Charles Stross‘ Saturn’s children: a Space Opera (Ace Books, 2008) is not what I’d call opera. Told from the perspective of Freya Nakamichi 47, designed as a sex bot for human pleasure, I would call it a good hard science fiction story. Freya’s trouble begins when she takes a job as a ‘courier’ for a secretive organization. On her voyages from Venus to Mercury, to Mars, to Callisto (a moon of Jupiter) and then finally to Eris (a dwarf planet bigger than Pluto and way out there) Stross explores various forms of interplanetary transport. Realistically. And, along the way, fills in an interesting history of the final era of humans to beyond their extinction in the 23rd century. What happens to the servants, slaves and helpers of humanity after they are gone is an interesting story line.
I picked this book up as it was being advertised heavily at World Con this summer and, at one of the Con parties, one of his fans told me that he was envious when I told him I hadn’t read any of Stross’ work. He said that I was in for a treat when I did.
I liked Saturn’s Children but I didn’t find it spectacular. But there’s no way I’ll give up on Stross (we have computer programming in both our backgrounds), I think I’d like to try Accelerando when I next try one of his books. It sounds like a cool idea.
Bulletin: Space Traffic Control is reported to have just picked up seven Defence Guild pilots from their inoperative Zeploids. The unconscious pilots were apparently taken away from their routine reconnaissance mission by a distress call from a Meteor Starlines Lunar Shuttle, of which no traces have been found. Stay tuned to this wavelength for further updates.
…the fascinating images in Mike Moonblazer’s mind from the transmission soon subsides, leaving him in a daze.
The view screens and ports showed an unexpected sight: an immense plain covered with a weirdly white-coloured vegetation. It was evidently some form of daytime with a bluish dwarf star shining in a magenta sky.
Mike simply stared at the alien beauty for close to ten minutes when a combination of a passenger’s emergency signal and Stella Starstruck’s tugging at his arm jockeyed for his attention. The shook hi head once, grabbed the automatic computer output and moved to the projecting alcove.
“Attention! This is your captain speaking. Please remain in your seats and do not panic. We have somehow been transported to some far away planet. My computers have thus far only been able to confirm that this isn’t Earth. I would advise you to not open your view ports as the atmosphere is extremely toxic and bad for the skin.”
“Now, please take out your Shuttle Emergency Manual found by depressing the yellow but–?”
An eerie wail interrupted Moonblazer’s litany, followed by that same daze that he had experienced before the shuttle had appeared here. He shook his head in amazement to see that the shuttle had disappeared from around him, leaving only the white plain, Stella and the poisonous air!
Stella soon learned that the computer had been wrong, for she was obviously breathing. She laughed as she bent down to try to resuscitate the captain from his dead faint.
“Wha… what happened?”
“Wake up Mike—I think we have company…” Something in Stella’s voice turned Mike in the direction she was looking.
At least seventy dwarf-like men, not surprisingly all Vok look-a-likes were advancing towards the pair across the white plain.
They carried brutal weapon-like tubes at their sides, all of which were trained on Mike and Stella. While the rest of the company halted, a single especially fierce dwarf approached within talking distance.
“Greetings Mike Moonblazer and Stella Starstruck.” His voice was gruff with no hint of friendliness at all. “I have brought you here to provide me with some very important information. You must give us this information directly: is it true? Are Luke and Leia getting together again?”
–1981/06 published in The Grapevine Volume VI, Final Collector’s Issue–
The Shuttle almost launched itself and so, to Mike’s delight, it looked like it was going to be a quiet and uneventful trip.
As the ship’s guidance computer controlled the ship’s velocity perfectly, Moonblazer was free to show Stella the controls and his duties. Their conversation had been drawn back to Mike’s weird encounter in his state-room.
“It’s a shame that Vok had no time to convey his information, Mike,” Stella was saying. “Maybe it was some kind of joke…”
Stella was interrupted, however, as a fantastic sight came to the forward view screen. A deep purplish area was moving directly toward them. It was bordered by several huge, rather quickly gyrating, balls.
Mike leapt to the controls and shut down the Nav. Com. while activating the emergency beacon in one swift motion. He banked hard to port and the craft trembled with its sudden start. Avoiding the object seemed impossible—for it, gigantic as it was, swerved with them. Another attempt of Mike’s rendered the same results.
Though he didn’t like to do it, Moonblazer had no time to react differently—he fired a short burst of plasma energy directly at the purple object. The ‘thing’ was only half a kilometre from the ship as Mike watched the plasma hit the purple thing and … disappear. There was no expected explosion at all!!!
The Captain sat helplessly as he watched the object come closer. All of a sudden it moved clear.
“Look!” Stella exclaimed as she pointed to the rear and starboard screens. “A group of Zeploid Destroyers!”
It was too good to be true for Mike—Zeploid Destroyers were the fastest and most lethal space cruisers in the known Cosmos and there were seven of them!
