Bring on the interplanetary drama

Scott Kendall

Of course living on Mars will be like being on a reality show—that’s the main reason I’m going. Here are the ten people I’m most excited to hang out with.

10. Liz. Not just because People officially declared her the hottest person on Mars. I’m also interested in talking about her nonprofit aimed at funding Mars education in Earth schools. I 110% agree that kids should know all about a planet they’ll never get to go to.

9. Jim T. The only colonist who’s publicly requested a ride back to Earth if and when such transportation becomes available. I understand his reasons, but what I want to know is whether homesickness is really the most important reason—or whether this is really about his break-up with Ashley.

8. Ashley. Now that she’s single….

7. Imani. Everyone talks about Imani’s expertise in fighting infectious diseases, but what want to talk about is the fact that she’s the officially designated delivery doctor. What’s she going to do when the first Mars pregnancy occurs, and who is she betting it’ll be?

6. Isaac. The oldest man on Mars! Just six years from being the first-ever sexagenarian on the Red Planet! God willing this decision is still decades away, but…burn or bury, aren’t you curious?

5. Wei. Mars’s only officially certified rocket scientist. Has Jim asked him to build a ship that he can escape on? What does one bribe with on Mars, if not sexual favors?

4. Alice. The “crazy one,” according to Five Years. I think that’s a little harsh—just because she tried to plant a tree on Mars and made a one-woman show about it that she sold tickets to live-stream. That must have made her the richest person on Mars…now who’s crazy?

3. Stella. The only (formerly) professional writer on Mars, before our ship of fools arrives. Of course she says she’s retired, but it must be tempting to succumb to the demand for a sequel to her pseudonymous bodice-ripper. Sex in space: it’s the first, second, and third thing anyone ever asks about when they’re talking to a colonist. Stella could write the novel—ideally a thinly-veiled memoir—that could answer everyone’s questions and put the matter (so to speak) to rest.

2. Jacob. The sexy hydroponic farmer, runner-up to Liz in the hotness contest. How does he get that definition in his obliques? I was never much of a gym monkey before, but now that it’s doctor’s orders to work out at least two hours a day—an easy goal to meet, given that there’s nothing else to do up here—suddenly I’m following workout streams and flexing in the mirror. How can I stop being a weightless (75 pounds on Mars) weakling? Mars has plenty of sand for people to kick in my face, so I’m understandably nervous.

1. Charli. Who are you, Charli? In a Five Years poll, 67% of people say you don’t really exist, or that you died en routeand everyone is just covering for you. If I could get a Charli tell-all interview, my literary fame would be assured—or, at least, I could write something that would get 20 times as many readers as my novel did.

Unreality House is on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

Science fiction is stupid

Scott Kendall

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He was so pleased with himself that he kept having his characters from the future quote that line, attributing it to some long-forgotten genius. That’s typical of the self-congratulatory utopianism that largely defines the genre, which continues to ironically thrive even as it becomes increasingly clear that for the foreseeable future, our most “magical” of technologies will be those we develop to save our asses.

Yes, I know there are ample dystopias in science fiction—but such half-ass dystopias! Since Orwell—whose masterpiece pointedly inverted the digits of the year in which he was writing, as though there was any doubt that his concern was the present rather than the future—imagined future dystopias have largely been, merely, evocative settings for the same sort of conventional melodrama you’re apt to find in any sort of genre fiction.

“Billy Bozo, I wouldn’t sleep with you unless you were the last man on…oh. Well, here we go, then!”

If I were to formulate a Kendall’s Law, it would be that great science fiction is an impossibility, because (I offer this proof):

I. The ostensible defining characteristic of science fiction is its imaginative depiction of a future milieu.

II. Therefore, the less daringly that future world is imagined, the less effective a work is as science fiction.

III. The more daringly a future world is imagined, the more energy the writer needs to spend explaining that world and the characters’ relationships to it.

