I, Enceladus was originally published serially in 1938-39 in the Improbable Tales pulp magazine. The novel was largely ignored at first, as its depth of plot and dense prose didn't suit it well to the teenage boys who comprised the bulk of the magazine's readership. It wasn't until its republishing in 1948 after the success of Finlay's third novel, Callisto's Echoes, that Enceladus gained any measure of popularity.
The story centers on a man known only as "the earth-man," who believes himself to be the last living human. Stranded on a distant and inhospitable moon, his only companions are a bevy of small rodent-like aliens called moonhoppers, whom he names after the Muses and Fates of myth. As he waits for his oxygen stores to inevitably fail, the earth-man tells a story from his past to each of the "Fates," each chronicling a key event that led to his current predicament. The eighth tale, "A Positronic Dreamscape," is widely considered a masterpiece of science fiction storytelling. At the end of his last tale, as the earth-man drifts into unconsciousness, a ship touches down upon the moon, perhaps symbolizing hope or rebirth.
(An excerpt from p. 295): "After the man stopped walking, the sound of dry gravel breaking underfoot continued for several seconds. He twisted about abruptly and then chuckled nervously when he heard the echo of his feet grinding into the Mars-dust three seconds after. The planet was empty, all empty except for him. He squatted down to situate his atomic radio on a small boulder. The only sound was the repeating dit-dit-dit from the distant lighthouse. He flipped a switch and with a shrill whine the atomic battery engaged, boosting the reception. He carefully situated his headset.
"This is Mars calling Earth. Is anybody there?" he said.
He waited for what seemed like forever... thirty minutes and then forty minutes for his signal to traverse the yawning gulf between worlds. There was no response but the cotton hiss of static whispering from across the void. Surely if anybody was there, they'd have received his signal by now. He was about to shut off the atomic radio when the voice answered, high and tinny but unmistakable.
"This is Earth calling Mars. It's good to hear you."
"It's good to hear you, too. I was afraid there wasn't anyone else out there," he said. "How many people are with you."
The minutes trickled by again. Minutes made agonizingly long only by human perception, an insignificant trifle on this dusty planet, ancient beyond measure. Eventually, the voice from Earth responded.
"I'm the only one. They've...they've all gone. God knows where. I thought I was the only one left."
But nobody remained to receive the message. The tinny waves of the earthling's voice echoed across the plains and dissipated into the wispy atmosphere. The last man on Mars finally evaporated into the infinite abyss of time. All that was left was an empty world and its lighthouses repeating dit-dit-dit out into the cosmos, their phosphor glow signaling for rocketships that would never arrive. In time, even their atomic energies would fade, the phosphor fading to tawny yellow and ruddy brown; and their radio signal would weaken. In time, even those sentinel light houses would be dead, like skeleton fingers reaching up into an empty cosmos.
"Don't you get it? What we have to understand is it's them or us. It can't be all of us, or one. It's got to be us, or they become it. Then we lose what makes us we."
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