Saturday, October 03, 2015

Aren't We All Martians, Really?

I am planning to go see The Martian this weekend.  It's the movie based on Andy Weir's novel of the same name, staring Matt Damon, about an astronaut that is stranded on the planet Mars when his crew mates presume him to be dead, forcing him to figure out how to survive long enough for them to return and pick him up.  
I didn't read the book.  I've heard great things about it and the adaptation.  I do like science fiction films, especially those rare ones that make an effort to get the science backing them up right, as this one seems to have done.  The biggest reason I want to see this movie, though, is because it seems like a film written about me.  
It's a movie about a guy, a hundred fifty million miles away from where he wants to be, trying to figure out how to stay alive long enough to get there.  
I noticed some years ago that most of the stories I write are about people dealing with problems in isolation.  My short story published in Analog earlier this year, Robot Boss, was about a worker who is alone in thinking that it was sentient expert system he reports to that made a mistake his company is on the hook for, and how he tries to figure out and prove that.  Another story of mine, Shadow Angel, which was published in Asimov's science fiction in 2011, was told from the point of view of a pilot either experiencing powerful hallucinations overwhelming his perceptions or receiving communications from an alien intelligence with no objective way to tell which it is.  A short story I'm working on now, using the working title of Brother Like Me, is, like The Martian, about someone stranded by his crew on an alien world.  In my story, the main character is caught between two alien species that he can't communicate with, one that wants him to leave with them, the other that wants him to stay.  
I remember my mom telling me several times when I was a child, "You are born into this world alone and you die alone."  Hearing this used to scare me as a kid.  When I became more of a snarky teenager, I put my mother's penchant for saying dark and gloomy things to her kids down to her being born in a third world country.  Where else would you get a mindset like that?  
Older now, I share my mother's views on life in this regard.  Life is a lonely place to be.  Most of our efforts are like those of the character in The Martian, trying to get people, someone, anyone out there, to listen to us.  To recognize that we exist, to begin with.  To communicate back to us.  
When I was a Theatre major in school, the first play I directed was a one-act called, "Hello, Out There!" by William Saroyan.  It's about a drifter that has been wrongly accused of molesting the wife of someone in the town, at least according to him, and is alone in a jail cell, trying to get someone to listen to his side of the story.  The only person that comes at his call is a young girl who cleans the jail at night.  Both of them use the title of the play as a line of dialogue at different parts of the play.  Both times it is used to emphasize how alone people generally are in life.  I received a great deal of praise from my teachers about how I brought this sense of isolation out of the play.  I was pleased, but somewhat surprised as I didn't know I was doing that at the time.  
As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in one of the reading rooms in my local library.  There are about two dozen people around me.  We're all bent over our screens, typing, writing, studying.  One of these people might even be reading my blog right now, wondering if I'm going to update it this week.  Or maybe not.
Recently, I've received friend requests from people on Facebook that I just didn't know.  This has happened to me before.  In the past I've just assumed they made a mistake, that they were trying to friend someone else, and ignored the request.  One of them listed someone I knew as a mutual friend.  When I spoke to this person he said, "I had no idea who they were.  I thought they were someone I'd met in Mongolia while with the Peace Corp and accepted.  It was after that I thought, 'Wait...  Who are you?'"
I sent the person a message.  It was straight forward.  "I've received a friend request from you, but I'm not sure I know you.  Have we met?"  
That person has since deleted the request.  It also looks like their page is gone.  At least, I can't get to it when I click on their name.  Maybe they just blocked me from reaching them.  Maybe they were just hoping to be accepted, if only because they asked.  
I don't know.  I will probably never know.  Just as I'll probably not learn anything more about the two dozen or so people around me than I know right now, that they live close enough to get to the library and that they probably have library cards.  That, and what I know about myself that applies to everyone else.  We're here.  We're trying to get "there."  It probably feels like it's very far away.  They are hoping to get help to get there.  
I usually go to see movies alone.  I've had people go, "Yew," when I say that, as if I had just admitted I was homeless.  Normally I don't mind.  
I did send a message to a friend who shares my tastes movies and books and such to see if he wanted to go see The Martian with me.  He's busy, unfortunately.  Stuff to do.  I get it.  
So, I guess I'll go by myself.  I'll find a seat down front, it's where I prefer to sit.  I'll get comfortable.  I make sure my cell phone is turned off as the lights go out.  The screen will fill my vision to secure the illusion that it's just me that's there watching it.  I'll let it transport me to someplace very far away. 
Maybe that's the best way to watch a film like this after all.  


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