There’s something to be said for fearless starship crews, led by charismatic captains, who point their ships at the far reaches of the universe, following coordinates and star-charts to boldly go exactly where they plan to. But we’ve got a soft spot for the underdogs—the folks who woke up with no idea that their day would involve getting tossed into space at the mercy of wormholes or intergalactic highway construction projects. From an astronaut who gets dropped in the middle of a space battle to a tech disruptor who gets dragged by the heart across dimensions, here are six highly relatable stories of stumbling through space.
Initially intending to test his theory about gravity-assisted propulsion by slingshotting around the Earth, astronaut John Crichton instead goes all the way down the rabbit hole—via a wormhole that yanks him and his Farscape-1 module through time and space. Things only get curious and curiouser from there, as this hapless Earthling gets tossed into the middle of an alien firefight that earns him a deadly enemy and an ensemble of escaped-prisoners-turned-allies. But as Crichton adjusts to his new reality, still trying to find a way home, he discovers that while the wormhole that swallowed him up and spit him out was seemingly random, it represents a force that could be harnessed—so long as it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone
Brilliant entrepreneur Vivian Liao is this close to changing the world—again—when her plan to hack the planet gets interrupted by the appearance of an otherworldly being: a glowing green woman who shouldn’t exist in this room, let alone on this plane. With her star-glittering smile and fatally sharp nails, this alien force should be the end of Viv, but instead she fights back, and gets catapulted across dimensions. Waking in a space opera populated by killer robots and warrior monks, Viv must confront an intergalactic future even more dangerous than her own world of advanced artificial intelligence and sinister surveillance technology. Because celebrated tech disruptor Vivian Liao has stumbled into the middle of a showdown with an omnipotent Empress, and time is almost up.
Follow Viv’s lead and throw yourself into the first three chapters of Empress of Forever!
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
While Philip Francis Nowlan’s 1928 novella Armageddon 2419 A.D. provided the source material for the Buck Rogers television series, his hero—WWI veteran Anthony Rogers—is only tossed forward in time: After being exposed to radioactive gas while working in an abandoned coal mine, he remains in a coma for nearly 500 years, only to awaken to a drastically different Earth following a takeover by China in 2109 A.D. In the 1979 made-for-TV movie and subsequent series, however, Buck Rogers is a NASA astronaut whose accidental coma comes about after his spaceship flies into a “space phenomenon” involving gases and meteors. With the life support and other controls frozen, Rogers’ ship is knocked out of its intended trajectory, into an orbit “a thousand times more vast”—an orbit that has him floating through space for half a millennium. Until, that is, a lucky encounter with the alien ship Draconia unfreezes him and returns him to a very different Earth, ravaged and reshaped by nuclear apocalypse. Thrown to and fro by forces beyond his control, Buck must, well, buck up and figure out where he fits into this future.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Peter Quill gets tossed into space in the way that a Dickensian orphan might be tossed from one dire situation to another: In 1988, mere moments after his mother dies of brain cancer, the sobbing boy is abducted by aliens. While the Ravagers initially snatch Peter to bring him back to his father Ego, their leader Yondu discovers that Ego’s brand of parenting involves murder, and so decides instead to raise the poor little Terran orphan as his own. Of course, “raising” for the Ravagers means kicking the crap out of young Peter so he would learn to fight, and keeping him on constant alert with threats to eat him. Unsurprisingly, Peter escapes as soon as he reasonably can, taking on the name of Star-Lord striking out on his own across the galaxy.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
At first glance, a spaceship running on improbability wouldn’t seem the most effective means of space travel. That is, until the exact moment that a human—who has narrowly escaped the destruction of Earth with his alien friend by hitchhiking on board a Vogon spacecraft, and, having been discovered, is sentenced to death (and subjected to Vogon poetry)—is tossed out of an airlock right in front of said spaceship. In that case, then the Heart of Gold is precisely where in space and time it is supposed to be.
Like Buck Rogers, delivery boy Philip J. Fry has to get tossed into time before he can get tossed into space: After accidentally cryogenically freezing himself on New Year’s Eve 1999, he awakens exactly 1,000 years later, into the quintessential sci-fi “world of tomorrow.” Initially stumbling his way through New New York City, Fry attempts to evade fate assignment officer Leela, whose job is to slap him with a career chip, and runs into suicidal robot and fellow job deserter Bender. By the end of the pilot, Fry, Bender, and Leela—who, it turns out, is not so fond of her job, either—meet up with Fry’s only living relative Professor Farnsworth and decide to make a break for it. Hopping aboard the Planet Express (delivery) ship, they launch themselves at midnight, into the year 3000—and into the unknown of space.
What are your favorite “tossed into space” stories?