A novelist’s interests lie in the human realm, but unless a writer knows something about the human species from a scientific point of view, it will be hard to get any perspective at all on our humanity. For some of this perspective I recently read Bill Bryson’s book “A Brief History of Everything,” recommended by my scientist brother. I was delighted by Bryson’s survey of how very human, products of misadventure and surprise, our current science is. But also he conveys how amazing it is that the human species has managed to emerge at all and how grateful we should each be for the life we have been given.
It took the Second World War to convince people of their capability for destruction, and how nearly every loss of every kind of life touches each of us. For the last 50 years we have been trying to come to terms with our interrelatedness, the fragility of our atmosphere and planet. We’ve had some success in this area, but in other places it seems people still find it worth fighting and dying for the survival of certain humans and not others. Control isn’t really very much fun. Once we’ve achieved our survival, some degree of enjoyment and a chance to contemplate the extraordinary facts of our existence and surroundings, it seems we shouldn’t need to compete. Competition perhaps provides focus for humans, but awareness can do this also.
Survival is not exactly assured in many places at the moment. Many people survive on very little food and have little energy for education and enterprise. Trying to even out the resources of our small planet, with as little conflict as possible, should be the task of everyone. Even as writers, I believe we must dedicate ourselves to sharing the wealth of attention across all age groups, all nations, devoting our sexiest prose to describing unseen and unknown people, places and situations. Bringing respect and ideals back to the description of humans, seeing them as they could be, and as they are, is not just a task for government. It is for us.