[Scene: The drawing room of Felapton Towers – Reality ℥℔Ωℨ 2017, during the unfortunate Weasel Flu Pandemic of that year during the presidency of ¡Jeb! Bush and the Prime Ministership of the Right Honourable Cilla Black]
[Camestros (sleeping)] zzzzz
[Timothy the Talking Cat] Wake up! Wake up! Time for the daily Zoom meeting!
[Camestros] Whaaa…huh…oh, it’s you. Oh, good grief are we doing the online meeting thing again?
[Timothy] PMs orders! All workplaces are REMOTE workplaces and that includes my publishing house.
[Camestros] Yes but you are literally sitting on my lap.
[Timothy] It’s the only place I can reach the laptop that is next to you on the lounge.
(Timothy click “Join Meeting” and after a short but somehow annoyingly long time a Zoom meeting starts. Camestros does the same with his phone. As the meeting starts an ungodly howl omits from both devices.)
[Camestros] Aggh! Turn off the mic! Turn off the audio!
[Timothy] I did that already.
[Camestros] So what was that howling?
[Timothy] You were sitting on my tail.
[Camestros] (grumbles under his breath) So, “boss”, what’s this meeting about?
[Timothy] Well I think we need a holiday.
[Camestros] Yeah but [moves hands to indicate the whole current state of the world] an appalling pandemic that has but the whole world in lockdown. Even the pubs are closed. Even the creepy dry-cleaners is closed and that was even open to begin with.
[Timothy] Ah ha! But I have found the solution…we can escape from all this ON A CRUISE SHIP!
[Camestros] Hmm, well, let me count the ways that is an appalling idea. 1. cruise ships are, even on a good year without a global plague of biblical proportions, floating Petri dishes of disease. 2. I can’t swim. 3. You can’t swim and you hate boats. 3. If we get on a cruise liner I will sing the theme tune to The Love Boat and you will attempt to claw out my vocal claws as a result. 4. Do you KNOW how many people just fall off cruise ships every year and NOBODY notices? It is like A LOT! Good grief, sometimes the crew just throw away the luggage in apparently abandoned rooms and don’t tell anybody. 5. You get cross with me whenever I try to explain the connection between Jordan Peterson and the film of the Poseiden Adventure at the best of times. A cruise is just one long giant social event and you know how I’ll get and that will be the ONLY topic of conversation I’ll be able to think of. 6. I’m pretty confident all the cruise line companies have gone bust. 7. …
[Timothy] …shut that pie hole for a moment, please! This isn’t a regular cruise! It’s not a cruise on the sea! It is a cruise ship of THE IMAGINATION!
[Camestros] Gasp! Tell me more…
Timothy clicked the settings menu on his Zoom app and switched from ‘dialogue mode’ to ‘conventional narrative form’ and with that the whole story shifted style. With another deft flick of his paws he activated ‘share screen’ and a bright colourful image filled the screen. In a friendly font it announced “Mythopoeic Cruises: Travel the worlds in style”.
“Oooh! A fancy brochure!” said Camestros, who was warming to the idea of ditching this timeline altogether. Good grief it was bad enough when Jeb Bush had got elected, surely it couldn’t be worse in the timeline next door. At the very least there wouldn’t be weasel flu.
“Exactly!” cried his loquacious cat, “A fancy brochure for a fancy ship.” and with that he read out the copy from the opening page:
“Mythopoeic Cruises presents this season’s range of ficto-critical adventures through memetic narrative-construct space. Aboard our to-of-the-line psychonautic cruise liner the SS Calliope, you can voyage between fictional countries, cities and even planets.”
“Oh I like the sound of planets,” said Camestros who had warmed considerably to the idea. “Which ones have they got?”
“Hmmm,” said the purple feline, flicking through the pages, “it looks like they’ve only got one planetary option this season.”
Why be satisfied with one, when you can visit every* Mars on Mythopoeic’s “Every* Mars” cruise!
Travel between all* the iterations of the infamous red planet through literature. Delve into the rich heritage of imaginings of our nearest** neighbour and discover how it has inspired legions of the world’s greatest writers!*[Terms and conditions apply. Some manifestations of Mars may be unavailable. **Distance between Mars and Earth varies according to relative orbits. At some times other planets may be closer. ]
“There’s a whole itinerary,” explained the cat, as he continued to read through the brochure.
