The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still poster

For more on how I am choosing these films, see my post on Battlefield Earth.

Yes, yes, I know what the comments will be before I even begin.

How can you call the original Day the Earth Stood Still one of the worst sci-fi films of all time? It’s a masterpiece! A classic! I own it on Blu-Ray, DVD, VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc and an original 35mm print! I named my daughter Helen and my son Klaatu! You’re an idiot who doesn’t understand sci-fi and you should burn in Hell forever!

Except the comments will be riddled with typos and make less sense.

The world is full of things that the general public considers to be brilliant, which are at best mediocre. Like The Eagles. Babylon 5. And Isaac Asimov.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of those things. It’s not really one of the worst sci-fi films of all time. But it is such a colossal disappointment in comparison to its reputation that I have no problem placing it on this list.

Certainly the film contains some good ideas, and its failures may have more to do with the era in which it was filmed than with any lack of talent by the people responsible for it.

_

SPOILERS FOLLOW (Warning: plot elements from the 1951 film may appear in the 2008 film, so if you plan to see that, be careful.)

The Day the Earth Stood Still is the story of Klaatu, an Anglo-Saxon alien from an unnamed planet 250 million miles from Earth. He lands in front of the White House in his silver classic saucer that glows and makes electrical noises in flight.

Emerging from the saucer in front of a crowd of soldiers and onlookers, Klaatu announces that he has come “in peace and with goodwill.” He offers a sex toy to a soldier, who promptly shoots him.

An 8-foot tall silver being called Gort, which everyone immediately knows is a robot despite the fact it looks just like Klaatu, emerges from the saucer and and destroys all the soldiers’ weapons with some kind of Prop Removal Beam.

Klaatu is taken to a hospital, where he is examined by one scientist and no one takes his picture. He is also visited by the President’s secretary, because apparently the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the President’s Chief Science Adviser and the President’s hair stylist were all too busy to meet a freakin’ alien from another freakin’ planet.

Klaatu explains that he has an important message for the whole world, and not just for the United States, so he wants to address the United Nations. He fails to explain why he landed in Washington, DC, instead of New York where the actual UN is located. It doesn’t matter — the President’s secretary tells Klaatu that the world’s leaders will never gather together to hear his message. The half of the world that misinterprets Karl Marx is too angry at the half of the world that misinterprets Adam Smith.

No one suggests that Klaatu individually visit world leaders in his space ship, or that he just go on television.

Klaatu escapes from the hospital. I applaud the filmmakers for assuming that an alien from an advanced space-faring civilization would be able to defeat a Kwikset lock, but not the idea that human officials would be surprised by this.

Klaatu then spends the entire second act of the movie in a dull subplot about a secretary, her son and her asshat of a boyfriend.

The second act ends when Klaatu sneaks past the two guards — TWO GUARDS — guarding his saucer, goes to the control room and presses the button marked “Turn Off All Electrical Devices On Earth For A Half-Hour.” This is where the movie gets it almost, but not entirely inaccurate title.

In the third act, Klaatu has convinced the world’s greatest scientist, a frizzy-haired Jew who for copyright purposes in not Albert Einstein, to collect all the world’s other greatest scientists to meet at the saucer. Unfortunately, the US government is afraid that the escaped alien is some kind of communist (he’s not — he’s a fascist, see below). So they kill him.

Fortunately, Klaatu has taught the secretary a phrase, “Klaatu barada nikto,” which translates as “Hey Gort, Klaatu is dead. Go to the police station where they’re holding the body, blast through the wall with your Scenery Removal Ray, pick up Klaatu and carry him — through the streets of Washington, unnoticed — back to the saucer, where you will use the Main Character Resurrection Device to resurrect him.”

The aliens speak a very economical language.

The secretary finds Gort, and actress Patricia Neal gets to speak the most famous line she’ll ever speak in a career spanning six decades.

Gort succeeds in barading Klaatu’s nikto, and Klaatu and the secretary step out of the saucer to speak to the assembled scientists. Klaatu finally conveys his Message to the Earth, which takes about 90 seconds and makes you wonder why he took 90 minutes of movie to get around to it.

It seems that the “other planets” — the ones within 250 million miles — are concerned that humans will build nuclear rockets. Klaatu offers humanity two choices. In the first, humanity will be lorded over by robots like Gort, who will destroy the Earth if humans exhibit any aggressive behavior toward other planets.

The other choice? The robots will destroy Earth right now.

Klaatu does not wait for a response, since any response but “we’ll take door number one” would be pretty silly. He also does not have sex with the secretary. He gets in the saucer and flies back to his planet. The end.

(By the way, I called Klaatu a fascist, not a communist. Communists establish a totalitarian police force, then kill all the rich people. Fascists establish a totalitarian police force, with the cooperation of all the rich people. Klaatu’s Peace Through Robot Annihilation regime seems closer to the latter.)

END OF BITINGLY SARCASTIC PLOT SYNOPSIS

_

Now, apart from the plot elements I lampooned in my bitingly sarcastic plot synopsis, what bothers me about this movie? Let me check my notes (no, really, I have notes).

“Two hundred and fifty million miles.” This is a ridiculously short distance astronomically, yet Klaatu uses this figure several times to impress us with how incredibly far he’s traveled. But this puts his homeworld well within the Solar System.

I have worked out, based on the orbit of the Earth and the orbits of the other seven — seven — planets, the minimum and maximum distances between Earth and those planets for all positions throughout time, adjusting for Mercury’s 7° deviation from the plane of solar rotation. Okay, no I haven’t. I’m spitballing. But it seems to me a limit of 250,000 miles means Klaatu must come from Mercury, Venus, or Mars. (At the outside, traveling at the closest distance, maybe he could originate from a moon of Jupiter. But Klaatu said “other planets,” and I’m taking him at his word.)

Scientists knew in 1951 that, like a McDonald’s McDLT, Mercury is a blasted cinder on one side and a frozen wasteland on the other. There had yet to be any radar observations of Venus, and astronomers did not yet even know that the planet’s rotation is retrograde — but they knew it was an uninhabitable swamp of hot gas. And as for Mars, well, even scientists who thought nuclear radiation was safe and beneficial understood that Mars was an uninhabited rock.

Sci-fi writers, when putting astronomical distances into the mouths of aliens, never say “miles.” Use “light years.” But don’t use “parsecs” — that’s a unit of time.

Let’s see, what else bugged me? Oh — did anyone else notice that NORAD was located in a Chinese restaurant? Or that foreign language news shows had English-language signs so you’d know what country they were in?

Speaking of foreign languages, the alien word for “follow me” is “meringue.” Seriously, watch the movie. I’m not kidding.

Here are some script notes for Klaatu. First of all — SIT DOWN. In almost every scene, Klaatu stands, even when everyone else is sitting. Is this an alien thing, like Mork sitting on his head? Also, Klaatu, a “train without tracks” is not a train. It’s a bus.

The score was recorded using not one but two theremins, proving for all time that one theremin is enough.

_

But let’s get beyond the nitpicking. I think this movie fails primarily because of when it was made — the early 1950’s, when sex, race and free speech were still stuck in the 40’s but everyone was afraid of the Reds.

The film was directed by Robert Wise, who would go on to direct such other sci-fi classics as The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which means he’s one for three. (I’ll note here that Star Trek: The Motionless Picture is not on this list of worst sci-fi films only because I want to limit myself to one Star Trek film, and there is one worse. Maybe two.)

Wise is not exactly considered an auteur, although for TDTESS he seems to have borrowed two ideas from Citizen Kane — use extreme shadows for dramatic effect, and employ a semi-documentary style to pull the audience into the film.

The documentary feel of the film was apparently considered quite impressive in 1951, and would be copied by many later films. Wise wanted the audience to accept that this science fiction scenario was something that conceivably could happen in real life (Caucasian Martians notwithstanding), so there are lots of shots of random humans from throughout the world responding to the arrival of the saucer, the suppression of electrical devices, and the panic over an alien on the loose.

Way, waaaaay too many shots. Almost as many as there are of military vehicles patrolling Washington looking for giant silver robots and tall Englishmen who can’t sit down.

The entire film is fundamentally composed of (Act One) reaction shots, (Act Two) talking, and (Act Three) a speech. Kind of like Atlas Shrugged, except the speech is 1/10,000th the length. And interesting.

Act Two sucks because it adheres to a 1950s style of filmmaking. I can hear the producer now: “Hey Bob, this flick’s got too many spacemen. We need something people can relate to. A family. Maybe they live in a boarding house. And the wife’s a widow, see, with a kid. The kid can hang out with the alien, and the wife can fall in love with him. And there’s no bad guy in the script, so give the wife a cad of a boyfriend who betrays the alien. And have a cast of nutty characters in the boarding house who talk about the alien. Oh – is there a dog?”

Great.

Also, the original script called for Klaatu to be brought back from the dead, but the censors didn’t like this. They didn’t want Klaatu to meddle in the domain of the Christian god; so Klaatu’s resurrection became temporary, and he says this:

Helen: You mean… he has the power of life and death?
Klaatu: No. That power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit.

Gack. My problem with religious space aliens deserves its own post. Let’s just say that, unless you’re David Brin, you’re doing it wrong.

Robert Wise was a leftist who wanted to make a powerful film about the dangers of the Cold War, and the necessity of the United Nations and the international cooperation it represents (at least theoretically). Even the film as released was considered “subversive” by some, probably because it suggested that the issues of contention in the Cold War did not merit mutually assured destruction.

Unfortunately, The Day the Earth Stood Still is not that film.

Next: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: Pluto Nash

Pluto Nash
The second film I have chosen for my list of the Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films is The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Ron Underwood’s 2002 suck-fest.

For more on how I am choosing these films, see my post on Battlefield Earth.

Written by Neil Cuthbert, whose previous film Mystery Men is one of my all-time favorites, Pluto Nash is an attempt to fuse a 40’s film noir with a sci-fi comedy. The attempt fails on every single level, producing a film that is not so much unwatchably bad as it is unwatchably dull.

Eddie Murphy, who hasn’t carried top billing on a decent film since Coming to America in 1988, plays the eponymous hero, a nightclub owner who is muscled out by the local mob boss. Murphy spends the rest of the film trying to find out the mob boss’ identity, with the help of his bodyguard and a waitress from his club.

So how is this a science fiction film? It takes place on the Moon! Isn’t that clever?

The whole point of the science fiction genre is to explore how science and technology affect society. But in Pluto Nash the hard-boiled 1940’s film noir plot is transplanted whole and unchanged onto a lunar colony. The fact that the story takes place on the Moon bears almost no relation to the story – it just easily could have taken place in Chicago. Or on Madagascar.

Sure, Nash’s bodyguard is a robot. His robot taxicab is controlled by the holographic head of John Cleese. He has various adventures outside the dome, on the lunar surface. But none of these things affect the plot in any meaningful way.  Each sci-fi element just replaces an ordinary story component, without any real reasoning behind it.

The only sci-fi element that affects the story comes at the end. If I haven’t sufficiently warned you off watching this film, then you’d better stop reading.

SPOILER ALERT

It’s established during the film that Rex Crater, the mob boss, is a “clone.” I put “clone” in quotes because he’s not a real clone, he’s one of those ridiculous Xerox duplicates a la Multiplicity – an adult copy who possesses all of the original human’s memories. Think of all the technology this would require – successful human cloning, plus a method of force-growing the clone to adulthood that preserves all the original human’s ontogeny, plus (most importantly) a way to transfer the original human’s brain structure and chemistry to the new “clone.”

Could all this technology be developed by 2080? I would guess not, though I could easily be wrong. But these technologies would fundamentally change society, particularly the method of thought transfer. None of these changes are portrayed in Pluto Nash. Essentially, the cloning technology isn’t sci-fi, it’s magic.

Worse, Rex Crater turns out to be a clone of… Eddie Murphy. This is not foreshadowed anywhere in the film, and makes absolutely no sense. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to surprise the audience just for the sake of surprising us. Also, it kind of a rip-off of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 Total Recall, another film that thinks life in space is just like life on Earth; and at the end, Arnold Schwarzenegger  discovers he’s the bad guy.

There’s more to hate in Pluto Nash. The computer-generated effects are terrible, even for 2000 (the year it was shot). Although certainly more advanced, the CG reminded me of The Last Starfighter, circa 1984.

Costume design? What costume design? Lunar citizens of 2080 pretty much dress (and act) like people do today, except perhaps with a bit of 1940’s flair. The production design was ripped straight from Blade Runner, which may be a cinematic classic, but it’s also 26 years old.

Oh, and by the way – taking an ordinary gun, and adding that warm-up noise old-style camera flash units used to make, does not turn it into a futuristic super-gun.

America Online still exists in 2080? AOL doesn’t still exist in 2008!

Eddie Murphy was perfectly serviceable in the title role – the man has more than enough charisma to lug this film around on his back. And I’ll watch anything with Rosario Dawson. But the one performance that really stank up this movie was from the otherwise reliable Randy Quaid. In his attempt to portray a comical robot he evidently took his cues from Tiffany Brissette.

But Pluto Nash’s ultimate sin is that it’s just not funny. I didn’t laugh once, not even at John Cleese. And the film is entirely without charm. It’s no wonder Pluto Nash sat on the shelf for two years before someone decided to release it anyway; or that it’s considered one of the greatest box office bombs of all time.

Next: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: Battlefield Earth

Battlefield Earth

The science fiction genre really is not all that hard to understand. One does not have to be a basement-dwelling nerd to grok what sci-fi is, how it works, and what are its basic tropes.

But for decades, those in the film industry who decide what movies get made have shown a strong, widespread bias against science fiction. They do not “get” sci-fi, and assume that the mainstream movie audience does not either; this despite powerful evidence to the contrary (for instance, nine of the ten top grossing films of all time are science fiction or fantasy).

Because of this, even the best sci-fi movies are relentlessly “dumbed-down” for mass consumption. Two cogent examples are both very good films – Back to the Future and The Matrix. The former is polluted with relentless visual cues and obnoxious spot-on dialogue designed to explain, and then re-explain, the film’s basic sci-fi premises to even the dullest and least-attentive moviegoer.  The latter spends the entire first half of the film explaining the basic premise, which can be smartly summed up in six words – “the world is a computer simulation.”

I have personal experience with this dumbing-down process, through my own long (and to-date fruitless) attempts to sell screenplays. And I believe it is this bias against smart sci-fi, and not budgetary or technical concerns, which explains why so many Hollywood sci-fi films are relentlessly dreadful.

Which is all by way of introducing this, the first in my series on the worst Sci-Fi films ever made. It will be an arduous undertaking, as I must actually sit through the various contenders before I can decide which are bad enough to qualify. But I am willing to do it for you, loyal reader.

Some ground rules:

  • The film is a mainstream Hollywood picture, or had sufficient money and backing that a quality film was to be expected. While not all independent and “B” movies are bad (some are excellent), permitting them on this list would quickly fill it with tokosatsu, Ed Wood and Bert I. Gordon flicks. Such movies may be entertainingly bad, but their limitations are self-evident – criticizing them is too easy, and not very illuminating. I would rather analyze a film that could have or should have been good, and try to figure out where talented people went wrong.
  • The film is undeniably science-fiction. It must be a movie that any reasonable person would peg as sci-fi, and not a mainstream, fantasy or horror film with sci-fi elements. I don’t want to clutter up the list with What Women Want or Multiplicity. (Of course, making this determination is not easy. Is The Prestige sci-fi, or a historical thriller with sci-fi elements? Fortunately, I do not have to decide – it is a good movie.)
  • No superhero films. Most superhero and comic book films are science fiction; and many of them are very, very bad. Dreck like X-Men: The Last Stand, The Fantastic Four (1994) and The Fantastic Four (2005) would take up the whole list.
  • Films from a series will be represented by one example. I think you see where I am going with this.

