If you have read this column long enough you will know that I am given to wandering about the landscape of any variety and manner of things that catch my interest. One of my most recent wanderings was back to the world of Science Fiction. As you might have gathered from last week’s column and its reference to Isaac Asimov’s “Robot Novels,” there was a time when I could have rightly been called a “fanboy” for all things science fiction. At one point in time my library was filled with the works of John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank Herbert, and others. If you are familiar with the genre, you might notice this is an “old school” list. As time went on, there was less science, fantasy and, things-magical dominated the market niche. The quality of writing seemed to wane with the passing of the greats. My reading interests moved on to other works and other sensibilities. Looking back on it all, I think another reason was that the characters began to resemble action figures more so than human beings. I began to not care about the people in the story.
In reading Asimov’s works you cared about the earthman detective Elijah Baley and began to connect to his robot/ humanform partner R. Daneel Olivaw. Their interaction and partnership carried the novels more so than the underlying science and technology. The Olivaw character went on to live through 20,000 years of literary time in the various novels that followed. Along the way R. Daneel Olivaw sought to be more and more fully human. It is a theme repeated in many science fiction offerings: Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man and Data in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series to name two. In a twist, it is the story of one’s humanity lost and the struggle to regain it as seen in the Annika Hansen character of Star Trek: Voyager. In case the reference to Annika Hansen threw you off, that was the given name of Seven-of-Nine, the Borg drone whose humanity was ripped asunder. Her personal journey was to rescue that which was lost and no longer remembered.
My interest in science fiction became nostalgic. That is until someone gave me a copy of Andy Weir’s The Martian. It is the story of NASA astronaut Mark Watney left stranded on Mars, presumed dead, when his Mars mission crewmates are forced to evacuate the planet with no means to return to the landing site, but only to return to earth. That is the first chapter. Watney survives; but for how long? With every page there is great science, but with every page, you begin to deeply care for the characters. It is a great read and I have hopes for the movie version coming out in November 2015.
I have already watched the trailer. It was the voice over on the trailer that reminded me of the deeper currents in all good reads. “Every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people coordinate a search. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world send emergency supplies. This instinct is found in every culture without exception.”
It is the instinct which drives the earth-wide rescue mission for Watney. It is the same drive with which a case worker seeks to bring to bear all available resources to rescue the humanity of one homeless person, a family teetering on the edge of homelessness, and so many people left behind and stranded when the world moves on without them. It is the passion of doctors and nurses to heal, the Coast Guard rescue swimmer, first responders, and more. It is the deep abiding force wired within us by the God who desires that all be saved – who commands that we rescue one another in love. It is the God-given instinct within each of us that we are drawn to care, to help, and to be prepared for the opportunity when we choose to be part of a rescue mission. Today and everyday rescue operations are underway. Will you care enough to extend your hand and let you yourself be rescued?