There Is No Chocolate in Outer Space

Or is there?

Stumped for a topic to post on today, I consulted my twitter buds who helpfully suggested blogging about chocolate (Nicola) and science fiction/writing (Charlie Jane).* Long, long ago–2006!–I wrote about my annoyance with futuristic showers:

Here's the thing: Showers actually work pretty well. Water sprays out onto body, body gets clean (add soap in there somewhere). Do we really believe that there is a far better way that technology will find? I don't. If showering changes, my guess is it will be for the worse, because of lack of energy or fresh water. And that's okay, that would be interesting, but any time a character in a science fiction novel is luxuriating in a fancy shower with multiple sprays or a weird door or whatever? It's just gratuitous window-dressing. And it makes me want to kill.


Stay with me here, because I'm going to attempt linking these two things.

Where is the chocolate of the future? I'm trying to think of books where desserts figure in and not coming up with much, though I do have a vague sense of cube-shaped desserts that taste like deliciousness. Of course, even this concept ignores the part of eating good food that uses the senses besides taste. I'm thinking a gelatinous cube still has the texture of a gelatinous cube even if it tastes like cheesecake. Er, chocolate cheesecake.

And I know there must be thousands of banquet scenes of the future where there is food, but I can't think of any that are particularly memorable off the top of my head. Of course, there are vast holes in my knowledge of SF, which is where y'all come in. Point out good examples of food in SF (bonus points for dessert) in the comments, if you think of any.

Because it seems like the future of chocolate could make for some really interesting world-building opportunities. Does it still exist? If not, is there a synthetic version? What if in the future there is ONLY Hershey's syrup? What if cocoa becomes a fuel source instead of a joy source? What if the parts of the world where cacao trees grow no longer exist in a way that can produce the good stuff?

Certainly, in real life there's a fascination with the food astronauts eat–freeze dried ice cream and Tang, anyone? So why not in fiction?

Maybe this is more tied to the sense of discomfort science fiction has embraced. Yes, the vistas are vast and the stories all over the place, but when I think of characters in SFF stories, I don't think of hedonists. I don't think of foodies. I have trouble thinking of protagonists who especially enjoy that necessary part of life. Certainly, they aren't enjoying it as often as they step into the futuristic shower.

So, I guess that's what I'm saying: We need some foodies in science fiction. (And be careful not to be lame when you try to reinvent the chocolate of the future.)

*Yes, I think it's obvious I have no real point here. But my daily quota has been fulfilled. Thank you for playing along!

31 thoughts on “There Is No Chocolate in Outer Space”

  1. I know it’s TV SF, but Deanna Troi on ST: TNG is a foodie, and loves her desserts in particular. I remember a few episodes where she makes a point of introducing guests to the pleasures of chocolate sundaes…
    Otherwise, I’m with you on the awful window-dressing nature of things in SF that already work just fine in RL. My particular pet peeve: beds. Honestly–beds are pretty damn comfy already, and I don’t see why a triangular pillow, a stiff mattress, a single shiny sheet, or a 45 degree tilt is going to improve things…

  2. I’m sure Christopher will mock me for not knowing Star Trek. (I know, I’m a bad geek, aren’t I?)
    Beds — YES. How about when they sleep in new age coffins, ala Dollhouse? Drives. Me. Nuts.

  3. Um, you now that gelatinous cubes “scour dungeon corridors and caves, digesting organic material they happen upon and expelling inorganic material after allowing it to pass through their translucent bodies,” right?
    You want to put a Level 5 monster in your mouth?*
    *For the record, this is NOT a line I ever used on Gwenda.

  4. While not strictly “future food,” several episodes of Farscape do come to mind, particularly the first-season “Through the Looking Glass,” with the characters eating together at the end. (Certainly Rygel qualifies as a foodie, or maybe just glutton.)
    Food is also very important in Firefly, where fresh produce is a rare commodity in the outer worlds and on-ship.

