Locus Focus: Take Eighty-Eight!
We are at the most auspicious post we will ever have! Chinese numerology says so! =P Our only hope of toping this is to get to a Take Eight Hundred Eighty-Eight, but even I am not that crazily ambitious. (In fact, I've been thinking about retiring Locus Focus after Take Ninety-Nine . . . but I'm not absolutely certain yet, so I'm throwing that out to be a tease.)
Our April theme is In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog, and last week I featured a space setting from a great SF classic, which is as timeless as it is dated. This week, I take my setting from a book which I predict will be out of print in about twenty years.
Across the Universe
by Beth Revis
. . . When Eldest looked at Godspeed, as I'm looking at it now, he saw the same things I see: an interior of a ship modeled like a county in Sol-Earth's America, but in miniature, trapped in a round bubble of ship walls. A city piled on one side, with neat, orderly streets laid out in a careful grid, the center of each block stacked with box trailers that served as homes and workplaces for trade. One block for weavers . . . One block for dyers, one for spinners, one for tailors. Three blocks for food preservation: canners and dryers and freezers. Two blocks for butchers. Four blocks to the house the scientists and Shippers who work on the level above this one. Each family, gen after gen, born and raised to work until death in the same block of the same city on the same ship.
When Eldest posed for his painting here, did he think of this? Did he look at the City and marvel at its smooth efficiency, its careful construction, its consistent productivity?
Or did he see it as I do: people boxed in trailers that are boxed in city blocks that are boxed in districts that are boxed in a ship, surrounded by metal walls?
If you've read my Reading Diary entry for Beth Revis's Across the Universe, you may be wondering why it's getting its own Locus Focus post. The reason is that there was one thing I left out of it that I was really passionate about, but which didn't fit the rest of the post.
The first thing that struck me about the ship Godspeed is how much it has in common with earth. It practically is another earth, inasmuch as both are self-sufficient worlds floating in the vastness of space, whose inhabitants are as unsure of the future as they certain they are right on course. So I initially found the two protagonists' sense of claustrophobia to be ridiculous. Yes, one character who grew up on earth is used to having more space to run . . . but didn't she always come home to a tiny box of a house at the end of the day? What she is missing isn't freedom as much as a heady illusion of freedom. Real freedom is not merely wide enough space between walls. Real freedom is . . . flourishing.
On the other hand, no one can really flourish in a dystopia, either. And when we find out, later in the novel, what the source of the orderliness of Godspeed is, we can give the earthling character points for intuition as well as for culture shock. In a truly free world, people don't live in such neat little boxes.
Space-set SF is a great vehicle for satire: even characters who aren't extraterrestrials are assumed to have a "better" perspective of earth, by virtue of being far away from it. But not every SF writer has an imagination powerful enough to achieve the same distance. Revis's Godspeed doesn't even seem to be a projection of an American county of the future; it's quite clearly a collage made out of a cut-up carbon copy of a county of today. And while I acknowledge the possibility that some geographical situations may rival the Bermuda Triangle when it comes to sucking out the human spirit, the idea that happiness is a distant destination does not impress me.
Flourishing is blooming where you've been planted, and it's a bit disappointing that a novel which should dare to say that this is possible even in the darkest corners of outer space should be so small-minded when it comes to immediate space.
Question of the Week: If you had to design a space ark for thousands of passengers--crew and their families--all of whom would spend their entire lives on board, what is the one thing you would be sure to include?
Image Source: Across the Universe by Beth Revis