Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton is a fanciful novel that asks the question, “Is anyone out there?” For those asking the question we see lonely, isolated people learning how to interact, to communicate, to love. The answer is a surprise.
One individual, Augustine, is isolated in the North Pole. He is an astronomer and refuses to leave when his companions evacuate because of some catastrophe happening in the world. He is a curmudgeon who never had a successful relationship with anyone, especially women until he met Jean and got her pregnant in his youth, some thirty plus years ago. He never met his daughter. When his companions leave, he discovers a young girl, Iris, who is maybe eight years old in this remote Arctic environment. Where did she come from? Was she on the transport? Suddenly he has to care for another person. In trying to communicate with the evacuation plane, no one answers his calls. Later when he travels to another outpost because of the better communication devices, he still finds he is unable to raise anyone on the radio. They are alone in this remote place on Earth, the North Pole.
The other individual, Sully, is on a spacecraft, Aether with five other scientists, who left Earth, two years ago for Jupiter. After success on a moon of Jupiter, while on their return trip home communications with Earth are suddenly gone. Sully is alone in the world after her single mom, Jean, remarries, has twins when Sully is eleven. So Sully follows another path, she goes to boarding school, to a college far from her new home, and then to space. “She had boarded Aether believing that nothing could be more important than the Jovian probes, and now – everything was more important. The whole purpose of their mission seemed insignificant, pointless. Day by day, there was nothing except the digital binary of mechanical wanderers and the cosmic rays from the stars and their planets.”
In both stories, of the isolated Arctic scientist and of the isolated astronaut, communication devices break and have to be repaired as each tries to find someone to talk to. Augustine was a ham operator in his youth, “These were his happiest moments as a child. Alone, without the cruelty of the other kids at school, without the volatility of his mother, without the belittling comments of his father. Just him, his equipment, and the hum of his own mind.” He travels from his observatory to a remote station with better ham operation equipment. Sully has to repair their communication dish that has been destroyed by space junk. Two people who spent a lifetime avoiding others are now desperate to find someone with whom to communicate.
As it turns out Augustine and Sully find each other through the airwaves and have brief conversations. Because of their locations, he in the Arctic and she in space, the communications link is fragile and brief. They connect only when the orbits are aligned. The crew believes he may be the last man on Earth since they can’t establish any other communication with Earth. When Earth comes in view, they first notice there are no lights indicating cities. The reason that Augustine and Sully are alone and never connect with each other is best stated by a fellow crewman of Sully’s, “Not everyone has a calling.” The implication that we do what we do may be why Augustine never knew his daughter and Sully never knew her father.
When we look back on our lives we all have regrets, and one of them is always, we wished we communicated better and spent time with a loved one.