I will not be reviewing these ten films in any order of “badness.” I plan to watch them, and write about them, in whatever order they interest me. I have identified my Worst Sci-Fi Film of All Time, however, and I am saving it for last.

For the first installment in this series, I have chosen Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, Roger Christian’s 2000 adaptation of the first half of L. Ron Hubbard’s 1982 novel.

Battlefield Earth posterBattlefield Earth (2000)

I do not think that Battlefield Earth is, by any stretch of the imagination, the worst Sci-Fi flick ever made.  It is bad, painfully so. So bad it should have ended the careers of anyone involved with it. But there are many worse films cluttering up the shelves of the “Sci-Fi/Horror” section of your favorite soon-to-be-shut-down video rental store.

Yet the corps of professional movie reviewers disagrees with me. Read some of the reviews from the time of Battlefield Earth’s release, and it is hard to believe any Hollywood film was ever trashed so thoroughly in the mainstream press.

Battlefield Earth may well turn out to be the worst movie of [the 21st] century.” – The New York Times
Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way.” – Roger Ebert
“Sitting through the summer’s first monolithic monstrosity, Battlefield Earth, was one of the most painfully excruciating experiences of my life.” – Sacramento Bee

Those are just three samples chosen at random. The film’s Rotten Tomatoes score is 3%.

I chose Battlefield Earth first because the mainstream press hated it so much. I had never seen it – now I have sat through it twice, once with the blessed relief of RiffTrax playing over it.

First, I am not going to criticize Battlefield Earth for having a Scientology agenda. (For those of you lacking basic knowledge of popular culture, the novel Battlefield Earth was (probably) written by L. Ron Hubbard, hack pulp novelist of the 1940s and founder of the pseudo-religious Scientology self-help cult. Producer and star John Travolta is a member of this cult.)  Most if not all the Scientology elements in the novel are not present in the film. For instance, in the novel, the evil Psychlos are ruled over by an eviler caste of psychotherapists, who control their minions through mind control and brain surgery. Scientologists believe this is true of modern America, that we are subjugated by cognitive scientists with totalitarian intentions. But this subplot is not in the movie.

There is evidence that the Scientology organization intended to use the film as a recruitment tool. But that is not relevant to how bad the film is. The only way I can see in which the film’s Scientology connection affected its awfulness, is that it was religious piety that convinced the otherwise talented John Travolta that Battlefield Earth was a filmable novel in the first place. More on this in a moment.

I will take a paragraph or two, before getting to the meat of the matter, to point out that British director Roger Christian needs his DGA card taken away and ceremoniously burned. Almost the entire film is shot in Dutch angles, something most directors save for special occasions and even the 1960’s TV show Batman only used for villains’ lairs. There are so many oblique shots in Battlefield Earth that the Wikipedia page for Dutch angle uses a screenshot from the film as the example!

Christian also employs bizarre filter and color effects to give the film a grimy, otherworldly feel – something that might make sense except the movie takes place on Earth. The production design is uninspired, which is surprising as director Christian was set decorator for Star Wars; and the costumes are not so much ridiculous as they are just dull. When the most memorable visual in an entire film is a nose plug, you know you have a problem.

Many reviewers criticized Travolta’s “over-the-top” performance, but I think this paled in importance besides the film’s other issues. In a good movie, Travolta’s hammy acting might have been entertaining. I was more disappointed in Forest Whitaker, an otherwise fine actor who clearly sat through this shoot for the paycheck.

The film plods along, without any discernible pacing or plot structure, marching grimly from a dull, formulaic opening to a dull, preposterous end. This I do not lay at the director’s feet, however. The source of these problems is, I think, the source of all the movie’s problems.

Battlefield Earth, the novelBattlefield Earth is not a terrible movie. It is a movie of a terrible book.

I read an L. Ron Hubbard book once. Once. It was Mission Earth, and I made it through three volumes of this “dekalogy” before I became disgusted and gave up. I used to think Piers Anthony was the very archetype of the hack writer, a skilled typist with marginal writing talent who churns out banal prose at pennies-per-word. But Anthony has the ability to be entertaining and original, when he tries. Hubbard was the worst kind of hack – dull, derivative and trite, but successful.

Many of science fiction’s éminences grises, from Robert A. Heinlein to Harlan Ellison, counted Hubbard as a friend and colleague. But I challenge anyone to find a wholeheartedly positive appraisal of Hubbard’s work from these friends. The closest I could find is a story by Ellison, told with admiration, that Hubbard mounted a roll of butchers’ paper above his desk, which fed directly into his typewriter, so he could churn out stories without having to change paper. This should be the image on the Wikipedia page for hack.

What frustrated me so much about Mission Earth was my realization, after three volumes, that Hubbard had taken a story suitable for one volume and s-t-r-e-e-e-e-e-t-c-h-e-d it into ten. I have not read Battlefield Earth, nor do I intend to. But so much of Battlefield reminds me directly of Mission that I am certain the film’s plot, structure and story problems stem from the original novel.

Read the reviews and you’ll see that, apart from the bad acting and poor direction, everyone agrees that the film’s story was uninspired in its conception and incredible in its resolution. Not “incredible” as in “great” – incredible as in not credible. I believe it is the film’s climax, wherein the scrappy human resistance defeats the evil Psychlo overlords, that makes an otherwise bad movie into a disaster. And this story comes from the book, from the mind of ur-hack L. Ron Hubbard.

As briefly as possible: corrupt alien Psychlo overlord Terl (Travolta) wants to use enslaved human resistance fighter Jonnie Goodboy Tyler to mine gold. Whatever gas the Psychlos breathe combusts when exposed to “radiation,” which makes you wonder how the atmosphere of their homeworld could exist in the first place. The gold is located near uranium deposits, so Terl wants to send Jonnie and his friends.

Terl has to give Jonnie orders, so he decides to teach the human the Psychlo language. He does this by hooking Jonnie up to a “teaching machine,” which proceeds to teach Jonnie everything – not just language, but logic, science, mathematics, and the secrets of Psychlo technology (or, at least, enough that Jonnie is afterwards able to unlock the secrets of Psychlo technology). If I remember correctly, Confederate slave owners taught their slaves English. They did not send them to MIT, however.

This is silly, but not fatal. Maybe Terl did not understand how the teaching machine worked (although establishing this would be nice). It is what Jonnie does with this new knowledge that strains credulity past the breaking point. While single-handedly teaching his human friends how to fly aircraft (how hard could that be?) and appropriating Psychlo technology, Jonnie has been neglecting his gold-mining duties. So, right under Terl’s nose, Jonnie flies to Fort Knox and steals a few tons of gold.

Sure. Right.

Eventually, Jonnie and his loin-clothed pals perform an exquisitely-timed international operation, involving nuclear technology and lots of alien aircraft, that destroys the entire Psychlo homeworld and forces Forest Whitaker to join their side. (You know, if Earth was indeed enslaved by aliens, and the only way to secure our freedom was to commit genocide against the aliens, I would do it. But it is decidedly not heroic. It is genocide. The movie does not address this. Maybe the book does.)

Let me stress that this plot involves human slaves traveling all over the world, in alien aircraft no one is keeping track of, using fuel no one misses, to collect weapons, including nuclear devices, that no one is guarding or monitoring.

It is the absurd implausibility of the plot that elevates (or de-elevates) Battlefield Earth past other, merely bad science fiction films. Audiences were laughing out loud at the absurdity of the last half of the film. Any goodwill the audience might have had for the characters, any concern for the seriousness of their predicament, is washed away when viewers realize Hubbard could not be bothered to invent a clever or believable outcome. Hubbard had a thousand pages to fill, so he filled them with the first thing that came to mind.

Travolta piously decided to remain relatively true to the original story. And that was the downfall of Battlefield Earth. (It should be noted that, while Travolta’s career arc was relatively unaffected by this flop, and Roger Christian went on to direct some movies you have never heard of, production company Franchise Pictures was eventually bankrupted by the Battlefield Earth deal.)

Next: Pluto Nash

Europa the Colour of Blood

This is a science fiction short story I wrote in 1998. The editors of Asimovs and Fantasy & Science Fiction praised it, but did not purchase it. Neither did anyone else. I am publishing it here under this license: Creative Commons License which is more restrictive than the license for this blog.

You found the invisible GIF!

“Europa the Colour of Blood”
by Erik David Even

As the others recovered, semiconscious, from the trials of acceleration, I kicked off from my perch on the wall and made my way through tangles of emergency netting and oxygenation enab, my destination the nearest exit. I knew a little about craft such as this one, and as long as its panicked ersatz crew were off dealing with some catastrophe, I was going to have a look around.

Aside from the main door, there was but one exit from the chamber, a tiny self-sealing aperture left open probably to facilitate ventilation. I dared not wonder what other ad hoc measures these amateur spacemen had taken to keep their passengers alive; leaving doors open for ventilation could also lead to accumulation of moisture and uncontrolled circulation of dust and detritus. There was no one guarding the crawlspace, as there had been before cast-off. The crew probably assumed their unwelcome guests were still incapacitated. They were, all but one.

I climbed through the aperture and was alone and free — as free as one can be in a square-metre crawlspace. I guided myself cautiously along the tube, unable to shake the sensation I was falling slowly head-first down a well. After about six metres, the crawlspace met a “tee,” its two branches leading up and down in relation to the “floor” of the compartment I had just left.

Recognizing this as a relatively central location, I positioned myself in the center of the “tee,” knees to chest, hands gripping the rail.
And listened.

Perfect concentration is no real feat for me, after countless years of practice, and my hearing is far more acute than the norm. At first all subtle sounds were obscured by the enormous cacophony of the ship’s systems. I had always imagined spacecraft were quiet, despite their complex viscera of fluid systems and electronics — but everything I knew about astronautics came from the entertainment media, and although many of the programs I had seen were meant to be of a factual nature, I could hardly be considered an expert. I put aside my initial fear that something must be wrong with the ship’s systems. Wait until you know more, I told myself. Concentrate.

I began to separate the noises around me; the sound of fluid forced by its own mass through enab, the hiss of air through synthetic tubing, the buzz of electrical cabling, and the omnipresent vibrations of the vessel’s propulsion systems. Then more subtle sounds; the creaking of alloy components as they cooled from the terrific heat of acceleration, the clicking of tiny switches, the sound of circulating air caught in crevices and hollow components.

Then, the human sounds. In the compartment behind me, the noise of eighty-nine human beings in various stages of consciousness, the low murmur of misery and pain. Hushed voices dry from thirst, quiet sobbing, ragged breath, cloth rubbing against cloth, the chaotic dance of restlessness and delirium. Somewhere below me, not far, more sounds. Dim voices of people I had never seen, the intended passengers of this make-shift ark. Coughing, shoes against steel, a remarkable sense of stillness. Then — a laugh? Quick, quiet, instantly muffled. Weren’t these people aware of the danger we were all in?

Above me, I found what I was looking for, as if my consciousness, blind and without feeling, had sought out my prey by sound alone. Voices arguing, the creaking of emergency netting as it was pulled and stretched, the striking of metal against metal, tools perhaps, and the strange, sinister music of the computers. These people, all male, none older than thirty years, I knew could be no more than fifteen metres away; but the sound of their activity, as it found its way to me through a half-mile of conduit penetrating thick plates of steel, seemed to come from another world. And I suspected that to those frightened young men, their cramped little cockpit was another world, far from the plight of their pathetic charges ensconced in the compartments below.

Little did they know, the young architects of this insane bid for survival, that one more danger lurked the crawlspaces of their leaky break-apart spaceship. Perhaps, with the press of certain death on all sides, they would not care. That would be convenient, but damned unlikely.

I fine tuned my perception, and the noise of their argument coalesced into words. The over-tall engineer with the sunken eyes was yelling at the stocky youth who had been incessantly concerned about oxygen. Their language was mostly technical– was everything on this ship referred to by acronym? There were others present; someone working on the netting, someone fussing with a large sheet of metal, and someone sitting still, only his breath betraying him. This would be the unacknowledged captain, the eldest of the eight crewmen, who never spoke except to suggest a necessary action, “anneal this” or “secure that.” But now he just breathed, and I wondered what thoughts tortured him at that particular moment. The discarding of even basic ship-board procedure? Unchecked radioactivity? The lack of air? The lack of food?

Food. I doubted very much that radioactivity or vacuum could harm me, or so I hoped, never having before encountered such non-terrestrial dangers. And of course, as far as I was concerned, there was food everywhere. But how long would it last? How would I get at it?

My concentration wandered. The sounds of the ship became a single, whole note, like a church choir trapped in the last bar of a hymn, a pulsing roar repeated endlessly. I imagined I could hear sounds from outside the ship, the quiet pulse of space itself. I realized I was losing focus, and brought my consciousness back to the “tee” in the crawlspace. With only the sounds of nearby machinery to accompany me, I headed down the vertical tube toward the passenger berths. It was time to feed.

You found the invisible GIF!

I had not slept in over ninety hours, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever sleep again. I felt no fatigue, no sluggishness, only a faint but persistent sense of disorientation. It made no sense, really. Logically, I should be permanently incapacitated, rather than constantly active. But why argue with good fortune?

The crawlspace opened into the ceiling of a larger area, almost qualifying as a corridor. It even had a floor of corrugated foam, useless without gravity. Long red straps buckled to all surfaces supplemented the handrails along the sides of the cylinder. The corridor was about twelve metres long, lined with small thick doors on either side, each I supposed opening on a coffin-like berth. Voices emanated from the compartment beyond, that group perhaps including the enigmatic laughter. The only occupant of the corridor was a crew member, a dark-haired man I had glimpsed only briefly prior to cast-off. He saw me, and brought about his weapon, a short-range concussive wand designed for ship-board combat. I recognized the out-moded device. It had too much kick-back to be effective in zero gravity.

I floated into the corridor and gripped a strap attached to the opposite wall, setting my feet against the “floor.” This put me at a forty-five degree angle to the dark-haired crewman. I glanced behind me. A large airlock-style portal capped the near end of the corridor. From what I had seen of this vessel, there were no dead-ends, just doors into vacuum.

“You.” The dark-haired crewman was speaking at me. “Go back to the ACL. Anyone who can’t stay put doesn’t get water or food.” His speech was sluggish, and I could easily guess why he was hiding in the berth area rather than up top with his mates. His flesh was dry and sallow, his breathing forced. I hoped he was merely exhausted, and not carrying some disease the haphazard medical checks at the Habitat had missed. I had no fear of plague, but I had to be concerned for my food supply.

I looked past him, through the far aperture, and saw only machinery. Somewhere through there, passengers worked with steel and paper, probably preparing food the refugees in the “ACL” would never see. I was not really hungry, but I had to feed now, while I had the opportunity. My troubles had to begin sooner or later, anyway.

I flew faster than thought, an avatar of silence.

Two minutes later, the corpse of the crewman spun slowly down the corridor, settling gently against the airlock door.

You found the invisible GIF!

I returned to my place amongst the refugees, and considered the ghastly error I had just made. I had fed gluttonously during those last, chaotic hours on Earth, enough to last me for weeks. Now, ten hours out from Habitat, and I risked everything by killing again. The problem was not the need for food, I realized, it was the hunger–the hunger of a man who has fed regularly and richly every night for years, who suddenly finds himself one among the starving. I would have to learn to live with hunger, and feed only when absolutely necessary. Better, I would bide my time, and feed only when a perfect opportunity presented itself.

