Treatment: Slow Boat to Fast City

Logline: A rocketpunk mystery that’s The X-Files meets American Tabloid, SLOW BOAT TO FAST CITY swings to a hot-jazz tune played by a quartet of slot machines, rocket engines, laser fire and broken bones. Between the Mob, the bosses and the homesteaders, Mars in the 1950s is the toughest beat in the solar system. Deputy U.S. Marshal Frank McGinnis is used to bringing rough justice to the streets of Elysium City, but a routine homicide investigation unearths a web of deceit and treachery that may be the first wave of a shadow invasion.


Synopsis by

Sean Demory

SLOW BOAT TO FAST CITY is a hard-hitting, action-oriented retro science-fiction epic with the potential to move beyond a single story. Combining tropes from classic noir and classic science fiction, SLOW BOAT TO FAST CITY provides a rich, detailed and accessible setting for an exciting genre experience.

SLOW BOAT TO FAST CITY is set in an alternate 1958, thirteen years after the Red Army stormed the walls of Berlin to find space arks streaming through the sky from the Brandenburg Airport.

One jury-rigged Allied space program, six years and 60,000 casualties later, the inner solar system is at a simmering peace.  Queen Elizabeth II has added Luna to her dominions, the Reds have turned the asteroid belt into a new Gulag Archipelago and French plantations are carving order into the green chaos of Venus.

And Mars? After dragging Hitler and his inner circle to Nuremberg from their ramshackle Valhalla on the summit of Olympus Mons, the Americans opened Mars to all comers. The first wave of settlers came looking for solitude and struggle, building New Deseret, Nicodemus II, Barsoom and a score of other waystations in the wastes. 

When the big money came, though, the desert bloomed. The Strip, a superhighway linking the Olympus elevator and Elysium City, glows day and night with the light of a thousand spaceports, ten thousand refineries and a hundred thousand neon-lit Outfit-run boomtowns catering to zero-g roughnecks, factory workers, commodity traders and soldiers on leave.

Some of the first-wave colonists embraced the coming of civilization, lobbying for off-ramps and spurs from the newly built railway system. Others, though, took a harder stance, responding to any intrusion from outsiders with rapidly escalating violence and covert support from Soviet agents provocateur… and, rumor has it, some more mysterious allies the homesteaders met in the arroyos.

Cue Deputy U.S. Marshal Frank McGinnis. A former Las Vegas homicide detective, Frank’s used to rough justice and hard choices and, as one of a handful of federal cops working the Strip, he’s used to cutting corners to get results. Frank’s called in on a killing in an upscale casino hotel. Victims are a known prostitute and her john, who’s been holed up in the hotel for a week. McGinnis assumes a simple tale of sordid passion and skipped bills but, as he works the case, he finds that the john is a physicist with no priors, Top Secret clearance and connection to Hughes Aerospace. He gets advised to put this one aside and, after pocketing a notebook with strange symbols scrawled inside, he does so.

McGinnis finds out that the physicist’s partner, a disgraced “xenoanthropologist” from Oxford (disgraced equally for making time with his students and for being a “xenoanthropologist,”) who was investigating hints of previous Martian civilizations. McGinnis is skeptical, as the only aliens that anyone’s found in the solar system are froglike troglodytes on Venus who’ve recently mastered the spear and leaves the bent egghead behind as he spins stories about the War of the Worlds broadcast and the Tunguska blast. 

As McGinnis leaves, he’s rolled by some grimy homesteaders who toss him into the back of a truck and drive into the arroyos. McGinnis is taken to a compound where “Barsoomist” separatists with Marsdust-encrusted skin train with hunting rifles and Red-purchased AK-47s. McGinnis is worked over and interrogated by the homesteaders, who are looking for the notebook as well. The interrogation is cut short by gunfire as Mob torpedoes storm the place, taking no prisoners and dragging McGinnis out to a waiting Cadillac.

The mobsters drive McGinnis into the desert, where Schlomo “The Spaceman” Moscowitz, the Syndicate’s man on Mars, is waiting. The two of them walk in the cold Martian night, and Moscowitz tells the Marshal that he’d been interested in space since his crew killed a little green man in Union City on October 31, 1938.  Flashback to mobsters preparing to “lose” a body in a trainyard and Greys preparing to bleed a livestock train.  Hijinks ensue. Apparently, the dead scientist was working on a project for him, that he’d just about finished when someone killed him and that he’d really like his notebook now, please.

McGinnis claims he doesn’t have the notebook but promises to track it down. The physisict’s bent egghead partner tracks him down, promising to reveal all about the notebook and their research.  He takes McGinnis to a set of caves outside of Elysium City where, with the Barsoomists and the mob in hot pursuit, the two find the door for which the notebook is the key and learn why Schlomo and the Barsoomists all want the notebook.

SLOW BOAT TO FAST CITY is a fast-paced, hard-boiled detective story, an accessible science fiction story with a retro flavor to add some depth and a strong, active lead character. It’s an alien invasion piece in a world that’s recognizable but alien in its own right, and it’s a raygun gothic piece focused at a market that’s hungry for pulling the past into their futurism.

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