Updated on May 15, 2018
‘Space Problems’: A sci-fi spoof
As you know, I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi really, and while I adore the incredible ideas and breathtaking world-building in these books, I have noticed some unfortunate trends, especially in older sci-fi. With that in mind, I’ve written a short spoof: ‘Space Problems’!
Unlike my previous piss-take of the Fifty Shades trilogy, my aim here isn’t to rip classic sci-fi apart. Consider it an affectionate send-up by someone who loves the genre but recognises its flaws.
Commander Hank Everyman looked out through the portal window of his office and took a sip of whisky. The view beyond the four inch-thick panels of glass was straight out of the sci-fi dime novels of his childhood: a glowing stream of light stretched out from the body of a dying star and was sucked into a tiny point of infinite darkness that twisted and warped the space-scape around it. A black hole eating a star; he had to pinch himself every time he looked at it.
“Ow,” said Commander Everyman. “OK, maybe not every time.”
Still, it was a very impressive sight, and not one that he could ever have dreamed he would see as the son of an astronaut born and brought up in Floridian suburbia. Who would have thought that someone from a white, middle-class background would come so far?
He took another sip of whisky and thought again about his mission. He was the commander of the single most advanced spaceship humanity had ever produced: the Effort. The ship had been completed only two years before, in 2001, and it was a thing of vast and intimidating beauty. The ship was lousy with rivets and shining chrome, and replete with the latest technological advancements that the author could imagine from his limited standpoint in 1972. Yes, this metallic adventurer was equipped with state-of-the-art pneumatic tubes – guaranteed to relay any message, small object or diminutive mammal from one side of the ship to the other in a mere nine minutes – and a cutting-edge computer that was able to talk, respond to voice commands and store up to 50MB of data on its internal storage banks, which were located on the entirety of Deck 5.
No human crew had been better equipped for a mission in the history of space travel, and that was as it should be, for no mission had ever been so significant. The Effort would be the first human craft to travel beyond the solar system, out into the emptiness of interstellar space. They were tracking a signal – one which had come from a mysterious beacon that had shocked the world when it was first detected, and which had passed, at its closest, within the orbit of Uranus. It had remained within detectable distance for only three months, and during that time scientists and researchers had worked tirelessly to decode its peculiar beeping message, and to project from its current course and trajectory the direction in which it was heading. At last, mere days before it was due to leave the range of Earth’s most advanced sensors, a Cape Canaveral computer engineer named Eric Normalguy had finally cracked the alien code.
“Is there anybody out there?” the beacon cried out into the depths of space. “Can anybody hear me?”
Earth was forced to watch desperately as the beacon passed by, unable to send a message in return as it drifted beyond the range of detection, still crying out its plaintive message. But the wheels were in motion, and after a series of global committee meetings that brought together representatives from every country in the world, but somehow only one woman, humanity had decided to prepare its newly built flagship to follow the signal and set out into the unknown.
There was a knock at the door. Commander Everyman drained the last of his whisky and turned away from the celestial marvel that was playing itself out beyond his window. In the doorway, a different kind of celestial marvel had now appeared.
Lieutenant Clarissa Token was leaning against the door frame, her arms crossed in front of her and a scowl on her delicately pretty features. Clearly she wanted something, but Hank couldn’t think about that right now because she was folding her arms in such a way that made her breasts press together, and this was especially distracting in the relatively low-gravity atmosphere of the Effort. Of course, there was no escaping thoughts like this aboard the ship, and not for the first time Commander Everyman wondered whether something shouldn’t be done about the women’s outfits (heavy-duty brassieres? Polo necks? Burkas?), because it was really more than any red-blooded male should have to take.
As a partial measure, the crew had worked out certain interpersonal arrangements to let off much of the steam of the long journey. Things were kept casual, with most crew members moving easily from one partner to the next, and only very few long-term couples being formed. Hank had rendezvoused with several of the female staff, but it was Clarissa who forever waged war in his heart. In fact, he was surprised that when she had said “Let’s keep things casual,” she had really meant it, and hadn’t ended up helplessly developing feelings for him anyway. Had women always been this cold back on Earth? Probably.
“Urgent message from the bridge, Commander,” said Lieutenant Token. Her voice sounded like honey being dribbled onto naked skin. It really was terribly unfair of her.
“Go ahead,” said Hank.