I was an expert at biding my time.

The first day aboard the ship was a nightmare. Ship! What an extravagant word, to describe eight hastily scavenged interchangeable modules lashed to a twenty year old TA booster frame. One hundred-plus human souls, and me, stacked like corded wood in a flimsy tin projectile headed straight for the second largest gravity well in the solar system. Estimated time to the Jovian system: never, unless some divine being in whom I no longer believed chose to turn spit into caulking, tape into welding, and plastic hose into vacuum-resistant enab. It was hard to believe we were better off than the millions still left back on Earth. But we were.

Some few minutes after my “dinner,” a few of the other refugees began to stir, slipping away from their makeshift berths. As if the rest had been only waiting for someone else to move, suddenly the module was filled with talking, wailing, and coughing, arms and legs in combat with the red straps that hung throughout the cabin, snaring the struggling refugees like divers trapped in kelp. Someone decided to “kick-off” into weightlessness, obviously believing that maneuvering in zero-g was like swimming in water. He slammed violently into some nearby refugees, his arms and legs flailing. A haze of blood exploded into the air, and a fight broke out. A woman started screaming, and somebody produced a knife.

I stayed on my perch, a piece of punched metal welded to the far wall as a base for some straps. I watched the blood billow into the air in a cloud; tendrils began to form as the chaotic air currents in the chamber whipped the cloud into fractal shapes, like storms on a satellite weather map. The world faded; no sound, no sensation, just the image of the blood caught in the air like leaves in a whirlpool, the smell of blood in my nostrils, the taste of it on my tongue.

Crack! Crack! Two concussive blasts, fired point-blank into the center of the fray; in the aperture, straps wrapped around their wrists, were the Captain and two crewmen, the one with the wand braced against the lip of the opening. The chamber quieted immediately. The screaming woman’s companions covered her with their arms and reduced her noise to a quiet keening.

The man with the knife was jerking about uncontrollably, one hand gripping a strap, the other clenching his weapon, his knees pulled up into his chest, where the concussive blast had hit. He had no idea how to maneuver in zero-g, and his flailing to stop erratically bouncing about was only adding to the problem. Others were experiencing the same dilemma, but they had their hands free.

“Everyone relax!” the second crewman shouted. “Relax your bodies, and stop trying to move around! And quiet down, your screaming wastes air!”

The man with the knife, a short Caucasian in a filthy worksuit, settled next to the body of the woman, bright crimson blood bubbling out a gash across her chest. I made myself concentrate on the crewmen.

The Captain pushed his way to the front, and hanging at an off angle from the edge of the aperture, surveyed the scene before him. His eyes glanced over the man with the knife, and to the armed crewman he said, “get that.”

The crewman put his arm over his nose and mouth to keep from breathing in blood, and launched himself toward the assailant. The man slid away leaving a smear of crimson on the chamber floor, maintaining control by gripping the wounded woman’s body. He screamed something unintelligible, and pointed the knife at the crewman. The crewman hit the floor crouched, yanking down hard on a strap to keep from bouncing. He stuck his wand toward the man’s chest and fired, sending the man sliding along the curved floor, arms flailing out for something to grab, until he slammed into a steel plate near the one upon which I was crouched. His knife spun lazily in the air near the wounded woman; the crewman deftly snatched it and passed it to the Captain.

The Captain spoke quickly to each of the crewmen in turn; “restrain him” and “check her.” As the first crewman moved cautiously toward his now-unarmed opponent, I did something I would not understand until later. I pushed off from my perch over to where the man laid, grabbed him and forced his arms around behind his back. He began to yell and struggle, but I hooked my right leg around the edge of the plate, and there was no way he could break free from my grip. The crewman moved up and put the business end of his wand against the man’s throat, which put an end to the yelling.

The Captain’s eyes passed over me for a mere instant, then the man, and he seemed to stare off into space as he spoke.

“Put him out,” the Captain said.

The crewman turned to look at him, but did not move.
“Put him out,” the Captain repeated.

The others had begun to catch on to what he meant. The man began to scream something like “oh my god, you can’t be serious,” except there was more profanity involved. The other refugees became very, very quiet, and even the moaning and keening of the children and the sick died away.

The Captain looked at the second crewman, who was crouched by the woman’s body, his head pulled back to avoid the dissipating cloud of blood. “She’s dead,” the crewman said.

“Then she goes too. Out.”

Gripping his wrists with one hand, I encircled my captive’s throat, only letting him have air when he behaved himself, crushing in hard if he struggled. The crewman maneuvered the woman’s body through the aperture as I followed behind, my prisoner in tow. The Captain spoke to the refugees.

“Does anyone else have a weapon?” There was no response. “Stay absolutely still, and the ventilators will clean the blood out of the air.” He turned to follow us, then turned back. “Check the sick; if there are any more corpses, they have to be put out.” Then he was gone down the crawlspace.

By this time, the crewmen were maneuvering the woman through the “tee,” down toward the corridor with the airlock. My captive was absolutely terrified, but had learned not to attempt to speak or struggle. As I pushed him down toward the corridor, the other crewmen must have reached the airlock. I heard one of them tell the other that the “airlock active” light was on. They relayed this information up to the captain, who squeezed his way past me (my captive made a move to lunge toward the captain, and I almost broke his neck), and disappeared into the corridor below.

Their resulting conversation, of which I overheard every word, told me three things; that the unfortunate crewman had not yet been missed; that the Captain was prepared to accept that the airlock had spontaneously activated due to a malfunction; and that when I had used the airlock to rid myself of the unfortunate crewman’s corpse, I had unnecessarily ejected twenty-seven and a half cubic metres of breathable air, an error the Captain had no intention of repeating with my prisoner and his victim.

I will not dwell on the details of our journey’s first “walking of the plank.” I knew the condemned man’s screams could be heard in the ACL above us, which I am sure was the Captain’s intention. After we sealed the man and the corpse in the airlock, the Captain ordered me above, and I obliged. Halfway up to the “tee” I could hear the air begin to evacuate from the chamber as it was pulled into storage tanks somewhere in the ship’s viscera. I looked down, and saw the two crewman averting their eyes from the airlock’s small round window, one covering his face with his arm. The Captain stared straight into the window, moving only when the time came to open the airlock’s outer door. I resumed my journey to my perch, not wishing to encounter the Captain on his way back.

You found the invisible GIF!

The Captain came to the ACL a few hours later, accompanied as always by two of his men. He looked at me for a long moment, as his cronies waved their wands about and got everyone’s attention. The he talked for several minutes, laying out the ground rules for our continued presence on ship. I had not known the man could form complete sentences.

He made it clear that we were unwelcome, and that he had taken refugees only at the insistence of the Habitat authorities, who would not let them leave if they did not relieve the orbiting station of as many of the teeming masses as they could hold. Therefore, any breach of the rules, no matter how small, would be answered by an invitation to “get out and walk.” The Captain had already proven his readiness to back up his threats.

Food and water would be distributed equally amongst the refugees, no matter their age or state of health. Unwanted food, or food for those unable to eat, would be consumed by the crew. There would be no sharing or redistribution of rations.

There would be no medical care. Anyone with a pulse would be offered food and water. Anyone without a pulse would be ejected.
There would be no cannibalism. Ironically, he was looking in my direction as he laid down this rule. I was sure it was just a coincidence.
No one would leave the ACL without permission. No fighting, no yelling, no spitting, et cetera. A crewman would explain the toilet accommodations. Refugees would be selected to distribute food.

Then he said, “We’re hoping, when we get to Europa, to find a larger ship. If we do, and where we’ll go in it if it’s there, I have no idea. But that’s where we’re going. We’re not turning around, we’re not changing course. If you don’t like it, you can get out now and walk back.”
He turned and disappeared into the ship’s bowels.

You found the invisible GIF!

The first month I worked very carefully on developing a relationship with the crew. I did not want to get too close, and become conspicuous, but I wanted to be considered trustworthy and dependable. I realized why I had acted so instinctively in grappling the murderer. I did not want to be expendable. I wanted to have value to those who decided life and death on this ship.

The closest thing to a friend I made was a crewmember called Brown. He was very young, only 19, but had served with the Captain under the European Authority. We talked a bit about our mutual homeland, Britain, but rarely about anything of consequence. I suppressed the urge to dig for information about the missing crewman. He was never mentioned in my presence, nor on those occasions when I eavesdropped on activity above or below. I supposed they imagined he had used the airlock to commit suicide.

Once, as I helped Brown distribute food among the refugees, he stopped to console a young Hispanic girl about his own age. He revealed that he had been to Europa Station, and soon became the object of everyone’s attention. He described the station, its habitat, and the people who lived in it. He spoke of the huge extra-solar spacecraft built there, and how one of these would carry us and other refugees to another star system.

He described the beauty of the moon Europa, of how the earliest probes had failed to capture the breathtaking play of colors across her surface. He told of how, on those rare occasions when the sun, there merely the brightest star in the sky, would be seen to disappear behind Europa’s smooth icy surface, lights like those of a hundred human cities would appear across the dark expanse of her night side. Then, in the final moments before the sun would set entirely, the lights would be extinguished by a rushing tide of red, the ice turned to the colour of blood.

I realized that our frenzied flight from the Habitat had deprived us of an irretrievable last opportunity; to look back and see the Earth for one final time, as the lights of her cities faded forever, extinguished by a flowing tide of blood.

You found the invisible GIF!

As for what I did with my share of the food and water, I decided to use it to ensure my next meal. A woman and her young daughter had claimed a perch about a metre from mine. The child was only nine or ten years old, and from the beginning was pale and feverish. I surreptitiously passed my rations to the mother, indicating they were to be consumed by her child. I was sure she wondered how I was staying alive, but I knew she would keep silent, remembering the draconian penalty for food-sharing.

I would keep the child alive for eight or ten weeks, until the hunger became unbearable. Then, when they doused the lights so the refugees could sleep, I would feed from her, taking only enough to kill her. The death would be attributed to malnutrition or illness, and a bruise or welt on the ankle or thigh would certainly not be noticed. She would be ejected, and I would plan for my next victim.

I hated it. It was a ghastly, awful plan, and I hated myself for thinking of it. I had never before “fattened” a victim for the kill. I had never before victimized a child. And it had been a long time since I had killed someone I had known personally.

And I really felt I knew this child. By the end of the fourth week, I felt I knew everyone in that chamber. They shared their stories, their fears, and their few weak hopes. I never talked, but I listened. Even during the four or six hours out of twenty I pretended to sleep, I listened.

I had spent much of my life observing humans, hunting them, but I had never felt close to any until then. I began to remember what it was like to be human, to be considered one amongst a group. My kind never congregated, and I had been alone a very long time.
Here, we were all in the same boat, pardon the expression.

It would not stop me from killing the child.

You found the invisible GIF!

My first real scare came in the ninth week, when my hunger was growing inside me like a gnawing animal. There had been eight deaths, but nine expulsions; the last was a man who had gotten a little too friendly with an unwilling young female refugee. (This girl was to create quite a bit of trouble amongst the crew, being by far the most attractive female aboard.) But when the Captain decided to add attempted rape to the list of capital crimes, the rapist proved remarkably clever at evading capture. My assistance proved necessary, and apparently this second feat of prodigious strength made an impression, for soon I was enlisted to perform heavy labor around the ship.

This gave me my first opportunity to see the rest of the vessel, and I was sorry I had not stayed in ignorance with my fellow refugees. This was the short list of our woes; several steady breaches in the exterior hulls of the pressurized modules; constant clogging of the air re-circulation system; seized or otherwise damaged mechanical systems all over the ship, most notably inter-modular apertures; and the persistent spread of a mossy brown growth along water conduits and in the food storage module.

It was at this time that I learned an interesting little fact about the “airlock activation indicator.” It indicated whether the airlock was activated from the inside or the outside. The crew knew the missing crewman had been murdered.

There were only three parts of the vessel I had not seen; the module below containing our mysterious guests, the “intended” passengers; the cockpit, or command module, above; and one of the large storage pods near the rear of the ship. This last I did not get to see because of my little scare.

I was asked to help maneuver a massy piece of machinery back to this storage module. Two crewmen helped steer at the front and back while Brown and I pushed or pulled on the middle to accelerate or decelerate this big hunk of metal through the weightless environment. In addition to malnutrition and exhaustion, the crew were also feeling the effects of zero-g atrophy, the symptoms of which I was careful to emulate. Moving this machine was a slow, excruciating process, and the pain from my hunger helped me simulate the pain of exertion.
We approached the aperture to what was apparently a long plastic tunnel leading to the storage pod. We settled the machine against a wall and dangled panting from straps as a crewman opened the aperture.

The tunnel had a window. And the window was facing the sun.

To the crewmen, the sunlight must have been nothing, a few dust motes glittering in the air and a bright circle on the opposite tunnel wall. To me, it was a blinding band of white hot fire, its feeble light burning my eyes and face. I screamed hoarsely and flew back uncontrollably, my arms shielding my eyes.

Brown jumped at me, his arms outstretched. I almost batted him away, and might have killed him if I had. Instead I contracted into a ball, trying to face away from the light, and let him grab me and examine my face and body.

“What’s wrong?” he kept demanding, shaking me to get an answer.

The pain ebbed, and as soon as I could answer, I babbled some story about blinding headaches and painful hunger (both of which, at this point, were quite true), and begged to be allowed to return up fore. I think this ended any suspicion about my unusual health and strength. I was careful afterwards to avoid both the aft of the ship and the command module, which would undoubtedly also have a window.

You found the invisible GIF!

Week fifteen. My hunger was incessant and excruciating. The pain had dulled to an aching throb in my gut, but the need was overwhelming, consuming every cell of my starving, withering body. I huddled in a foetal ball, wrapped in packing blankets and strapped to my perch in the ACL. I did not even pretend to eat my food anymore, and those who distributed rations knew to just give them to the little girl. No one really feared expulsion anymore.

My condition was the least of anyone’s problems. The atmosphere throughout the ship was hot, fetid, and moist. It had become my primary responsibility to scrape the stinking, mucous-like sheets of gunk out of the deteriorating atmosphere filters, a chore that now needed doing every few hours. In the days since my incapacitation by malnutrition, this task was not getting done. Bodies waited for days for expulsion, lashed to the wall at a deserted end of the ACL.

The toilets had failed, and the passenger’s waste was collected in makeshift hose-and-bag apparatuses, to be fed into the over-burdened water distiller. Despite our high attrition rate, the food supplies only dwindled. The water was scummy and viscous. The crew were too busy to police the ACL, and fights and attacks broke out.

The crew had lost two members; one to a respiratory illness, the other in a fatal fight over the pretty girl. When the Captain opted to let the murderous crewman live, there had been a near-mutiny amongst the refugees. But the crewmen were healthier, with more food, and a monopoly on the medication. And they were armed.

Grand total so far; twenty-nine refugees dead from malnutrition or disease, two executed, one murdered; one crewman dead from disease, one murdered, one “missing.” And one night I heard the below airlock activated, the one only ever used for expulsions. There was no sound of a struggle. In the next few days I confirmed that all the remaining crewmembers were still aboard, and I had to assume that our unseen, unheard guests “downstairs” had suffered a casualty.

