I could have sworn I read this in Silverberg's "Science Fiction 101," but I can't find it now.

In short, there are only two people left on a planet: a teen boy and (I think) a teen girl. They're sailing in a boat to the place on the planet where they'll have to leave, leaving the planet completely uninhabited. The boy, IIRC, is resigned to the fact that they have to do this, while the girl is more rebellious. It's seriously atmospheric and really sad. Seems to be from the 70s or even 60s. I'd love to find it again.


2 Answers 2


This wouldn't happen to be "Quietus" by Ross Rocklynne? It has all the elements (girl, boy, dying planet, tragedy) except the boat.

Tommy, 21 year old, is the sole human remaining in a small green patch on an otherwise dead earth. At least he thinks so, till he learns of a very shy girl too. And there is Blacky - Tommy's pet talking crow! Blacky actually behaves like talking parrots we are familiar with, but author tells us it's a crow.

We have a love story here - both Tommy & girl are attracted to each other. But whenever they're about to meet, Backy's speech scares her away.

On a separate thread, we have two alien visitors: Tark & his mate, Vascar. From a world called Alcon. They see signs of existence of sentients once upon this now dead world, & feel sad. Land on the sole green patch with the intention of locating the local sentients, & helping them get back up their old glory.

The rub is: these visitors are sentient birds. There will be some drama, their near conclusion that Blacky is the sentient & Tommy is his draft animal (Blacky often rides on Tommy's shoulder)!

And sad ending - when Blacky has scared away the girl for umpteenth time & Tommy is in the rage & aliens decide to protect the sentient from his gone berserk beast of burden!

  • The boy and girl in "Quietus" have no way to leave the planet.
    – user14111
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 10:30

Tiptree! You're thinking of James Tiptree, Jr.'s "Slow Music." At least, I feel 95% sure you are. (The dying planet, by the way, is Earth.)

ETA: Having been asked to elaborate, I'll try to do so. (Sorry -- I'm new here.)

I am confident that the story (novella, really) in question is "Slow Music" because the story contains all the elements the asker describes, including the specific detail that the male character is resigned to leaving the planet, while the female one is not. Also, this deeply elegiac story is "seriously atmospheric and really sad."

At the beginning of "Slow Music," the male character, Jakko, boards an automated sailboat to take him down a long river on a quiet, peaceful, full-of-animals, but apparently-empty-of-humans future Earth. Along the way, to his great surprise, he encounters a girl about his age, with the forever-memorable name of Peachthief.

We learn gradually (because Tiptree is a master of information management) that the sailboat is programmed to take people to the "River," where they will leave the Earth forever. This is a "post-human" Earth; the people of Earth have voluntarily decided to leave, to upload their consciousnesses to the stars. The human yearning for this upload, this escape, is profound, and eventually seems to gather in everyone. Earth is not actually dying, by the way, in the sense that its plant life and animals are flourishing. But human life there is almost gone.

Jakko is on his way to the River to join his family -- who have left while Jakko was away alone adventuring in the abandoned cities -- before they get too far away from Earth. But Peachthief has decided, stubbornly, to stay behind on Earth. She doesn't want to join the River.

'Suddenly she turned on him, her eyes wide open in the dimness like white-ringed jewels. “Look! Once and for all, I’m not going! I’m alive, I’m a human woman. I am going to stay on this Earth and do human things. I’m going to make young ones to carry on the race, even if I have to die here. You can go on out, you—you pitiful shadows!” ... “I’m not making fun,” he said, shocked. “It’s just that I don’t know what to think. Maybe you’re right. I really . . . I really don’t want to go, in one way, ” he said haltingly. “I love this Earth, too. But it’s all so fast. Let me . . .” His voice trailed off.'

Peachthief asks Jakko to impregnate her: she wants to stay on Earth and raise children. He thinks about it, and about whether to go to the River or stay on Earth with her. They continue on down toward the River together. The story goes on from there.

The story is, as said, "atmospheric and very sad." It's full of references to poetry, to Keats and Yeats and Blake. I had forgotten, until re-reading it just now, just how sad the final paragraphs are.

The novella was first published in 1980, three years after Tiptree's pseudonymous cover was blown, and seven years before she killed herself. It was reprinted in her 1981 collection, Out of the Everywhere And Other Extraordinary Visions. I own the story in the vast and indispensable Tiptree collection, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. I've found it online as a reprint in Lightspeed magazine, Issue 65 (Oct. 2015): https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Lightspeed_65_October_2015.pdf

  • 2
    Could you elaborate some? Describing similarities helps a lot for future seekers who may end up here :).
    – Layna
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 13:09
  • Ah, OK. I'll try to get better at this.
    – S.R.M.
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 17:22
  • PS: Tiptree and Silverberg had some ish, which may or may not have anything to do with the OP's confusion regarding being able to find the story in a Silverberg-edited collection they thought they remembered it from.
    – S.R.M.
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 17:56
  • (Specifically, Silverberg made a gigantic ass of himself by writing an Introduction to Tiptree's 1978 collection, Star Songs of An Old Primate, in which he could not confine himself to praising the fiction but also ran on and on about how "ineluctably masculine" it was -- just like Hemingway, and in stark contrast to, you know, ladies' writing, like that of -- shudder -- Jane Austen. When Tiptree's cover was blown in 1980, obviously Tiptree was the one most affected, but..... wowwwww. Seldom has anyone been revealed to have shot themself in the foot as thoroughly as Silverberg was.)
    – S.R.M.
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 18:02

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