaginative piece of popular fiction by one of England's best contemporary mystery writers, this novel can stimulate lively discussion of power relationships inside and outside of medicine.


P. D. James is the pen name of Phyllis Dorothy James White.


Warner Vision

Place Published

New York



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