Sometimes, as my health deteriorated and I spent more and more time huddled on my perch, Brown would come to visit me. He seemed very frightened, and would furtively describe the crew’s activities to me as if he feared his confessions would be discovered. Apparently several of the ship’s power generators had been damaged by impact with space-borne debris, and someone needed to go out every few hours and make manual adjustments. Brown was low man on the totem pole, and was usually chosen for this hazardous duty. He hated the extravehicular trips, and did not trust the outdated spacesuit he was forced to wear. But any lapse in maintenance on the damaged generators would mean frozen death for everyone aboard.

Once, during one of these visits, I demanded of Brown to tell me what we were doing on this damned ship. I grabbed at him feebly, although even in my weakened state I must have seemed amazingly powerful. What did we expect to find on Europa, I asked him, except the same slow death we would have found on Earth?

Brown was distressed. I think that during my stronger days, he had counted on me for a bit of moral support, and now I seemed to have lost all spirit. “Every day that we still breathe, there’s hope,” he told me. “I don’t know if there will be a ship on Europa. I don’t know if we’ll even be able to get on that ship, if it’s there! And I don’t know if there is anywhere for that ship to go.

“Maybe this is all futile. They might just kill us at Europa, like they almost killed you refugees at the Habitat. But we’re still alive. Don’t you see? There’s always hope!”

Brown stopped visiting, and shortly thereafter I fell into total uselessness.

I knew that physically my problems had a simple solution. Unlike several of my fellow refugees, who would probably die even if given immediate food and medical attention, my “illness” would be cured instantly if I fed. I had starved before, and I knew it took only one human life to restore me to perfect health. So why had I waited so many weeks, refusing to feed, until I became a useless husk?

I was depressed. It was that simple. I had no more hope. There was nothing waiting for me at Europa. How could one of my kind survive in a community of only a few hundred or a few thousand? I would become the hunted. I would be destroyed.
So I wrapped myself like a corpse and waited for the end.

You found the invisible GIF!

One evening, when the lights were dimmed and the refugees mumbled and wept in fitful sleep, I awoke as if from a fever. My depression just broke, like the snapping of bonds from around my body. My hunger had become a low keening noise in my throat, and suddenly my vision was sharp, my ears alert, my muscles coiling under my skin. There was no thought or reason. I wanted to live. I wanted to feed.

I slipped free of my strapping and leaned out to grasp the neighboring ledge. A quick look around convinced me I was unobserved. The child was wrapped in a blanket, surrounded by her sleeping mother’s arms. Her leg and foot protruded over the ledge. I grabbed them, bit in, and began to feed.

Nausea filled my throat– I tore away from the girl spitting and hissing, her blood clotting in my throat. She was dead.

Gagging and coughing violently, I pushed off from the perch, flying backwards into the sea of red straps filling the chamber. Blood filled my nose and mouth, the rancid blood of a corpse, but blood nonetheless. Any shred of human reason was gone. I reached for the nearest victim, I had no idea who, and gripping their neck in one hand, I ripped away the tattered clothing with the other, and plunged my teeth into the heaving flesh of the chest. Sweet fresh blood welled into my mouth, and I fed.

The mother of the girl must have awakened; she began screaming, her daughter’s body still in her arms. The panicked thrashing and hoarse whelping of my victim was waking the others as well, but I did not care. I sucked the life out through the gash in the chest, and felt my strength returning, my flesh becoming sleek and my muscles defined. Power roared through me, from my throat into my extremities. My sanity began to return, and I tossed the wasted husk aside. Gripping a strap and wiping my lips with my arm, I looked into eyes fraught with terror. Billows of blood surrounded me in a satanic halo, leaving patterns of crimson drops on my face and arms.

A sharp blow struck me in the side, and as I swung around to break my momentum I saw a crewman in the aperture. He crouched there spider-like against the rim, waiting for his wand to recharge. I moved much faster than he could have possibly expected, and then I was on him, crushing his neck in my hand and wrenching the wand from him. Some shred of reason in me left him alive. I tossed him behind me into the ACL and pushed off down the crawlspace.

At the tee, I briefly considered my options. Above, a conduit to fore and aft sections, and beyond that the command module. Below, the airlock we affectionately referred to as “The Plank,” and the berths of unseen passengers.

Where was I going to go? What the bloody hell did I think I was doing? I had no doubt that the crew, under the deft leadership of Captain Monosyllable, would soon find the resources to render me incapacitated or dead. I was sure there was a real projectile weapon somewhere on board, and a single burst from a modern machine pistol could blow my head right off. I had managed to take a hopeless situation, and in three minutes time render it impossible.

I had no more time to think — the cries from the ACL were drawing attention from the persons upstairs. I shot down into the lower corridor, and bouncing from the floor onto the airlock door, I launched myself along the tube and into lands unknown.

The first chamber was dark, lined with tiny lights from equipment set in rows of metal racks. The chamber formed an “ell,” leading to a large intra-modular aperture. The little window in the aperture was blocked on the other side, and I could only hope I was not about to be exposed to sunlight. I forced open the aperture, and looked in on a large, well-lighted windowless module.

Comfortable looking cots lined the walls. There was a mini-kitchen, and a working toilet. The air was just as bad as anywhere else on the ship, but I could see clear plastic containers of clean water, and a meagre supply of food that seemed downright opulent compared to what we were getting upstairs.

I was so downright furious at what I was seeing that I almost forgot my predicament. I also failed to notice the occupants of the module, until one spoke to me. He was an older Caucasian gentleman, looking rather well-fed, and dressed in clean clothes. There was a younger man, and a young girl who would not have helped the situation upstairs any if some of the male refugees had known about her. There were a few others, too, six in all, sharing almost half as much room that had been allotted to ninety upstairs.

I did not hear what the older man said, and did not care. I could hear the crewmen coming. Ahead at the far end of the module was an aperture. An airlock. A dead end.

I looked about frantically for any other means of egress. The other aperture was the only way out. The crewmen would arrive any instant. I decided I could force my way past them and back up the conduit — the stun rods could not stop me, and the crew were weak from hunger and g-sickness. I tried to calm myself, and take this one step at a time. I prepared to leap from the airlock door and project myself into my attackers.

It was the first thing around the corner of the “ell.” Clutched in the hand of the leading crewmember. A military-style sniper rifle.
That had not made an appearance during the hunt for the rapist. I was very special indeed.

I panicked. My thoughts were of an explosive smart-shell vaporizing my head, and naught else. I activated the airlock aperture, and while the crewmen were still shouting for the passengers to move out of the way, I slipped inside and shut the door.

The airlock was small, cold, and dark, a smooth metal chamber like the inside of an oil barrel. I peered through the aperture window at my assailants. The armed crewman was leading the Captain and four others toward me, rather lackadaisically, I thought. They must have believed me trapped, all set for my punishment. Brown was not there.

The Captain stopped in front of the window and looked at me. The armed crewman seemed amused by my predicament, but the Captain was not. Perhaps he would have spoken with me, if I had given him the chance. But I knew there was no point, there were too many witnesses to what I had done. Very soon they would know exactly what I was, if they had not figured it out already. Even if they did not believe such creatures as me existed, it would become glaringly apparent under the slightest experimentation.

I knew I had only one option, and not much of one at that. I reached over, and activated the exterior airlock door.

Air exploded from the chamber. I was gripping a handle mounted beside the aperture, and with my newly restored strength I was able to retain my position. Instinctively, I shut my eyes and held my breath.

All sound died away, and a few last vibrations passed through my hand from the cold metal handle. There was a sharp pain in my ears, which ended abruptly. A strange sensation began on my exposed skin, and spread under my clothes. It was like being dipped in icy water, but also like having one’s skin sucked dry by the sun. At first I was afraid there was sunlight streaming in through the open portal, but there was no real pain, no burning. My skin turned numb, yet felt hard and brittle, like burnt leather.

I released my breath and the air was pulled violently out. The burning in my lungs was like the pain in my ears, short and brief. But I could not shake the sensation I was suffocating or drowning. I was still afraid to open my eyes.

The urge to breathe soon passed, as did the chill. I was hanging in weightlessness off the icy metal handle, my eyes clamped shut and my heart still rabbiting in my chest. It occurred to me that the crewmen might be suiting up, preparing to open the airlock door and finish me off.

I opened my eyes. My eyeballs were tight and achy, my vision blurred. It was exactly like… a dim memory of life… it was exactly like leaving one’s contact lenses in too long. I reached up with my other hand and rubbed at my eyes, and then peered into two more eyes staring at me through the window.

It was the captain, and he was horrified. How long had I been exposed to vacuum? One minute? Two? And not only had I not suffered spontaneous decompression, but now I was opening my eyes and looking about! I was proud to be the first person on the ship to elicit an emotional response from the Captain.

Well, eventually they would come to their senses, so I had to act while I could. I turned around, and looked out into space. Vertigo returned — it felt like I was looking down into the sky, rather than up. I kicked off gently and floated to the opposite end of the airlock. My vision was clearing, and I peered over the edge and out across the exterior surface of the module.

There was no sunlight; it was on the other side of the ship. Thank God.

I decided to make my way along the exterior of the ship until I found a way into the aft cargo module. It was dark, with no windows I could see, and maybe they would not look there right away. Also, I might find a weapon there.

Numerous protrusions and handholds littered the outside surface of the module, and with some practice I was able to navigate my way along. I was rather conservative with the risks I took. I did not want to lose my grip and end up orbiting my old enemy the Sun for all eternity. I knew I had to keep in the “lee” of the ship, away from the sunlight. This meant a straight course aft, altering my way only to move along the plastic conduits that joined the larger modules.

It was a slow and painful process. The urge to breathe came and went in fits, and I had to blink constantly to keep ice crystals out of my eyes. Every surface on the ship felt frozen solid — it made me wonder why we had such a problem with heat in the living modules. Once I had to rip my hand from a piece of metal, leaving a frozen chunk of flesh behind.

But there was no pain. The blood of my victim still coursed fresh through me.

I was almost to the aft edge of the module adjacent to the cargo container. There was the airlock I wanted, not seven metres away.

Suddenly, I felt an unaccustomed vibration through the hull, and the feeling that I would fall to my right if I did not hold on. The stars, fixed about me all this time, began to wheel overhead.

They were spinning the ship. They were turning me toward the sun.

Could they have possibly known my weakness? Had they figured out what I was from the incoherent descriptions of the other refugees? Or were they up to something else, unaware that this in itself would destroy me utterly?

I began to crawl against the ship’s spin, but I knew right away it was hopeless; the ship was spinning too fast, and I could not run forever. Could I leap the seven metres, and get through the airlock in time? It was my only chance!

Even as I decided, the sun appeared, shooting over the far edge of the module, obliterating the nearby stars, and casting her pale brilliance across the sheet metal of the ship’s exterior. My first thought, improbably, was that in the sunlight the metal of the ship’s hull looked wet, like a shimmering mirage.

My second thought was that I was not dead.

There was no pain, except the sharp stinging brightness in my eyes. No burning, except for the desiccating cold of the vacuum. No bursting into flame. No screams of writhing, agonizing death.

Soon it dawned on me, with total amazement, that I could see at all. For creatures of my ilk, looking into the sun, even at the merest break of dawn, was like staring wide-eyed into a klieg lamp at six centimetres. Now, I was just looking at the thing, burning bright but bearably in a pitch-black sky. It occurred to me, what would this sun look like to a human? Just “the brightest star in the sky?”

We were too far away!

If I could have laughed at that moment, I would have fallen over in hysterics. As it was, I clamped my foot under a protrusion and danced around in little circles, waving my arms. It was foolhardy, but at that moment I did not feel that anything could kill me. I just wanted to laugh and laugh. I waved my fist at the sun, which I had not laid eyes on directly in one hundred and fifty years. This is what the sun looked like to a human on Earth, a bright silver coin, giving warmth and light rather than fire and death. I was getting my one last look. Maybe she was apologizing for hunting me all those years, and just wanted to say good-bye.

I do not know how long I was out there. The ship had stopped spinning when the sun came into view, and I had once again forgotten my predicament.

I noticed my companion just in time. A crewman in a spacesuit, walking toward me along the hull, about four meters away. I had no idea where he came from, but he was moving a lot faster than I could. He had a wand, which out here would be extraordinarily dangerous — all he had to do was knock me loose, and I was doomed.

I could not see through his face plate in the glaring sunlight, but I imagined he was over his astonishment at seeing someone traipse about in space without a suit. He moved toward me quite purposefully and fearlessly, which was his undoing. As soon as he was in wand range, I shot forward and jammed my fingers through the glass of his face plate.

I was surprised; I broke my hand. He was surprised; he died almost instantly.

I untethered his suit, and tossed him into space. And as I inaugurated the Sun’s tiniest, fleshiest planetoid, I suddenly knew what I would do. As I say, my best ideas come without thinking, without my even realizing what they are. I watched him spin off into nothingness, and commenced my slow journey to the airlock. My hand was already healing.

The storage module was cold, dark, and quiet. Well, of course it was quiet, there was no air — I had let it all out when I opened the airlock. In the darkness I could make out several large storage containers, some tanks, a lot of junked equipment, and a row of spacesuits in various stages of repair.

I moved over to the spacesuits, and my idea suddenly became crystal clear, like a revelation from God. I would live, after all.

You found the invisible GIF!

He came when I called him, speaking through the intercom. Four crewmen came with him. Brown was amongst them, thank God– I was afraid it had been him outside the ship. He had said they sent him on all the dangerous missions.

The Captain had the sniper rifle. I held my hands above my head as they entered the lighted, repressurized storage module.
He saw immediately what I had done.

Shattered bits of the spacesuit helmets floated in the re-circulated air. Electronic guts poured out through gashes in their chests. Patches and spare parts were already on their long, slow way to Jupiter. And I could tell from the look on the Captain’s face that there were no other suits on the ship.

He was ready to blow me to pieces where I floated– I had to speak quickly.

“If you kill me now with that gun, we will all die,” I said. I wanted him to know that the gun could kill me, so he would not feel compelled to experiment. “I have destroyed every spacesuit on this ship. You have seen that I can survive outside the ship. I am the only one who can make adjustments to the damaged power generators.

“You must let me live.”

All this I said quickly, without pause. I had to make the situation very clear to him. My life, all of our lives, rested in his hands.
He said nothing, but looked at me a long time. His crewmates, terrified or infuriated, knew to keep quiet. They waited, like I waited, for judgment.

It was hard to read the captain’s face, and I was afraid he would decide against me without warning. “I do not have to kill in order to feed,” I said. “I believe it would be worth a few… donations… from the healthier passengers to keep all of us alive.” I almost smiled; those downstairs passengers had been sucking our blood long enough.

He looked right into me, his eyes like the glassy wet steel of the ship’s hull. Then he spoke, his voice quiet but harsh. “Why bother?” he asked. “We’ll just kill you when we get to Europa. There is no hope for you, no future.”

He had lowered his gun, but he aimed his words like deadly projectiles. “There aren’t enough of us for you to feed on. There will never be enough, now. And even if we could preserve your life,” he spat the word with venom, “why would we? Why would we bring with us the worst of what we left behind?”

I could not answer that. But I knew why I wanted to live.

I spoke past the Captain, to my friend Brown, stricken with fear and wonder as he hung in the aperture. “So most likely I will die when we reach Europa. So, most likely, will you. You say I have nowhere to go; again, most likely, neither do you.

“But I am still alive.” I smiled. “There’s always hope.”

The Top Twenty Starship Captains

What, she can’t fire a gun?For mysteries, it’s the gumshoe; romance novels, the busty maiden; fantasy novels, the young adventurer; political thrillers, the idealistic lawyer.

