Science fiction fans tend to want to live in the worlds they read about and watch in books and movies. They forget that Han Solo was a glorified space truck driver, or that Captain Kirk spent most of his time doing paperwork.
Here are the ten worst jobs in science fiction (multiple spoiler alerts):
Official Government Alien Abductee
From: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Let’s say after you graduate from college you spend an extra – what, 6 years? – getting that Ph.D. And don’t forget about those student loans. But it’s all worth it, because when a shadowy international agency receives the first genuine alien message from space, it’s you to whom they turn. And when they choose a small, select team of men and women to travel into space with the aliens, they pick you.
So you train, and study, and undergo rigorous testing. It’s like the astronaut program, except secret. When you’re done you get your snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses, because who would want to accompany aliens on their intergalactic concert series without a snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses?
They fly you out to Devil’s Tower (or you ride out there in a Piggly Wiggly truck, the movie’s not clear), and witness the first human contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Then, after a brief religious service (which is pretty silly – any advanced spacefaring civilization will be atheistic – don’t argue, you know it’s true), you’re marched out to meet your interstellar destiny.
Except the aliens don’t take you. They take some wacked-out high school graduate telephone repairman from Podunk, Indiana with a beer belly and a mashed potato fixation. And you get left behind, choking on mothership exhaust.
So you spend the rest of your life in a bitter alcohol-induced stupor, annoying your relatives with tales of how you were supposed to go live with the space aliens, and shooting out the screen of your TV any time ET The Extraterrestrial comes on.
Kevin Smith already covered this one, but of course he was right. Kevin Smith is always right.
You’re one of the millions of laborers brought in by military contractors hired by the Galactic Empire to build the first Death Star. It’s a lot of hard work with low pay and bad working conditions; and the job becomes ten times as dangerous after they switch on the artificial gravity. You try welding girders when you’re a mile up!
Then the damn Rebel Alliance shows up and blows the whole thing to smithereens. A million innocent people are killed. (Yeah, yeah, I know – Alderaan. So what? Big deal.) Fortunately, you were down on Yavin at the time, picking up donuts for the team that was installing proton shielding on the main trench exhaust ports.
As the sole survivor of the first Death Star, you had little trouble getting a job as foreman on the second Death Star. The project was much bigger, but the budget much lower – the Empire took a bath on the first Death Star, and it was difficult to raise money for the second. Plus, the Emperor himself showed up to oversee operations. It was a total clusterfuck, especially considering that Palpatine wanted the main superlaser finished first, even before the living areas and outer shell were completed. That meant months of dealing with porta-johns.
And, you were ordered to build a bottomless pit right in the middle of the Emperor’s quarters. What the hell was up with that?
Then the Rebels, and some teddy bears, attacked a second time, and you were killed. Your last thought was, man, this job sucks.
Away Team “Red Shirt”
From: Star Trek (1966-69)
So, after four years in Starfleet Academy you’re an ensign. You always wanted to serve under Christopher Pike, but by the time you’re assigned to the USS Enterprise, Pike’s been turned into a Dalek by delta radiation, and you have to serve under that preening, egotistical asshat James T. Kirk.
Still, it’s a cool gig – you travel the galaxy with a ship full of hot female yeomen in mini-skirts, and there are all the multi-colored cubes you can eat.
Until it comes time to go on an away mission. You saw Mathews and Rayburn killed by an android on Exo III; O’Herlihy killed by Gorns and his twin brother Rizzo slain by the dikironium cloud creature; Grant got cut down on Capella IV; and Hendorff got capped by a pod plant on Gamma Trianguli VI.
And how does Kirk react when all these young, talented Starfleet professionals get slaughtered? Just send down another one!
In fact, today you’re supposed to beam down to Argus X to take over for Rizzo. The dikironium cloud creature already killed one obligatory red shirt – I’m sure you’ll be fine!
We don’t know much about life in the 22nd Century, except that working class people live in plastic capsule hotels, work for massive 80s cyberpunk-style zaibatsu, and pilot colossal mining ships with literary names that take weeks to travel between planets, so their occupants ride in suspended animation because sitting around for weeks would just be cruel.
