“Last Contact” is a 2007 science fiction short story by Stephen Baxter. It is about a field of dark energy that is devouring the entire universe.
Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:
“Last Contact” follows two women, Maureen and Caitlin, as they live through the last few months of Earth’s existence. Maureen is intent on fixing up the yard at the new house she’s just bought in Oxford, while her daughter Caitlin, an astrophysicist, is helping the public understand and cope with what is about to happen. As the “Big Rip” gets closer to Earth, some people quit their jobs and do the things they’ve always wanted to do, while other people, like Maureen, hope to continue living normally right up to the very end.
Maureen said carefully, “I take it the news is what you expected, then.”
“Pretty much. The Hawaii observatories confirmed it. I’ve seen the new Hubble images, deep sky fields. Empty, save for the foreground objects. All the galaxies beyond the local group have gone. Eerie, really, seeing your predictions come true like that. That’s couch grass, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I stuck a fork in it. Nothing but root mass underneath. It will be a devil to get up. I’ll have a go, and then put down some bin liners for a few weeks, and see if that kills it off. Then there are these roses that should have been pruned by now. I think I’ll plant some gladioli in this corner—”
My Two Cents:
• The good:
- The idea of the Big Rip is pretty cool. An all-consuming field of dark energy is downright scary – and it makes for a great story!
- I quite enjoyed how the story alternates between the doom-and-gloom the near future holds, and the daily normalcy of working in the garden. A nice contrast there.
- Maureen’s phone notifications with the search-for-ET-at-home enthusiasts was a great little side note to this story.
• The bad:
- While there isn’t anything really “bad” in the story, it does leave you feeling a little bit anxious about something like this happening in our lifetime.
• Page Count: 11
• Word Count: 4,366
• “Last Contact” garnered the following awards:
- It has been nominated for the 2008 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
Where you can find “Last Contact”:
- This short story first appeared in the anthology The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2007.
- You can read a free online version at the Internet Archive.
Some Interesting Links:
- If you like “Last Contact” you may like some of the other stories in the same book. Be sure to check out SF Signal’s review of The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2007.
- You can learn more about Stephen Baxter at The Zone.
- Be sure to learn more about the SETI@home project – so you can be like Maureen and help analyze data for signs of alien life!
Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like The Last Question, about a super computer that is asked a question about the end of the universe, by Isaac Asimov.