Coming to the knowledge Earth is not the center of the universe was a major milestone in human history. Though perhaps affecting Western religions the most, the seep of that knowledge into the everyday person’s brain nevertheless could not have had anything less than profound impact. While on one hand it’s possible to see realizing Earth as a satellite as a step forward in confronting this thing we call existence, there is likewise a distancing effect. If Earth is not center of the universe, to what other mass forces and wills are we subject? If we are but pawns in interstellar physics, to what else are we beholden? Tackling the issue through a human lens, Adam Roberts self published the novella “Anticopernicus” in 2011. The story of a woman whose deep space catastrophe places humanity just in front of another important milestone, it re-contextualizes the future of human existence in significant fashion. I still think Copernicus would have been appreciative.
When aliens appear in the outer galaxy and request an audience, Ange Mlinko is one of the pilots selected to fly a delegation to meet them. Removed from the list at the last moment, however, she returns to her normal life. Indifferent to the rejection, life goes on and she eventually gets a gig capturing an ice asteroid for the Martian colony. But after picking up the object and heading to the red planet, a string of bad luck unleashes itself. One of her crew dies in unforeseen circumstances, and a short time later, another larger catastrophe wrecks itself upon the ship. Staring her fate in the eye, mankind’s first contact with aliens conflates with her predicament, forcing the apathetic young woman to examine life from a new perspective.
Ange’s ennui is rooted not only in her personality, but also in her circumstances of living. Earth teeming with more than 20 billion souls, she has trouble dredging up passion to participate in events common to the throng. Relationships, sex, career, personal achievement—none of these things have meaning in the context of such a pressing mass. Roberts admirably flipping her personality on its head through literary tricks that do not involve melodrama or sensationalism (as long as aliens are not considered sensational), the ultimate message of “Anticopernicus” is rooted in the individual but has a view to the larger group of individuals—as big as it is, and growing, and, right next door.
In the end, “Anticopernicus” is a mini-space catastrophe which branches out to touch upon astronomy, physics, and most significantly, the bottom line realities of the ever-growing mass of humanity on Earth. Ange’s asteroid gig works itself admirably into a nice climax, but the point of the story is squarely fixed on an issue we are facing today: overpopulation. The truth of the argument behind Roberts’ narrative is rock solid and is a fact we will face sooner or later. But whether it becomes a milestone or the tripping stone, remains to be seen.