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Literature / The Last Ship

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The Last Ship is a 1988 post-apocalyptic novel by William Brinkley about the fictional USS Nathan James (DDG-80), a United States Navy ship that is seemingly the only survivor of a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

A 2014-2016 television adaptation, produced by Michael Bay, first aired on TNT in June 2014, although it differs heavily from the book.

The Last Ship contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Apocalypse How: Either a Class 2 or Class 3A-aside from some ragged survivors in the Mediterranean, every place the ship visits is totally devoid of human life.
  • The Captain: The main character is Thomas, who is the commanding officer of the Nathan James.
  • Cliffhanger: The book ends on one of these. Unfortunately, as the author died a few years after the book was published, the likelihood of a sequel is slim.
    His voice trailed away. We started down the hill and made our way toward Pushkin, her two ensigns fluttering in the cold wind that had begun to come off the ice cap, the ship ready to cast off on her voyage to rediscover the world… But that is another book.
  • Death by Sex:
    • When exploring a French ship that was hit by high doses of radiation, Thomas comes across two dead bodies in a bed, killed instantly by radiation given off by a nuclear explosion. They were still frozen in the position they had while having sex.
    • Later on in the book, the captain and one of his officers have sex in a cave. Said officer is killed when they attempt to jettison the ship's nukes and accidentally end up detonating them, destroying the ship.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The aftermath of the nuclear war leaves virtually no place on Earth untouched. The protagonists even contribute to the end by nuking the Soviet city of Orel.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The Nathan James encounters the Pushkin, a Soviet submarine, who decide to team up with the Americans to find a new home for their crews.
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  • The Last Title: The title.
  • Misguided Missile: Disgusted by the horror that the nuclear war has brought upon the world, some of the ship's crew decides to get rid of the ship's missiles by launching them without the captain's permission. However, one of the missiles detonates in mid-air, destroying the ship.
  • Monumental Damage: When the Nathan James steams up the River Thames, through the irradiated fog can be seen the charred ruins of London and Big Ben.
    "Anyhow, we found something out. The exact time. It had to have been just after the noon hour. Everyone must have been Christmas shopping. Big Ben."
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The exact date is never given, but it is implied that the story is set in the near future as the ship's number is DDG-80 (the real version of which was launched in 1999) and the ship has female sailors (in the 1980s when the book was written only male sailors served on U.S. warships).
  • Only One Name: The main character, who is the captain of the ship, is known only as "Tom" or "Thomas", with his last name never being revealed. This is curious, as in the military, most people are known primarily by their last name.
  • Precision F-Strike: When the ship's officers are arguing with each other in the wardroom, the captain delivers one of these and then subsequently apologizes for doing so.
    "And if everyone did, is anyone suggesting we start some sort of fucking treasure hunt to find as many of those pockets as we can before our fuel runs out and we end up wallowing in some sea somewhere?"
  • The Reveal:
    • When Thomas meets with the captain of the Pushkin, the Soviet captain tells him that he hails from Orel, the very same city Thomas' ship nuked.
    "A place called Orel. You probably never heard of it."
    • It is implied in the same conversation that it was nuked by the U.S. because it believed the Soviets kept nuclear weapons there, but the Soviet captain reveals that those nukes were moved out of the city before the "war" so the U.S. inadvertently ended up nuking it for no reason.
    • For his part, the Soviet captain reveals he nuked the U.S. naval base in Rota, Spain.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The story is set in the late 20th century, when the U.S. Navy is integrating female sailors onto its warships, amidst heated opposition from many of the navy's male officer corps. Being an old-timer with antiquated (and somewhat sexist) views towards gender norms, Thomas is strongly against the navy's move, feeling a paternalistic attitude towards women, that they should be protected and would not make good sailors anyway. By the end of the book, he sees the error of his ways and comes to realize that the female sailors of his ship were an invaluable and beneficial asset that contributed to the ship's success and survival:
    [I]t worked out considerably better than I had foreseen. The doom and gloom predicted by many Navy men, myself among them, for ships with “mixed crews” was not forthcoming. Certainly not on my ship, or on any ship of which I had knowledge. For, I believe, a number of reasons. To start with: As it is true, by a process akin to natural selection, that the very best men and officers in the Navy make certain that they go to sea while the worst just as diligently seek out a “dry” career, earnestly managing never to set foot off the land onto blue waters—an odd, forever incomprehensible sort of sailor to my mind—such was true also of the women when the Navy began to send a certain number of these to sea. We got the best.
  • World War III: Between the United States and the Soviet Union, although it doesn't last very long thanks to the very heavy use of nukes.