Dark, desolate and fantastical, The Purple Cloud was a pioneer in the genre of apocalyptic novels, and the first great science fiction work of the twentieth century. It inspired authors such as H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King.
The Purple Cloud tells the grandly bleak story of Adam Jeffson: the first man to reach the North Pole and the last man left alive on earth. A sweet-smelling, deadly cloud of poisonous gas has devastated the world, and as Jeffson travels the stricken globe in search of human life, he slowly succumbs to madness, and unleashes fire and destruction on his planet.
John Sutherland's introduction discusses M. P. Shiel's dissolute life, the originality of his book and its place within the context of 'last man' novels. This edition also includes a chronology, notes and further reading.
M. P. Shiel (1865-1947) was born in Montserrat in the West Indies. At the age of fifteen he was crowned by his father 'King Felipe of Redonda', Redonda being a rocky islet in the Caribbean. In 1885, Shiel came to England and from 1895 onwards, he earned his living through writing, specializing in wildly imaginative science fiction with a sideline in detective novels. He had a tumultuous private life, fathering several children by different women, and in 1914 he was sentenced to sixteen months in Wormwood Scrubs for 'indecently assaulting and carnally knowing' his partner's twelve-year-old daughter. In his old age, he settled in a cottage in Sussex and became increasingly preoccupied with religious themes. Shiel died in 1947, and is today chiefly remembered for his novel The Purple Cloud (1901). John Sutherland is emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London. He has edited numerous titles for Penguin Classics and is the author of many works of literary criticism, biography and memoir.