Tartarus Press


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The Purple Cloud


M.P. Shiel


What would you do if you were the last man on earth?


The Purple Cloud, an acknowledged classic of early twentieth-century science fiction, explores this perennial scenario of imaginative writing in flamboyant, Decadent prose. After Adam Jeffson has become the first human ever to reach the North Pole, the world is poisoned by a mysterious purple cloud. Racked by horror and guilt, Jeffson, a latter-day Job, must find a way of living in a post-apocalyptic world piled high with the dead and their abandoned riches. And there is always the chance that somewhere, someone else has also survived.


Shiel’s extraordinary inventiveness and admirably reckless style have won him many literary admirers. H.G. Wells called The Purple Cloud a ‘Colossal . . . brilliant novel’. H.P. Lovecraft wrote that the passages in which Jeffson ‘roams through the corpse-littered and treasure-strewn cities of the world as their absolute master, are delivered with a skill and artistry falling little short of absolute majesty.’ Stephen King has acknowledged the book as a major influence on his novel, The Stand.


This Tartarus edition reprints the original unrevised text of the 1901 first edition, and reproduces J.J. Cameron’s twenty-four illustrations from the magazine serialisation of the same year. Brian Stableford provides a splendidly illuminating introductory essay, ‘The Black-and-White Mystery of The Purple Cloud’.



"Tartarus has done us proud. This is a beautifully made edition of a remarkable novel, together with the original magazine illustrations finely reproduced, and an illuminating introduction. Moreover, The Purple Cloud is worth reading quite apart from its considerable literary merits, as an important and influential genre work." - Reggie Oliver, All Hallows


"An acknowledged classic of post-apocalyptic science fiction, Shiel's ode to human persistence and his harsh physical/spiritual evolution marked a return to the author's decadent style of composition!"- William Simmons, Hellnotes


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