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Saturday 1 April 2006

Richard Branson: Malzberg to Fly Virgin Galactic Free

London, April 1, 2006—Billionaire Richard Branson, whose space-tourist venture Virgin Galactic is inching closer to takeoff every month, announced today that he would be offering a limited number of free rides to various deserving individuals who might not be able otherwise to take advantage of his sightseeing service into low orbit.

"We realize," said Branson, speaking from his gold-plated yacht anchored in the Thames, "that the $250,000 ticket fee is beyond the means of many seminal figures whose far-sighted efforts have helped us reach this point, where private enterprise is finally prepared to accomplish what NASA and other incompetent governmental agencies have long been unable to achieve. We intend to recognize the ground-breaking accomplishments of these pioneers by granting them a celebratory flight into the final frontier.

"And the first person to whom we owe such a debt is science fiction writer Barry N. Malzberg."

Branson went on to partially catalogue the work from Malzberg that earned him such an honor.

"While writers such as Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Tsiolkovsky and Bradbury inspired the deadly drones and drudges who went on to create the stifling, cack-handed, short-sighted programs of NASA, the Soviets and the ESA, Malzberg was hewing away with savage glee at the very roots of these agencies. In novels such as Beyond Apollo, Galaxies and The Falling Astronauts, Malzberg revealed the rot and canker and delusions at the roots of governmental space travel. By so doing, he helped immensely to hasten the day when these old paradigms of institutional astronautics, populated by paranoid, chauvinistic, schizophrenic, white-bread, impossibly noble heroes, would fall, leaving the way open for the glories of free-enterprise space travel. In a very real sense, Barry Malzberg is among the founding fathers of twenty-first-century space travel—such as it is."

Approached by a frenzied pack of reporters on one of his legendary early-morning walks, the reclusive New Jersey author granted a brief statement.

"Nothing matters. This so-called honor is just another straw heaped upon the back of a burdened freelancer, more dust cast upon the bowed head of a self-confessed failed visionary who, however hack-some his working habits, however ignoble his pecuniary motives—and they were modest, modest indeed—still nourished at his innermost heart a reverence for the Campbellian ethos, perverted though it might have been by a succession of fannish ingrates and sycophantic imitators. Do I have to pack a lunch, or will there be a little something to nosh on?"

Although Branson was not yet at liberty to confirm further speculations, rumor has it that the second candidate for the program would be British author J. G. Ballard, whose flight would depart from the Martian-sand-swamped ruins of Cape Canaveral.

© 2006 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.