Fifty Years Out Toward Lyra
The Aniara is an interplanetary spaceship full of colonists bound for Mars, escaping from an Earth ruined by pollution and nuclear fallout. On its way from Earth the spaceship evades an asteroid, gets thrown off course, sustains heavy damage to its steering, and ends up randomly on a course for Lyra. The constellation's stars are so far away that when the Aniara finally arrives there its passengers will have been dead for aeons. In 103 cantos of varying length and lyrical form, Martinson tells stories of the people on board as they progress through the years on their pointless journey into interstellar space.
We came from Earth, from Dorisland,The book is very much a product of the Cold War: marked by concerns about environmental degradation and the nuclear threat. It is also a pessimistic book, a vision of the futility of human endeavour, very far in tone from what for example Robert Heinlein was writing at the time. But Aniara draws from the same background of sf tropes as Heinlein's books, offering an alternative and cautionary take on what is sometimes called Golden Age sf.
the jewel in our solar system,
the only orb where life obtained
a land of milk and honey.
Describe the landscapes we found there,
the days their dawn could breed.
Describe the creature fine and fair
who sewed the shrouds for his own seed
till God and Satan hand in hand
through a deranged and poisoned land
took flight uphill and down
from man: a king with ashen crown.
Aniara, canto 79, by Harry Martinson.
Translated by Stephen Klass and Leif Sjöberg 1999.
As a child, I used to feel a deep stomach-churning horror at the thought of that crippled spaceship falling away into the darkness. Looking at it now, I'm not so sure the alternatives would have been much better. The people on the Aniara fled a dying Earth to live as colonists on inhospitable Mars. Neither their origins nor their intended destination was Paradise, and so their fall into darkness shouldn't really be seen as a fall from grace. They have food and power to last them for years. They continue to produce cultural fads, religions, even scientific discoveries. Sure, they're all fucked. But they were fucked before they even went aboard the Aniara. And that, I guess, is how the gloomy yet brilliant poet, then just into his 50s, saw life. We're fucked. Nobody gets out of here alive.
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