More than all the ray guns and sexy aliens in IC 1101, humanity loves writing and reading about space travel because of the insights provided into ourselves and a shared future. Namely, what role we might play in a gargantuan, ever-changing universe, how other entities perceive us, and the existential value this offers us upper primates.
In the case of their new book Golgotha, writers Matt Hawkins (head honcho at Top Cow and the mind behind Think Tank) and Bryan Hill (Postal) utilize the story of man’s first intergalactic mining colony to make one thing very clear:
We don’t matter. At all.
(Or, as Hawkins explained in an interview with AiPT! last April, the book explores the “human need for specialness and how that need permeates our whole society. What happens when that need, and our feeling of ultimate agency, are taken away?”)
Before you find the highest building to swan dive off, the duo’s work with Golgotha isn’t meant to be depressing (not entirely, at least). Instead, it’s a way to ground the flights of fantasy associated with space travel media, and contextualize the curiosity and trepidation we experience every time we look out onto the cosmos.
Golgotha centers around soldier Michael Lawton, who after a botched incident in Malaysia in the late 21st century is given a choice: die in a military prison or become a part of Earth’s first galactic mining mission to Iau-Achilles. After 80 years in cryo-sleep, Lawton (and xenobiologist Jennifer Carpenter) awaken… only to find another mission, having left one year after Lawton and Co., having established a sweet colony decades ago. Not all is hunky dory, though, and the bulk of the tale deals with Lawton’s role as either savor or damnation in a long-running struggle over a splinter colony and a humanity-altering artifact called The Cube.
Over 128 pages, Hawkins and Mill lay out an intriguing meditation on humanity’s own irrelevance, with Lawton as the poster child. Everything about his life is evidence of how pointless we truly are. From his own downfall as a war hero to arriving late to the colonization party (and the ship being forgotten) to the mix-up over The Cube, the writers show that irrelevance is almost human nature. That everything we do in one lifetime will be disproved or ridiculed by the next generation. Who we are in the universe is little more than a footnote, the foundations for the next big idea and leap forward.
But in recognizing that, there is a certain power. Lawton himself says that he was kept alive in order to help the colony deal with the post-Cube fallout, chosen for that pivotal role because he’s a Regular Joe who has always grasped man’s complete lack of value. Because of that seemingly rare quality, he happily accepts the events of the story, and looks forward to seeing what man can do next. There are no small parts (just small actors, apparently) — coming to terms with this actually gives value to Lawton and humanity in general. That true significance is all in the eye of the beholder.
This driving message/concept is executed to varying degrees of overtness throughout the book. The “antagonist” of the book is David Grymes, Lawton’s grandson and head of the Achilles colony. A deeply Christian fella, Grymes’ faith represents humanity’s stubborn belief of our esteemed place in the Universe. When that power is questioned, it’s up to Lawton to talk Grymes into seeing what irrelevance has to offer, and how our smallness is powerful. In one of the more engaging dialogues in the book, Lawton and his totally old and bearded grandson get at huge ideas of religion as a crutch, the scope of Humanism, and the struggle of control.
There’s a few other such moments in the book, including one subtle but extra powerful incident with Carpenter and her Buddhist beliefs. When she wakes up, she quickly realizes she’s no longer a super genius, a fact she could react to by running out into a deoxygenated wilderness. Instead, Carpenter welcomes the humbling experience, and wants to learn about her brave new world. Not only is it a feel-good moment, but Hawkins connects Buddhism and Christianity, breaking down cultural barriers and aligning humanity under a banner of “we suck and need to deal with it posthaste.” Our species has used religion for truly heinous acts, but the writers spin that same desperation into a gorgeous reflection on our shared uncertainty.
Since I mentioned painting, it behooves of me to talk briefly about the book’s art. Yuki Saeki’s work is like uber glossy anime, with the illustrations brimming with a pronounced boldness and intensity. The sort of artwork one might expect in a story celebrating mankind’s power, and not such a more throught-provoking tale. Yet that incongruity works, as Hill and Hawkins’ message of our inferiority feels more cutting when layered next to gorgeous people in these lush environments, highlighting an important sense of disconnect essential to the book’s thematic success.
In the past, I’ve mused on the future of other books/stories. Golgotha is one I firmly wish would end right here (despite promises for volume two sometime in 2018). The conceivable problem with subsequent storylines is they’ll inevitably center on Lawton and Co., and as much as readers might like these characters, seeing their future would only harm the larger motif of the book (that we’re inconsequential, building blocks to new ideas and greater truths we’ll personally never enjoy).
The only alternative, then, would be to focus on other elements of the greater universe, but that seems unlikely given certain threads. That just shows the success of the book in and of itself, and the way it’s portrayed those essential ideas about humanity’s shortcomings. A powerful illustration of the value and awareness available by understanding one another and the larger truths the Universe clearly contains.
And if that doesn’t tickle your space travel fancy, the Golgotha ship is dope and totally named after a skull-shaped mountain where Jesus was crucified.