Student Voice Editor

While writing my senior thesis, a science fiction novella about humanity’s place in the universe (I know), I have sometimes lost sight of how small we are compared to the rest of the universe.

If we ceased to exist tomorrow, gone in a puff of smoke, would it be felt in the void of space? If a day came when humans no longer walked the earth, would it be that we reached the end of our biological line or because we met our purpose?

And if we do have a purpose, who gave it to us? These are all questions that I have thought about since embarking on this project, my second novella.

“The Smartest Man in the World” takes place on an orbital space station, Earth in the future, an alternate Earth known as “Earth-II,” and in dreams, but the real story takes place in man’s consciousness.

It is a time of great thought and great doubt, as mankind is on the verge of the biggest event in its history: contact. When man discovers he is not alone, he begins to question his place in the universe.

The main character, Dr. James Sally, an evolutionary biologist, spends a lot of time pondering these questions as he becomes stranded on a space station, watches his marriage deteriorate, and reminisces about simpler times with his father, who years before had searched for the secrets of the universe.

Further conflict for the main character includes an affair, a mysterious message from space, a scheme to mine diamonds on Uranus, the first man on Mars, a wife stuck in a dream world, a gun-toting poetry troupe, and a murderous writer-in-residence.

More than a work of science fiction, my project is a work of postmodernism at its most hyperreal. Hyperrealism is the idea that humanity as an advanced society cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

The characters of this novella seem to inhabit a dream world, but aren’t aware of it.

This world matters to them – or doesn’t matter to them – and they are determined to find out its secrets or wait with agonizing patience for all of the answers.

When the novella begins, Dr. Sally is part of the latter school of thought, but slowly shifts sides as he watches the walls of this dream world crumble around him. Dr. Sally might be the wake up call that the rest of mankind needs.

The dream world is most apparent on Earth-II, a planet that mirrors our own in many ways, but also differs in big ways. This is an Earth held in place by a big red sun, an unhealthy giant that seems on the verge of supernova.

More than a source of energy and a beautiful backdrop, the red giant serves as an idea, the idea that someone out there is watching us.
And once again, mankind is either in awe of this idea or ignorant of it.

I want to invoke the archetypes and story arcs of comic books on Earth-II, (“Earth-Two” is also the name of an alternate Earth in the D.C. Comics’ 1985 story arc “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which sought to unify all of the imprint’s titles under one continuity).

On Earth-II, there are heroes and villains that stand in for superheroes and their archenemies. The ability to fly and breathe underwater are present. For comparison’s sake, it’s another normal day in Metropolis.

Only this universe is different. We’re not sure that these characters are living their real lives, that the world they inhabit (as parallel to our universe as it may seem) is reality.

Therein lies the comedy and tragedy of this novella: where exactly does the dream end? When can man take control of his destiny?

This project is also a personal journey for me. I started working on this novella during a time of crisis in my life and I spent a lot of time looking up to the universe for answers. I asked it to help me, to guide me into calmer waters.

It answered back by providing its mysteries, its beauty, its godliness.

As I write these characters and their stories, I realize that this is as much a learning experience as it is a chance for me to nerd out.
On a sidenote: If you’re interested in existential science fiction, you may find some of these movies interesting (and/or super fun to watch): “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick, “Prometheus” and “Blade Runner” by Ridley Scott, “Melancholia” by Lars von Trier, “Another Earth” by Mike Cahill, and (my personal favorite) “Sunshine” by Danny Boyle.

You might also check out the following writers: Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and comic book greats Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller.

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