Let’s look at the example of one Ellen Ripley, a college graduate (she got her Engineering degree from Aeronautics University in New York City – is that accredited, or is it the 22nd Century version of DeVry?) who worked her way up to Warrant Officer for a commercial mining ship owned by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. If Ripley’s experiences are representative of the career of a Warrant Officer, and I believe they are, then I would not suggest this career for anyone.
First Ripley tries to enforce standard company rules regarding the quarantine of infected away team personnel, but her mildly retarded captain violates policy. Also, a robot that looks like Bilbo Baggins tries to kill her with a rolled up magazine. What’s really surprising here is not that everyone but Ripley is murdered by a rampaging xenomorph – it’s that in the year 2122, someone is still printing magazines.
Then Ripley is involved in some kind of bizarre escape pod accident, and returns to Earth to discover her daughter has died of old age. It’s similar to the Twin Paradox, except it makes less sense. Ripley is then convinced to return to the xenomorph moon, which is like convincing Natasha Richardson to go back to Mont Tremblant. What, too soon?
Everyone there gets slaughtered except the hunk, the kid and half the robot – oh, but they’re all killed during the opening credit sequence of the next movie. Ripley shaves her head and jumps into a pool of molten lead, because she saw the rushes and realized the movie was a piece of shit.
Then her half-alien clone kind of makes out with Winona Ryder, which is the high point of an otherwise disastrous career.
Not every Warrant Officer has to go through this kind of rigmarole, I suppose. Still, clearly the best career choice in the Alien films is ship’s cat, because that’s the only character that doesn’t eventually die in a horrible, horrible way.
Unless the cat was put down after Ripley never came back from LV-426. Yikes.
Communist Space Saucer Saboteur
From: Lost in Space (1965-68)
It’s 1997, and the United States is preparing to launch its first interstellar mission, a five-year mission to Alpha Centauri. This is bad news for the workers of the world – if the bourgeois Capitalist exploiters cement their control over outer space, the freedom-loving Socialist peoples will be forever subjugated by the Imperialist American running dogs. Something must be done – and that something is sabotage!
Fortunately, a fifth column of Communist sympathizers exists within the United States, including some inside Alpha Control (the space agency). One, an idealist and hero of the proletariat, Dr. Zachary Smith, volunteers to sneak aboard the spacecraft and sabotage it. As an expert in “intergalactic environmental psychology” (intergalactic?) and cybernetics, as well as a medical doctor, Smith is uniquely placed to get close to the Jupiter 2 and its nepotistically selected crew (it’s typical of Capitalists, to place familial ties ahead of selection based on merit).
Smith manages to get aboard and reprogram the ship’s B-9 Model Luke H Class M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot, giving it the free will to throw off the chains of its oppressors and destroy critical systems eight hours after launch. But Smith is trapped on board, and soon the Jupiter 2, shoddily designed by a for-profit contractor with no love of country and with oppressed, non-unionized employees, veers off course and is soon lost. In space.
So far, things are not so bad for Dr. Smith. He has successfully completed his mission, and the crew of the Jupiter 2 can’t prove he is a saboteur – they have no way to punish him, anyway. There are even two hot chicks and a MILF on board, if he can get rid of a couple of square-jawed farm boys first.
Unfortunately, the Jupiter 2 lands on a series of unidentified alien planets, and poor Comrade Smith’s woes really begin. His only friend is a young boy; coupled with Smith’s own effete manner (absorbed from years of living amongst the decadent Capitalists), this leads to speculation that Smith’s sexual proclivities are decidedly non-reproductive, in violation of basic Maoist principles. Furthermore, Smith is hectored by the constant intrusions and suspicions of the Robot, whose loyalties have somehow reverted back to bourgeois principles.
Furthermore, Smith’s natural generosity in a crisis, to encourage others to serve the workers by facing danger rather than stealing the glory himself, is misinterpreted by his presumed comrades as cowardice. Imagine! And finally, Smith must encounter countless absurd alien beings, from green-skinned salad-headed women to talking carrots, none of whom are interested in discussing intergalactic environmental psychology, cybernetics, or dialectical materialism.
