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Episode 202: Will You Be an Astronaut?

By Greg van Eekhout
Read by Christiana Ellis

First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Astronauts are people who ride rockets into space.  They must train for a very long time before they go.  Astronauts must be brave and smart.

Will you be an astronaut?

* * *

The biggest rocket ever was the Saturn V.  On the launch pad it was taller than a 30-story building.  Today’s rockets are smaller and lighter.  Today’s rockets can be launched more than once.  They have wings and can come back to earth and land like airplanes.

When a rocket launches, it’s like an earthquake. The ground is shaking! There is flame and smoke. It’s like an explosion!

Antonio is strapped into his seat.  He is about to ride to a space station.  Because there is no air in space, Antonio must wear a space suit.  In the suit, Antonio can breathe and talk over radio.  He wears a helmet with a special faceplate that protects him from the sun.  The fingers of his gloves have tiny claws that help him work with small objects.

What’s all that noise? It must be a rocket! Astronauts are traveling to space!

5-4-3-2-1!  Lift off!

Rated PG-13. Deceptively G…

Comments (33)

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  1. MasterThief says:

    Well, that was some grade-A Nightmare Fuel.

    Fighting telepathic aliens that want to send us back to the stone age is one thing. But retelling it as a children’s book? (“People like your mother and father died.”) Very creepy, and very well written and well-read. Thanks for the disclaimer, I didn’t realize until 1/3 of the way in why it was needed.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I second what MasterThief said.

    Even worse is that to some degree the asps are right, but you can’t agree with all of their demands. Oy.

  3. MattF says:

    I agree with Jennifer and MasterThief. The really creepy thing about this story is that neither side is reliable and of course the hauntingly simple style of the story. Very well read.

  4. schleifnet says:

    while i understand the reason for the reading style, I got annoyed real quick with the stop/go children’s coloring book reading style and yet I still listened to the whole thing

  5. L33tminion says:

    Would have been better, IMO, if it ended a sentence earlier, but that’s a nitpick.

    Mostly, I agree with the posters above.

  6. Niall Mor says:

    This is a story that becomes more disturbing the more you think about it. Which is creepiest?

    a) The asps?

    b) The quasi-totalitarian society that has developed in order to protect humanity from the asps?

    c) The fact that all of this is packaged and sold to children so that it appears normal and acceptable?

  7. phignewton says:

    does this story make any sense? certainly its fun slowly laying out the information… but… mile long string like aliens with mind control and lord knows what that can still be destroyed by a few space-guns? where are they coming from and why the heck do they care about human technology? they dont like us messing about with mars? getting footprints on the moon? The idea of aliens from space that want us to shape up an quit with the nasty shit people do DOES make sense but at the same time its a very human concept… very human-centric.

  8. Ken_K says:

    Creepy. The thing is I could see this happening too. And the PTB would no doubt use these sort of techniques to train and motivate their child soldiers. Very creepy.

  9. scatterbrain says:

    Ah…Eekhout. Whatever topic, this writer can do no wrong. I bought his chapbook Show and Tell and Other Stories and it was brilliant; I suggest you go to Tropism Press quickly and pick it up before they run out, and it is well worth it. Plus, its got a squid on the cover, which I thought was a great bonus.

  10. Adam K says:

    Listened to this story last night as I tried to get some zzzzz, but ended up staying awake until the end! Great story, well developed. Nice glimpse into the world behind the story.

    Only, I couldn’t work out what Childrens story Steve E. was referring to…any ideas?

  11. Sam says:

    Unbelievably annoying narration.

  12. Jake says:

    I suppose when you really examine the story and the fact that information can be presented to children this way, it is a very, very good story. Unfortunately, the very way that it was told prevented me from enjoying it. When the story began, I hoped that the children’s book tone would give way to a more mature voice. The narrative voice kept me from really enjoying the story (I have never before hoped that an Escape Pod episode would end quickly!), although I suppose the message that this sort of information might be packaged to children by a totalitarian society is rather frightening.

    tl;dr: Didn’t like the story when I listened to it, but later could appreciate certain merits.

