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This chapter is preceded by a quote from the Book of the Living that emphasizes that followers of Earthseed do not “worship God,” but instead “shape God.” In her diary, Lauren writes that an astronaut named Alicia Leal on the latest Mars mission has been killed. People in Lauren’s neighborhood generally consider space travel a waste of money. The price of water has gone up again, and gasoline is far cheaper than water, but nobody uses gasoline except arsonists and the rich. It is fashionable to look dirty, and Lauren and her siblings have filthy clothes to wear outside the wall in order to keep themselves safe.
This passage emphasizes the contrast between wealth and poverty established at the end of the last chapter. While ordinary people are so poor that it has become fashionable to wear filthy clothing, the government still has enough money to send astronauts to Mars. On one level, society has regressed to a more primitive, survivalist state, but on another, technology has continued to bring new, futuristic possibilities.
The last “Window Wall television” in Lauren’s neighborhood has gone out. It belonged to the Yannis family, who charged a small fee to let people come and look at it. Now there are only three “ancient” TV sets in the neighborhood, although every house still has a radio, the main source of news. Before Alicia Leal died, she asked that her body be left on Mars, but the Secretary of Astronautics insisted on bringing it back to Earth in case it proved to be a contaminant. Lauren notes that Secretaries of Astronautics don’t tend to know much about science. One of the Presidential candidates, Christopher Morpeth Donner, has promised to eradicate the space program if he is elected. Lauren’s father agrees with this policy and plans to vote for Donner. Lauren believes that space is the future, and that even though Mars is cold and empty, it is also a kind of heaven.
Once again, Lauren’s views about the world directly contradict the views of her father (and, it seems, society at large). Whereas Lauren’s father and the government believe that space exploration is a waste of money, Lauren is convinced that it is a vital part of the future. This is further evidence of the fact that while the adults around Lauren remain attached to the past, Lauren’s focus is firmly fixed on the future. Lauren’s reflection about Secretaries of Astronautics not knowing much about science emphasizes her belief that she is more knowledgeable and clear-sighted than the adults running the country.
Mrs. Sims, a devoutly Christian woman in Lauren’s neighborhood, has shot herself. She was the only person Lauren knew who lived alone, and she was frightened by people of other races and religions. She was once robbed by three men who tied her up and raped her. They took all her cash and possessions, and Mrs. Sims begged Lauren’s father for help even though she didn’t like him because he had a Mexican wife. Two days before Mrs. Sims committed suicide, her son and his family were killed in an arson attack. Lauren thinks it may have been a “revenge fire” or possibly because of a new drug that encourages people to start fires. Lauren is shocked by her death, because Mrs. Sims believed that suicide was punished by hell. Life on earth was so unbearable that Mrs. Sims chose to exchange it for eternal suffering.
Mrs. Sims’ suicide is an important early turning point in the novel. The event highlights an increasing sense of desperation, the limits of religious faith, and the sense that Christian understandings of God are incoherent with the reality of the post-apocalyptic United States in the year 2024. The fact that Mrs. Sims chooses eternal damnation over earthly suffering raises important questions about religious devotion: Is it possible that life on earth could be worse than hell? Is the concept of hell too abstract for people to really believe in? Would a just God really send Mrs. Sims to hell?
Lauren cannot stop thinking about Mrs. Sims and Alicia Leal; she feels that the two stories are related somehow. She has started writing down her ideas about God, but feels that she isn’t expressing them well yet. She writes that “God is Power,” “God is Pliable,” and “God is Change,” adding: “This is the literal truth.” Lauren believes that prayer does not affect God, and that God neither loves her nor hates her, but simply exists. Different traditions of thought—from physics to Buddhism to Christianity—hold that change is inevitable, and people pretend to accept change. However, in reality people still “create super-people” who they imagine will protect them from change (or, in Lauren’s view, from God). Part of her wishes she could ignore reality and live a “normal life,” but she is consumed by her ideas and beliefs about God, and knows she must act on them.
At this point, it becomes clear that the Earthseed scripture that begins each chapter has actually been written by Lauren. Lauren treats her ideas about God not simply as a matter of personal belief, but rather as an important trigger for action. She feels compelled to write down her views on God and to use them to guide her actions. This could seem somewhat delusional or narcissistic; however, Lauren’s beliefs about God are not rooted in the arbitrary thoughts in her own mind, but rather her observations about the world—including existing religious traditions.
The sitting president has lost the election to Christopher Donner. Donner promises to dismantle the space program within a year, and plans to suspend environmental and labor protection laws in order to end mass unemployment. Lauren worries about this, and notes that her father didn’t vote for Donner in the end—he couldn’t bring himself to vote at all.
Lauren’s father tries to maintain hope for the future, but his decision not to vote indicates that on some level, he has given up on his belief that the world could ever go back to the way it once was.