The Unsinkable Starship Titanic

Douglas Adams’ Starship Titanic

A few years ago, I inherited some of my dad’s book collection when my mum decided to have a clear out. Included in the books were all five volumes of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy “trilogy.” I couldn’t wait to read them.

As a child, I had been brought up watching the 1981 BBC television adaptation and as an adult, I had also seen the 2005 movie which I unfortunately couldn’t bring myself to like – although the yarn sequence brought me close. The books promised far more detail and depth so I read them almost immediately. Throughout experiencing the series in various forms, a few ideas have really leapt out at me and stuck in my head; the concept of Milliways: the Restaurant at The End of the Universe (although I have to admit that I’d rather eat at the Big Bang Burger Bar), the knack of learning to fly – you need to learn “how to throw yourself at the ground and miss” but one concept that really stuck with me was that of Starship Titanic.

The tragedy of the Titanic has fascinated people since the day of the disaster, almost one hundred years ago. Melissa Peltier, the producer of a 1994 documentary about the ship said during an interview,

“It’s almost like a Greek myth that really happened in our lifetime. It’s so unbelievable. It’s so mythic. The little human stories on board. All the morality plays that are happening, just the whole idea of the arrogance and the hubris of speeding through the ice field because (they thought) nothing could go wrong. It’s a huge moral lesson.”

Such an inimitable story would naturally find its way to be woven into science fiction, as with most other great tales, both fictional and real. In the Hitchhiker’s series, Starship Titanic is mentioned only briefly in 1982’s “Life, the Universe and Everything”.  We are told of its majesty and beauty, how it was built in the “great ship-building asteroid complexes of Artrifactovol” in the early days of Improbability Physics and how, seconds after its launch, it suffered “a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.” The ship is not mentioned again within the Hitchhiker’s canon, but instead became the star of its own computer game, devised by Adams sixteen years later in 1998 along with Monty Python’s Terry Jones. In the computer game, the ship undergoes “Spontaneous Total Existence Failure” and crash lands on Earth, more precisely, on top of the player’s house. It then becomes the player’s task to restore the sabotaged computer, Titania and save the ship. The game is notoriously difficult, I myself have only ever managed to wander around aimlessly and feed some chicken to a parrot. Gaming site Destructoid ran a “Games that Time Forgot” article on it which stated:

Additionally, Starship Titanic remains one of the most absurdly difficult adventure games ever made: the puzzles often seem designed to be funny, rather than challenging, and as a result their solutions range anywhere from obscure to downright ridiculous. It literally got so bad that later versions of the game came with a 120 page walkthrough, packaged completely free of charge. If you ever plan on trying Starship Titanic out, then, for the love of God, use a strategy guide. That, or plan on ripping out half your hair because you didn’t know that a robotic parrot enjoys eating brazil nuts instead of walnuts.

A book entitled “Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic” based on the game was written by Terry Jones who was also responsible for development of the game alongside Adams. Jones’ influence is strongly felt in the absurd and surreal humour found all the way through the game.

The year after the publication of the Starship Titanic game, Futurama got in on the act with its season one episode, “A Flight to Remember in which the crew of Planet Express got to sail aboard the maiden voyage of the new Titanic space cruise ship.  The plot of the Futurama episode was based almost completely on James Cameron’s Titanic, rather than the concept developed by Douglas Adams, and parodied it in several scenes including the famous dancing scene on the lower deck. As this was a short cartoon and the plot focused mainly on the characters, the ship was more of a convenient backdrop to the story than an integral part of the plot as it is in the material penned by Douglas Adams.  However the ship has been re-designed to fit into the visual style of the Futurama universe perfectly, even using the famous Tube Transportation System for the passengers to embark upon the ship. The episode ended with the ship being pulled into a black hole rather than sunk by an iceberg after the ship’s captain, Zapp Brannigan, pilots her into a swarm of comets, referred to in the show as “the icebergs of the sky”. In an interesting change to the original story, the Futurama Titanic appears to have had enough lifeboats to evacuate everyone on board.

The concept of Starship Titanic faded into obscurity for almost a decade until the BBC’s re-vitalised Dr Who franchise used it for the 2007 Christmas Special Voyage of The Damned. In this special the Titanic, an interstellar cruiser from the planet Sto, crashes not into a house but into the TARDIS which is in orbit over Earth whilst on a sightseeing tour to observe the traditions of primitive cultures – specifically Earth at Christmas. Naturally a catastrophe is imminent with the sabotaged ship due to hit London causing the Doctor to spend most of the episode saving the ship and its occupants (and falling for yet another attractive – and doomed – young lady.) The special received the highest viewing figures for a Dr Who episode since 1979’s City of Death when it aired on Christmas Day.