  13. Brave Space Monkey says:

    In the future, the language of astronauts will be Monkey-ese! This Monkey would be happy with a orbiting station with guns…

    Kind’a creepy. I’d like to see the illustrations of this “children” book.

  14. popepat says:

    Ooh ooh! I was always good at Missile Command. Pick my for the space defense force… me me me!

  15. MrsF says:

    I was annoyed with the whole story, from the monotone narration, to the purple string aliens, and the full description of the food ration box and it’s contents. Did that really move the story along? No.
    Personally, I love childrens books and was excited about hearing a sci-fi story as a kids book, after several minutes I realized that this author needed a good editor.
    This could have been a flash, and would have been better as one. I hated every minute of this.

  16. yicheng says:

    Loved this story! I grew up in China until I was 9, and I remembered reading/hearing similar types of stories. I remembered one starring a heroic PLA soldier fighting the Japanese who ran up to an enemy bunker with an explosive satchel and held it against the bunker with is body in order to destroy it.

    If Earth was attacked by aliens, I can well imagine a similar kind of neo-fascist culture rising up, like the kind you saw in Starship Troopers.

  17. Julio says:

    groan of despair# In Brazil we speak Portuguese, not spanish. #sigh

  18. Sorry, Julio. I know that now, but I can’t remember if I knew that when I wrote the story. I was a bit stupider in 2002.

  19. Julio says:

    Oh! Hello Mr van EekHout. It’s a very common mistake. I was reacting not only to your story, but to how this misconception is widespread. I did enjoy the story and the non conventional manner of its presentation, somewhat like the Mars Exploration Guide.

  20. caliscott says:

    I think that julio brought out a key point …we need more on the papal line of demarcation. Maybe the asps could have all the land west of Rio.

    I loved this story. I realized that I am enough of a jingoist to take some solace in the fact that North America wasn’t totally grey.

  21. I didn’t destroy all of North America? The hell? Was I drunk when I wrote this?

    Now that I think back, I might have intended all of Latin America to be governed by a bigly huge alliance of Central and South American powers, and Spanish would have become their official language, even in Brazil. It’s possible I’m making this up after the fact, but I’m not sure. Enough time goes by, I forget what I was thinkingm and for good or ill, only the story remains.

  22. Gia says:

    If everyone has to speak Spanish in space why was Antonio spelling in English?

    Asps are so naggy. “You can’t use radio waves or metal. You can’t cultivate crops, You can’t go into space.” Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag.

  23. Tkann says:

    I did not like the way this story was read AT ALL! Next time it supposed to sound like a child maybe a child should read it. Terrible stroy.

  24. john says:

    Rated PG-13. Deceptively G…

    should have been rated F. for fast forward.

  25. Natasha says:

    Neat story, but whoa was the narration annoying. This story would be better left on the paper, or else shortened as a Flash. That was way too much time spent listening to a children’s story no child would sit through.

  26. I also think this one could have ended juuuust a sentence or two earlier. Would have been punchier.

    That said, it was pretty cool, in the tradition of older “if you’re waiting for an explanation, tough cookies” style SF from when I was a kid. Wish I’d read it back then so I could have been properly creeped out, but I still enjoyed it.

  27. Vance M. says:

    This story has been brought to you by the letters “C” for creepy and “P” for Propaganda. (awesome story and narration btw)

  28. Maligma says:

    should have been rated S. for sucks.

  29. besucher says:

    This short story was really cool. Why? Basically, the story is pretty simple, an old-school science fiction with some good ideas. But the story telling makes it really cool. It is short enough, I really liked to listen to it. And the lady did a perfect job with reading it. Congratulations!

  30. Alex says:

    I’ve tried listening to it 4 times now. Every single time the narration annoys me so much that I turn it off within the first few minutes. I even tried skipping ahead in the hope that it would get less annoying. No such luck.

  31. M J Sharpe says:

    The narration technique is what makes it so creepy – it would have been a fairly by the numbers dystopian tale otherwise, but the way it made me think about a small child reading this book and growing up in this world really made me connect with it (possibly because I have a small child and worry about the future he’ll grow up in)

  32. Gwen says:

    Creeeeepy! In a good way. And I agree with MJ- the children’s book reading made it creepier and more interesting.