Book 1, Chapter 1
The novel opens on January 1, 2021, as Theodore (Theo) Faron, a professor of history at Oxford, begins writing in his diary. He writes that his decision to start a diary has been prompted by three events that have occurred on this particular day: the New Year, his fiftieth birthday, and the death of twenty-six-year-old Joseph Ricardo, the last recorded human born on earth. Theo reveals that the human race has become infertile; the last human babies were born twenty-six years ago. This unexplained global infertility is referred to as “the Omega,” and all children born in 1995—the last year in which anyone was born—are called “Omegas.” Indulged, revered, and heavily studied since birth, the Omegas have grown into cruel and beautiful young adults who treat the rest of society with contempt. Faced with the slow extinction of the human race, most people have given up hope: suicides have risen, important buildings and artifacts are being sealed for posterity, playgrounds and schools have been removed, and the elderly mourn the absence of children, who can now only be seen or heard in old films. England is ruled by Xan Lyppiatt, an elected leader turned dictator who also happens to be Theo’s cousin. Xan’s government, the Council of England, uses monetary incentives to maintain social order in an increasingly elderly population. Suicide among the much-needed middle-aged is discouraged with fines, while suicide among the burdensome elderly is encouraged with pensions.
Theo is a professor of history, a subject that has become almost useless in the face of humanity’s extinction. The uselessness of his profession echoes the sense of uselessness that Theo feels in his life in general. We see that as a historian, Theo is able to acutely understand the despair and hopelessness people feel when confronted with the end of human posterity. Theo’s description of the “universal negativism” infecting mankind in the wake of the Omega will become significant as we will soon see that he, too, has become deeply cynical. It is also notable that Theo claims his purpose in writing a diary is not to leave a record of himself; he even goes so far as to say he will destroy it before he dies. This suggests that Theo thinks of himself as humble and uninterested in fame or power. As the novel progresses, it will be up to the reader to judge whether this characterization is accurate.