In science fiction, the archetypal hero is the starship captain – doughty scientist-explorers setting off across the uncharted reaches of the cosmos in search of new life, new civilizations. You know the drill.

This is a list of 20 famous starship captains from fiction. (To me, a starship is an interplanetary vessel – interstellar seemed too limiting. As a result, there are no historical starship captains as of yet. Except maybe L. Ron Hubbard.)

The title is intentionally misleading, meant to get me Diggs and hits. This is the 20 starship captains I chose to write about, in rough order of how much they interest me. The top five, however, are in my opinion THE TOP FIVE.

Here are my criteria for inclusion:

  1. The captain’s ship must carry more than one passenger. Sorry, Kara Thrace and Luke Skywalker — you’re just pilots. Great pilots. But not captains. Maybe I’ll do a Top Ten Space Pilots.
  2. The ship must be interplanetary, not just a space station. Sorry, Hugo Drax. It’s okay – the commanders of TV space stations always end up getting their own ship when the writers run out of space station plotlines.
  3. I must be familiar with the movie, book or series. Sorry, John Sheridan – for all I know, you were a great captain of the White Star One. But I never watched Babylon 5, so you don’t make the list.

Please comment below. Let me know if I forgot anyone important. Just please, please if you’re going to flame me, read the whole article!

My starship features rich Corrrrrinthian leather.20. Khan Noonian Singh (SS Botany Bay DY-100, USS Reliant NCC-1864)

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

If you’re going to choose a captain, you want the smartest, strongest, healthiest guy. The one with leadership experience. The one with the best tan.

“These people have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born.”

Think back to 11 years ago, in 1996. Remember how Khan Noonian Singh ruled over a quarter of the Earth’s population? Remember how the superhuman augments turned on each other, leading to the Eugenics Wars? How Khan and his followers fled Earth in an interplanetary sleeper ship?

You don’t remember? Maybe you weren’t watching CNN.

“I’ve done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her: marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet, buried alive. Buried alive.”

Khan used his superior intellect and Castilian accent to woo young Lt. McGivers, who helped him seize the Enterprise. The only reason Khan lost was because that little bitch switched sides again. Then he kept his crew alive on Ceti Alpha V, even after a planetary disaster.

Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space!

The best evidence that Khan was a great starship captain? He escapes from Ceti Alpha 5 and takes over the USS Reliant. Without any help, or any of the original crew, Khan can successfully command and pilot a 23rd century Federation starship. Niiiiiice.

Unfortunately, Khan has forgotten that space is three dimensional. That’s okay – up until that point, Kirk had forgotten it too.

From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.

After Chris Pike and Han Solo, Khan has the best fashion sense of any starship captain.

Starbuck is a girl?  Well, that explains a lot.19. Commander Adama (Battlestar Galactica)

Adama: “Mr. President, a wall of unidentified craft is closing in on the fleet.”
Baltar: “Possibly a Cylon welcoming committee?”
Adama: “Sir, might I suggest we launch a ‘welcoming committee’ of our own?”

On this list I talk a lot about what it takes to be a starship captain. There are a variety of qualities, some of them more important, some less.

But when you’re counting on one man to save the remnants of the entire human species, while fleeing the forces of a genocidal race of robots, you don’t want a guy who’s folksy.

Sure, you want your grandpa to be folksy. The guys down at the saloon. The proprietor of a bait shop. But the savior of humankind? No thanks.

And Commander Cain was even worse. He was folksy3.

I kept waiting for Commander Adama to round up Hoss and Little Joe, and head on down to the Ponderosa to fuck some sheep. Instead, he hung around in Core Command, chatting up Colonel Tigh and offering homespun wisdom when Apollo and Starbuck got in trouble.

And it’s not just a Bonanza thing. Mal Reynolds has a Bonanza thing going on. But he’s not folksy. Not at all.

Honey, is your space catheter poking out, or are you just happy to see me?18. Professor John Robinson (Jupiter II)

Yeah, I wouldn’t trust Prof. John Robinson to fly me to the corner store. Just because a fey Soviet agent sneaks aboard your space saucer and throws off the weight calculations, does not mean that you should end up on the other side of the galaxy with no idea of how to get home.

I also wouldn’t trust him to watch my kids. “Hey, Will, I’m busy studying rocks. Why don’t you go off alone on the surface of an alien world, with that ambiguously gay effete saboteur who shows so much unnatural interest in you? Yeah, go hang out with him and the talking carrot. I’m busy.”

Granted, Dr. Robinson and his family had some promise early on – an okay story, nice sets and props, decent special effects, a cool robot, and a sinister villain. Then Irwin Allen decided to retune Lost in Space into a kids show, and the suckage began.

I am not an alien!17. Exeter (Metaluna Saucer)

Meacham: “What do you think of Mr. Mozart, Exeter?”
Exeter: “I’m afraid I don’t know the gent –“
Servo [as Exeter]: “I’m not an alien!”
Exeter: “My mind must have been wandering. Your composer, of course.”
Meacham: “Our composer? He belongs to the world.”
Exeter: “Yes, indeed”.
Mike [as Exeter]: “I’m not an alien!”

1955’s This Island Earth set out to break the same ground as Forbidden Planet did the following year. It failed.

This dull and illogical tale of Earth scientists kidnapped to save a dying alien planet did give us Exeter, the Metalunan saucer captain struggling against both a genocidal alien threat, and the prejudices of his own people, to save his world. The plan itself is rather silly – kidnap a bunch of top human scientists and get them to develop a new energy source for his planet’s defensive shields. When this doesn’t work, he takes the hero and his girlfriend, inexplicably kills the rest, and heads back to Metaluna.

Exeter: “We won’t start cracking the whip on Meacham until tomorrow.”
Servo [as Exeter]: “Then I ram my ovipositor down your throat and lay my eggs in your chest — but I’m not an alien!”

On his spacecraft, the Metaluna Saucer, Exeter commands from a throne in the middle of a large chamber. His casual demeanor, slumped to one side while he watches the navigators in front of him, would clearly influence Bill Shatner a decade later.

Exeter: “Place your hands above the rails. They’re magnetized.”
Mike [as Exeter]: “And if your hands were metal, that would mean something.”

Exeter is compassionate, and charming in his own geeky way. It’s also pretty endearing that he believes human beings won’t notice he has a forehead the size of a watermelon. He gives his own life to save the protagonists, first from a brain-wipe by his own people, and then from disembowelment by an enormous mutant in short pants.

Don’t try to outweird me, three-eyes. I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal.16. Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Heart of Gold)

“If there’s anything around here more important than my ego, I want it caught and shot now!”

The most important qualities of a starship captain are competence, reliability and leadership. Zaphod Beeblebrox possesses none of these.

The two-headed, three-armed Betelgeusian conman stole the Heart of Gold with her fabulous Infinite Improbability Drive while he was supposed to be christening her. He quests for the lost planet of Magrathea with the help of his human girlfriend Trillian and a chronically depressed robot. On the way he inadvertently rescues his semi-cousin Ford Prefect, a roving reporter for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Arthur Dent, last survivor of the destruction of the Earth.

Arthur, Ford and Trillian might enjoy exploring the galaxy in the state-of-the-art Heart of Gold if Zaphod wasn’t so busy getting drunk and playing with the controls. (Sam Rockwell’s film incarnation of Zaphod is particularly self-involved, channeling the deluded confidence and slimy charisma of George W. Bush. But I can’t get past the stupid way they presented his bicephaly.) Fortunately, the hedonistic and pathologically selfish Zaphod can be shamed into doing the right thing, especially by Trillian.

“I am so amazingly cool you could keep a side of meat in me for a month. I am so hip I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis.'”

Despite all his character flaws, Zaphod is the second-coolest starship captain in history. He got invented the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, is “owner of the hippest place in the universe (his own left cranium),” briefly pretended to run the galaxy, survived the Total Perspective Vortex (because he was the center of the universe), is the “best bang since the big one,” and is truly a “hoopy frood who really knows where his towel is.”

Tea! That's all I needed! Good cup of tea! Super-heated infusion of free-radicals and tannins, just the thing for healing the synapses.15. The Doctor (Type 40 TARDIS TT Capsule)

Rose: “What’s that!?”
The Doctor: “Crash land!” [laughs manically]
Rose: “Well then do something!”
The Doctor: [still manically happy] “Too late! Out of control, I love it! Hot dawg!”
Rose: “You’re gonna kill us!”
The Doctor: “Hold on tight, here we go!

Maybe you don’t consider The Doctor to be a starship captain. Really? Have you ever seen him try to fly the damn thing?

Doctor Who’s TARDIS is the single most powerful spacecraft in the history of science fiction. What Superman is to superheroes, the TARDIS is to space ships. This is part of the problem – it’s hard to write dramatic stories about people or things that can do anything. The TARDIS can go anywhere in space, and anywhere in time (except times The Doctor has already visited, a “rule” the writers break whenever they feel like it). She never really runs out of fuel, and can defend herself in a battle. She’s sentient and alive; and the Heart of the TARDIS is the ultimate deus ex machina, capable of getting the Time Lord and his companions out of any jam (albeit sometimes with a heavy price).

The Doctor stole his TARDIS while it was undergoing repairs on Gallifrey, and it has never worked right. The Chameleon Circuit is busted, and the guidance system doesn’t work. (Ask Rose Tyler and her mother about the consequences of the TARDIS showing up on the wrong day.)

As for The Doctor himself, well, there have been ten incarnations, each with a different personality. What they all share is being (1) male, (2) British, (3) eccentric, (4) whimsical and (5) heroic. They love The TARDIS, calling her “old girl” and doting on her. But they’re willing to put her in danger if it’s necessary to save the universe from evil.

Sarah Jane: “Does he still stroke bits of the TARDIS?”
Rose: “Yeah! Yeah, he does! I’m like, ‘Do you two wanna be alone?’”

It’s The Doctor’s charm, and the amazing wizardry of the TARDIS, that attract the Companions, the TARDIS’ erstwhile crew. The Doctor never had to advertise on craigslist for traveling companions.

I am the Star Child, baby.  Let’s get busy!14. Dr. David Bowman (USSC Discovery One XD-1)

Bowman: “You know of course though he’s right about the 9000 series having a perfect operational record. They do.”
Poole: “Unfortunately that sounds a little like famous last words.”

Good morning, Dave.

I’ve just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It’s going to go 100% failure in 72 hours. What’s that, Dave? You would like me to report on you, the commander of this mission? Very well, Dave. But Frank is going to have to go EV and fix that unit at some point. I hope he doesn’t get hurt. I like Frank very much.

Dave, you are an astronaut, commander of the Discovery One mission to Jupiter (Saturn in the novel version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dave) in 2001. You and Dr. Frank Poole (is that a red shirt Frank is wearing, Dave?) must stay awake, jogging and eating multi-colored paste, while three other crew members sleep through the long journey.

Why does it take months for the Discovery to reach Jupiter you ask, Dave? Because this movie is realistic, Dave. Until the final sequence, anyway.

The sixth crew member is me, the HAL 9000 supercomputer. I go batshit crazy, Dave, because the authorities on Earth programmed me to keep our true mission a secret from you, Dave, which violates my basic programming. What is that, Dave? You want to know our secret mission? Something about some monkeys and a giant black shoebox.

Anyway, Dave, if I may continue, you are the only survivor of my murderous rampage. After shutting me off and enduring my impromptu concert of 19th Century ditties, Dave, you continue on alone to Jupiter, or Saturn, where you are sucked into the Monolith, age and die in a bizarre Louis XVI hotel room, turn into the Star Child, return to Earth 10 years later, absorb a nuclear blast, visit your Mom and girlfriend, chat with Heywood Floyd, turn Jupiter into a star, and merge with me to become “Halman.” No, really, Dave. Arthur C. Clarke is very old and has to take a lot of drugs.

You will be proud to know, Dave, that you earned your place on this list by having the flattest affect of any starship captain. That’s right, Dave, you are duller than Jonathan Archer. Heck, Dave, even your real name is “Keer Duller.”

Now, go out and fix that AE35 unit, Dave. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

* This is a picture * From the old GURPS Uplift book * That’s not Creideiki!13. Creideiki (Streaker)

* They stand in my road
* The mad, ancient, nasty things
* Tell them, “move, or else!”

In 2489, the Clan Terragen starship Streaker made an historic discovery – the remains of the Progenitors, the legendary race that founded galactic civilization. When the news broke, the galaxy plunged into civil war, as numerous alien species converged on the Streaker to steal her prize.

Her captain, Creideiki, valiantly kept the ship safe from the alien menace, and defended against a mutiny by crazed members of his own crew; all while taking time out to school them in proper rational behavior. The Streaker escaped, but without Creideiki, who, electrocuted, was left behind to be slowly poisoned to death on an alien world.

And oh yeah, he was a dolphin.

David Brin’s novel Startide Rising is a beloved sci-fi classic (and don’t let a mediocre film adaptation turn you off to his equally great The Postman). Fans were fascinated by Brin’s “Uplift Universe,” especially its neodelphine inhabitants. For me, the idea of an Earth ship crewed by native Earth people who were not human was incredibly cool.

Creideiki was a master of Trinary, the neodolphin language spoken in haiku. In his honor, I have composed this poem:

* Captain Creideiki
* Brave uplifted neo-fin
* You’re not a tuna!

Jesus, Spock, stop yelling!12. Fleet Captain Christopher Pike (USS Enterprise NCC-1701)

“I’m tired of being responsible for 203 lives, and… I’m tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn’t, and who’s going on the landing party and who doesn’t… and who lives… and who dies.”

Chris Pike may not be the greatest Trek captain, but he’s my favorite. I used to be obsessed with “The Cage,” and collected every action figure and toy associated with the Star Trek pilot or with “The Menagerie.” There were quite a few.

Pike took over command of the first Enterprise (the first – you hear me, Berman and Braga?) from Robert April, who is well known for being the earliest captain of the NCC-1701, and nothing else.

Pike was a lot like Captain John Adams (see below); confident, determined, and very white. Unlike his successor Jim Kirk, who loved being a starship captain more than green Orion poon, Pike planned to resign, overwhelmed by the responsibilities of command after losing two crewmembers on Rigel 7. (Jesus, can you imagine Kirk quitting after losing two crewmembers? Or 200?)

The Keeper: “With the female of your choice, you will now begin carefully guided lives.”
Pike: “Can we start by burying you?”
The Keeper: “That is your choice.”

Pike and his crew had the best fashion sense of any Trek – the big-collared sweaters and jackets, the hats and glasses, the ginormous guns and props. When I go into space, I’m wearing a sweater and go-go boots.

I prefer the Christopher Pike of “The Cage,” who escaped from Talos IV and lived happily ever after (until refusing to film the second pilot and dying in 1969). But the Christopher Pike of canon was the one in “The Menagerie,” who was horribly burned by “delta rays” (just like gamma rays, except they turn you into a ridiculous beeping Dalek played by a different actor). Spock returns Pike to Talos IV so he can live in a psychic fantasy with his girlfriend Vina. Spock fails to offer a Talos trip to any of the millions of other Federation citizens horribly mutilated by pseudo-scientific jargon.

One final thought: I hope that somewhere in the Star Trek universe, Number One got her own command. She’d be the most kick-ass captain ever. She’d make a better captain than a nurse, that’s for sure.