The sleek ships soon completely surrounded the intruder, where it hung stopped in space—seemingly harmless. Suddenly Mike’s fervent hopes were shattered as seven yellow-green rays from one of the green balls enveloped each Destroyer. They were robbed of their movement and left seemingly lifelessly stopped where they were.
The object moved towards the Shuttle and Moonblazer tried to reassure his passengers; “I’m sure we don’t have to fear for our lives—the object seems to want to capture us,” the Captain said tersely. “For it did not, as I’m sure you saw, beam us as it did the Destroyers. Please, try to stay calm, I’ll do everything in my power to get your money refunded if there is any loss in time.”
Aboard one of the Zeploid Destroyers a half-stunned pilot lifted his head in time to see the Moon Shuttle disappear into the purple object. Then the object and attending balls vanished. He hit his emergency beacon before he sagged back into unconsciousness.Make sure to buy the stunning next issue to learn Captain Mike Moonblazer’s fate!
–1981/04 published in The Grapevine Volume VI, Issue IV–
Captain Mike Moonblazer landed the space shuttle without any further interruptions, at 4:30, at Luna Base Vega.
After performing all the post flight regalia routine in a Shuttle-of-the-Line Captain’s life, Mike retired to his apartment deep within Vega’s sub-lunarian caverns. His room was large and luxurious, furnished in early 31st century.
A good photon shower washed off all of Moonblazer’s ‘9 to 5’ cares and helped him get ready for his date with Miss Starstruck.
“Ahh—that’s better,” he mumbled as he stepped out of the bathroom. This statement, however, was soon followed by another, “Ahh”, as Moonblazer found an eerie green phosphorescent object in the middle of his state-room.
“There is no need to be frightened, Captain,” said the object. It turned around and let Mike see the front of his body. Moonblazer saw that it was a holographic image of a small man. He, the Dwarf-like person, seemed to project an aura of such age and wisdom that Mike felt inclined to kneel down to be at eye-level with the image.
The hologram found its rich, ancient voice again, “I am a friend, Mike, and I am here to warn you that you are in great danger.”
“What danger? And just who are you?” the disgruntled Captain blurted out.
“There is no time for chatter—listen to me.” The voice took on a stern tone. “I am called Vok Al’hnuir and Unhh…”, their talk was interrupted with Vok’s sudden painful expression and the holo wavered noticeably. Then Vok resumed, “…be…Beware the… the vo…” The small man’s image flickered and vanished.
“The what? Come back Vok,” Moonblazer said to the empty air, uselessly.
Mike contacted the Vega Communications Centre and inquired about the Holo-Beam that had been placed to his room. He was surprised to hear that no beam had come through any of the com-link beacons or from anywhere on Luna. Any beam of such clarity to have bypassed any of the normal receivers would have had to be extremely tight and have a super high energy source.
Moonblazer was so intrigued that he almost forgot about his date. He picked her up at 7, however, true to his word, and brought her to the best restaurant in Vega. They had an enjoyable evening and, at the end, fell to a discussion of whether Luck Skywalker was meant for Princess Leia or Colonel Dearing. The food was very good.
Stella had never heard of anyone named ‘Vok Al’hnuir’ in all her long media career. She agreed that it had been a queer business.
Mike walked Miss Starstruck to the studio. The next morning he accompanied her to the Luna Shuttle and made ready for the trip back to Earth.
Read the next issue where Moonblazer encounters the vortex.
–1981/02 published in The Grapevine Volume VI, Issue III–
The Airlock opening alarm alerted the passengers to the portal and flashing red light atop of it.
Captain Moonblazer burst from the command section of the shuttle and stood in front of the airlock door in a heroic fighter’s stance.
The portal opened and, much to Stella Starstruck’s dismay, an ordinary human walked in. (She had been hoping for her own dramatic rescue by hunky Moonblazer from ugly three-eyed aliens).
Moonblazer, recovering from his comatose state, blurted out, “What is the meaning of this intrusion? There was no radio contact whatsoever!”
The man gave Mike back his ‘commanding stare’– full in the face and then slouched against the door’s frame. His nasal, slightly bored, voice eased out, “I am a member of the Interstellar Space Policy Corps.” He stopped, waiting for this words to sink in…
Terrified visions whizzed through Mike’s brain. “Oh No! The cops—what have I done this time?”, he thought.
… the cop’s voice shattered Moonblazer’s thinking. “You have violated section 1073-A of the space code—not having any or sufficient illumination on the interstellar license plate. A fine of 20 million Canadian* dollars is due. There’s your ticket—your identification has been noted—you have 5 light years in which to pay this fine. Thank you for your time. Goodbye.”
With that closing salutation, the officer tuned on his heels leaving Moonblazer with a look of relief on his face.
