Streamer Girl

I watched Prospect (2018).

The story begins with teenage girl Cee listening on headphones to what sounds like 20th century pop music. We soon see she is by a porthole on a spaceship.

It is never established where we are in space or time, or even if these human-looking characters originate from Earth. The world we are travelling to is a terrestrial moon of a larger gas planet that dominates the sky seen from the surface.

Note also that the handwriting Cee is using in her notebook is not like any existing human alphabet, though it may be a new phonetic script. All speech is in English.

Cee is travelling with her dad Damon, who is actually a bit partial to narcotics that he administers as eyedrops, and also finds some pills he has are a bit moreish.

Mum died some time ago and Cee is still finding out details of her origins from dad’s casual conversation. They have an uncertain life in this hyperspace hyperliberal gig economy where everyone’s struggling on zero hours contracts and big loans to keep their decrepit old spaceships working long enough to make another big score. Yet Damon is still competent enough to get offered decent work, if he can keep it together to get there.

The cockpit is an odd construction of 1970s hospital radiology control panels of switches and knobs, with only the most basic visual displays through which we can see the big space station drifting away from us. Oddest of all, he has to check an old spiral-bound instruction manual.

We get down to the green moon, and humans have to wear helmets and breathing gear to get about in the enchanted forest where motes are floating in the air.

We see the remains of dead travellers and learn the secret of this future economy, in which various alien races are exploited and harvested by the humanoids, who presumably can’t synthesise various biological products available from them. The treasure of the forest world lies in a certain kind of insect, whose body contains some sort of stomach or placenta which can be pulled out (at risk of losing an arm) and then carefully dissected to extract some kind of gem. The dissection may also be dangerous as the organism has protective sacs of acid to destroy its own value, and we are told other explosive side-reactions can occur, which of course is the set-up for them occurring in the climax of the story.

Daddy has been hired to work as the digger (gem extractor) on the big find of “the Queen’s lair” which is currently held by some “mercs” who need a “floater” like him to do the tricky fiddly bit. This should earn him millions if he does his part of of the deal, though he has no intention of heading back to a more stable living-zone as his daughter would like. However he doesn’t get long to argue about this as the pair run into some other marauding desperadoes led by Ezra, a drawling southern gent who wants to cut a deal.

They have a long odyssey across forest-world to get to the scene of maximum greed and glory, and this includes an interlude with a crazy religious figure, the exact details of the faith are not much explored.

Despite the alien setting, this has some similarities with In The Earth, not least the theme of dangerous strangers loose in a forest, which may itself be a malevolent presence. The alien organisms are nothing more than meat and pearls, not any kind of creature to have an ethical concern for, but in this grasping greedy world nobody seems to have too much concerns for anyone’s welfare, though they have a curiously earnest respect for deals negotiated at gunpoint yet treated as honourable and fair contracts. Music may exist but nobody has time for any other culture. The Streamer Girl is the name of a jolly romantic novel that Cee adores and has been copying out in her notebook, but her dad had a Gradgrindian contempt for such things and thought she needed to concentrate on practical engineering skills. As with The Expanse this is a grim projection of the current globalised/precarious economy, and like that it makes little sense in the extension of high-maintenance-cost human labour across a universe where robots would do the jobs so much better and surely must exist more advanced than the ones we already have right now. The presentation of blue-collar-worker-in-space, which started with Alien, is now even more of a cliche than the shiny-suited square-jawed heroic astronauts that they replaced. Why are they flying around in something that looks less advanced than an Apollo capsule, if they’re connected with a scheme to get galactic megawealth?

The climactic battle, in which of course the grasping materialistic planet-robbers all turn against each other, is quite exciting. There is no straightforward happy ending, but there is a resolution.

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