So now we know how Scott feels about science fiction, but I’ve never given much thought to genre distinctions. Whether 1984 is literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, or smut seems less relevant than whether it’s an effective novel. Clearly it is, and I think my shipmate is being disingenuous to pretend there are no other effective novels being shelved under the heading of “science fiction.”
As a writer heading into space—already in space, in fact, and getting deeper into space by the minute—I’m less concerned with the long shadow of speculative fiction than with the change in my own existential status. If a piece of literature is a bridge between writer and reader, how far can the writer journey before that bridge breaks? It’s not an idle question, and it’s one that concerns each of us on the Ibn Battutah.
Books have bridged vast distances before, of course. Things Fall Apart connected Chinua Achebe to the little Massachusetts girl I was 15 years ago. The Illiad connected me with a fantastic world that was millennia gone. Surely a quick hop to Mars, by a writer who’s spent her entire life to date on Earth, can’t present a greater impediment than literature has already overcome.
So I thought before lift-off. My challenge now is to communicate just how alien this environment already feels, how divorced I am from my previous existence. I’m stymied in any attempt to put this special brand of thrilling terror into words; to explain what it means to be secure in this tiny plastic chamber surrounded by a balloon the size of a rec room, itself surrounded by an environment more implacably hostile than any found on Earth—save perhaps the deepest of sea trenches, but even then you’re only several miles from breathable air.
I’ve lost track of how many miles from Earth we are now. I feel like the rabbits in Watership Down, conscious of having reached a point that’s beyond my capability to comprehend. Like those rabbits, I’m exploring a new frontier because I have to. Whether I like it or not, disaster is set to befall my home planet, and for all the hazards this journey entails, statistically I’m likely to enjoy—if that’s the word—a longer life on Mars than on Earth.
That, too, comes between us—between me and you, my readers. You’re still on Earth; at least, the vast majority of you are. A few of you will be able to leave in coming years, but most of you will have to fend for yourselves as best you can in an environment that is already beginning to choke you.
It’s strange that I’m able to so frankly articulate that fact: something most people on Earth are unable or unwilling to do. What choice have you but to continue putting one foot in front of the other, hoping for the best and enjoying the small satisfactions of daily life? A global panic might be the only thing that could save Earth now—if every single human were to orient their full efforts towards stopping the damage you’re doing, and undoing the damage that’s been done—but a panic could alternately, or additionally, serve to accelerate that destruction. Maybe it’s just as well that no panic seems imminent.
Did you notice what I did in that last paragraph? I said you’re. You and I are now different: you’re an Earthling, and I’m a Martian—or soon to be. Is there anything left to be said between us?