The Hinge of Mailer’s Unwritten Trilogy: “The Last Night”

DID YOU KNOW? The last short story that Mailer wrote was “The Last Night,” published in the December 1963 Esquire. It is a sci-fi tale about the world ending after a devastating nuclear war. The president of the U. S. and the premier of the U. S. S. R. recognize that radioactive fallout has made the Earth almost inhabitable. They agree to a bold course of action: load the most advanced spaceship with 80 humans, all healthy and intelligent, representing the races and culture of the world, add some animals and computers containing some portion of the planet’s cultural heritage, and send it out into the universe. Because the best rockets of the time will be unable to propel the ship beyond the Earth’s gravitational pull, the leaders decide to explode the earth after the spaceship-ark has been launched in the hope that the massive detonation, which will destroy the planet, will propel the ship out into deepest space. The resident tells the premier that he believes that “man may have been mismated with earth,” and
We cannot suffer ourselves to sit here and be extinguished, not when the beauty that first gave speech to our tongues commands us to go out and find another world, another earth, where we may strive, where we may win, where we may find the right to live again.
In a plebiscite, the people of the earth vote favorably to destroy the planet. The story ends with “the spaceship, a silver minnow, streaming into the oceans of mystery, and the darkness beyond.” It was Mailer’s intention to use this ending as the hinge between the end of Ancient Evenings (some may recall that the novel ends with “the scream of the earth exploding”), and the unwritten sequel, “The Boat of Ra,” which would detail the spaceship’s voyage to distant galaxies. There is quite a bit more to the story, including the nature of the final novel of the trilogy, “Of Modern Times,” all detailed for the first time in Norman Mailer: A Double Life.
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