“We’re losing thrust in Engine 7-C and it’s really slowing us down. At this rate we’ll never catch up with the beacon. Engineer Joe Averagebloke thinks the rotators are clogged with ionized particles from passing through the Oort cloud.”
Commander Everyman nodded and tried to consider the problem, but he couldn’t help replaying how she had said ‘cloud’ in her head, and the delightful things it had done to her lips.
“Yes, that is a problem. If that’s the case, we’ll have to clean the rotators.”
Lieutenant Token sighed and unfolded her arms; her breasts responded to this in a way that did something delightful in the commander’s trousers, and something confusing in his heart.
“We can’t possibly do an EVA,” she said. “We’re travelling too quickly until we catch up with the beacon. Anybody who goes out there will be flung right off.”
The commander closed his eyes and found that this was a much better way to speak to her. Why had he never thought of it before?
The Effort was in a tricky situation, no doubt, and it would require delicate handling. They could blast the rotators with run-off from the plasma engines, but a touch too much power and the rotators would be damaged, and they would lose all ability to steer the ship. Commander Everyman didn’t much like the idea of drifting rudderless through interstellar space. No, this would require an altogether more intricate plan.
He thought in silence, allowing his mind to wander. This was how he always came up with his best ideas, by not trying. In his mind’s eye he drifted beyond the walls of the Effort, out into the darkness of space and back past the intervening planets to Earth. For a moment he felt that he was in Florida again, leaning over the fence at the end of the garden and watching the cows on the ranch next door. There was old Brownie, a sturdy, doe-eyed heifer who would always break into their back garden and fart all over Mother’s washing hanging on the line. Oh, how angry Mother would be, and how he and his brothers would laugh and laugh…
The commander’s eyes snapped open and he stood up so quickly that he almost overturned his whisky. He had it! But would it work? Yes, he thought, it just might.
“We’ll unfurl the solar sails,” he said.
Clarissa tilted her beautiful head to one side. “I don’t understand.”
“Let me explain.” He lowered himself into his seat and took another sip of whisky. “We haven’t yet deployed the solar sails because we still have sufficient fuel aboard, but as we press on our supplies will run low, and we will need to switch to light power. That’s where the solar sails come in.”
Lieutenant Token shook her head. “I understand what the solar sails are for, Commander. I meant…”
“Now, the solar sails are covered with a fine layer of LiquiStor™, which is designed to protect them in transit until they are unfurled for the first time, at which point this layer of protective shielding will be shaken off in a delicate cloud.”
“Commander, I was at the briefings. Who are you talking to?” Clarissa waved a hand in front of the commander’s eyes, but he seemed not to notice.
“Now, with any luck, this cloud will pass right by the rotators. And what is the primary ingredient of LiquiStor™? A particular combination of chemicals made up of negatively charged ions. And when this cloud passes over the rotators…”
Clarissa nodded and smiled, the light of realisation finally coming into her gorgeous eyes. “I see. The ionized particles and the negatively charged particles will be attracted to each other and whipped off into space. That should clean the rotators right up.”
“Exactly.” Commander Everyman leaned back and placed his feet on his desk.
“But we’re not scheduled to unfurl the sails for another 37 Earth days,” said Lieutenant Token. “How can you be sure we won’t run into any problems by opening them early?”
“Because I am the protagonist,” said Commander Everyman. “And besides, anything I might have overlooked will reveal itself at a narratively appropriate time.”
That seemed to satisfy the Lieutenant, and she immediately turned to leave.
“A moment, Lieutenant,” said Hank, and he squirmed a little in his chair when she turned around and he was confronted once more by her magnificent, gravity-defying bosom. “Are you busy this evening? Perhaps we might partake in a little… light entertainment?”
Clarissa shrugged. “If you like.”
As she left, Hank rotated his chair once again to look out at the vastness of space and the grand star-death that was playing out in front of him. Another problem solved, and so the mission ground ever on. Who knew what wonders they would see as they continued their journey, or the sort of immense psychological impact leaving the solar system might have upon the human mind? It would be a fascinating subject of study – for someone else.
For now, for this story, Hank was content with his role. He would problem solve, deliver complex paragraphs of scientific dialogue and only think deeply about the effects of low gravity on mammary glands. He sighed and thought back to his childhood self, reading dime novels and dreaming of space. Oh brave new world, he thought. From such a humble foundation to this gateway to the stars, my destination.