Interstellar by Greg Keyes

★★★★★ (5/5)

“We used to look up and wonder at our place in the stars,” he said. “Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

As breath-taking and surreal as the film itself, the novelisation of “Interstellar” brilliantly fuses movie dialogues with its thematic wonderment. I marvelled at how impeccably the movie lines were incorporated within this prose. Since I couldn’t keep the film imagery out of my head whilst reading this, I’m curious as to how those who haven’t seen the film would interpret this line-by-line retelling of the script.

“Interstellar” is a story of our dying earth and a group of explorers who venture out into the vast universe, seeking the perfect rock on which to restore humankind once again. Undertaking immense distances for an interstellar voyage in order to preserve mankind makes up the core of this story which is further embellished by a warm father-daughter relationship between Cooper and Murph, philosophic ruminations on passage of time and the inextricable link of intangible notions such as gravity and love. When the future of entire human race is at stake, personal desires and reasoning are given a back seat. In spite of all odds, traversing through colossal Stygian distances helps reconcile the past with the present as well as the future.

Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.

The movie left an indelible mark on me, and now so has the book. I feel it is futile to summarise the story in its entirety since I would recommend anyone to watch the film first and then proceed to the novel. Greg Keyes has done a remarkable job in preserving the visual essence of the film. Abstract notions of time traveling, navigating cosmic distances, the infinite power of love and survival, human progress and limitations of human ingenuity are all suffused within this one story. Keyes briefly fills in the blanks left by the film, but without giving too much away. He also expounds on characters and situations they are in a manner which stays true to the spirit of this story.

If I were to ever make use of a memory-erasing device in the future, I would have it remove all the times I’ve watched and re-watched this film. I would want to experience this film again, as a first-timer. I can vividly recall how much I was moved by Cooper’s goodbyes to Murph, enthralled by their journey into the wormhole, anxious of Cooper’s return, wary of the time that had passed on Earth, and most importantly and clearly when I became cognizant of tesseract in the black hole forming itself into infinite bookshelves. I couldn’t contain myself and let out an excited gasp amidst a dead silent theatre, trembling with the realisation and its implications. I would want to relive that moment again which has been thoroughly etched into my memory.

My favourite lines from the novel:

  • The lines of laughter and grief etched into her face, the relief map of a long life.
  • He could beat back the dust, although each assault was a temporary victory at best.
  • And if we don’t want to repeat the wastefulness of the twentieth century, our children need to learn about this planet. Not tales of leaving it.
  • Dozens of automated farming machines had arrived in his front yard and stopped, nudged up to his porch as if they were waiting to be let in
  • “We’ve forgotten who we are, Donald,” he said. “Explorers. Pioneers. Not caretakers.”
  • Bereft of wind, the dust hung in the air, as fine and insidious as powdered graphite.
  • People didn’t have a lot of time or tolerance for mysteries these days
  • In fact, the launch chamber seemed far larger than necessary, by several orders of magnitude. He felt like an ant in a grain silo
  • They weren’t trying to squeeze the last remaining drops of life from the dirt. No, instead of looking down, they were looking up. They had turned back to the stars.
  • He seemed shy, and spoke in an odd, clipped, almost distracted fashion.
  • And he was good at finding the virtue in whatever situation presented itself. He was a man who counted his blessings more often than he railed against injustice.
  • It’s as if we don’t exist anymore, like we’re ghosts, like we’re just there to be memories for our kids
  • once we’re parents, we’re just the ghosts of our children’s futures
  • The planet—his planet—was as beautiful as it was fragile, and it was the only home humanity had ever known. Viewing it from out here, he found it hard to believe that she didn’t want them anymore
  • “Nature can’t be evil?” Cooper said. “Formidable,” Brand said. “Frightening—not evil.
  • No home for humanity there, either, but beauty in plenty, with those bands of ice glittering in the cold light of a distant sun
  • In space, distance was time, and time was distance.
  • Ahead of them, Cooper made out a distorted patch of stars, and he felt a thrill of mixed fear and wonder tremor up his spine
  • He tried to grasp what it was his eyes were reporting. His brain told him they were racing along a sort of wall, a wall of stars and galaxies and nebulae streaking past at immense speeds. But if he shifted his gaze, it seemed more like a tunnel, albeit one that billowed out in the distance. He thought he could see an end to it, and yet that end didn’t seem to be getting any closer, as if it was withdrawing from them even more quickly than they rocketed toward it.
  • Earth’s sun was nowhere near the center of its galaxy, but was in a hinterland nearer the edge of it, where the stars were thin and distant from one another—a lonely house on a great plain
  • Of the four of them, Romilly had proven the least comfortable in space, the most susceptible to its physical and psychological perils.
  • “Nothing escapes the horizon,” Romilly replied. “Not even light. The answer’s there, there’s just no way to see it.”
  • He could almost feel the clock in his head ticking off the time passing back on Earth. How could humanity hope to live on a world so hopelessly out of synch with the rest of the universe?
  • “Time is relative,” Brand said. “It can stretch and squeeze—but it can’t run backward. The only thing that can move across the dimensions like time is gravity.”
  • Sometimes you have to see your life from far away for it to make sense, he thought. To see what was probably obvious to anyone else
  • love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful
  • Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of higher dimensions that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen for a decade, who I know is probably dead
  • a moment she comprehended each of them as filaments in a bulb, flames in a lantern, superheated rods of metal, an alien forest on a distant world. Each plant the maker and center of its own immolation, each burning alone
  • “Did my father know?” she asked. “Dad…?” And somehow, over impossible distance and through strange, twisted time, she was looking straight into his eyes.
  • He took a good long scan around them to make sure something nasty wasn’t coming up from beneath, dropping down from above, or sneaking in from the sides
  • “My world,” he said softly. “Yes. Our world, we hope. Our world is cold, stark, but undeniably beautiful…”
  • Evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier—we can care deeply, selflessly for people we know, but our empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight.
  • He’d kept his focus narrow on purpose, so things would remain simple, and his decision would be easy because it was inevitable.
  • Her ghost told her father where to go, how to leave—and then it begged him to stay. Could that contradiction be reconciled, or was one end or the other of that equation just plain wrong?
  • The lander wasn’t as sleek as the Rangers—it was a bit boxier, more plough horse than racehorse, handsome rather than beautiful.
  • Was this what “they” had planned? Their mysterious benefactors who scribbled coordinates with gravity?
  • “A trip into the unknown requires improvisation,” he said. “Machines can’t improvise well because you can’t program a fear of death. The survival instinct is our greatest single source of inspiration.”
  • Tom was the guy who stayed and did what everyone told him he was supposed to do, working hard at the soil, watching his crops die, watching his children die. She had followed their absentee father off to save the world in an air-conditioned cave. She had abandoned Tom, too.
  • There might not be any asteroid impacts, yet surely there was—or had been—volcanism. Maybe more than usual, what with a dead star constantly tugging at the planet’s crust.
  • His words had been a guide, a path to follow, a message of hope. On Mann’s lips they were a eulogy.
  • Salvaging a single seed from a forest before it was burnt to the ground didn’t mean you had saved the forest. You could never replicate its baroque, unique ecosystem. Unfreezing human embryos was not going to “save” the human race
  • Wolf might be alive, or he might be dead. But to know, to know for certain—there was freedom in that
  • The only way humans have ever figured out of getting somewhere is to leave something behind.
  • Nothing as frail and mortal as the Endurance stood a chance in the face of such cosmic hunger
  • Space required a certain parsimony of thought. Something was either useful, or it was dead weight, and if it was dead weight you dropped it. They had been shedding
  • He had never known he could hold terror in one hand and wonder in the other with such perfect balance
  • If you were on the wall side of a bookshelf. And from each book streamed a ghostly line of light, as if each book had left a trail. The light created a vast matrix around him, going off in all directions.
  • He saw now the matrix of light held multiple iterations of the room, maybe infinite, tunnels and passages going in every direction, framed, held together by the light streaming from the books, the walls, the objects in the room
  • You’ve seen that time here is represented as a physical dimension. You even worked out that you can exert a force across space-time.”
  • gravity cut across and through all of the dimensions. When he punched at one of them, what he was really doing was sending a pulse through space-time, a gravitic surge that was responsible for moving the books.
  • And yet he was the ghost. Both. Giving himself the coordinates that would lead him to NASA, but also telling himself to stay.
  • Love, like gravity, which could move across time and dimensions
  • The robot ran a sequence as the hangar door opened to the familiar star-fretted darkness of space.

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