I received a free e-book copy in exchange for an open and honest review.
This novella is unique. One that has made me think more philosophically about life and death than any other book I have read this year. The Last Day of Captain Lincoln chronicles the final day that the main character, Captain Lincoln, is alive. The story is set way way in the future, on a space shuttle orbiting a far off star. The colony consists of 132 people. Exactly. Eight new babies are born every 5 years and live for exactly 80 years. On a ‘cohort’s’ 80th birthday, they all die, giving space and resources for the 8 newborns. This story follows Captain Lincoln as he celebrates his 80th birthday, his last day alive.
Now the premise in itself is interesting and I will talk about it in a bit. But the reason this came to my attention was from the author themselves. They talked about a social justice component to their book (different from diverse representation), which I found super interesting while reading. To start off, I cannot really comment on the racial or ethnic identities on the characters because they were never stated, but I assumed they were White based on the pop cultural references in the book (music, quotes, etc.). There is a sparse commentary on love and sexual orientation, which shows the ship as an accepting environment. However, I did not find the representation all that compelling when it comes to diverse representation of main characters. The compelling commentary and underlying narrative was one of social justice.
The first piece that peeked my interest in the book was in the class that Captain Lincoln was asked to teach on his last day. Before Captain Lincoln takes over the class to talk about death (oh the joy oh talking about death right before you know it will happen), the instructors are talking a little bit about the history on earth and challenging students to think about why life on earth did not work. While not detailed, the scene is constructed in a way where students are allowed to respond and fall into the usual traps that rationalize privilege and oppression. I hoped this chapter would have gone on longer, because I thought the critique of our modern society was a much needed one to give. I also thought it went well with the story line as we were just recently introduced to the idea of a set 80 year lifespan. This chapter got the ball rolling on what I thought was the overarching theme of spaceship society.
The whole book imagines a society of near complete equality. Part of the reason there was not a lot of commentary on diverse representation may have been purposeful in showing this type of utopia – where identity truly does not matter. Every person born in the society has the same lifespan, the same access to health care, the same opportunities for employment, the same access to food, and no system of wealth. So it sparks the age old question… how do we achieve equity in our own society? This book is quite an extreme example and at the same time the ship society is highly regulated (birth rates, etc.) and unregulated (jobs, wealth, access to benefits, etc.). And it asks the question of which is better: knowing your lifespan and knowing you will live exactly 80 years… or the variability of lifespan and not knowing the exact date of death. The average lifespan on earth currently is less than 80 years (~70). Not everyone has the access to resources that would allow them to even hit the average lifespan. This is a huge equalizer and as someone who lives in a place where my average lifespan is higher than the average, I could easily argue against the 80 year lifespan. But for folks in places with limited health care, high child mortality rates, and other conditions that shorten average lifespans, the 80 year guarantee seems pretty good.
I did not know what to expect from this book, but I was surprised at the commentary about how our modern society works (or doesn’t). The Last Day of Captain Lincoln is a short read, but full of big questions that will make you think after you finish. Beyond social justice commentary, this book is about love, loss, and how does one live a fulfilling life. Death is sad and full of grief. And in western culture it is seen as one of the worst things imaginable. I think death will remain sad, but what is death after one lives a full life?
Final Rating 3.8/5