I just received a small, thin book in the mail with the title The Last Machine in the Solar System. Written by Matthew Isaac Sobin (with illustrations by Jak Katz), this little novella was easily read in one sitting, but the theme of the book has stuck with me for much longer. The news has just recently reported on the discovery of seven new planets that have scientists excited about all the possibilities they may offer. Of course, estimates say it will take over 11,000 years at our current rocket tech speed to reach them. But still… is 11,000 years too long? Is 50,000 years too long?
The reason I ask is that if you asked Jonathan, the almost eternal robot narrator of this book, he’d tell you that humans should get started right now on plans to exit our solar system. You see, the Sun isn’t going to be around forever. It’s going to expand into Mercury’s orbit, then Venus. While it does this, it’s also going to affect Earth’s weather and even its orbit. And at some point in the future, the Sun is going to swallow the Earth. Sure, we have Mars as a possible backup, but without a breathable atmosphere one has to wonder what kind of life we could expect to lead on a planet that really isn’t designed for human life.
Jonathan’s creator, Nikolai, gave the robot a mission to fulfill. And now Jonathan is heading back towards the Sun after spending over 3 billion years hanging out around Pluto and collecting data and observing the death of our solar system. During this time, Jonathan has consumed every possible bit of human creation (music, writing, etc.) that Nikolai could provide before dying… and then he collected the sounds and sights the Universe offers him after Earth and Mars were gone and transmissions ceased. And now… he’s going to fulfill that one final task and hopefully append the results to this autobiography that covers his birth, his creator, his experiences on Earth and then Mars, and then his departure for the inevitable.
Jonathan’s story is a tragedy, of sorts. Humans have long since expired, having never reached beyond the solar system. And Jonathan wasn’t even certain his shell would survive through time to allow him to finish his mission. But it did. And now the last machine in the solar system is returning… and this is the story of what happened.
As I said, the story has stuck with me. We have so much time… what’s the rush, right? The Sun is fine. My grandchildren’s children won’t even have to worry about our little star. We’ve got millions of years. Humans will eventually turn their attention to long-term survival, won’t they? Plenty of time…
Note: I was provided with a review copy of The Last Machine in the Solar System. The book will be available on April 11, 2017.