For now, Starship Titanic is again at peace but for how long? For almost three decades the concept of Starship Titanic has been revisited and re-written in a multitude of formats. Is it so unthinkable that the future may bring more games, books, perhaps even a movie? The story of the Titanic has always had the potential for almost infinite re-writes and by moving the bones of the story out of our past and into our future, the possibilities become even broader.

For now, the Starship Titanic game is still available for purchase second hand if you feel like taking a tour of the ship and becoming incredibly frustrated, The Dr Who Christmas special is available as part of the Season Four box set and the Futurama episode is available on the Volume Two box set.

Steampunk Philosophy

© Dave Clifton 2011

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to host a steampunk discussion at Mythic Faire, a fantasy/myth/alt culture convention that features live music, masquerade balls and special guests. I had a stellar time, both as a guest and an attendee, with the steampunk panel discussion being the highlight of my weekend. I  type “panel discussion” with a bit of a smirk, because truth be told it was just me up there on the dais.  Every faire or convention has it’s little surprises and this wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself without panel partners. Thankfully I’m an experienced public speaker with a background in theater and improv, so crowds of people wearing expectant expressions don’t generally intimidate me. And hey, at least I know how to make an entrance.

The great thing about doing a panel discussion on your own is that you have the freedom to turn what would be an “us talking at all of you” experience into an “all of us talking to each other” experience. So that’s what we did. The result was a lively and informative discussion on the deep roots and underlying philosophy of steampunk. Beyond top hats and goggles, beyond modded keyboards and brassy rayguns, beyond cos-play, corsets, and Lord and Lady RPG – what exactly is at the heart of steampunk?

What we discovered as we explored this topic together is that to many of us (certainly to the people present in the room that day) steampunk is so much more then a simple aesthetic. It’s a philosophy for life. Steampunkian principles can be applied to any aspect of your life. A commitment to self sufficiency and the creativity of the individual, support of small and local business, respect of artisanship and traditional materials are core steampunk concepts. Hardcore steampunk enthusiasts tend towards a longing to downsize the material aspects of their lives, while simultaneously demanding more function, better design and romantic execution of the objects they choose to have around them.

In fact you might say that the steampunk philosophy could be summed up in this golden rule:

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful‘

Guess who said that?

William Morris, the Victorian era designer and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement.

I firmly believe that steampunk as a philosophy has it’s deepest roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1860s. This movement was largely a backlash to the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s. Arts and Crafts philosophy favored the skilled work of human hands and master craftsman over mass-produced and commercially made items. It was this same debate that dominated the discussion at Mythic Faire. Is the value of an object inherent only on it’s surface? What about how, or where the piece was made? Is an object steampunk because you’ve glued cogs to it, or because of it’s purpose? It’s this very same discussion that spurred on the development of glorious movements of art and design that we so treasure today. 150 years later we are having the same debates over mass produced imported goods, versus locally made and artisanal items. It’s a good debate, with complex questions and few simple answers.

For my part I enjoyed the lively discussion that manifested and look forward to exploring the connection that steampunk philosophy has to current social and economic issues more in the future. What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments!

Editor’s Note: There’s still time to enter to win one of Brigid’s Steampunk figurines! Deadline for the giveaway is Sunday night.

Steampunk Week Giveaway (Now Closed)

“Incomplete” Steampunk Art & Figurine © Brigid Ashwood 2011

When I heard we were going to be having a steampunk week here at I knew right away that I wanted to help celebrate the event with a giveaway. Just as I was deciding what, exactly, to give away, I received an email from a figurine company I work with.

Lo and behold, the new line of figurines they were producing based on my steampunk-inspired art were finished with production and on their way to me via UPS. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

All of the four figurines pictured here were based on drawings and paintings of my work. Since I can’t decided which of these to give away – I’ll let the winner choose. To enter simply comment in the thread below. The winner (chosen randomly) will receive a signed print and the matching signed figurine set of their choice!

This giveaway is open to everyone regardless of location. The deadline to enter is Sunday night. Lastly don’t fret if you don’t win. You can buy prints and figurines on my website. Good luck!

UPDATE MONDAY 3/28 9:06 AM – And the winner is ….. Jenny R. ! I’ll be contacting you via email Jenny R.