9 Great Sci-Fi Crews. BONUS NEWSLETTER!
Here’s a fun, BONUS newsletter for you. Some of you might remember a while back I did short list of fictional crews. Off the back of that I was asked to compile a longer list of specifically sci-fi crews for an online piece, so there’s a couple of repeats in there, but this is basically a whole new list. You should take it about as seriously as I have. Enjoy!
My latest book, The Hard Switch, is about the crew of a small cargo ship, comprising Ada, Haika and Mallic (an extractor, pilot, and engineer, respectively), and as I was thinking about this central trio, I started musing on ‘crews’ in general. What makes a great crew? Which crew would I most happily join (impending disasters aside)?
So, here are 9 great sci-fi crews. My only rule is they have to be in charge of some kind of ship, otherwise it’s a ‘team’, which is a different proposition entirely. Anyway, you’ll get the hang of it, let’s go!
It’s important to start big, and it’s hard to think of any sci-fi that it’s not been influenced by Alien since its release in 1979. The crew of the Nostromo are almost the definition of a perfect crew. It’s a proper working ship, and everyone onboard is there because of the job they do. They have to work together and get on as well as possible for the good of the ship or mission at hand. There are alliances and irritations, even before the titular alien shows ups and really starts testing those relationships, as well as the ship’s actual integrity. Would like to think I’m Ripley, but I’m probably John Hurt’s unfortunate, Kane.
The Adventures of Tintin: Explorers On The Moon.
Explorers On The Moon is science fiction in the sense that humankind had not yet reached the moon at the time when Tintin and his friends first set foot there. It’s a crew formed of characters we’ve come to know and love from the previous books and it’s great to see them shoulder the burden of an epic collective task, even if they’re not the best suited to the job. Probably not the smartest plan to bring a dog and an alcoholic along, and that’s before a pair of clinically inept identical detectives reveal themselves to have stowed away. Still, hilarity prevails, even when Captain Haddock drunkenly casts himself adrift in space. That said, it’s definitely the darkest storyline of Herge’s enduring creation, with several moments of real tragedy which test our pure and plucky hero as well as this strange, adopted family. Would like to think I’m Tintin, but I’m probably more Captain Haddock these days.
It’s so grim on the Nebuchadnezzar, that the crew only seem to have any fun when they’re back in the simulated life that they have been freed from. But still, humanity isn’t going to save itself, is it? However, in the meantime it’s all threadbare sweaters, hyperbolic monologues and gruel, with only a brutal work out in the kung-fu simulation (or a night with the woman in red) to keep your spirits up. It’s not exactly clear what everyone’s role on board is, and not everyone is on the same page, but they do need guns. Lots of guns. Would like to think I’m Neo, but I’m probably Switch.
I’ve never got into Star Trek, which some would consider the ultimate crew, so my concession is this; an affectionate piss-take. Through a fantastical sequence of events, the actors of well-loved sci-fi show find themselves on board a real-life version of the NSEA Protector and wildly unsuited to the responsibility that comes with that. As events spiral, the down-on-their-luck cast must become the crew they’ve pretending to be for years, digging deep to find hidden talents and a genuinely heart-warming comradery. A lovely example of the film playing with the sci-fi crew tropes, is Sam Rockwell’s terror at realising he is an expendable, unnamed character, and having to be pacified and reassured that maybe he’s the ‘plucky…comic relief?’. Would like to think I’m Tech Sergent Chen, but I’m most likely to be Alan Rickman’s Dr Lazarus.
Quite possibly the definitive ‘crew’, as all the bases are covered, and everyone has a very good reason for being there. However, that doesn’t mean plain sailing, as unique characters mean unique desires and agendas too. Throw in the complexity of ever shifting politics and morality, and it’s a wonder that Serenity ever gets off the ground, let alone stays together. Luckily Mal is a scrappy but exemplary captain, and just about keeps all the plates spinning until the next inevitable betrayal or drama. It’s testament to his skill that he gets the best out of everyone and can even have a priest and hired gun living under the same roof. Would like to think I’m Mal, but I’m probably Wash.
Journey into Space.
Certainly not a contemporary choice, but this classic 1950s radio serial is a really great crew dynamic. Working with the limitations of a non-visual medium, means that the whole conceit has to be sold via sound effects and vocal interactions of Discovery’s crew. The result is way ahead of its time. The characters are all carefully unique, with Jet Morgan almost certainly too hot-headed to be in charge, but mercifully kept in check by the calming presence of Doc Matthews. Humanity and humour are provided by cockney radio operator, Lemmy, balancing out straight-talking and slightly insane engineer, Mitch. Going to the moon, and latterly Mars, when such things were only a pipedream at the time, requires a special kind of imagination and the eerie tone is nailed perfectly. The phrase, ‘Orders must be obeyed without question at all times’ still gives me shivers. Would like to think I’m Doc, but I’m probably Lemmy.
It’s hard to feel like you’re the last man alive when you’re constantly bothered by the hologram of your dead shipmate, a fashion-mad mutation of your cat, a fastidious automaton and a sarcastic computer, but that’s all Dave Lister has left on the deep space mining ship Red Dwarf. The ultimate band of misfits, The Odd Couple strung-out to an odd quartet, but what I admire most is the complete lack of heroism. Everyone’s in a situation they didn’t ask for and will take the path of least resistance to get out of it. Ultimately, it’s a melancholic musing on what it really means to be alive at all, and if hell is being trapped your friends, being trapped with your irritants might actually turn out to be a palatable alternative. Would like to think I’m Holly, but I’m probably, well, Holly, actually.
Space Sweepers borrows a lot from a lot of other science fiction, but still it managed to push all my buttons in very pleasing way. I’ll never get bored of seeing scrappy underdogs pulling off the impossible. The crew of the Victory clearly have a storied past and an uncertain future, but I’ll very happily go along with them for the ride. I like how stripped back an operation it is, just captain, pilot, engineer and harpooner. Of course, some spanners are quickly dispatched into the works, but a bit of banter and do-or-die heroics seems to do the trick, so sign me up. Would like to think I’m Captain Jang, and maybe, just maybe, I am.
The gang of misfits that populate the Planet Express delivery service are the perfect way to it experience all the madness of the year 3000. Considering that Futurama has borrowed, aped and ridiculed pretty much every sci-fiction trope over the years, it means that the show itself has almost become an archive of ‘futuristic’ visual language that now has its own influence on everything that’s come after. As a comedy, the crew are designed for maximum humour, but there’s more to it than that, as we’re very much back where we started with Alien. Everyone is there for a reason (however ridiculous) and even when it seems like Bender is actively working against everyone else, they’re actually always there for each other when it matters. Even if your captain has become obsessed with hunting down and four-dimensional space whale. Would like to think I’m Leela, but I’m probably Ziodberg.
If you’ve enjoyed this and it’s got you the in the mood for some sci-fi shenanigans, The Hard Switch is available HERE or from all good bookstores…and maybe a few bad ones too.
Thanks everyone. Have a great week and I’ll be back soon!
Owen D. Pomery.
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