The Big Idea: Mark L. Van Name
Contrary to what the Beatles once said, love is not all we need. But it’s still high up there on the list. What does this have to do with No Going Back, the latest science fiction novel by Mark Van Name? Quite a lot, actually.
MARK L. VAN NAME:
I never set out to make a particular set of points in a book. If anything, I rather studiously avoid worrying about a novel’s themes, because my proper focus is to tell a story; I could no more prevent the themes from asserting themselves than I could stop the sun from shining. Instead, over time a story grows in my mind and my notes, bits and pieces coming from here and there and everywhere, and then I tell it. Afterward, though, it’s impossible to avoid noticing the notions and concerns that gave rise to the work.
For No Going Back, the big idea sounds so clichéd that I’m almost reluctant to type it: each of us deserves love.
For many people, probably most people, this concept is a gimme, a statement as obvious as the sun’s light.
For some of us, though, it is, very sadly, almost impossible to believe. Survivors of abuse, for example, may spend much, sometimes all of their lives fighting against a deep-rooted belief that they do not deserve love, that something in them is so very wrong, so very broken, that what they deserve is what they got: the abuse of those who should have been protecting and loving them. These people can work for decades to try to learn a simple lesson that is immediately obvious to anyone not in their situation: it was not their fault. Many never succeed.
Victims of abuse are not the only people who may have trouble with even the concept that they deserve love. Joining them are many veterans and police officers and EMTs and others who have had to deal with horrible situations and sometimes do things that most others would find horrible. When you’ve committed violence, even in a good cause, even if to protect others, even if only to survive, the stain it leaves inside you can make you wonder in the dark moments before sleep and the darker dreams that follow whether you are worthy of anyone’s love.
Attacking this idea in a far-future SF adventure may seem a bit odd. Doing so in a book whose protagonists, Jon and Lobo, are a man who is the only successful human-nanomachine hybrid, and a large, incredibly intelligent machine built to kill, may seem odder still, but science fiction is nothing if not an incredibly flexible medium for exploring the human condition.
The notion may also not seem to lend itself to the structure and pace of a page-turner of a thriller, but it can, it really can. The story winds a crooked path through the rescue of kidnapped children, the protection of a pop star, a raid on the home of one of the most powerful men alive, and a confrontation in the barren outback of one of the least hospitable of the planets humanity has settled, but the emotional fuel propelling it, though sometimes invisible, is always there.
After all, in the end, few quests are more powerful than those for love.