farallon de medinilla

This barren strip of rock and grass poking up out of the Pacific Ocean is called Farallon de Medinilla. It’s part of the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. territory, and the nearest inhabited island is Saipan. Although not much happens here anymore, I’ve been fascinated by this strange island for years. I’d love to go there someday, although that’s probably not very likely.

Farallon de Medinilla is a key location in my science fiction novel Life Without Giamotti. In the book, Giamotti hijacks a World War II submarine, the Sawfish, and takes it to this island to use it as a base from which to launch an invasion of Tinian–where he hopes to hijack the atom bomb intended for Hiroshima. In the book he hides the Sawfish in a cave on this island. There is really a cave there at sea level but it’s too small to serve as a submarine shelter.

In reality Farallon de Medinilla has typically been used as a bombing range. Discovered by the Spanish in 1544, it was never really feasible as a habitat for humans, and no one really wanted it. It became a U.S. territory as a result of the conquest of the Marianas in 1944. Since then the military has used it as a bombing target, and you can see faintly a few X-like figures on the ground which are made with shipping containers and intended to guide bombers. Due to its environmental impact on birds, no bombs have been dropped there since 2002.

I’m fascinated by the very few places in the world where humans can’t or won’t live. Clearly this is one of them. I wonder what it’s like to stand on this deserted island, looking out to sea, and if you might think you’re the only human being in the world.