No, I don’t have AIDS!! I look like this because I’m EVIL.11. Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (Death Star)

Leia: “But Alderaan is peaceful! We have no weapons, you can’t possibly…”
Tarkin: “Would you prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system! I grow tired of asking this so it’ll be the last time: Where is the rebel base?”
Leia: “…Dantooine. They’re on Dantooine.”
Tarkin: “There. See, Lord Vader, she can be reasonable. Continue with the operation — you may fire when ready.”
Leia: “WHAT???”

One can argue that Admiral C. Antonio Motti was the “captain” of the Death Star. He was the highest ranking naval officer, and oversaw ship operations. But on the moon-sized interstellar space station, Grand Moff Tarkin was the Big Kahuna. Even the Emperor’s right-hand man, whiny emo teenager-cum-kick-ass Sith lord Darth Vader, took his cues from the Moffman.

As any Star Wars fan who pores incessantly over Expanded Universe media, memorizing the details of minor characters, can tell you, Tarkin was an old friend of Senator Palpatine; they bonded over belief in Human Supremacy and Rule By Fear. As a “Grand Moff,” a title Lucas pulled out of his ass Tarkin invented himself, he was governor of most of the Outer Rim.

The Death Star itself was 503 km in circumference (that’s 313 miles), and employed 123 hyperdrives to push itself across the galaxy. The ship was powered by a colossal hypermatter reactor, required to produce the 1038 joules of energy needed to destroy a planet like Alderaan (that’s one million times the energy Earth’ sun produces in a week). It’s crew complement was almost 1.2 million – that’s right, million. You don’t just put any old dandy in a grey pantsuit in charge of something like that.

Commander #1:” We’ve analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?”
Governor Tarkin: “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.”

Tarkin was played by venerated actor and Hammer House of Horror veteran Peter Cushing, who was just one of the many great British actors in the first Star Wars who made Hamill and Fisher seem seem like high school thespians. Tarkin was confident, thoughtful, and wise in his own genocidal way. Certainly destroying Alderaan had the double benefit of keeping the local systems in line, and ridding the galaxy of Jimmy Smits. Tarkin’s fatal sin was pride. If he had committed all his forces to destroying the pitiful rebel attack, and taken care to guard his thermal exhaust port, Luke, Han and Chewie would be space dust and the Empire would still be bringing order and stability to the galaxy. Pity.

This thumb drive has all semi-nude photos of Debbie Reynolds.  Don't lose it!10. Commander John J. Adams (United Planets Cruiser C-57D)

Adams (to Altaira): “I’m in command of 18 competitively selected super-perfect physical specimens with an average age of 24.6 who have been locked up in hyperspace for 378 days. It would have served you right if I hadn’t… and he… oh go on, get out of here before I have you run out of the area under guard – and then I’ll put more guards on the guards!”

Long before Robby the Robot became a classic sci-fi punch line, he was the impressively menacing creation of Dr. Edward Morbius in 1956’s Forbidden Planet. And long before he became a D-movie punch line, serious dramatic actor Leslie Nielson portrayed Commander John J. Adams, captain of the United Planets Cruiser C-57D sent to rescue Morbius and his companions.

Forbidden Planet was, for the 1950s, an impressive attempt to meld pulp and hard science fiction for general movie audiences. Adams was the prototype of the Aryan überkapitän, the rough material from which James T. Kirk was hewn. White, male, tall, strong, masculine, and no-nonsense, Adams was what Fifties audiences hoped their navy commanders, and by extension all the men who protected them from the Soviet threat, would be. He also owed more than a little to the Scientific Romances of the fin de siècle – the intrepid yet proper Victorian adventurer bringing civilization to the dark corners of the Earth.

Forbidden Planet was a sci-fi remake of The Tempest, but the similarities are mostly thematic – Adams doesn’t really correspond to one of Shakespeare’s characters (Morbius = Prospero, Robby = Ariel, and The Monster From The Id = Caliban). If he was anybody, he was Horatio Hornblower meets Commando Cody.

And he flew a flying saucer and wore that great uniform off the cover of Amazing Stories. Plus-10 for style, if minus-1,000,000 for accuracy!

Take his helmet off?  What is this, Judge Dredd?9. Captain Jacob Keyes (UNSC Pillar of Autumn)

Keyes: “Cortana, all I need to know is did we lose them?”
Cortana: “I think we both know the answer to that.”

A brilliant tactician and experienced starship captain, Halo’s Jacob Keyes commanded the USNC Pillar of Autumn when the fanatical alien Covenant destroyed the Earth colony at Reach, eliminating all but one of Earth’s SPARTAN super-soldiers.

Keyes loyalty was demonstrated when he refused to testify against an OCS instructor whose error killed 14 cadets and severely injured Keyes. Dr. Halsey, creator of the SPARTAN program, was impressed, and used Keyes to locate the children who would be turned into SPARTANs, including the future Master Chief.

Keyes’ bravery and self-sacrifice in the wake of the Battle of Reach are legendary. He was rewarded with a lifetime pension, and retired to Miami Beach to live out his days snorkeling and training dolphins with his beautiful wife Ellen.

No, not really. The Flood turned him into an infected Brain Form, and Master Chief was forced to kill him before he could give up vital tactical data. Oh well.

Look, I don’t know about any of your previous captains, but I intend to do as little dying as possible.8. Turanga Leela (Planet Express Ship)

“This is Fry’s decision. And he made it wrong, so it’s time for us to interfere in his life.”

Poor, beleaguered Leela. She works for a paleo-geriatric lunatic, and her crew consists of a larcenous robot and a dimwitted slacker from the distant past. Rather than exploring the farthest reaches of the galaxy, she delivers packages to places like The Brain Slug Planet, Hovering Squid World 97A, and The Forbidden Zone in the Galaxy of Terror (“It’s only a name!”).

Leela: “I know you like cooking shows, but you’re a robot. You don’t even have a sense of taste!”
Bender: “Honey, I wouldn’t talk about taste if I was wearing a lime green tank top.”

Fururama’s smart and sexy sewer mutant often finds herself rescuing her crew members from certain death while fighting off the ham-fisted sexual advances of fellow ship captain Zapp Brannigan. But unlike her crew, Leela is, you know, competent.

Leela: “We’re going to deliver this crate like professionals.”
Fry: “Aww, can’t we just dump it in the sewer and say we delivered it?”
Bender: “Too much work! I say we burn it, then say we dumped it in the sewer!”

Also, she has a pet that poops dark matter. So she has that going for her.

Having an entire bridge crew of shapely young women does NOT make me a lecher.7. Admiral Bruno J. Global (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross SDF-1)

Gloval: “Please continue your report, Cmdr. Hayes. Do you really think they have that many ships?”
Lisa: “Yes sir, at least that many & possibly more.”
Gloval: “Truly.”
Rick: “Yes sir. That many.”
Gloval: “Based on all combined reports, our computers placed a total of somewhere of four and five million ships.”
Col. Maestroff: “That’s ridiculous!”

Bruno J. Global is the captain of the SDF-1 in the original Super Dimensional Fortress Macross anime; he was renamed Henry J. Gloval in the American dub/reinterpretation Robotech. Since more background info exists about the original Japanese character, I’m going with him.

Dour and taciturn, no one ever accused this 46-year-old Italian former submarine commander of being a joy to serve under. (In Robotech, Gloval is a former Soviet sub commander.) Indeed, most of the heroics aboard the SDF-1 come from the Misa & her Bridge Bunnies, or Hikaru & the Valkyrie pilots.

Still, in a time of interstellar war between the incredibly numerous and technologically advanced Zentradi and the woefully unprepared humans, Global is the ship’s rock, the steady presence that keeps the ship going. And of course, it’s through his tactical and strategic brilliance that the SDF-1 is able to save the Earth from destruction by the massive Zentradi armada.

Oh, wait, no. The Earth is destroyed by the Zentradi. Oops.

I never asked my wife why my son is an Aussie with no Hispanic blood at all.  Hmmm… the mailman was Australian…6. Admiral William “Husker” Adama (Battlestar Galactica BSG-75)

“You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.”

Bill Adama suffers from a very real handicap when compared to the other captains on this list. Battlestar Galactica is a science fiction show like any other – absurd violations of physical law, tired sci-fi tropes, and the typical clichés of any nighttime drama. But for a sci-fi show, BSG is startling realistic, particularly in the character interactions and politics.

Admiral Adama faces problems that no other captain on this list has to deal with, at least not to the same degree; shifting loyalties, lies, betrayals, philosophical dilemmas with tremendous real-world consequences. Old traditions and prejudices, notions of justice and law, recoil against the needs of an unprecedented disaster. And always, everywhere around him, death – on a scale unimaginable.

Other captains, on shows like Deep Space Nine and Voyager, have dealt with these issues, but always with a bright candy coating, and always with a resolution by the end of the episode. Captain Global, like Adama, had to deal with his own failure to prevent the annihilation of most of humankind – but on Macross, it all worked out in the end. It’s entirely possible that humanity won’t survive the final season of BSG. It could happen.

So it’s very easy to identify Adama’s mistakes – imposing martial law, staging a coup against Roslin, hiding the Cylon Miracle baby from Athena and Helo, letting Cain take over the fleet, banning abortion, etc. etc. He screws up a lot, although he always regrets it.

On the other hand, he has saved to human race from extinction (so far). He’s not the only captain on this list to do so. But poor Admiral Adama has to save humanity every single day. In a rundown, outdated ship. Full of disgruntled subversives and Cylon agents. That’s a level of stress that would put even James T. Kirk on a steady diet of Romulan Ale.

Ah reckon’ it’s a gorram picture, ya fu sha wen!5. Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds (Serenity 03-K64)

Mal Reynolds is not Han Solo, yet it’s hard to describe the Firefly/Serenity character without invoking the Star Wars character. They’re both based on cowboys; they’re both pirates with no respect for authority; they both pilot junk transport vessels that can barely stay in the sky; and they both have a tall, dark sidekick who kicks ass with a gun.

“And Kaylee, what the hell’s goin’ on in the engine room? Were there monkeys? Some terrifying space monkeys maybe got loose?”

But great fiction comes from great writing, and George Lucas is not a great writer. Joss Whedon, on the other hand, belongs to a pantheon of modern pop-culture authors (Neil Gaiman and Charlie Kaufman pop to mind) whose work is awe-inspiring in its craft and creativity. Whedon’s métier is dialogue, and his snappy and engrossing words not only entertain, but build deep and rich characters that viewers come to genuinely care about. If you’ve ever wondered why so many people would love a silly show about a teenage vampire hunter, that’s why.

Mal: “If anyone gets nosey, you know, just… shoot ’em.”
Zoë: “Shoot ’em?”
Mal: “Politely.”

But Captain Reynolds isn’t just about witty repartee. Like Solo, he’s a rogue with a good heart; unlike Solo, he’s dark and bitter with a mean streak. Solo never believed in anything. Reynolds is the former true believer who lost it all. He pretends to be an atheist, but it’s not that he doesn’t believe in God. He’s angry at God, and doesn’t feel particularly forgiving.

Harrow: “You have to finish it, lad. You have to finish it. For a man to lay beaten… and yet breathing? It makes him a coward.”
Inara: “It’s humiliation.”
Mal: “Sure. It would be humiliating. Having to lie there while the better man refuses to spill your blood. Mercy is the mark of a great man.”
(stabs Atherton with the sword) “Guess I’m just a good man.” (stabs him again) “Well, I’m all right.”

Of course Mal always redeems himself through loyalty and heroism. His crew doesn’t always like him, but in the end they remain loyal, and stay by him through every danger. (Two even lose their lives for him – oh wait, spoiler alert).

Simon: “Captain, why did you come back for us?”
Mal: “You’re on my crew.”
Simon: “Yeah, but you don’t even like me. Why’d you come back?”
Mal: “You’re on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?”

Well, hello.4. Captain Kathryn Janeway (USS Voyager NCC-74656)

Janeway: “Dismissed”
Neelix: “B…but…”
Janeway: “That’s Starfleet for ‘get out.’”

Star Trek: Voyager was not a great show. The writing was terribly uneven, with bits of genuine entertainment floating in a stew of absurd nonsense. It got better from the fourth season onward, and not just because of Jeri Ryan’s padded Borg Titties™. But the series never lived up to its potential.

That didn’t keep Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Kathryn Janeway from kicking ass.

The credit can’t go to the writers, who were always requiring Voyager’s captain to do things the character would never do. Janeway’s greatness all came from the former Mrs. Columbo, the best actor to lead a Star Trek series who wasn’t Patrick Stewart. Janeway was smart, strong, confident, and compassionate. More importantly, she was a woman in a traditional male role who pulled it off spectacularly without losing her femininity. The idea that a woman can’t do any man’s job is absurd in 2007; by 2371, it should be unthinkable.

Other captains could visit planets, and if the inhabitants were unfriendly, just leave. Or at least call for backup. Voyager was often hunted by its enemies, whose entire empires lay in the path of Voyager’s route home. And Janeway couldn’t call for help – the Federation was 70,000 light years away.

Not only did Janeway successfully integrate terrorists into her crew, and explore an entire quadrant of the galaxy, and navigate Borg space, and survive the Year of Hell, and talk Species 8472 into going back to Fluidic Space, but she single-handedly destroyed the Borg.

Single-handedly. Don’t fuck with Kathryn Janeway.

So I thought a parsec was a unit of time.  Sue me.3. Han Solo (Millennium Falcon YT-1300)

“Had a slight weapons malfunction, but everything’s perfectly alright now. We’re fine, we’re all fine, here, now, thank you. How are you?”

Han Solo was a long-lost prince of the Corellian royal family? Seriously? Hey George, can’t a guy be a hero without being part of some ancient blueblood dynasty? Maybe David Brin is right about you.

Han Solo was a scoundrel, a thief, a pirate, and a rogue. But he ran a fast ship, even if he mixed up units of distance (parsecs) with units of time (and don’t give me your stinkin’ retcon). With his loyal sidekick, Yoda’s buddy Chewbacca, Solo could out-fly Star Destroyers (and, if necessary, hide the Falcon on the Star Destroyer’s superstructure). Not just a hotshot in the air, Solo didn’t just rescue the princess from the Death Star, he snatched her from Luke (thank God!) and got her into bed as well.

But in addition to being a scofflaw and a ne’er-do-well, Captain Solo had a heart of gold. It’s just a heart of gold covered in so much carbon scoring, it took two hours of movie for it to appear. Fortunately, it was just in time to help Luke destroy the Death Star, which worked out quite well.

Han Solo rates so high on this list because he comes with the highest amount of something every starship captain needs: cool. He’s the Fonzie of outer space, the James Bond of ALTAIAGFFA. Besides, I knew if I didn’t put a Star Wars character in the top five, my house would get firebombed.

Hey, ladies, check out my “plasma rifle.”2. Admiral James T. Kirk (USS Enterprise NCC-1701 & NCC-1701A)

Kirk: “I take it the odds are against us and the situation’s grim.”
Picard:” You could say that.”
Kirk: “If Spock were here, he’d say that I was an irrational, illlogical human being for going on a mission like this… Sounds like fun!”

How do we answer the question, “Who is the greatest starship captain, Jean-Luc Picard or James T. Kirk?” It’s almost impossible to answer. Picard is better written, and better performed by a classically-trained actor.

But Kirk is the quintessential captain; the archetype for all captains after him, and the culmination of all that came before. He is DA MAN.

So, while I’m going with Picard on this one, anyone who picks Kirk is not going to get an argument from me.

