Semi-humourous sci-fi short story ID
November 28, 2010 8:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to remember a science-fiction (?) short story that I read about 10-15 years ago. Basically, a bunch of prominent citizens of Earth (including Miss Universe) are summoned to Mars to be harangued by a sarcastic alien who tells them they're all doomed.

I seem to remember a large number of details about this story, but it's possible some of them are details of other stories that I've conflated with this one. Here's what I recall about the plot and the story:
  • I seem to remember reading it in a "serious" magazine, such as Atlantic Monthly or the New Yorker.
  • Earthlings have never been to Mars before; they have the technology, but they just haven't bothered to do it. In fact, the trip to Mars is somewhat difficult because there's too much space junk in orbit.
  • A message is received from Mars, asking for 5-10 specific people to come to Mars to talk to this alien intelligence. There's a few scientists and politicians in the group, but one of the people is a beauty queen of some kind.
  • When they arrive, the alien tells them that this message was automatically triggered by some tipping point in Earth's atmospheric chemistry. Apparently there's too much oxygen in the atmosphere now, and there's nothing to be done about it; Earth is doomed. I think I remember a line like "pretty soon, when you hit a tree with a baseball bat, both will burst into flames."
  • The alien is sarcastic & condescending, in a "you incredible dolts" kind of way.
The piece ends on something of a downcast note, if I remember correctly.

Did I make this up? Or does this story actually exist?
posted by Johnny Assay to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Janitor on Mars by Martin Amis?
posted by Electrius at 8:07 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Damn, that was quick. That's the one, right down to what I remember of the illustration. Now to see if I can get a copy to re-read it...

Many thanks!
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:09 PM on November 28, 2010

posted by Electrius at 8:36 PM on November 28, 2010

It's part of the Heavy Water and Other Stories collection if you're looking for it in book form.
posted by bluefly at 3:47 AM on November 29, 2010

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