Saving the human race with purity of heart and mind.
BY RACHEL GREBEN
[This piece originally appeared in the summer 2010 issue devoted to science fiction.]
WHEN I THINK of happy times in elementary school, I see myself sitting down at the library, poised to enter the world of John Christopher’s Tripod trilogy. The White Mountains introduces the giant robotic Tripods who ruled a docile human species by placing metal skullcaps on their brains at age fourteen. The Capping ceremony served as a rite of passage, at which time all human artistic, individualistic, and inventive critical thinking skills would submit to the peaceful rhythms of work and procreation. The aptly named Will escapes to a community of free thinkers in the White Mountains (formerly known as Switzerland), traversing ruins of ancient cities on his journey through a futuristic-medieval landscape.
Could there be a better genre for encapsulating the surreal experience of growing up? Science fiction at its best presents a heightened state of human possibility and peril, and reading it as a child provided architecture for my soul, along with a promise that growing up would be harrowing and fraught with danger. You would be lonely, parting ways with your family and the comforts of home, in order to think and live freely. But unexpected bursts of beauty would illuminate the landscape. The clear thinker, the uncompromised mind, the nine-year-old girl sitting in the library, could save the human race with her purity of heart and mind.
A recent impromptu road trip found me at a Shell station surrounded by oak trees and wandering chickens, just south of Mount Shasta. The hood of my car had been jammed and I was in desperate need of oil. In the end it was Alyosha Red Star, a gold-skinned hermaphrodite with blazing hazel eyes, who wandered over to my car and deftly unlocked the trigger on my hood. He told me he had been kidnapped from Russia as a child in 1952 to develop military technology for the United States. This is why he was so knowledgeable about my car. According to his story, the six-year-old Alyosha had invented the prototype for the same V6 engine that was currently gurgling down three quarts of oil. As a child in Russia, he had only wanted to become a ballerina, but the dancers deemed him hopeless. His goal now was to escape a benign captivity under the American military’s watchful eye and return to Russia. And maybe become a composer. You will make it, I smiled.