IV. The more energy needs to be spent explaining that world, the less room there is to explore the enduring truths of the human experience.

V. The exploration of the enduring truths of the human experience is, simply, the reason fiction exists at all.

VI. Therefore, the more effective a work of science fiction is, the less reason it has for existing at all.

This inherent contradiction is perfectly illustrated by the work of Clarke himself—near-universally acclaimed by genre partisans as a titan of the field, but so inept or uncaring regarding his characters as distinct human beings that if their names didn’t vary, you’d have no idea at all whose experiences he was describing.

“You’ve never liked science fiction, though,” you observe. “Why bother to use the bully pulpit of your Mars-bound trajectory to trash a genre for which you care little and about which you know even less?”

Good question, my imagined interlocutor—except you’re not really imagined, you’re a distillation of all the innumerable nincompoops who’ve tugged my sleeve since this crew was announced to ask whether I’ve started reading science fiction (which I’m careful not to refer to as “sci-fi,” as I’ve been told that’s a term used only by dilettantes—though perhaps I ought to openly advertise myself as such).

No, I haven’t. I read what was absolutely necessary to meet my basic requirements in grammar school, high school, college, and graduate school—funny how the closer you get to the doctoral level, the fewer science fiction books are required as part of an English literature curriculum—and I’ve left it at that. To my mind, if science fiction writers kept the “science” to themselves and left the “fiction” to the proper literary establishment, we’d all be better off.

Unreality House is on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

In space, no one can hear you fart

Scott Kendall

I just put it out there: what if we agree to fart freely? In these tight quarters, there’s going to be no hiding it for long if you do the nasty, so when the need arises, we might as well just let fly—that way, at least everyone else will have an audible warning. I also suggested that we give the entire crew a blanket exemption from saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. Neither motion passed.

Not that we have a democracy: that’s been made clear. Rona is the captain, the officially designated decider of any decisions that may need to be made. She won’t have much to do, though; ideally, in fact, she won’t have anything at all to do. The flight plan is completely automated, and everything that’s not controlled by the onboard computer is controlled remotely from Earth.

Basically, then, she’s the arbiter of arbitrariness. She’s gone from running an acclaimed small press to running a light switch—but her reward, besides getting off the third hellhole from the sun, is that she’ll be the one to publish the first-ever hard copy book printed on another planet. She even got a special grant for it.

Our training for this trip was a cross between Space Camp and a corporate retreat. For better or worse, if anything on the flight goes wrong, it will go really wrong, and that will be that—so NASA didn’t see the need to bother with much technical training. (There was a calculus refresher, presumably so we’ll be ready in the event that we need to recalculate our course with a sextant.) Most of their fears, apparently, involve us killing each other before we get to Mars, so there was a lot of kum-ba-ya bonding time.

I honestly don’t know whether any crews have started preparing in private—it wasn’t like once we got into orbit there was a HAL-style revelation where we were clued in on the secret machinations of the Mars missions. I don’t think the President is being prepped to go, I’ll say that—though if I was in her position, I’d be pulling all the strings to get my ass to Mars. That’s one of the reasons I’m sitting here instead of in the White House, I guess—that, and the fact that Jimmy Carter was probably as close as the country will ever get to making an English professor President.

Having gone through the prep process, I don’t know how it could be secret, really. The only way that could work would be with the kind of social isolate who doesn’t have any friends, and who the hell would want that guy to be on his ship? Plus, if people started bolting to Mars out of the blue, that would only increase the security risk—and another Crew 12 could sink the entire program.

They told us not to look at Two Years, but of course I did—and I’m guessing everybody else does too—so I’m well aware that I was consistently pegged as the lowest risk to jump ship. Their record is pretty good—including with our crew, since they totally called it with Paul and Jyothi bailing at six months—so I figured they were right, there was next to zero chance I’d change my mind about going.

Of course, I thought we’d be able to tear ass at will.

Unreality House is on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

Photo: NASA