I don’t watch the show, but I can’t imagine that TNT’s interpretation of William Brinkley’s 1988 novel, The Last Ship, is as… thoughtful… emotionally provocative… just plain tragic as the book.
Maybe it’s the fact I did catch one scene of the show – J watched the first few episodes – and I saw a totally beefcaked Eric Dane, with giant uber-gun propped against shoulder, growl to a guy I’m assuming was an enemy: “one thing has not changed from the world before. We do not negotiate with terrorists.”
Yeah. Not alot of emotional provocation going on there.
But the book. The book is just devastating in its intensity. It makes me cringe, shudder, draw in sharp breaths, choke down a tear or two. You know, everything an amazing book is supposed to do.
I can’t remember the last time I read a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that strikes deep soul-shattering chords like The Last Ship. It takes place aboard a military destroyer, the USS Nathan James, on patrol duty in the Arctic when two nations (not yet identified, but admittedly, I’m only on page 403 out of 600+) fire nuclear weapons at each other. The resulting fallout causes global devastation, and the lonely Nathan James – the only ship left afloat as far as the crew can tell – are out to find a habitable place on the planet to start over.
As a piece of post-apocalyptica, one would expect lots of action. I’m sure the show delivers on that front. I saw Eric Dane’s uber-gun after all. But there hasn’t been so much as a fist fight in the book. It really does take a deep look at how an inhospitable planet – and, more importantly, a planet made so by our own hand – redefines who you are. And it’s beyond the questions of finding new purpose in a world where everything you once lived for is gone, or finding an increased sense of satisfaction in every moment because that moment may be your last. It really is digging down to the core of who you are. What do you stand for? What do you believe in?
I am not an idiot (at least I like to think I’m not) but this book has driven home a very stark reality: the ability to destroy the entire planet – to render it completely inhabitable – lies in our hands. Some muckety-muck high up the political food chain can press a button, and that’s it. Half the planet is gone. I know that nuclear weapons have been around for many a’ year now – isn’t that why we invaded Iraq back in 2003?? – but I have never really thought about their power. How much destruction they can cause, and what that destruction means to the peons on the political food chain. People like my neighbors, my friends, my work colleagues, my fellow commuters, my check-out peeps in the stores, and me. We could all be wiped off the face of the earth because some muckety-muck is pissed off at some other muckety-muck.
That’s going to induce some serious insomnia.
In all seriousness, however, it has been very sobering to be reminded of the human race’s remarkable ability to cause such widespread destruction. And to cause such widespread destruction for some (ultimately) very petty reasons.
And I don’t mean the human race’s ability to kill … or to die. I mean the ability to destroy. Ravage. Devastate. Obliterate. To take the force that sustains everything we know and wipe it out. I may be 75 years too late in saying this, but I’ll say it anyway: no species should have that power.
Interestingly enough, a wide-eyed look at humanity’s darkest powers also ignited a memory. I don’t know why this particular memory came to mind. Maybe it is my growing disappointment in the human race. Or maybe it is a deep belief that for every muckety muck who can press a button and destroy half the planet, there are 10 magical moments still out there to be experienced.
Like this one.
When J and I were up on the central coast of California this past February, we were driving down a dark and lonely stretch of HWY 1. The Pacific Coast Highway, as it is also called, is named such because it runs right alongside the Pacific Coast. What an idea. It is a beautiful, scenic, peaceful drive, and I never get tired of it. Now, I’m about as observant as a coma patient, so I didn’t see him, but thank goodness J pays better attention to the world than I do. He slammed on the brakes suddenly because we had passed a buck. A full grown, multi-antlered buck walking along the side of the highway. I had missed him (of course) so I ordered J to turn around and head back so I could see him too. Which he dutifully did. Going to make a great husband that man is.
Anyway, after performing two u-turns, we pulled up alongside the deer. He was still there on the side of the highway, not fazed in the slightest by this looney toon car whipping all over the road. He continued to munch on his bushes, and I was so captivated by his presence, and his majesty, that I ordered J to turn off all the lights on the car (it was the middle of the night), and turn off the radio, so we could bask in the moment. Let the sound of the ocean waves sloshing against the beach serve as a backdrop to the soft crunch crunch of the deer’s munching. Then the buck started to move. He continued to walk right alongside the highway, and J and I drifted down the road, keeping pace with him. We couldn’t see him that well – just the outline of his body and his many branches of antlers – but we could hear him. We could feel him. He stopped every few steps and turned our way. Just checking, I bet, to make sure we didn’t get any closer. And then he would start walking again.
After several minutes, the buck turned and headed farther away from the highway. I tried to capture one last glimpse of him, and then we returned to the real world. Lights came on, radio came back on, and we got back up to speed to head to our hotel.
I hope I never forget those moments.
I hope they come to my mind as they did when I started pondering the reality of nuclear war. And maybe that is why this particular memory popped up.
If humanity manages to destroy the planet, then it is not just us humans that will go the way of the do-do. Our animal neighbors – like that multi-antlered buck – will also disappear. The magic of the natural world will disappear. That force? The one that sustains everything we know? It will be wiped out. There will be nothing left.
There will be nothing left.