Space crime in pop-culture: detective stories in the cosmos

As conversations open up about the world’s first space crime, we delve into some sci-fi movies, comics and books that touch upon the fascinating topic

August 31, 2019 06:44 pm | Updated 06:46 pm IST

Sean Connery in sci-fi thriller ‘Outland’

Sean Connery in sci-fi thriller ‘Outland’

Chances are that you’ve probably read about NASA investigating the first crime in space, and if you’ve been living under a rock, then here goes: Astronaut Anne McClain was accused of illegally accessing her wife’s bank account during her stay at the International Space Station. As conversations open up about the world’s first space crime, we take a look at how pop culture has always associated space with extraterrestrials, aliens and great kingdoms at war (the Galactic Empire from Star Wars , of course). But juicy detective stories set in the realms of the cosmos have fairly been lesser known. Hence, straying away from the typical space-opera narrative, we’ve listed a few books, movies and comics that showcase a stimulating hybrid of sci-fi and crime.

Binging on these movies and books along with other science-fiction crime stories, it would be interesting to see how NASA deals with the first space crime and the subsequent drama, wouldn’t it?

Murder on the Moon (1989)

In the year that saw the Berlin Wall come down, this movie featured a story around the Soviet and the U.S. as they establish outposts on the Moon following a nuclear war on Earth. After an American murder occurs on a Russian base, the two parties are forced to work together and end up uncovering a web of corruption. A haunting view of political scenarios, future technologies and international conflict, the film features Briggite Nelson and attracted a lot of attention primarily due to the twist in the typical homicide story.

Later retitled Murder by Moonlight , the movie became a symbol of anachronism that incorrectly predicted that the relationships between the two powerhouses could be resolved (the Soviet Union was dissolved less than 2 years later). However, the attention to detail, the workings of a romantic story and a fun supporting cast starring Brian Cox make the movie definitely worth watching.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1953)

Combine Asimov’s classic robots and his love for experimentation and you’re placed smack in the middle of a ‘whodunit’ science fiction novel. Touted as the author’s finest book, it is set a millenium into the future in a world where humans have 350 year lifespans and live in underground cities (caves of steel). As a murder unfolds in the city of New York, an unlikely partnership springs between a detective Elijah Bailey and a humanoid robot, Olivaw. Gripping descriptions of an overpopulated planet combined with the philosophies and reflections of society make the book an insightful read with a riveting narrative. A television adaptation of the novel in 1964 by BBC also garnered good reviews and the novel was further adapted into a VCR game.

The story aims to illustrate the author’s idea that science fiction is an idea that can be applied to any genre and it does exactly that, drawing readers with clues, deduction, politics, the works!

Outland (1981)

Starring Sean Connery, this science-fiction thriller was directed by Peter Hyams and is set in a titanium mine on the Jupiterian moon of Io. As unusual deaths began to take place, a federal marshal (Connery) stationed at a space colony investigates and uncovers a drug ring, ultimately ending up as the target himself. Combining the ideas of Dodge County (an Old Western town of Kansas) and realistic space fiction, the movie is said to mark the return of the classic western hero. The portrayal of megacorporations that ruthlessly exploit labour is also seen through gritty, industrial settings and impressive aesthetics.

An admirable-looking movie with a great cop story, it draws on the idea that despite the change in environment, the real monsters encountered in space will always be ‘man’. Considered to be High Noon in space, the film was nominated for Best Oscar for Sound, and also for the Hugo and Saturn awards.

The Fuse by Antony Johnston (2016)

Looking for a comic with a gruff old woman as the protagonist partnered with an eager, young black man? This four-part series illustrated by Justin Greenwood narrates the story of the oldest homicide cop in The Fuse: an orbiting station high above the Earth.

A crime comic with a sci-fi twist, it follows detectives Ristovych and Dietrich of the Midway City’s Homicide division deep into the heart of the politics. Painting a picture of post racial and cultural tension, this story is dystopic and highlights the harsh realities of drug smuggling, terrorism and corruption in society.

Hard angles and gripping art by Justin Greenwood, the comic conjures up dark noir scenes coupled with androgynous figures. Stunning space vistas and a police procedural narrative render the story an exciting cliff-hanger.

Murder in Space (1985)

When the crew of an International Space mission are returning from Mars, they witness an explosion further rocked by a series of murders. Stuck in space until the murderer is caught, the movie first premiered without an ending, allowing viewers to send in their guesses and solve the mystery. Starring Micheal Ironside, the ending of the film was shown days later, finally revealing the killer through a 15-minute ending on a TV Reality show. A bold experiment for paid television, the story included elements of the 80’s Cold War and offered prizes and incentives for the winners of the contest.

The UK’s first nationwide noir competition, the film raised questions about the legal jurisdiction of crime in space. It also transitioned the idea of a movie from entertainment to an event that involved the entire nation.

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