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Literature / The Last Book in the Universe

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"They call me Spaz, which is kind of a mope name, but I don't mind, not anymore."

"Nobody around here reads anymore. Why bother, when you can just use a mindprobe needle and shoot all the images and excitement into your brain? I've heard of books, but they were long before I was born, in the backtimes before the Big Shake, when everything supposedly was perfect, and everybody lived rich. Personally, I doubt the backtimes ever existed. It's like a story you tell to make yourself feel better. As if having a past makes the future somehow worth believing in. In real life, nobody comes to your rescue. Believe me, I know. But then I met Ryter, this old gummy who had a lot of crazy ideas. Together we tried to change the world..."

A 2000 young adult novel by by Rodman Philbrick who you might know as the author of Freak the Mighty.

The Last Book in the Universe provides examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: Ryter's dead and The Urb has fallen into chaos after being cut off from mindprobes, which are essentially drugs. On the other hand, Bean has been cured of her illness, Little Face has a new home with Lanaya's family in Eden, and Spaz is continuing Ryter's work. The boom ends with Lanaya and Spaz, now called Ryter himself, promising that when they grow up, they will make things better.
  • Body Horror: Mongo The Magnificent, a once-powerful latchboss who's left in his mindprobe for an entire year. His hair's fallen out, his body's emaciated almost to the bone, he's lying oblivious in his own filth, and his brains are literally oozing out of his head.
  • Cheerful Child: Despite the dire circumstances around him, Little Face remains in good spirits and is perpetually adorable.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ryter. No matter how dire the situation is, he's always calm and polite. Spaz quickly grows to admire him.
  • Crapsack World: The Urb, where most of the story takes place. Everything's broken down and smog fills the air, making everything you see grey, and everyone lives in perpetual poverty. Gangs rule specific areas and their word is law. ...On the other side of the spectrum, you have Eden, within the Urb, which is exactly as the name implies.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Spaz, due to his epilepsy, can't take the mind probes. This makes him more intelligent and less passive than most others.
  • Disaster Scavengers: Most in the Urb are scrounging up the remains of a wrecked civilization to survive and getting by on handouts from Eden.
  • Death by Childbirth According to Billy Bizmo, Spaz's father, this is how his mother died.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Spaz's adoptive sister, Bean, who is later revealed to have leukemia. With the help of Eden's technology, she gets better.
  • Designer Babies: Proovs, who are genetically Improved humans who live in Eden, cut off from the unwashed masses of the latches.
  • Escapism: Deconstructed with Probes, which are basically fantasy worlds injected into your mind. “Shooters” are violent, but more popular in the wrecked hells cape of the Urb are “trendies” about living in Eden. You might never want to come out.
  • Fantastic Drug: Probes are halfway between this and escapist entertainment. Although their effects are primarily entertainment, they have a long list of physical and mental side effects and are strongly habit forming.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Towards the end, Spaz states outright that he's not the hero of the story—it's actually Ryter.
  • Forbidden Zone: The minefield separating the latches from Eden.
  • From Bad to Worse: When Ryter and Spaz are forced to leave Eden, they find that the probes have all been deactivated, and the Urb has fallen into chaos.
  • Future Slang: Zoomed note . Carboshake note . Gummy note . Cancelled note  And many more.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: It is a faction in Eden that supplies the mindprobes, in an attempt to deaden the minds of the normals and make it easier to wipe them out.
  • Happily Adopted: Little Face is secretly adopted by Lanaya's "contributors", or parents.
  • Instant Expert: Bean at chess. She manages to win against a proov who'd been playing the game since he was five, despite only just having learned how to play herself.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Ryter is a few decades older than Spaz, and as they travel together Spaz grows to greatly admire him.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Shortly before Ryter's execution, Spaz learns that the latchboss Billy Bizmo is his father.
  • The Man Behind the Curtain: In one of the latches Spaz and Ryter pass through, the boss is a shriveled brain-probe addict who no longer has the physical strength or mental presence to run his territory. His gang stays together by dogmatically following the rules he laid down in earlier times.
  • Meaningful Name: Spaz isn't just a name, it's a warning.
  • Red Baron: Boss Lady. The Latch Queen. Nails. The White Widow. Lotti Getts, latch-boss of The Vandals.
  • Rebellious Princess: Lanaya again. She's a special kind of proov who has been genetically bred to one day take over as the leader of Eden, but she's unhappy with the way the proovs look down on the normals.
  • Shout-Out: Many, from Yeats to Odysseus.
  • Take Up My Sword: Just before Ryter is executed, he tells Spaz that it doesn't matter if the book he was writing was destroyed, because "you're the book now - make it a good one!"
  • Talking the Monster to Death: The climax is Lanaya's speech to the Masters and the Proovs at the end. Sadly, it doesn't work. They do at least decide to shut down all of the Probes and stop supplying new ones, dashing the hopes of the faction intend on genocide, but in the short term this only produces more chaos.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Proovs were genetically designed to be perfect, and their living conditions are far better than those of the "normals." They also have higher authority.
  • Third-Person Person: Billy Bizmo talks like this. The effect is rather unsettling, even for a latchboss.
  • Title Drop: Towards the end, referring to Spaz.
  • What a Drag: The book begins saying that Ryder is going to die by being “wheeled.” He’s lynched by an Angry Mob after taking the blame for the deactivation of the mindprobes.