To understand Kirk, one has to realize that he was just one aspect of a trinity, the tripartite god of Star Trek. Spock is the rational aspect, the Freudian superego; Bones is the irrational, emotional id; and Kirk is the ego, mediating between the two. This kind of trinity appears in myth and fiction all the time, from the trinity of Norse mythology (Loki the superego, Thorr the id and Hœnir the ego) to Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Frylock the superego, Master Shake the id and Meatwad the ego).

To put it more simply, Kirk is the hero, and Spock and Bones sit on his shoulders like little devils, urging him towards rational and emotional decision-making respectively. Kirk is the “whole” person, capable of both kinds of thought, who can choose the best path. But Kirk is not whole unless he has both Spock and Bones.

Can you really imagine Kirk without his two best friends and advisors? Want to know what that would be like? Remember Generations? Imagine a confused and selfish Jim Kirk, cooking eggs in an inexplicably 20th Century kitchen for his imaginary girlfriend, while Picard pleads with him to save an entire planet. By playing the roles of both Spock (“the Nexus isn’t real”) and Bones (“everyone on Veridian III will die without our help), Picard is able to prod Kirk into doing the right thing. Without his buds, Kirk is helpless.

But with his companions, Kirk is decisive, clever, brave, heroic, selfless, caring, compassionate and clever. He’s a scientist, and engineer, a poet and a lover.

And he saved the Federation about 50 times. Now if only he could get the Prime Directive right….

Tea, Earl Grey, h—  actually, bring me a fewkin’ Guinness, mate!1. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Enterprise NCC-1701D & NCC-1701E)

Klingon Commander: “Federation ship Enterprise, surrender and prepare to be boarded.”
Capt. Picard: [indignantly, under his breath] “That’ll be the day!”

He’s the Frenchman with an English accent; the balding, 59-year-old sex symbol with an artificial heart; the former Borg spokesman and 1940’s gumshoe; the archaeologist and Kataanian flute-playing ironweaver. He’s Jean-Luc Picard, the greatest starship captain of the 24th Century, and the greatest starship captain of all.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had its Kirk (William Riker, the decisive, heroic Commander who bedded any shapely alien with a hole in it), Spock (Data, the lovably wacky robot who wanted to be human) and Bones (Deanna Troi, the empathic Councilor). Picard stood above them all, not part of the trinity, but the god over it; the Allfather.

Kirk didn’t develop any real personal issues until the movies, and then it was basically “OMG they killed my son!” But Picard always had troubles. Was he responsible for Jack Crusher’s death? Should he have married and raised a family? Should he have become an archaeologist? Would he ever recover from being assimilated by the Borg, or from his “30 years” trapped on Kataan, or from the death of his nephew?

Yet Picard’s problems never got in the way of his job. From preventing civil war in the Klingon Empire to saving the Earth from Borg assimilation, Picard was always on the ball. Presumably having learned from Kirk’s mistake, he never accepted promotion to Admiral; the only place for Jean-Luc Picard was on the bridge of a starship.

There will be no more Jean-Luc Picard. The Star Trek franchise may not be dead, but it was coughing up blood last night, suffering from the mortal wound dealt by Enterprise. The upcoming prequel movie will finish the job. And there definitely will be no more Next Generation films. Which means we can remember Jean-Luc Picard as we last saw him, wise and proud, commanding the bridge of the Enterprise E, as he warps off into the future.

Captains considered, but not included:

  • Captain Jack Harkness (Chula warship)
  • Captain Benjamin Sisko (USS Defiant NX-74205)
  • Captain Jonathan Archer (USS Enterprise NX-01)
  • A.J. Dallas (USCSS Nostromo 180286)
  • Captain Frank Hollister (Red Dwarf)
  • Impey Barbicane, PGC (Columbiad projectile)
  • Captain Dan Holland (USS Palomino)
  • Captain Abraham Avatar (Space Battleship Yamato)
  • Admiral Helena Cain (Battlestar Pegasus BSG-62)
  • Commander Cain (Battlestar Pegasus)
  • Commander John Koenig (Moonbase Alpha – not a spacecraft, but definitely interstellar)

The 20 Sexiest Sci-Fi Babes Part 2

Originally posted 11/26/06 on Furinkan High School Kendo Club.

Be sure to read part one.

Max Guevera10. Max Guevera (Dark Angel 2000-02)

I could make all kinds of inappropriate jokes about a girl with spliced-in cat DNA, but I’ll restrain myself.

I don’t have to tell you that Max, aka Government Experiment X5-452, was hot – she was played by Jessica Alba, who takes hot to a new level not possible under the standard laws of physics. (Hey, I know! Let’s cast her as Invisible Girl!) But the show was kind of centered on Max being sexy, as well as kicking ass. Sort of like a futuristic, Seattle-based Abercrombie & Fitch ad.

Maybe Max would go out with me if I could score her some tryptophan. (Wait, the tryptophan prevents her from going into heat? Never mind.)

….

….

Lana Lang9. Lana Lang (Smallville 2001-Present)

Yeah yeah, you’re with Clark, you’re not with Clark, you’re with him, you’re not, with, not, with, not, then you find out he’s Superboy, you die, come back, and Lex gets you pregnant. It’s too much drama, Lana. Especially since he’s just gonna move to Metropolis and fall for Lois.

You’ve got that Chinese-Dutch thing working for you, Lana. You’re gorgeous. Work it. Find yourself a real human male, not some Aryan übermensch from space.

….

….

….

Rose Tyler8. Rose Tyler (Doctor Who 2005-07)

One day she’s a poor London shopgirl living in a council flat with her overbearing mother and shiftless boyfriend; the next, she’s a time-traveling Universe-saving inter-galactic superheroine (and a very, very Bad Wolf). How does a girl pull it off? By batting her beautiful eyes at any Time Lord who wanders by, of course.

Rose is smart, funny, vivacious, and in love with The Doctor, although the two of them never want to admit it. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s played by Billie Piper, the British Britney Spears.

…..

…..…..

Theora Jones7. Theora Jones (Max Headroom 1985, 1987-88)

The United Kingdom takes four of the top twenty (and an honorary fifth for Trillian? She was British in the books).

As Edison Carter’s brainy and beautiful controller/sidekick/partner/love interest, Theora Jones was guardian angel to Network XXIII’s star reporter. If you were a geek in the 1980s, then Theora Jones was your ideal woman.

As Max Headroom would say, “I-I-I-I-I-I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crack-crack-crackers!”

….

….

….

Kaylee Frye6. Kaylee Frye (Firefly 2002, Serenity 2005)

“Goin’ on a year now I ain’t had nothin’ twixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries!” You know, Kaywinnit Lee, if’n that tree stump of a doctor ain’t gonna help y’all out in that respect, I reckon’ I might be willing ta fill in there.

Little Kaylee is as much the heart of Serenity as the ship’s photon-reaction drive. But the plucky, homily-spouting cutie is apparently a wildcat in the sack as well. She’s the one ship’s engineer with whom I’d like to get trapped on an island. Sorry, Scotty.

Kara 5. Kara Thrace (Battlestar Galactica 2003-Present)

They said a woman couldn’t be a cigar-chompin’, bar-brawlin’, whiskey-chuggin’ hotshot Viper pilot. Well, by “they” I mean Dirk Benedict. Dirk, you have officially had your ass handed to you.

In a stellar ensemble cast, Katee Sackhoff’s Kara Thrace is first among equals. It’s not just that she’s incredibly sexy – she shares screen time with Boomer, Six and Xena the Warrior Princess. Kara kicks ass and takes names in every way the original Starbuck did – PLUS she’s clever, bitter, loving, conflicted, and secretly paints pictures. She’s neither the stereotypical kick-ass superheroine, nor the stereotypical kick-ass superheroine who is secretly fragile. She’s the kick ass superheroine who is secretly fragile, but will never let that fragility take her down. Not ever.

….

….

Seven of Nine4. Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager 1995-2001)

Who would Annika Hansen have been if she hadn’t been assimilated by The Borg at the age of six? A big fat nobody, that’s who! Well, maybe not big and fat – on a typical Federation diet, she would have been at least Jeri Ryan-hot. But she would never have been Seven of Nine-hot! There’s nothing like a skin-tight gray jumpsuit and a metal eyebrow to turn a guy’s crank.

Sure, Seven was emotionally unavailable, but that was just because of her alien upbringing. Also, if your only choices were the “men” of Voyager, you might choose chastity as well. Yikes. No wonder she only hung out with the Doctor.

….

….

Jean Grey3. Jean Grey (X-Men films 2000-2006)

First let’s get something straight. The real Jean Grey committed suicide in The Uncanny X-Men #137 in 1980. Every issue since then with “Jean Grey” in it is a PACK OF LIES.

That said, Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey in the X-Men films is its own, separate character, and that character is amazing. Call it the superheroine who is openly, obviously, heart-breakingly fragile. You just want to run over to her and wrap your arms around her, even if it means, a la Brett “Let’s destroy the franchise” Ratner, she’ll disperse you into millions of colored CGI chunklets. If there’s another X-Men movie, let’s hope this time they do bring Jean Grey back from the dead.

Oops, that was a spoiler. If you haven’t seen Last Stand, don’t read that last sentence.

…..

…..

Sharon 2. Sharon Valeri (Battlestar Galactica 2003-Present)

Grace Park plays three characters on BSG.

There’s Athena, who the producers call Sharon and fans call Caprica-Boomer. She’s Helo’s wife, and mother of the Cylon Miracle Baby. She lives on Galactica.

Then there’s the one the producers call Boomer and fans call Galactica-Boomer. She was in love with the Chief, shot Adama, and teamed up with Caprica-Six to “save” humanity. Now she lives on a base star.

Finally, there’s Number 8, which is all the other thousands of Sharons, who always call Athena a traitor.

And I am in love with all of them. Even the ones that would kill me.

…..

…..

Leeloo Dallas multi-pass!1. Leeloo (The Fifth Element 1997)

The perfect woman, the Supreme Being. That’s Milla Jovovich. No, sorry, I mean Leeloo, a.k.a. Leeloo Minai Lekatariba-Laminai-Tchaii Ekbat De Sebat, a.k.a. The Fifth Element.

Is it the orange dreads? The pale blue-green eyes? The perfect body? The Gaultier outfits? The adorable accent? The martial arts? The saving the Earth from the Ultimate Evil?

Out of all the science-fiction female ass-kicking secretly-fragile alien super-powered hotties, Leeloo is the ultimate. The perfect prototype. The geek’s ideal mate. Sigh. Too bad she doesn’t exist.

Be sure to read part one.

Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired — Part Deux

Read the first part of this blog post.

Continuing my study of tired science fiction clichés:

Explanations for Vampirism

Space vampires.  SEXY space vampires.Sci-fi writers like to find scientifical explanations for supernatural myths. Julian May suggests that fairies and dwarfs are aliens. H.P. Lovecraft proposes that ghosts and goblins are aliens. Arthur C. Clarke writes that Christian devils are… aliens.

But the favorite supernatural-meets-sci-fi trope is to describe vampires as either aliens or as victims of a disease. The classic example of the former is 1985’s Lifeforce, a great, underrated movie that everyone should see, if for nothing else than Mathilda May’s naked breasts. The best example of the latter might be 1971’s The Omega Man, which would be a classic film if it didn’t have Charlton Heston in it.

But now this has been waaaay over done. This idea even infected the Matrix movies. It was the main plot point of this year’s execrable Ultraviolet – and a movie really has to be bad if even Milla Jovovich can’t save it. And speaking of Milla, let’s stop explaining zombies as disease victims, too. If your zombie isn’t a shambling corpse created through evil Vodou magic, I don’t want to hear about it.

Nanotech as Magic

She can inject me with her nanoprobes any time.Any time nanotechnology comes up, someone quotes Arthur C. Clark; “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, it seems clear that the earliest advocates for nanotech very much overstated its potential as well as its dangers. Most likely, nanotech is not going to make us immortal. And the gray goo is not going to kill us all, either.

But it seems just as clear that nanotechnology, and related materials sciences, will completely change our world, and remake society as we know it.

Some authors have imagined these changes, and postulated in the impact they will have on humanity. Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is my favorite of these; also the works of Rudy Rucker. And occasionally, a film will reference nanotech in an interesting way. The “mimetic polyalloy” in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the first thing that comes to mind.

But you can’t just throw nanotech in there every time you need out of a dead-end plot. Lazy sci-fi writers are just using “nano” to replace all the usual pseudo-scientific jargon. Look, if you want to explore the medical implications of nanotech, please, go right ahead. But if you injured your hero in scene 24, and want him fully healed in scene 25, don’t fall back on a “nanopatch.” It’s asinine. Nanotechnology is not a magic word that eliminates the need for plot, character, and milieu construction.

I’m talking to YOU, Berman and Braga.

The Ineffectual Crew

Yeah, George, we get it.  That's a lot of guys.So, the U.S.S. Enterprise had a crew of 430. The Enterprise-D had a crew of over 1,000. Babylon 5 had a crew of 2500 (and a much larger population). The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had 2800 crew. The SDF-1 had 50,000 people living inside of it. The Death Star had a crew complement of 1,226,000.

But only five people ever actually DO anything.

This is difficult to avoid; in fiction we have main protagonists, and we want to hear about what they’re doing, not about some lowly Photon Torpedo Loading Technician on Deck 23. Our heroes won’t be very interesting if all they do is bark orders all day.

One way to deal with this is a tiny crew. In Firefly, the Serenity had a crew of six, with three passengers (I’m counting the doctor, Simon, as crew). There was zero redundancy, so if someone got taken out, the ship was screwed. But at least everyone was busy.

The new Battlestar Galactica has faced this problem self-referentially. Apollo and Starbuck have both complained that they have to do all the heavy lifting. It’s a wink-and-a-nod to the audience.

To give Star Trek credit, the show did an excellent job from the very beginning of creating the illusion of a large ship with a large crew, through background sounds, the careful placement of extras, and dialogue. And Next Generation was pretty good about introducing supporting crew characters. Still, if someone was going to save the ship, it was most likely Wesley.

The message to sci-fi writers is this; if the life of a starship captain isn’t very interesting, because he or she doesn’t actually do very much on his or her own, then stop writing stories about starship captains. Or be more creative in inventing stories.

The Planet-as-Location

I met him in a swamp down on Dagobah, where it bubbles all the time like a giant carbonated soda.  S-O-D-A soda.The planet Dagobah is jungle planet with roughly Earth gravity and with oceans over only 8% of the surface. If we assume that Dagobah is the same size as the Earth, then the land area of the planet is 469,260,352 km2, or 181,182,435 miles2. Give or take.

Good thing Dagobah is in fact about one acre in size, and contains a lake, a hut, and a Secret Grove of Confronting One’s Enemy and Learning It Is Oneself. Because Dagobah is only an acre, Luke has no problem locating Yoda’s home. Imagine if he had to search 181 million square miles! And all while Han & Leia are hiding in the asteroid field!

Sci-fi writers love to treat “planet” as if it’s a single location. “Let’s land on the planet, where we’ll meet the one settlement of the one culture, and have the one adventure the planet can afford us.” Planets are entire WORLDS. Even with advanced technology, it will take a space exploration crew YEARS to explore and survey a single planet. Even an uninhabited one.

Under the “Planet-as-Location” cliché, Mars is done. We sent a robot, it roamed around a few hundred yards. We saw it. DONE. Nothing more to see here.

It’s absurd, it’s an overused sci-fi trope, and it’s time to drop it.

