Category Archives: Pop Culture

The Green Book

The Green BookTITLE: The Green Book
AUTHOR: Jill Paton Walsh
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
PUB DATE: 1982
DISASTER: Unspecified climate disaster
SECONDARY THREAT: Survival on a new planet
TIME SINCE DISASTER: None

I hadn’t meant to segue into escaping to space when I started writing about Parable of the Sower, but sometimes that’s how things go. You find a thread and you follow it. And that thread lead me back to a book written for children that I read ages ago.

Father said, “We can take very little with us.”

Pattie and her family are among the last people evacuated from a dying Earth. The wealthy have already fled to more promising distant planets, while Pattie’s ship is old, small, and ill-fitted for exodus. Each family could bring only a very few things essential to survival, plus one book each.

The Green Book itself is small–only 69 pages of mid-sized text and meant for readers age 8 through 12. On the surface it’s about how Pattie and the other travelers adapt to a new planet that may or may not support life. The language is simple, the story is simple, but between the lines there is so much more:

  • Nods to socio-economic inequality in the conditions of the ship and the unspoken recognition of those left behind
  • References to climate change in comments about old photographs
  • The impact of selfishness when trying to build a community
  • How often children see more, feel more, and are willing to take more risks than the adults around them who are set in their ways

But truly, the strongest through-line is the power of story, how essential it is–for entertainment, bonding, and who we become.

Interstellar

Last night I finally saw the movie Interstellar. I had tried to see it when it first came out, but couldn’t seem to fit it in. Now I’m glad I didn’t.

Interstellar begins with a world facing many of the same challenges we find in Parable of the Sower–food shortages, widespread poverty, and a government that has turned its eyes from the stars to the ground, unable to justify money spent on dreams when there are so many problems to be solved in everyday life. And, like Lauren Olamina, Cooper, a former pilot, cannot let it go. His world, he knows is dying, and they are running out of other options. And when coded messages from a “they” no one can seem to identify lead to a covert NASA operation headed by one of Cooper’s former teachers, Cooper leaves everything and everyone he loves–including his 10 year old budding scientist daughter, Murph–behind for the chance to save them.

There are the usual assortment of questions that move the adventure plot forward, including:

  • Can they find a new world that can support life before it’s too late?
  • Will Cooper make it back to his family?

But the one question that the story most pivots around is one of ethics:

Who do we save, the human race as a species or the individual people we know and love?

The adventure is harrowing, as it must be, to keep us rooted to our seats for nearly three hours, and the decisions are difficult heart-rending , as are the emotional impacts on the families back home. And, as expected, the worlds are nothing like they imagined they might be.

Of course, at the end it they find themselves in crisis, and without giving too much away, it devolves into the sort of strange spiritual mumbo-jumbo that we have seen in other epic space movies, like Contact. But perhaps that’s how it is when science started delving into areas so far beyond our comprehension that they begin to resemble God.

And as for that one big question, perhaps if we are either very, very lucky or very, very unlucky, we just might be able to save both.

Learn more about the science of Interstellar.