Fictitious Reviews

Earthling's Guide to ISS III and the Moon

Rasingh Mehta
Alpha Centauri NanoBooks
New York

Zero-gravity sex and and an out-of-this world casino

Book Review by Jim Huntington, SkyNews

Until this book came along I didn't even know there was an 'International Travel Fiction Writing Contest'. Yet it's 5 years old, and this year's winner is a Frommer-like guide to the ISS (that's International Space Station) III and the Moon. It's like any travel book you might pick up today that includes the principal destination and a more out of the way place, say "Guide to Boston and Cape Cod", or "Guide to Nassau, Bahamas and the Out Islands". Except for one thing: the ISS III doesn't exist and no amount of money no how is getting you to the moon any time soon.

So who needs a guide for these fantasy trips? No one, of course, but that's not the point. Travel writers, it seems, get bored writing about the same old same old. Once you've been to India or China or the Galapagos - and told readers where to stay and eat and mingle with the locals - writers like to kick back and fantasize about some place really different. And, since First Prize Winner gets his or her fantasy book actually published, plus $10,000, there are lots of entries. The only contest rules are that the book must be written as a true travel guide (places to go, things to see) and, for whatever reason, the trip is not possible -- wrong century, for example, or the place simply doesn't exist.

The contest is open to anyone. I actually think fiction writers have a better shot at this than true travel writers, but I'm told the past winners include 3 bona fide travel writers, one novelist and one hedge fund manager (go figure).

I skimmed through last year's winner, Alain Gordon's Highlights of North America: What to see on your trip to Earth. Set in the far future, it seems there's a lot of nostalgia for going back to when civilizations covered the globe, and North America is particularly popular. We infer that people don't inhabit earth any more, due to global warming and other catastrophes. Highlights include a submarine excursion to see the sunken city of Miami, a view of Grand Canyon from the dried up Colorado river bed, and a flight through the 700 mile long 'California Chasm' ("while the coastal cities of ancient California no longer exist, there is still much to see in this region"). Another 'highlight' is ice; seems the visitors don't have any on their home planet. Icebergs ("they begin to appear just north of an area once called 'Alaska') and the North Pole are both 'must see'. Of course, getting from one site to another takes only an hour or so, being that visitors travel around on the same ship that brings them to earth -- an intergalactic cruiser.

space station


As for this year's winner, don't for a minute think Earthling's Guide to ISS III and the Moon is only for science fiction types. It's not even science fiction, since there's no action, no plot, nothing to figure out. It's simply a 'travel guide', yet highly imaginative in the way Mehta weaves mundane descriptions to make you wish the trip was possible. And if I was going to ISS III and the moon, I'd welcome this book. The year is 2075. There is a space shuttle leaving earth every day at noon local time for the 2 day trip to ISS III (from there you take another ship to the moon; no direct flights). Each shuttle can carry up to 500 passengers and a crew of 30. Here's the schedule.

Shuttle to ISS III

Monday - New York

Tuesday - London

Wednesday - Frankfurt

Thursday - Moskow

Friday - Shanghai

Saturday - Tokyo

Sunday - Los Angeles

Say you live in Chicago but want to leave for ISS III on Wednesday. No problem. A 'local flight' suborbiter to Frankfurt takes only an hour, so it's like flying today from Cleveland to Chicago to catch a flight to Tokyo. Ditto coming home from ISS III. You can land at any of the spaceports and then hop a suborbiter to most major cities. See, I did't know that.

I also didn't know that:  the two previous ISS structures did not allow visitors; ISS III was designed from the beginning to be a huge hotel and casino, with lots of tourist attractions; you have to be 18 to take this trip (low or zero gravity can affect bone growth); while on ISS III you are constantly under video and heat sensor surveillance (except in your room, where there's no video) for your own protection and that of the station - no saboteurs allowed; and you can only stay a maximum two weeks, including the moon if you choose to go there (gravity again).

We can imagine the shuttle ride to a space station, because our astronauts have done it several times, though by 2075 shuttle accommodations are a bit more luxurious. But the really creative part of Earthling's Guide is the description of ISS III itself, and all it has to offer the visitor. A gigantic circular structure (see figure) 50,000 miles from earth, it rotates to create gravity by centripetal force. It has capacity for 5000 guests and 1500 employees, all quartererd in the outermost shell, where the force from rotation simulates 2/3 of earth's gravity. There's also a special section where scientists and engineers work on space-related probjects, including spaceship design. This area includes the moonport, from which spaceships fly to the moon.