  5. I want to hurt SF where they live in perfectly ordinary apartment buildings, and have beds/fridges/etc that slide into the walls, because that’s futuristic and HAWT. (Yes, Fifth Element, I am looking at you. I may love you more than anything, but your architecture SUCKS.) It ignores the fact that even when something slides out of sight, it has to go *somewhere*.
    I think that was what I loved most about Firefly–they had stuff stow away in walls (if I remember correctly–mal’s sink?), but they had REASONS for that. And they lived in rooms that were clearly fit around parts of the ship.

  6. I just thought of a good one — spagbol courtesy of Scott. That’s a memorable future food in the tradition of space ice cream/Tang.

  7. Firefly scores pretty high on all this kind of thing. I loved the way the ship was worn but still future-y. And space was always quiet too.

  8. I think Heinlein was wont to dwell on food..? I’d have to dig out some copies, but he was all about hedonism in the future.
    ALSO. I want a t-shirt that reads: Chocolate = JOY SOURCE.

  9. Blair Provence

    There’s always Bug Butter, from Bujold’s A Civil Campaign. The dinner party in that book is a riot.
    Actually, Miles spends quite a lot of time talking about food after he hires his cook, and various other characters make up excuses to visit him so they can eat her food. The desserts I remember are bug butter ice cream and pastry with glazed fruit, though – no idea about the feasibility of chocolate on Barrayar.

  10. The cyborg agents in Kage Baker’s “Company” books get stoned on chocolate; hot chocolate is a major delicacy. I think it’s prohibited, too, at least in some of the places they end up in.
    YES YES YES on the shiny sheets on Star Trek! That always bugged me.

  11. Of course, The Company books. I ADORE those books, and Kage Baker in general, so, of course, she wouldn’t be guilty of this crime!

  12. I’ll have to look this up — it sounds wonderful.
    (It seems the women authors are beating the men in this department, based on the unscientific comments sample.)

  13. I know the shower thing was kind of tangential to your actual point, but I think there’s still a lot of room for showers to be improved.
    And I don’t just mean environmentally driven changes based on using less water, or less energy, I mean simple “Damn, our way of showering is that of savages” way.
    An example: it’s the 21st century, why do I have to mess around with dials to get the shower temperature the way I want it? Why do I do the “too cold, too cold, TOO HOT, too cold, OK” dance every morning? Surely we have the technology for me to set a preferred shower temperature, and have a button that will make the shower start at that temperature? Of course each family member would have their own preferred temp. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a “the house knows who’s in the shower” SF thing–just a temperature setting like on the damn stove.

  14. In Wil McCarthy’s rather forgettable “The Collapsium”, there’s a banquet scene. The “plates” and glasses are completely controlled by the mind. If you don’t like what you’re drinking, wish for something else and it will be created/teleported into your glass. And so forth.
    Pretty interesting.

  15. In all seriousness, my general reaction of “Oh sure, there’s lots! I just can’t think of anything in particular!” probably speaks to your point. I can think of lots of characters who are aesthetes and bon vivants, and vaguely remember them eating or preparing food, but nothing in particular.
    It’s also interesting that many of the things I remember (and some others here, too) aren’t particular foods, but particular meals–usually banquets. I don’t remember the dishes at the Arakeen banquet where Leto I met the smuggler and all that “he’s not saying what he means” stuff is going on, but I don’t remember the dishes, some kind of fowl, maybe? Besides the cake and the beer, I don’t remember anything from Bilbo’s Eleventy-First Birthday Party, even though I remember that every cook in the district had been engaged. And maybe I only remember the beer from the movie! And of course, that’s fantasy, not sf (but then so is Dune).
    So, I can’t say that lembas is the most famous sfnal food (or it’s inspiration, manna). Didn’t the Eloi eat something in the Time Machine? Is there where “lotus-eaters” comes from?
    Oh-I remember something! In, I think, A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, Slippery Jim diGrizz’s first big score requires him to live for weeks in a fully automated fast food restaurant. He gains like twenty pounds.
    Anyway, interesting question.
    And I know it’s tangential to the main run of comments, but for God’s sake, man up, McLaren!