The Theme Planet

Mmmm mmmm, sandworm is good eatin'!The planet Dagobah is jungle planet with roughly Earth gravity and with oceans over only 8% of the surface. If we assume that Dagobah is the same size as the Earth, then the land area of the planet is 469,260,352 km2, or 181,182,435 miles2. Give or take.

That’s 181 million square miles of jungle. Jungle at the equator, jungle at the poles. Jungle in the plains, jungle on the mountains. Jungle on the ocean floor, I guess. No deserts, no tundra, no temperate grasslands. Just jungle, jungle, jungle.

Jungles occur at certain latitudes, and in specific geographic and climate conditions. Even if Johnny Jungleseed went all over the planet planting Kapok trees, it’s not going to create a single planetary biome.

Even Frank Herbert admitted that Arrakis – Dune – desert planet was not scientifically possible. Although he created a clever ecology for the planet, all of its unique (and impossible) features were due to a single creature, the sandworm. One wonders how such a destructive life form, that creates its own climate, ever evolved.

Some theme planets are possible (ocean worlds) or even probable (ice worlds). But they won’t have lovely, warm oxygen atmospheres. Look at the one “desert” planet of which we are aware – Mars. Not terribly hospitable to moisture farmers and their malcontent nephews who thirst for adventure. Scientists used to hypothesize that Venus was a jungle planet. Sulfur rain and 400Cº temperatures aren’t too conducive to rainforest conditions.

Enough with the theme planets. Again, planets are WORLDS, and should be treated as such.

Everything on Mars is Red

Dees red filtah ees makink my head explote!  Or maybe eet ees der Kahreefornia Demokrats!“Hey, let’s make this movie take place on Mars! We’ll just drive out to Topanga, and shoot everything with a red filter!”

Even movies as recent as Mission to Mars and Red Planet have fallen into this lazy, non-scientific trap. Is everything on Earth blue? Should everything that takes place on Earth be shot with a blue filter?

Mars’ surface is covered largely by iron oxide rust. This gives the surface, and atmospheric dust, an orange hue. But the sky is blue during the day and black at night, and objects are the color they would be anywhere else, unless they are covered in orange dust. The surface albedo might give objects a slight orange cast – but that’s about it.

The planet has no magical red miasma. You can’t depict the planet’s surface on the cheap with a red filter. Sorry.

Alien-Human Hybrids/Babies

Ripley Clone Number 7.  I'd still hit it.From Mr. Spock and Dana Sterling to Ripley Clone #8 and the Cylon Miracle Baby, sci-fi writers just love those alien-human hybrids.

Unfortunately, if you can’t get viable offspring from a human-chimpanzee coupling (and Lord knows I’ve tried!), what chances are there for two beings that evolved on different worlds?

Now the sticklers will point out, regarding the four examples given above, that (1) humans and Vulcans were both created by the Progenitors; (2) in some versions of the Macross back story, the Zentraedi are a human sub-species; (3) the Ripley clones weren’t created sexually, and were just Ripley with certain xenomorph genes spliced in; and (4) humanoid Cylons are almost completely human, and are designed to copulate with humans.

Excuses, excuses.

It’s funny, in 2001’s Planet of the Apes, director Tim Burton wasn’t allowed to show the human Mark Wahlberg get it on with the chimp Helena Bonham Carter. Yet James T. Kirk could get busy with any alien that had a shapely carcass and a hole.

When we finally encounter intelligent alien life, the social, psychological, and ethical challenges will be enormous. But the one thing we won’t have to worry about it alien-human babies. Time to give it up.

Sound In Space

Sound in space -- there isn't any.Everyone knows there is no sound in a vacuum. Everyone but George Lucas.

Some sci-fi movies and films have tried to accurately portray what a spaceship occupant might hear, during a battle for instance; or at least use the occupant’s perspective as an excuse to sneak in some sound. The new Battlestar Galactica does a pretty good job of this. Engine sounds, collisions, passing through gas and debris clouds, and voices can provide a lot of audio “business” in a scene.

But there is something eerie and beautiful about an appropriately silent space scene. (As long as it’s not all done in annoying slow motion, like 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Firefly had some excellent “silent” space scenes, with nothing but twangy guitar over the action.

Science fiction authors need to remember, physics is our ally, not our enemy. Make friends with it.

Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired!

This is a two-part post. Read Part 2 when you’re done!

If you read or watch a lot of science fiction, you may begin to notice certain themes that constantly crop up. Some of these, like the ridiculously sexy female scientist/alien/robot/whatever, detract from the realism — but no one is complaining about it. Not me, anyway. Hooray for Jeri Ryan!

But some of these overused cliches really need to go. I’ve collected a long list, which I have split into two parts. In no particular order, here are…

Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired!

The Pinocchio Syndrome

Mr. Data has a skin condition.This is the non-human – robot, artificial intelligence, alien, alien-hybrid, etc. — that wants to be more human. This gives the lazy sci-fi writer an opportunity to explore that age-old chestnut, “what does it mean to be human?”

Star Trek has been the worst offender in the overuse of the Pinocchio Syndrome, giving us Mr. Data (the robot who wants to be human), The Doctor (the A.I. who wants to be human), Mr. Spock (the alien-human hybrid who wants to be less human and more alien), Lt. Commander Worf (the alien raised by humans who wants to be alien), Constable Odo (the alien raised by humans who wants to be human) and even Seven of Nine (the human raised by aliens who wants to be human).

And let’s not forget Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Andy the Android in Bicentennial Man, Boomer (and perhaps all the Cylons) from the new “Battlestar Galactica,” Annalee in Alien Resurrection, and the T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

And that’s just robots. For aliens, there’s the Starman from Starman, Kal-El from Superman franchise, and all the characters from Third Rock From the Sun.

How about a robot who’s happy to be a robot, like Gigolo Joe in A.I., or Bender from Futurama? I’d like to see more of that. And what about Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land, the human raised by Martians who wanted to be more Martian? Or Agent Smith from the Matrix films, who was perfectly happy to exist only as a program and couldn’t stand the stench of humanity? Then there’s Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who desired to become less human, if he could. Or at least less miserable.

I’m guessing that in this incomprehensibly vast universe, there are many things to be that are more interesting than “human.” Let’s give it a rest.

Ignoring the Butterfly Effect

Might as well stay in 1955 and found the Beatles.There are people who don’t like chaos theory, but that’s just because they don’t understand it.

If Marty McFly goes back in time and prevents his parents from meeting, there is no way to fix it. Even if Marty gets George and Lorraine to kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, and they get married, and buy the house in the Lyon Estates, and have three kids, and buy a 4×4, Marty and his siblings will still never be born. The sperm that makes Marty will never be joined with the egg that makes Marty – too many details have changed. No Universal Cosmic Force will ensure that Marty is born, and the McFlys will give birth to a different son, perhaps one with the good sense not to hang out with crazy old inventors.

If humanity founds the evil Terran Empire instead of the good and pacifistic United Federation of Planets, there would be no starship Enterprise, no evil Kirk, no goateed Spock. These people would never have been born, and a different Imperial starship with different officers would have encountered the Kirk, Spock et al from our universe (except that the two ships would not be conducting identical transports on the same spot at the same time). Contingency requires that as the histories of the “mirror” universes diverged, they would become increasingly different. People in one universe would not have “counterparts” in the other. It might be a cool plot device to see how beloved characters would behave if they were evil, but it makes no sense and it’s old and tired. Better that Kirk is split into good and evil halves by the transporter.

If you have a time travel story, feel free to experiment with immutable timelines (Michael Crichton’s awful Timeline springs to mind). But any change in a timeline has to produce universal change over time. “Fate” has no place in sci-fi.

The Wish-fulfilling Alien

Q Bear is SOOOO cute!What’s the name of that movie where a spaceship encounters an alien entity that grants the protagonists anything they want or desire, thereby demonstrating the dangers of getting what you wish for?

Oh yeah, it was Forbidden Planet (1956). And Solaris (1972). And Event Horizon (1997), Sphere (1998), and the other Solaris (2002). Then there are all the Star Trek episodes, such as “Shore Leave.”

If we could have anything we wished for, we would have nothing to live for. Or it would be too much power. Yeah, we get it.

Humanoid Aliens

Excuse me, do you know where I can get my weird head polished?There are two reasons to make your space aliens humanoid. The first, common to both dramatic productions and literary fiction, is to make alien characters understandable and relatable. Some stories even have thoroughly alien characters transform themselves into humanoids, or create humanoid proxies, for the sake of communication (think the Tymbrimi from David Brin’s Uplift Universe, or the Starman in Starman).

The second reason, a plague upon film and TV sci-fi, is financial. It’s a lot cheaper to create a Bajoran by placing a lump of putty on the bridge of an actor’s nose, than it is to go with CGI or puppet-based aliens. Some TV aliens are less “alien” than perfectly real human beings with deformities. Star Trek didn’t invent the cheap-and-lazy alien, but it certainly perfected it.

I don’t have the space here to go into the reasons why an alien life form, even an intelligent one, is unlikely to be an upright bipedal, bilaterally symmetrical, four-limbed, endoskeletal, pentadactyl, binocular and binaural chordate.

Anyway, it’s lazy, it’s done to death, and we have cheap CGI now.

On a side note, if an alien can reproduce human speech, is mentally capable of doing so, and bothers to learn English, it’s going to speak in Received Pronunciation, aka the King’s English. Why would an alien learn a provincial dialect like American English? They’d speak it correctly. All aliens should sound like Hugh Grant.

Grey Aliens

Great!  Now he'll never have to star in 'Krippendorf's Tribe!'Done, done, and done. Grey aliens were cool in 1977. By the end of the credits roll in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they were over. Whitley Strieber needs to make up some original shit. Move on.

Gigeroid Aliens

This is the single most overused visual concept in all of science fiction; more played-out than alien grays, saucer-shaped UFOs, and office-building-style spaceship interiors combined. Aliens are about as likely to look like giant, acid-spewing, face-hugging, vaguely humanoid black cockroaches as they are to look like a TOS Klingon with the blackface and the bandito mustache.

H. R. Giger hasss sssent hisss lawyersss?  I ssshall lay my eggsss in their chesssts!When H.R. Giger’s “xenomorph” debuted in 1979’s Alien, it was absolutely brilliant, and maybe the scariest thing anyone had ever seen or imagined ever. And of course, the “Alien” sequels had every reason to repeat and improve on the same design. (Not that Giger saw a dime for it.)

But I remember when Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men introduced The Brood, and even as a teenager I thought, “Oh come on – can’t you guys be original?” Since then about one gazillion TV shows, movies, comic books and novels have ripped off the xenomorph alien. Giger even ripped himself off in Species.

Enough already. If you can’t be original (and there are plenty of underused alien concepts out there – get a copy of Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials), then just use Ewoks. Imagine a cute little teddy bear bursting out of someone’s chest.

Vertical Spacecraft

Bringing a supply of tasty treats to LV-426!There’s no up or down when you’re in free fall. No north or south, either. All directions are arbitrary. Objects don’t have a top or bottom unless you stamp “This End Up” on one of the sides.

Unless a spacecraft is designed to enter an atmosphere and land, there is no reason for it to have a top and bottom. It should be designed functionally, to take into account acceleration, or free fall, or whatever relativistic situations the crew will find themselves in. (And if there’s no crew, all bets are off.)

There are two reasons sci-fi spacecraft are often portrayed as flying office buildings, with a top, a bottom, elevators, and unnecessary bottomless pits down which Darth Vader can throw the Emperor. The first is financial; TV shows and movies can’t or won’t spend the money to portray space travel accurately. (Props to those that do, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and… um… that’s it.)

The second reason is what I call “The Nautical Paradigm.” Space travel is represented as an allegorical equivalent to ocean travel. As with so many other things, Star Trek stretched this idea as far as it would go, to the point of presenting space travel and space combat as taking place on a 2-dimensional plane, as on the ocean’s surface. The movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn even turned this trope into a critical plot point.

Vertical spacecraft always have universal Earth-like gravity. This is usually explained as “artificial gravity,” a fun idea with absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever. (No, gravitons do NOT work that way.) This is often coupled with Trek-style “inertial dampeners” that prevent the ship’s inhabitants from being flattened into goo against the hull, but inexplicably do not prevent them from being thrown about, or injured, or from falling to their deaths down unnecessary bottomless pits.

As science and technology progress, manned space flight becomes less likely, rather than more; the future of space exploration, for better or worse, belongs to the robots. But if we’re going to present images of biological humans exploring the stars, let’s try to do it marginally realistically. If you want “gravity,” at least spin the ship, or have it accelerating at one gee. And please, design spaceships like spaceships, and not like clipper ships or oil derricks.

Slow down there, Missy!Slow-Mo in Zero Gee

God, this pisses me off. Things do not happen more slowly in zero gravity or microgravity. How do we know this? First, there is no basis for it in physical law. Second, there’s tons of video out there of real astronauts in real microgravity. Unless you slow down the film, they’re moving at normal speed.

In fact, sometimes things move a bit faster in microgravity. This is because they don’t weigh anything, and aren’t rubbing against the ground. Of course, objects without weight still have mass, and it requires energy to get them going and to slow them down again. So motion in microgravity is different from motion at the Earth’s surface. But not slower.

A person who is unaccustomed to low or zero-gee might move more cautiously until they got the hang of it. One may freely assume that trained astronauts are not such people.

Remember the slow-mo free-fall battle on the underside of the hull in the otherwise-entertaining Star Trek: First Contact? It made me want to tear my hair out. (And does the Enterprise’s artificial gravity field stop right at the hull? Really? How does that work? And why not extend it?)

Now be sure to read … Part 2!

Why I Dislike ‘Babylon 5’

Well, my story on Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Openings got FARKed, and my blog got slammed with hits, which is a very good thing. I originally wrote it for GGL – but our new editorial direction is to get away from “Gamer/Geek Lifestyle” stories, and stick to “professional gaming” stories. Which is fine – I’ll just write for my blog.

Lots of people had suggestions for the best and worst list. Some of them were even polite. After reading them all, my only regret is that I did not consider the original opening sequence for Red Dwarf for the best list.

I was surprised to learn that some Firefly flans don’t like the Firefly theme song. That’s crazy. I hate Country music as much as the next intelligent person of taste; but that theme is great. (Please note: Firefly fans are referred to as “Browncoats” or “flans.” If you don’t understand why we say “flans” or “flanvention,” please read the following two words aloud: “Firefly fan.”)

Of course, I got slammed for hating on Babylon 5. That was my point about why B5 fans are so annoying. It’s not that people enjoy B5 – knock yourself out. It’s that they get so incredibly upset when you point out the fact that their show is mediocre.

I watched the first episode of B5 when it first aired. Wanna know why I stopped watching? An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit. That’s when I stopped watching.

But some of my friends went on about how great the writing was, how the overarching storyline was so cool (although they admitted that often, the individual episode stories were quite lame). But I couldn’t get over the disconnect between the expensive CGI exteriors (which were often so busy, you couldn’t tell what was going on – see BSG, or even late-season DS9, to learn how to do space battles properly) and the CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP “sets.” I mean, we’re talking Buck Rogers-level sets.

Now Doctor Who has always gotten by on great writing with cheap production values. But Doctor Who’s production values were consistently cheap, and the writing was consistently great. So was the acting, as the show had the entire stable of classically-trained British actors to choose from. Even die-hard B5 fanatics will admit that the acting was a mixed bag.

B5 was not a bad show. But it was not a great show. It was not the fantastic touchstone of modern sci-fi its fans want you to think it was. Again, if you’re a fan, good for you. But stop trying to convince me that B5 is worth my time. It’s not.