My parents were flower teenagers when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the Moon. Despite cabin-mate Buzz Aldrin's pop culture ubiquity, it was Armstrong's gravely voice — “That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” — that inspired generations of deep-space dreamers. The lunar legend's passing last week, and a selection of his letters reproduced on mental_floss, got my mind drifting. What if the first moonwalk occurred in the 19th Century? What if classic authors transported their tales to the cosmos?
This is not an easy concept. Resetting novels in celestial environments can result in some wack-ass mashups, and I'm definitely not a fan. I'd make a pitch for Bram Stoker's Dracula — two words: “space vampires” — except it's been done, even inspiring a pretty sweet film adaptation.
Still, I've identified some classics that would convert wonderfully in outer space. Take a giant leap (of faith) with me and read on.
Star Wars Episode VII: Revenge of the Realist
What if Chichikov, of Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, piloted around Russia in the Millennium Falcon instead of that spacious britzka? Manilov's “Britishly” over-politeness demands gold-toned protocol droid C-3PO, while in-your-face Nozdryov could be any of the bruisers boozing at Mos Eisley's cantina (which, in this version, would be called "Gogol's Bordello.") Sobakevich cuts a Jabba-esque figure, if not in sluglike physique and penchant for malice, then in his shrewd business acumen and voracious appetite. And miserly Plyushin could be Yoda fallen from the Force, and his halcyon garden — shadows “yawning like a dark maw” — the lonely swamp of Dagobah.
Alien vs. Kafka
In The Trial, Franz Kafka conjures a labyrinthine city around accused Josef K, echoing a convoluted, inaccessible authority. Now picture K wandering the gas-spewing corridors of an industrial spaceship, like Nostromo in Ridley Scott's Alien. Sliding doorways and claustrophobic crawlspaces lead not to a drooling Xenomorph but to legions of lawyers, or perhaps batty court painter Titorelli. Though I like the idea of the sadistic Flogger becoming a Facehugger, tonguing K's pitiful arresting officers instead of beating them.
Charlie and the Magic Mountain at the End of the Universe
Except for a few snowshoes into town, The Magic Mountain dwells way up in a Davos sanatorium. Thomas Mann's masterwork could double as a huge-ass spacecraft with breathtaking views and a killer kitchen, combining Milliways from Douglas Adam's The Restaurant at the End of the Universewith the luxurious Space Hotel from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Spacewalks replace young Hans Castorp's meandering strolls with humanist Settembrini and radical Naphta, while Davos' idyllic panoramas could be swapped for crazy shit like the Pillars of Creation. Plus, Castorp's harrowing hallucination in the chapter “Snow” easily translates to deep-space distress.
Neuromancer in Venice
I'd even chance converting the beachfront Grand Hôtel des Bains of Mann's novella Death in Venice into Freeside, the glitzy cylindrical space resort from William Gibson's Neuromancer. Better still, consider sunny Ursa Minor Beta from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (fine, I'm an Adams fanboy), with its endless subtropical coastlines and perennial Saturday afternoon climate, “just before the beach bars close.”
Told you these re-imaginings aren't easy. If I've implanted any intergalactic mashup ideas in you, jot them down below. And if this all seems a bit far-fetched, I'll leave you with Mann's time-traveling meditation on the Lido di Venezia:
the sea, so bright with glancing sunbeams, wove in [Aschenbach's] mind a spell and summoned up a lovely picture: there was the ancient plane-tree outside the walls of Athens, a hallowed, shady spot, fragrant with willow-blossom and adorned with images and votive offerings in honor of the nymphs and Achelous.
Image: The Magic Mountain cover via the author's own scan + Pillars of Creation via ScienceBlogs, photo-chopped by the author