Where do we draw the line between solitude and loneliness? George R. R. Martin’s The Second Kind of Loneliness meditates on the conflicting subjectivity that attempts to answer this question. Martin makes the distant vantage point intimate enough to be intimidating.
The story is a few diary entries from a lonely astronaut at the edge of the solar system. His job is to operate a machine that opens a wormhole, the null space vortex. He awaits homecoming with a conflicting sense of awe and terror.
Through his diary entries, we see a conflicted man. Space is his sanctuary where he took refuge from the past. Visions from his past achingly replays in his memories, dreams and reflections. He escapes all of it in the vortex of denial, in its null space. At the edge of the solar system, he is alone peacefully. Afterall, he is not alone together.
In the duality of isolation, Time is his frenemy, it is his grief. Time keeps him waiting. The only thing he has in this second type of loneliness is time – an excess of it, yet not quite enough. He denies it, distorts it, postpones it, kills it. Yet time remains in all its grandeur, like the all consuming vortex. Time reminds him the burden of his existence.
In many ways he is fighting time, like most of us. He is the baby in us that longs to go back to the womb. He tries to escape the past and to embrace a future. Yet, he sees how the loop of time builds past from future and vice versa. That terrifies him and he destroys his ship, only to realize that it has beget a new future and a new past. The tyranny of the “here-now” mortifies him. Like the ancient mariner, he longs for his relief.