While I enjoy reading post-apocalyptic scenarios, I’m not very sanguine about stories describing a slow descent toward the end of the world as we know it, even though, perversely enough, the quiet despair of a foreseeable end touches me far more deeply than any account of massive upheavals and their aftermath. So I was not certain I would appreciate this story about a dying Earth, but my curiosity to try the writing of Linda Nagata, an author I’ve often seen mentioned with great appreciation, won over any misgivings I might have had. I’m very happy about my perseverance now, because The Martian Obelisk is a wonderful story.
(click on the link to read the story online)
Earth is slowly dying, not with a bang but with a whimper, as the saying goes: a long history of planetary neglect caused a series of natural disasters that changed for the worse the face of the planet, and naturally evolving diseases (together with a few lab-grown ones) decimated the population. Wars and terroristic attacks did the rest, killing humanity’s drive to move forward even before actually snuffing out life itself.
We are a brilliant species […] Courageous, creative, generous – as individuals. In larger numbers we fail every time.
In this dismal scenario the main character, Susannah Li-Langford, once a renowned architect, has been busy for close to two decades with a project to build an obelisk on the surface of Mars: after a few tragically unsuccessful colonization attempts, all that remains on Mars are automated construction machines, and with the financing of wealthy Nathaniel Sanchez Susannah is creating, by remote, a white-tiled spire on the red planet, a memento of the human race that will endure even once all life on Earth will have ceased to exist, or to leave a mark. But one day the remotely-operating machines warn her that there is something unusual happening…
As I said, I’m glad I read this story, about which I will not say anything further to let you enjoy it as it deserves: despite the bleakness there is a glimmer of hope in the end, and it’s worth enduring the sadness that comes before, because we might be doomed to failure, as Susannah muses, but the last word has not been written yet.