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I read this post-apocalyptic novella, perhaps a short novel, at least 40 years ago, in French. I think it was in a collection. Or perhaps, alone in a book, but then it had to be a rather thin one. I'm pretty sure it really was originally in French.

It takes place after several apocalypses. Early in the book, there is a synopsis of all the disasters that struck mankind in the past millennia. There is something about radioactivity, probably a nuclear war, that is fuzzy in my memory. Probably, fuzzy even in the memory of the POV character that mentions this very, very old history. Radioactivity had had plenty of time not to be dangerous anymore. More recently, a new disaster: most of the water disappeared. Not just fresh water, even the seas. This is unmistakable: most of the Earth is dry and barren. People survive only in oases (I think I do remember the word was "oasis" which in French in the same singular and plural) where they can still find some water by digging deep enough. Apparently they do not lack energy, which I believe they produce it from atoms. Maybe not in abundance, but at least some. The last, but not least, problem: monstrous earthquakes.

These oases are rather far apart, but not that far. They keep in contact by radio, and they can even travel from one to the other using light planes (they do have some source of energy, remember!)

IIRC, all this is told just after the first dramatic event, which happens at the very beginning. One oasis receives a radio message from one of its neighbours. It starts by telling of a huge earthquake and ends in mid-sentence. They understand that the other oasis has been so destroyed that they lost their ability to communicate. So they decide to send a few people (including the POV character) to assess the situation and bring help, or else bring back survivors. It is while going on this mission that the POV character reminisces all the previous history.

They reach the other oasis. There are survivors, but very few resources left, especially water. And they get news of other oases hit by earthquakes that also destroyed most of the water reserves. Mankind is doomed.

Then it gets more complicated. The POV eventually finds water, life starts again, But more problems arise, more disasters, and finally, mankind ends. IIRC, the POV is indeed the very last man to die.

RIP, mankind!

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  • "All's well that ends well"
    – Clockwork
    May 12 at 21:42
  • 1
    @Clockwork You are orange, I see....
    – Alfred
    May 12 at 22:43
  • 3
    All's not so well that ends wells. May 13 at 10:30

1 Answer 1

16

It's a guess, but how about La Mort de la Terre by J.-H. Rosny aîné?

I found an article on the Washington Post web site that describes it as:

In “The Death of the Earth,” carbon-based life forms have almost disappeared from the planet. By this point, humankind has passed through the “radioactive age,” killed off all the animals, except for a few highly evolved birds, and been dramatically reduced to a remnant population by increasingly cataclysmic earthquakes and the gradual drying up of the rivers and oceans. Only a few oases survive, where resigned men and weary-hearted women eke out a half-life, without hope for anything better.

Meanwhile, a new non-organic species — the ferromagnetics — roam the deserted wastelands and flourish. These creatures, like swirls of living rust, leach iron from human blood and leave people so anemic that they die. When “The Death of the Earth” begins, the seismic shocks are increasing in intensity and water is growing scarcer and scarcer. But one man, Targ, refuses to surrender to the general lassitude and dreams of a renewal of civilization.

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  • Yes, this is the one. I had forgotten the "ferromagnétaux" but they are mentioned in the English wiki page your answer give a link to, and definitely strike a chord. The French. wiki gives even more details that fit my memories. Thanks !
    – Alfred
    May 13 at 6:15
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    @Alfred It was a lucky Google! :-) May 13 at 6:26
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    Good find. An English translation is available at the Internet Archive. They also have both text and audio in French.
    – user14111
    May 13 at 7:09

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