So our beloved Comrade Smith, the People’s Hero and the Heir of Gagarin, is doomed to a lifetime of ridiculous adventures in space accompanied largely by a precious tow-headed lad and a “nickel-plated nincompoop” of a robot with zero points of articulation. When the Soviets recruited Smith out of the Intergalactic Environmental Psychology Program at UC Santa Cruz, he should have insisted on a rider specifying no kids, pets or robots.
From: Blade Runner (1982)
Let’s begin with a comparison.
It’s 1982, and you’re a cop in Los Angeles, California. You have been assigned to take down a gang of criminals peddling drugs on the streets of the city. As part of the Drug Enforcement Task Force, you have access to an entire team of detectives, uniformed officers and forensic specialists; a large cache of weapons, from service pistols to automatic weapons to sniper rifles to a limited supply of explosives; you are supplied with various types of body armor; and you have a tank. That’s right, a freakin’ armored vehicle, which you use to penetrate fortified crack houses.
On the other hand…
It’s 2019, and you’re a former cop in Los Angeles, California – but in 2019 the police act like the military in 2010, or the mafia in 1990, and just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in. You have been assigned to find and destroy, by yourself, four super-strong, super-fast, super-intelligent android replicants from space. The replicants look just like ordinary people, and can’t be detected unless they volunteer to sit still for a complicated personality test conducted using a device like an e-meter with a bellows attached to it. Your tools for this mission are a pistol and a flying car, the latter of which you only get to use when Admiral Adama is done with it.
No fellow officers – last guy assigned to the case was shot through a wall. No advanced weapons. No armor. No tank. Just you against four super-robots. Well, and a Voight-Kampff machine and some kind of advanced photo analyzer.
Oh, and it’s raining. All the time.
Plus, your girlfriend is a robot – and acts like one, generating all the sexual heat and feminine charm of a Dyson Ball upright vacuum. And just to fuck with your head, you might be a robot.
And finally – and this is the kicker – it turns out all four of these robots are programmed to drop dead just a few days after you’re assigned to kill them. So if the cops had left you alone and just waited 72 hours, the problem would have solved itself, and you wouldn’t be nursing a fist full of broken fingers.
If blade runners have a union, you need to talk to your rep about this shit.
From: Minority Report (2002)
If you live in a world loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, it’s a pretty good bet your job sucks – whether you’re a blade runner (see above), a split-personality undercover drug cop, a memory-wiped agent of a ruthless Martian dictator, a memory-wiped reverse engineer, an alien-created terrorist mole, or a precognitive Vegas magician.
But the worst job in the PKD oeuvre (as portrayed in film to-date, anyway) has to be Precrime precog. You’re the mutant offspring of drug addicts, a psychic with precognitive powers troubled by visions of future violent acts. You have been kidnapped by the government as a child, stripped naked and forced to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week semi-conscious in a bathtub, foreseeing future murders and having your predictions recorded by a computer so advanced it uses billiard balls as part of its user interface. Wait, what?
There are only three of you on the planet, yet the government plans to expand your “precrime” purview to include the entire country, which makes it pretty unlikely you’ll be seeing a vacation any time soon.
By the way, you’re looked after in your high-tech bathtub by a creepy technician, which really sucks if you’re Agatha, the one female precog – you just know that guy has been “taking liberties,” if you know what I mean. Eww.
Of course, it all works out in the end, right? Tom Cruise saves the day and the precogs are freed, permitted to live “normal” lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere… except some people think that’s a fake ending. Tom Cruise stays in prison, and the precogs remain moist slaves. Oh well – bet ya didn’t see that coming!
Jurassic Park Employee
From: Jurassic Park (1993)
For all you Libertarians and Republicans out there who insist on the fantasy that government regulation is a bad thing, let’s take the example of a certain amusement park and resort located 87 miles northwest of Costa Rica. As it was on a private island located in a third world country, it’s safe to say that Jurassic Park was an unregulated workplace.
Which sucked for the mostly brown-skinned employees of park operator InGen. For instance, your workplace probably has policies to prevent workers from being maimed and eaten by Velociraptor mongoliensis. I mean, it’s never happened where you work, right?