  16. I thought of Star Trek right away as well. Although they sounded like excellent innovations in the abstract, I never quite believed that food from the replicator or that synthehol could measure up to the real thing.

  17. Chocolate exists on Barrayar. (I think it’s imported from elsewhere, but Herself hasn’t said, I think.) In Memory, Miles, Illyan, and possibly Ivan are eating one of Ma Kosti’s afternoon teas, and Miles eats a “chocolate dessert with the density of plutonium.” (I, uh, just read that section. Last night.) Oh, god, the spiced peach tart. I want one.

  18. In fact, you are correct about the main course being a fowl of some kind. I think it was a native carrion bird, oddly enough.
    Also, Dune features “spice beer”, which is described as being quite potent. The rest of the food references in Dune that I remember all focus around melange, since that was central to the story at hand.

  19. Most of the human food that I recall being talked about on ST:TNG was about old family dishes that had been translated to the replicator. Also, there was a memorable scene where Riker is getting ready for a transfer to a Kilngon ship and starts eating “native” in preparation. Who can forget that ghakh (sp?) should be eaten *live*?
    Also, another episode features Riker making an omelet with *real* eggs. Of course, they were some strange reptile egg so the omelet was terrible, but Worf liked it well enough.
    Also, in the Star Trek vein, Neelix was quite the chef and, in my opinion, one of the highlights of Voyager was his cooking under adverse conditions with strange, local variants and scavenged food and spices.
    And, finally, in Enterprise, the crew traded spices to an alien for information about how to synthesize trellium-D to coat the hull with for safe passage through the Expanse.
    But, that’s just off the top of my head and without Googling anything.

  20. I am chocolate powered already and now it looks like there will be more chocolate power going around:
    “EARLIER this month engineers at Public Service of New Hampshire, the state’s largest electric utility, successfully tested a novel fuel mixture for one of its electricity-generating boilers: coal tempered with cocoa-bean shells. Hedonists have long rhapsodised about the seductive power of chocolate; now cocoa power may light homes as well.”

  21. I knew I’d heard this somewhere (NPR), but then thought I dreamed it because I couldn’t find a link. Clearly, I should have consulted the foremost chocolate-powered expert I know.

  22. i was actually considering something similiar recently, though, not about chocolate. mostly like how much change is too much change when you’re dealing with sci-fi-ish themes. the shower thing totally gets me too. in a way, i really assume that things just might get slightly better but not over the top. especially things that just…work.
    anyway, i totally started saying something and now i’m totally sidetracked. this totally got me thinking on spice trading though, no idea why.

  23. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy there was the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, which was the sort of drink that might kill you if you looked at it funny. Also, I seem to remember, in one of the books, Arthur finding peace by perfecting the art of sandwich making. These were simple things, ham, cheese, etc, so I suppose not very science fictiony.
    And, like others, I’m experiencing memory gaps in that I’m fairly certain Adams had fun making up other foods–there was the Restaurant at the End of the Universe after all–but I can’t remember anything specific. Except for a bit of cake at the center of the Total Perspective Vortex. That just came to me.

  24. Point of fact: My uncle has a shower that has, like, four shower nozzles in it. It sprays all over you at once. It is indecently comfortable.
    I can think of a few scenes in Niven and Pournelle’s “The Mote In God’s Eye” where various peoples discuss wine and coffee extensively (different batches, blends, types, etc.). There may even be a mention of chocolate, but I’m not sure…

  25. Yeah, like those futuristic SF assholes over at Sealy Posturpedic, with their stupid beds that change angles and shit. What the fuck?
    And hospitals! With beds that can lean up into sitting position to make eating easier. How stupid are they?

  26. Wow. Calm down.
    Yes, um, I wasn’t talking about beds that angle up so people in hospitals can eat in them. I was talking about body-width beds that, from head to foot, are angled so that a sleeper couldn’t toss or turn without falling to a rude awakening. As though the occupant sleeps like a mummy in a sarcophagus.
    I can’t remember what show/movie I saw those in, but they were preposterous.

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