Landing on Pluto: the demi-planet with heart

Oblivity writer Rob Stringer shares how Falconer and her team came to be; and why he abandoned them - and this sci-fi comedy podcast - at the edge of the sys’.

It’s the heart that clinched it.

I’ll fess up right now. I’m not a sci-fi enthusiast. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always loved the genre: as a kid I worshipped Dave Lister; as an adolescent I worshipped Gillian Anderson; and as an adult I worship Gillian Anderson.

But I’m not an enthusiast. I couldn’t tell you the name of more than one wookie in Star Trek; I’ve never even tried to pick up any of those 120,000 word speculative novels about politics-but-in-space; and to me, Linda Nagata is just a name I found just now looking in the Wikipedia entry under ‘hard science fiction’.

This is all by way of saying: don’t accuse me of having no credentials, or of not being the bold subverter of tropes and stereotypes that I appear to think I am, cos I know that I don’t, and I’m not. And don’t try to fight me, because if you are a sci-fi enthusiast, you’ll win because you’re probably incredibly violent, and muscular too from holding all those 120,000 word novels. (Gotcha… I AM a bold subverter of stereotypes after all!)

The best damn team in the sys’

But basically, one day in 2017 while skidding around in my socks on a polished kitchen floor, I was mulling over how tediously grim cyborgs usually are on screen. And I thought: ‘what if there was a cyborg who just flipping loved being a cyborg?’

So that was Lowell then. But I couldn’t visualise him alone. He needed a team to temper his somewhat erratic behaviour – and on occasion, enable it.

This took some time. Various personalities asserted themselves and photosynthesised and recalibrated until they formed a tight foursome who I reckoned could cheerfully play off each other in any given situation.

I then spent sleepless nights assessing their Myers Briggs types, colour wheel positions, and favourite cheeses. (Burney: squeezy cheese; Christy: trick question, she’s vegan.)

I contemplated how a bunch of cartoonish comedic archetypes might act and react in a harsh war-torn reality: how the authoritative war-hero would lapse into moments of vulnerability, or unhinged retributive behaviour; the peppy optimist would struggle with self-esteem; the prideful, detached pedant would be reluctantly prone to bouts of humanity; and the madcap clown – well he might be very lonely indeed.

Also, one of them would have an eyepatch, because eyepatches are cool.

Alarming allegory

Sci-fi clearly offers a lot of latitude for external environmental threats. The Persephone team themselves exist in a world where they face being despatched by any number of non-sentient hazards, and a few sentient ones too. And while survival in itself is not to be sniffed at, it’s even more delicious when it can align with some great catharsis or revelation.

Because – in a comedy podcast like this - a meteoroid is never just a meteoroid, is it? It’s a hurtling chunk of metaphor. And by golly do I love a metaphor.

In fact with so much perilous symbolism around, it’s a credit to the team that they manage to plug on with their mundane life of board games, waterslide experiments and crème de menthe.

But of course they do plug on, somewhat unwittingly, while the real danger is just out of reach, and a little more intangible. There’s a war that is raging on: both a few billion miles away, and at the fringes of Falconer’s mind; the battlefield that is where she feels she needs to be, and is not allowed to be.

Meanwhile, her team are the hapless victims of this conflict that’s far, far bigger than them: at once in relative safety, while already being scarred – but now I’m drifting into Season two territory, so I’ll stop there before I give too much away. (If you’d like there to be a season two, and also get some brilliant rewards, please back us on Kickstarter before 17 October 2019!)

Below the belt

Finally, this ragtag bunch of misfits needed a place to hang their dressing gowns, and pin up their spectrometer posters.

It’s no secret that the best way to bring out the most extreme characteristics within a group of people is to isolate those people - together. Whether Craggy Island, Alaska’s Cicely, or Starbug; trapping a bunch of differing perspectives in close proximity and watching what happens is a trusted recipe for drama. (No courganteloupes please.)

Pluto was perfect for this.

There’s no real reason that it should stand out among any other uninhabitable heavenly body; except that it just has a certain allure. For a start, it’s named after the god of death. And with locations such as Krun Macula (named for the lord of the underworld in the Mandaean religion, apparently) Cthulu Regio  and Pandemonium Dorsa, just a glance at the geography is enough to inspire foreboding.

Then there’s its oddities – the eccentric orbits; indecisive moons that change directions; the cosmic waltz with Charon. Add to that its position at the very edge of the sys’, and we have one helluva mysterious genius loci.

But what really stands out when we look at Pluto is that whacking great cardioid on the side – the Tombaugh Regio.

It’s a demi-planet-sized reminder that even when you feel billions of miles from anyone, on the edge of the void, battered by meteoroids, and colder than frozen nitrogen - anybody just has to look at you to know you still have a beating heart.

And by golly, do I love a metaphor.

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Rob StringerComment