The moon ship, which leaves every 72 hours for Moon Base I, can carry 100 passengers and crew. Because of added expense and time, only a minority of Station visitors bother going. Whereas ISS III is chock full of things to do and see, the moon is more spartan, with fewer touristy attractions to occupy a minimum 3-day stay. Many visitors (this is what the guide book says) go to the moon for reasons people used to travel to Antarctica - just to say they've been there. ISS III, on the other hand, is more like Paris or New York: lots of return visitors.

Mehta offers a list of top ISS III attractions, as if you were going to Disney World instead of outer space. The number one attraction, it turns out, is the station itself. It's huge, one-half kilometer in diameter with an outer ring big enough to hold a small city. Tours are conducted 4 times per 24 hour period. (Note: There is no night and day on ISS III. Times are given in Greenwich mean time, which is available on clocks throughout the Station.) One reason for their popularity is that without a tour you only have access to the hotel, casino, central core and shopping areas. The tour takes you to the nuclear power station, rotational generators, moon ship docking area and waste management unit.

No. 2 attraction is Space Casino. Though small by earth standards it has one unique feature: a huge curved window, 30 x 20 meters, on the outer wall. The view is spectacular and constantly changes as ISS III rotates: earth, the moon, the stars. Being the only large window on the entire space station, it attracts everyone at one time or other, particularly for earth viewing. It's like the white tigers in a Las Vegas casino -- brings people in. Then they stay and try their hand at slots or blackjack or Texas Hold 'Em. One nice touch in this casino, though. You can't bet your return ticket. No matter how much you may lose, you will be returning to earth.

zero gravity zero gravity
Zero gravity in a small airplane cabin. By contrast, ISS III's
central zero-gravity cylinder is 10 stories tall and 50 feet wide.

Number 3 attaction is the central core, a giant cylindrical space where you can experience zero gravity. In fact many many visitors come to ISS III's for this reason; after all, a casino - even one in space - is still just a casino, whereas a giant zero gravity room does not exist on earth. Central core includes a huge open cylinder 10 stories tall and 50 feet wide, surrounded by 30 private rooms available for short--term rental. Because the center of a rotating mass like ISS III has almost no centripetal force, gravity is zero or near-zero. Inside the central core you can float in space for up to 2 hours per 24 hour period. Price is 250 EUR.

No 4 are the short-rental rooms for weightless sex (more below). No 5 is the space observatory, where you can view planets, distant galaxies and even earth through video panel telescopes. It is advertised as a quiet place to relax and 'ponder the heavens.' No 6 is Space Walk, a 2-hour guided tour outside the space ship. Ten people can take this excursion at one time, each outfitted in a spacesuit. The 10 are tethered in single file, with a leader in front and behind. You walk on the outer wall of ISS III, and for a brief period float in space, about 100 feet from the ship. There are so many safeguards there is no chance of 'getting lost in space,' but we are told the prospect keeps many visitors from trying this activity.

Attraction No. 7 is the scientific station, a huge hangar-like facility where the moon ship is docked. Behind-the-scenes tours are offered 4 times per 24 hours. Of course, there's also shopping in a Marrekesh-themed mall (lots of twisty alleys and small shops), dining at dozens of restaurants, and many other activities associated with vacation (bowling and Space Putt Putt yes. swimming no.)

This being a guide book, here's what you need to know about special rooms for weightless (zero gravity) sex.

"Couples who wish to engage in weightless sex can rent one of the private rooms in the central core. They are of necessity far more spartan than your regular ISS III hotel room. Each is a cube 4 x 4 x 4 meters, with walls covered with thick padding and many foot- and hand-holds. There is an explicit video that shows how to have sex in zero gravity; you have to know when to hold and when to release. Many people find zero-gravity sex not to their liking, since it's not easy and there's somewhat of a learning curve. However, the rooms are popular and if interested you should reserve as soon as you arrive to ISS III. (Rooms cannot be reserved until you are a registered hotel guest.) You can only have the room for two hours per 24-hour period; the limitation is to prevent prolonged exposure to zero gravity. Management also feels if you can't get it done in 2 hours, better to try another time. Note that ISS policy strictly forbids more than two people in a room. While video surveillance is suspended in these rooms, heat sensing is not, so if they detect more than 2 people you will be kicked out. There is no mention about the sex of the two people. Management doesn't care. The price per 2-hour rental is 500 EUR."

I'm ready to book my ticket.


Moon attracts smaller crowd - many go for the golf

It costs twice as much to go from ISS III to the moon as from earth to ISS III, and only about 10% of space station visitors take the extra trip. (Moon Base capacity for visitors is 500 at any one time, about 1/10 that of ISS III.) One moon attraction not available anywhere else is a 9-hole 'low-gravity' golf course. Designed originally for moon base employees, it is now open to all visitors. For an early description of the moon base golf course see First Looks - Golf dome on the moon

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