Breaking: Sci-Fi Fun Again

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Title: Startripper!!
Written by: Julian Mundy
Length: 7 Episodes (Ongoing)
Rating: 6.5/10 Plot-Significant Plushies

Okay, let’s all admit something to ourselves: We can only re-watch Guardians of the Galaxy so many times. We all dig the 80s soundtrack and the pretty colors and the pretty actors, but at the end of the day we have to move on from the power of friendship saving the galaxy.

Actually, scratch that. I will never move on, and frankly none of us should.

Somewhere in the last few decades, science fiction seems to have forgotten what it means to have fun. Star Trek got it right, at least, in The Original Series way back in the 60s. Nichelle Nichols was manning the comms with hair that made her half a foot taller, a tiny red dress, and flawless nails, all of which was impractical as a commanding officer but damn if it wasn’t cute. William Shatner got his bare chest exposed every other episode. George Takei convinced the producers to give him a sword, and in every episode the crew of the Enterprise met aliens in glittery eyeshadow and satin togas. They shot off into the stars with trumpets playing in the background. What part about that isn’t fun?

Not to sound like an old coot, but sci-fi these days is so preoccupied with being edgy and significant that it forgets that space is really, really fucking cool. There’s the occasional story that gets it, (Guardians, for example) but in general we don’t really take advantage of all the things that make science fiction a joy to experience. Fun sci-fi deserves as much recognition as gritty space conflicts and thinly veiled racism metaphors.

Don’t you worry your pretty little head, though. I already found one for you.

Startripper!! is the latest audio drama from the Whisperforge, a small production team best known for their historical science fiction drama ars PARADOXICA (which I recommended in my last post). Whereas aP had its fair share of political intrigue, moral ambiguity, and the occasional murder, Startripper!! gives us exactly what we need in the dumpster fire that is 2018: A feel-good story about an optimistic moron traversing the galaxy with his AI BFF and no goal other than to make the most of his life. The lack of an overall plotline, at least at this point in the podcast’s life, keeps me from giving it a higher review. However, there’s way more to this audio drama than quality in the traditional sense.

Startripper!! stars Ian McQuown as Feston Pyxis, a former file clerk who sells everything he owns to buy a second-hand Startripper model spaceship, the same model used in his favorite movie series. From there, he sets out for adventure in the great big galaxy. Getting rowdy on the Space Rachael Ray Show is just one of the exciting pit stops he makes along the way to… Well, to wherever he feels like going.

Feston is so charming that you almost don’t notice that he’s weirdly skilled at obscure extreme activities, like skydiving, monster-slaying in pursuit of a tasty lunch, and Tokyo Drifting in what is essentially a space street race. He’s, like, 6-year-old Anakin Skywalker good in terms of unrealistic qualifications with absurd results. We, as listeners, get the vague inkling that he might be some kind of secret agent, or three secret agents who have, through sci-fi magic, inhabited the body of a file clerk. How can he keep up with space pirates? How could he afford a whole spaceship? How did he score tickets to the Space Met Gala?

But here’s the biggest question that keeps me going, throughout the absurd plotlines and the cheesy conclusions and the happy-go-lucky protagonist that would cause any respectable critic to roll their seasoned eyeballs:

Who gives a shit?

You listen to Startripper!! for the same reason you watch Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Because you want to watch Colin Firth sing and dance to ABBA songs. Because you want to own a charming and lively hotel on a greek island. Because you want to forget everything that’s happening in the real world, just for a few hours, to escape somewhere where things are exciting but safe, unrealistic but joyful.

What’s wrong with things that exist just to be fun?

Now, there’s always the chance that they’re leading us on with this whole optimistic sci-fi thing, since this series is a part of the network that pulled All That Heartbreaking Bullshit in ars PARADOXICA. They also have a history of turning low-action podcasts about strange modes of travel into stories about, like, how to be a better person while still being kind to yourself or whatever (See also their podcast The Far Meridian, which deserves its own review in the future).

As of now, though, the double exclamation points in the title say it all: Startripper!! is there to help you see that life can be okay and fun and exciting, the way you thought it was when you were growing up and dreaming about the galaxy outside your window.

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