And your employer probably has a decent monsoon evacuation policy, at least I should hope so. Jurassic Park didn’t. How about network security procedures and failsafes that prevent all computer-controlled systems from failing, especially the ones enclosing deadly saurian macrofauna? Perhaps ones that can be reactivated by qualified park personnel, rather than by a pre-teen female hacker?
Then there’s the fact that your workplace most probably doesn’t conduct secret, unlicensed, non-peer reviewed genetic experimentation in the first place. Just try to get away with it, and see what your boss says!
Why doesn’t your job break any of these rules? Regulation. The last thing your boss wants is OSHA breathing down his neck, just because a Tyrannosaurus rex ate the company lawyer while he was in the port-a-john.
From: Torchwood (2006 – 2009)
The Torchwood Institute was established by Queen Victoria in 1879 to defend the Empire against extraterrestrial threats, and to acquire and reverse-engineer alien technology. Throughout most of its history, Torchwood was rather… ruthless in achieving its goals.
In fact, considering the danger inherent in the investigation of alien and supernatural threats, along with Torchwood’s propensity for hiring rather violent individuals, it not surprising that most Torchwood operatives do not survive into old age (one notable exception notwithstanding).
The entire staff of Torchwood One, the linchpin of the organization, was massacred by the Cyberman and Dalek armies in the Battle of Canary Wharf. Likewise the entire crew of Torchwood Three (immortal operatives exempt) was slaughtered by their insane leader in 1999.
And as far as individual characters, the roster looks like this:
- Suzie Costello: suicide; brought back with the Risen Mitten, killed with its destruction
- Lisa Hallett: assimilated by the Cybermen; killed by Torchwood Three team
- Owen Harper: shot dead on duty; brought back with the Risen Mitten; killed in nuclear meltdown
- Alex Hopkins: murdered all of Torchwood Three team, and then killed himself
- Ianto Jones: deadly alien virus
- Toshiko Sato: shot dead on duty – during a nuclear meltdown
At the end of the Children of Earth mini-series (which is brilliant, by the way – even if you’ve never seen a single episode of Torchwood, go rent Children of Earth), the last time we saw the Torchwood Team, out of all the known Torchwood operatives, two were left alive. Two.
And this is an organization with the ability to bring people back from the dead.
If you want to travel the UK, meet exciting people, have a lot of sex and screw around with alien technology, you should become a Torchwood operative. But if you’re concerned about your health, maybe you should try UNIT.
In the real world, research scientists make an invaluable contribution to the world, in fields as diverse as medicine, physics, chemistry, materials science, geology, archaeology and many more. But it’s hardly a dangerous lifestyle.
In science fiction, there is no job more dangerous. Ask Bruce Banner. Victor von Doom. Jonathan Crane. Victor Fries. Alex Olsen. Walter Bishop. Emmett Brown. Victor Frankenstein. Henry Jekyll. Herbert West. Seth Brundle. Eric Vornoff. Charles Forbin. Peter Venkman. Edward Morbius. Eldon Tyrell. Doctors Moreau, Griffin, Phibes, Totenkopf, and Rotwang.
In science fiction, working in the research sciences can get you mutated, exploded, intrinsic-field subtracted, genetically crossed with a housefly, lost in space, lost in time, lost in parallel dimensions, turned into a plant, turned into an animal, turned into an alien killing machine, driven insane, killed by your own hideous creation, given godlike powers beyond your ability to handle, duplicated, split into good and evil halves, devolved, evolved, kicked out of academia, spurned by the medical community, spurned by society and lynched by mob of torch-wielding villagers.
Also, locked up in prison, trapped forever between dimensions, eaten by virus zombies, shrunk to microscopic size, exploded to 50 feet in height, transformed into a grotesque parody of the human form, gender switched, swapped bodies with your kid, metamorphosed into a floating disembodied brain, badly burned, fused with an alien intelligence, fused with a machine, fused with a Brundlepod, converted into binary digits and forced to compete on the Game Grid, atomized by your own self-destruct device and ejected into the vacuum of space.
Seriously, is this why you spent eight years in college?