Back in 2011, I wrote an article proposing a science fiction version of the classic children’s story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Wow! Was it really 2011?) The idea, put simply, was to switch Willy Wonka’s factory with some kind of high-tech research and development facility – something akin to the Global Dynamics labs from Syfy’s Eureka, for example. Admit it, that’s a golden ticket you’d be thrilled to win.
No sooner than I had been reminded of this old article had I come up with another way to play with the Willy Wonka format. My new idea strays much further from the original concept, but it still offers a fun way to play with the idea of a tour group facing a series of oddly character specific dangers and temptations.
In this new story idea, humanity has made contact with an alien intelligence. But there isn’t just one alien species knocking on our door, there are a whole bunch of advanced civilizations living side by side in the Milky Way. Now that humanity has reached a point of scientific advancement (we’ve discovered cold fusion or warp drive, or some such development), we’re being invited to join the wider galactic community.
Rather than inviting us to tour an interstellar chocolate factory (that would just be silly), the aliens ask us to send representatives to a large multi-species embassy complex located in deep space. This facility is the equivalent of the UN, with every advanced civilization maintaining a presence there. It’s basically Babylon 5, but with much more interesting architecture. The space station has been built with the specific needs of the various races in mind. There’s an area for aquatic species, methane breathers, zero-gravity octopoids, the tree-people of Enton IV, and even the pain-loving porcupeds of Pernelephon III.
Each section of the station is unique to its inhabitants, who designed them according to their own cultural traditions, and social and biological requirements. Each area therefor has its own unique risks, wonders, dangers, and temptations – just like the various rooms in Willy Wonka’s factory.
The Golden Ticket Winners
So, who are the golden ticket winners in this scenario? It seems silly to let random consumers of chocolate travel across the galaxy on such an important mission. Well, maybe the aliens actually request that we randomly select people, thus providing a representative sample of the human populous. Some kind of lottery might be a fair way to select a group.
Should these representatives of the human race be children? Again, that seems a little silly, unless it’s at the alien’s request.
Another possibility might be that we put together a team of diplomats, politicians, scientists, and celebrities, but that there is one placement left. The final placement is given randomly to a lottery winner as a way of choosing an ‘ordinary person’ to complete the group. This explanation makes most sense, and provides us with a wide range of contrasting characters to play with, while allowing our Charlie figure to remain an ‘every-man’.
There is also a third option here. It’s a bit of a curve ball though, so put on your crazy-hat and fake mustache. We could tell the story from the perspective of another alien race, with a cast of entirely alien characters. Instead of humans being sent to meet with this galactic community, we could have members of a fictional society – perhaps one that puts a huge emphasis on luck, or on consumerism (the Whoosians, for example). Hiding golden tickets inside chocolate bars, or consumer electronics, might be how they make all their decisions. It might even be how they choose their leaders. The problem with this, however, is that we loose the human perspective and participation in the story, and the story really is all about identifying human flaws and weaknesses.
So, whoever the selected few are, they proceed through this maze of alien habitats, making mistakes along the way, and finding themselves being in some way picked off one by one. Maybe they insult the aliens and end up being injured, or maybe they fall foul of their technology or strange cultural taboos. Just remember to design this series of accidents as the results of their own individual character flaws (and each species’ unique strangeness).
At the end of the tour, only one character remains standing – our hero Charlie (or Charlox if you chose the third option).
The Glass Elevator
What’s the great glass elevator in this story? What’s the reward at the end of the tour? How is Charlie recognized for being less of a twit than his counterparts, besides keeping all of his limbs intact? Well, it could be that he is given the responsibility of representing the human race in this community, and given the title of ambassador. Perhaps he is given some special piece of technology. Perhaps he is given a spaceship and allowed to go explore the galaxy. Or perhaps, as with the original story, the space station needs a new custodian.
Another interesting thought is that there might be a great and powerful species responsible for the building of the space embassy, and perhaps responsible for peace in the galaxy. Perhaps Charlie’s reward is the opportunity to ride the elevator to the top floor and meet this incredible being. Perhaps it is something akin to God, or at least a metaphor for God. I don’t want to suggest anything as corny as the end of the movie Contact, but… well… perhaps it should be like Contact.
Charlie and the Great Space Elevator
Here’s an additional possibility. Maybe the embassy isn’t in deep space; maybe it’s on Earth instead. It would then make sense to invite children to tour the facility. In this scenario, the great glass elevator could be a space elevator, although what awaits at the top is still open to many different possibilities.
Do you have any ideas about how this story should be written? What mischief should cause the ticket winners to leave the tour? Let us know in the comments below.