- Day 1: Board at your nearest gateway to the realm of fiction. Transfer fees, psychedelic drugs, library fees and costs for finding hidden door ways are not included in the price.
- Day 2: Sit back and relax aboard the SS Calliope as the muse of poetry takes you across the starry skies to Mars. Enjoy the all-you-can-conceive-of buffet, the Monomyth Bar and the ship’s own ping-pong table.
- Day 3: Your first excursion! Step on to the nearest Mars to our own reality’s! Explore the Mars of Mark Watney, hero of the bestselling book The Martian! Enjoy the benefits of a low-pressure unbreathable atmosphere! Experience the thrilling excitement of murderous dust storms! Eat potatoes grown in human faeces!
- Day 4: Take a step further into imagination and visit the barely tamed Mars of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. Travel down the space elevator to the surface of Mars to see the engineering feats of terraforming already underway! (Please, ignore rumours of political unrest here — that is typical for Mars, everything is fine really).
- Day 5: Do you love action films? We do! And what could be more thrilling the filmography of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Following on from yesterday’s visit, see how well powerful corporations are now running a peaceful and definitely politically stable Mars! You will have Total Recall of all the great memories of your trip on this day! Sorry, but at this stage of our tour we are not yet at the point where there are actual aliens – so please ignore any rumours about alien artefacts designed to fool unwary tourists.
- Day 6: Every cruise we organise tries to make at least one stop within the mind of Ray Bradbury and this trip is no exception! Prepare for a very special dining experience on our Million-Year Picinic. Take a trip to one of Mars’s many canals and maybe you’ll get to see your very first Martian!
- Day 7: You want Martians? Well we’ve got Martians! They are the tentacled, blood drinking monsters of the Victorian imperial nightmares of H.G.Wells. See majestic tripods in their native habitat! Complain about the red weeds growing everywhere. Encounter intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, who regard our Earth with envious eyes, and who slowly and surely draw their plans against us…but not before our lovely ship sails off for the evening and a star-studded cabaret evening in the ships ballroom!
- Day 8: You know it as Mars but the beautiful Deja Thoris knows it as Barsoom! And you can bet that there are SOME BARS well worth visiting in the beautiful city of Helium! In the afternoon shop for handicrafts in an authentic village of Tharks. Play team sports with them, allowing the low gravity of the planet to grant you effective superpowers! Lead them into battle against the city of Zodanga [check your travel insurance policy covers insurrections before signing up for this optional activity].
- Day 9: After all that excitement you’ll enjoy a peaceful day of spiritual improvement with the Martians who raised Valentine Michael Smith of Stranger in a Strange Land. Form deep bonds with Martians by sharing a glass of water. Commune with the Old Ones, the spirits of the Martian dead. Maybe eat a recently dead Martian. Gain dimensional powers and psychic insight or just visit canals again.
- Day 10: Our last visit to Mars and what could be a more fitting end to our visit than meeting and badly misunderstanding the apparently fatalistic Martians of A Rose for Ecclesiastes. Please try not disrupt any religious services unless you are unwittingly fulfilling a Martian prophercy.
- Day 11: Homeward bound! Relax and enjoy looking back on your memories of Mars (except for Day 5, don’t think about those memories too much). Have a final farewell dinner with your travel companions.
- Day 12: Our ship will crash into Horsell Common in Surrey. Only a short train ride into Waterloo station from Woking.
“See!” said Timothy, “doesn’t that sound great!”
“Yeah…but that’s only eight versions of Mars. That isn’t even close to all of them…” said Camestros.
“Do you want to go or not?” asked the cat grumpily.
“I mean. Really, fictional Mars is just breakaway colonists, greedy corporations, freaky aliens and improbable canals. It’s like a cross between a science-fiction convention, Australia and Birmingham.” said Camestros, “Let’s just stay home and stockpile tapioca!”
“Yes! Let’s start a tapioca panic!”
And so they did and forever after (or at least for the very short period that timeline existed) economists could never understand how the great tapioca shortage of 2017 had begun.