Reflections on Pamela Zoline's "The Heat Death of the Universe"
This is the kind of story that only comes around once. Like the chaos of the universe. Once it’s started, there’s nothing to stop it. Certainly there are other more profound works. Some tomes full of whole worlds created, like Dune, in which Frank Herbert meticulously takes apart and re-establishes the order of the universe. But there is no other story that I know of, in which this reconstruction of our cosmic system takes place in such a, such a... microcosm as to make it a very personal sci-fi story. A minimalistic one. To the point that it’s almost anti-sci-fi. Because this story takes place in Sarah Boyle’s seemingly small world.
Who am I actually kidding? I can’t possibly understand Sarah’s world. I mean I just caught myself writing paragraphs about what it must have been like for this twenty-something house-wife to have lived in the sixties, when feminism was on the up-rise and prospects for women in the workforce was perhaps still bleak, but hopeful. How could I pretend to understand what Sarah or Pamela was going through at this time?
Really, all I can say is how it made me feel when I read it. Almost twenty years ago. How it made me feel like there was someone out there who understood the world in a somewhat similar way to me. How I wasn’t the only human being forced to choose a path that could only inevitably lead to the complete destruction of everything near and dear – of the very Universe for which I had once had such great hope.
I could relate to how she wrote little labels for everything in her apartment. I could tell that she was also a really creative person, who was just stuck in this crazy dry world full of science. But I could also tell that there was some part of her that really enjoys the science, the lists, the lab report style of her life. The descriptions, mixed with definitions. The universe. Her living room. Oh so perfect.
Maybe I was a little too excited about this story at the time. But entropy was a favorite subject of mine. At least in my head. It was something that had been occupying my thoughts since high school. I mean Mr. Higgs, our physics teacher said that everything tends toward chaos. That there weren’t cosmic vacuums out there to clean up all the dust. No. Ashes to ashes and then they get blown to the four(cubed) winds. And there is nothing to pick them up again. And everything is tending towards the dust.
Well, I just didn’t get how there could be so little order. How could there not be some form of something that picks everything up and puts it back together again? But wait. That explained why my room always got messier, and not cleaner. Why my pee turned the water yellow and didn’t just go down the drain separately.
What really bothered me was that when we flush things down, that we’re just hiding from the chaos. It’s still there. Whether I throw my junk in a drawer, or my waste into some container where no one can see it... it’s still turning everything into chaos. So how does it all end... how does it all end?
Well, Pamela Zoline knows. There’s the great big cosmic explosion and something new is born out of it. Heck, even the Norse new this. The gods fight the giants, everything goes bang and then it’s Springtime again. Ragnarok once a year. And this is happening within all of us every day. That’s what the story’s about. The cosmos is within us all. The expression of consciousness. The space. The God that is out there, is also within our living spaces, our shopping trips, our chaotic lives.
And what do you know? Now we’ve discovered there are cosmic vacuum cleaners. Black holes suck up the chaotic energy and send it to a two dimensional universe. Actually more like a magnetic storage device than a vacuum. Not that we’re tending any less toward chaos these days. Now that we know the age of the universe. We’re able to quantify what we can’t observe. That makes us feel good. For a brief moment another definition makes up for the fact that our eyes can’t perceive the distance between here and Andromeda.
But for a moment, if we forget the chaos. If we forget the growing pile of clothes, the emails unanswered, the unwashed dishes, then maybe, just maybe we can observe the order within ourselves. Then we can realize that it’s not about the external. Those are just material things. That’s why they tend toward chaos. They have nothing to do with us. Or they have just as much to do with us as any bug-eyed martians in some other book.
Looking into my deep-rooted feelings about Pamela Zoline’s story, I can see that she taught me a lot about myself. That getting inside the head of Sarah Boyle, and seeing her image, like a mirror-me, I was able to get out of my comfort of calculations. This uneasy realization is one step along the way to self perception. The most mysterious of science fictions. The reality of the consciousness.