Alone on Mars

I’ve recently found myself reading a couple of books about loneliness. One was No Man Friday by Rex Gordon aka, First on Mars. Rex Gordon is a pen name for Stanley Bennett Hough (1917 – 1998). This book was published in 1956 and I found my copy in a second hand shop. It provides an insight into ideas about space travel at this time, before the Apollo 11 Moon landing took place (1969). In this story we have Gordon Holder blasting off with a team in a British rocket from the Woomera rocket range in Australia and ending up alone and stranded on Mars where he has to figure out how to survive.

It was curious to me how his rocket was designed to land in an upright fashion, just like the Tesla rockets do, but without computer technology; the whole system, and the craft as a whole, being far more simple.

Holder manages to survive on the planet by making use of the various parts of the crashed rocket, learning how to produce oxygen and water until he is eventually rescued. This all might sound familiar as this story has echoes in that of The Martian book published in 2011 and 2015 film of the same name, when botanist Mark Watney aids his own survival by growing potatoes. The key difference for our No Man Friday (besides a lack of potatoes) is that back then we knew less about the red planet and the type of life that might be found there. Holder discovers both plants, which he makes use of where possible, and strange creatures from insect like bugs, to humanoid ones which communicate with different frequencies of light.

These are indeed strange creatures and well imagined. They “make and do nothing” bringing into question how us humans live; they are at one with their planet, while it’s like we don’t belong here on Earth since we are constantly striving forward and meddling with our environment in a whole host of ways. They also seem to view and experience time and space differently to us and try to educate Holder to “be” not “do”.

I found the book to be a good read and certainly not marred by the passage of time (except the paperback copy itself which is somewhat aged and fragile). It’s a relatively short read at little over 200 pages but didn’t feel rushed to me, indeed I think there was only one part that I skimmed through in order to get on with the story.

The author raises some more interesting and often philosophical points towards the end. One is early on when ‘multiple chain stores’ are mentioned as being “financial pyramids, and nothing more.”

This system is further questioned when Holder meets his American rescuers who are surprised to find him on the planet, they ask “How much of this planet are you claiming to put under the Union Jack?”

It was curious to me that Holder seemed to have only occasional feelings of loneliness (he was stuck on Mars for 15 years). He does talk of depression though and how “it’s even more difficult [to leave] when you have no friends to leave and no one to watch you go.” He notices how he craves someone to talk to following a meal; “I wished I had someone to talk to once again … not for the sake of companionship … but because, by talking, I could have expected to clear my mind about what, if anything, I hoped to find. Man … is a talking animal. That is how his mind works: by words and expressed concepts which make his experiences become real and have meaning for him. Without [this he is ‘nothing’].” Later: “One drew comfort from other people’s mere existence … serving no conceivable purpose except to sustain.”

“There was a stillness. I was used to stillness. It was the greatest and most lonely feature of the plain around the wreck. I had often thought that I had never known silence until I came to Mars.”

He describes himself while preparing to kill a creature on Mars: “I was a lonely, puny, diminutive creature whose weapon – the bow I hold now – was itself a symbol not of strength but weakness.”

Loneliness when surrounded by others: “Suddenly I felt lonely, more lonely than I had since I had ever comprehended that there were other creatures beside myself upon the planet … the land (seemed) more barren.”

The other book I happened to be reading was The Loneliness Cure by Kory Floyd. I can’t quite recall where I heard about this book. Beside the issue that the author seems to mix up the terms loneliness and affection, and use them interchangeably throughout, this turned out to be a mostly interesting read and not too dissimilar to the book on Neuro Linguistic Programming I read earlier in the year. Both have a self-help style and provide exercises to try out. The NLP’s final days of its 21 Day Action Plan are about interactions with people, for which I’m still attempting/thinking about from time-to-time, and TLC [oh that’s fitting] adds to this with its numerous “Did you know?” and “Stop and Reflect” prompts throughout.

I could create another whole topic on this Loneliness book on its own, and I may well do that at some point, but for the purpose of this post I thought it was worth a mention, that and just as I was nearing the end of my note-taking on the title a couple of people made some remarks to me about loneliness. Perhaps I was just feeling extra sensitive to the topic having just read about it, or it was just coincidence. Both these people seemed to imply, or rather, were questioning me as to whether I considered myself to be lonely. Living on my own, being self employed, and occasionally taking myself out for coffee or breakfast at cafés may well make me appear lonely, but the irony of it, by communicating with me the answer would be “no, I’m not lonely”, not if I compare myself to someone stuck alone on a planet for fifteen years with no one to talk to.

No Man Friday turned out to be the second such book by ‘Rex Gordon’ and I have since obtained the first one, ‘Utopia 239’ which I look forward to reading next.

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One comment

  1. Never discount serendipity. In fact, I often take a sip before I step out into the world, to prime the pump, as it were.

    Thanks for reporting on your findings. I enjoyed reading The Martian, and of course my decades of reading Heinlein, et al. I may attempt to find my own copy of No Man Friday.

    -AM

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