Moonblazer walked back to the projection alcove and explained the intrusion. “Attention Passengers, this is Captain Moonblazer once again. The ISPC’s intrusion was only for a minor traffic violation. Ordinary flight has again resumed with hardly any time loss. I would be happy to entertain any queries you may have.”
Some strange-looking people leaped from their seats and had to be restrained.
Moonblazer sank back into the command seat and stared out into the stars—all the past 15 minutes of pressure melting away from his face as he contemplated the cosmos. His vigil was shortened, however…
Moonblazer swung around to face one of his passengers—a brunette with a knock-out figure. He recognized her immediately as Stella Starstruck, the most popular TV anchorwoman in the Solar System.
He leapt to his feel affecting the Captain’s stance for receiving a war medal and said, “Yes, Miss Starstruck—you have a question?”, in his suavest voice.
“Yes Captain—this may be a little ‘off-the-cuff’ but may I ask the privilege of dining with you this evening? I’m not due on set till ten tomorrow.”
Mike made sure his jaw was back in place: “Yeah, sure—anything for the Miss Stella Starstruck,” he said, trying to overcome his adrenalin overflow.
“Marvellous,” Miss Starstruck responded with a winning smile, “then that’s a date. I’ll look forward to, say, 7 o’digital clock?”
“Ah, seven will be, uh, fine.” His captain-like gaze saved him from showing too much excitement.
Tune in next issue for the thrilling dinner were Mike Moonblazer says, “So how long did you know Luke Skywalker?!!!!
*-author’s note- the Canadian dollar will have been devalued so much, by the year 3209, that the fine will have an estimated value of only 74 marks or 6.4 trillion lyra
–1980/12 published in The Grapevine Volume VI, Issue II–
This is a blast from the past. It’s a Space Opera serial I did way back in 1980 when I worked on my high school newspaper. The story was called “The Education of Mike Moonblazer, a spacial soap opera a la Gorf.” Gorf was my nickname then. I’ve only corrected some of the spelling and grammatical mistakes. This was done on Gestetner sheets and any of you who’ve used those knows how difficult it was to correct mistakes.
Stella Starstruck strapped herself in for what she hoped would be an uneventful trip to the moon. The shuttle was one of the line of Meteor Starlines (Ltd) who always upheld their advertising logo: “For the Blast that will Last, Fly Meteor–We’re Fast.”
“A Blast alright”, Stella remarked to herself as the craft was escaping the gravity of Earth, “my ears are still ringing.” A siren broke her thoughts followed by:
“Attention! This is your flight Captain speaking. Please familiarize yourselves with the following in-flight accident precautions. In the event of an alien attack, do not panic, I am fluent in a total of three alien languages. I will try to talk them out of firing. I am also a master of Interstellar Judo and…”
His words were a low mumble in Stella Starstruck’s mind as she looked at the video screen image of the Captain. She was starstruck by his handsomeness.
“Boy is he gorgeous and so brave as to inflict injury on marauding aliens,” Stella thought to herself, “Why, if marauding aliens were to attack right now I’ll bet he would defend his passengers and me to the very end! And he’s much better looking than Dwight or Phil or Marcus or JR or Buck Rogers or even Luke Skywalker, he’s too much, and a ‘hunk’, besides, too.”
Meanwhile, back on the screen “and last but not least, if a case of space-(or home-) sickness should arise please depress the blue button on the service panel at each seat marked, ‘Janitor’ and assistance will be provided. Thank you and have a good flight, this is Captain Mike Moonblazer signing off.”
Moonblazer stepped out from the projecting alcove and sat in the command chair situated conveniently in front af the shuttle’s command controls and the front viewpoint commanding a clear view of their destination — the moon. Its silvery light blocked out all stellar illumination (star light).
“Isn’t Luna beautiful from way up here Miss Spacely?” Moonblazer said in his deep, romantic, and rich voice, “It kind of reminds me of when I was a little kid on Earth looking up at the Moon at night!”
“Just call me Sheila, Captain Moonblazer,” the natural blond flight hostess and co-pilot answered, “Yes it is, sir, it always fills me with romantic feelings.”
The Captain cleared his throat nervously and said, “Well now, isn’t that something… yep that’s something alright, yep!” (The Captain has always been shy with women since his relationships with Donna, Philamena, Marcine, Jeannie, Colonel Dearing and especially Princess Leia).
“Captain, what does this flashing red button mean? Is something wrong?” asked the startled Sheila.
“That? Oh, that’s only the marauding alien alarm” Moonblazer replied nonchalantly only to be followed by “-Oh no!!! Look! That’s the airlock alarm now flashing– they’re boarding! I’ll have to go confront them.”
End Part l.
Will Mike live to meet Stella?
Will Luke and Leia ever love again?
For these and much, much more wait for the next installment.
–1980/10 published in The Grapevine Volume VI, Issue I–