This is a story from sometime in or before the early 1980s. The gist is that there's a kid who spends his whole life dreaming about being the pilot of a space-going passenger craft. However he can't because all the pilots are tall, handsome, square-jawed and so on, and he's a complete six-stone weakling and ugly as sin, albeit very skilled.

However he triumphs in the end because it turns out that these ships are actually piloted by guys like him, hidden in the bowels of the ship and plumbed in to the computers, and the good-looking fly-boy types are actually all as dumb as rocks and just there for show, and to make the passengers feel comfortable.

I have a feeling that this might have been a one-off strip in 2000AD comic, although it could also have been in an SF anthology of some kind. Ringing any bells ?

  • 2
    This isn't it I am sure, but this basically describes the plot of the movie Gattaca, except that in the movie the "tall, handsome, square-jawed ...jocks" are genetically engineered and are also very smart.
    – NominSim
    Apr 19, 2012 at 11:32
  • I was thinking along the same lines. Sounds very much like Gattaca. imdb.com/title/tt0119177
    – Chris
    Apr 19, 2012 at 13:00
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    This isn't like Gattaca. That's a movie about genetic modification. The main character is a natural born baby with no genetic modifications which leaves him with a heart murmur that keeps him from joining this space exploration program. He wasn't even trying to be a pilot. This story sounds completely different from Gattaca. Apr 19, 2012 at 13:37
  • Thanks, but I'm talking a story written before the early 80s.
    – Alan B
    Apr 19, 2012 at 13:53
  • @KevinHowell Hence the comment, and the preface of "This isn't it I am sure"
    – NominSim
    Apr 19, 2012 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


This is the story "The Volunteer" from the 1982 2000AD Annual.

Byron Z. Gymp was a poor example of a man, barely touching 5 feet tall with thick socks, a misshapen nose, a limp and a very bad pair of lazy eyes, yet all he wanted to do was pilot a starliner. But star liner pilots were handsome, 6 foot tall men with chiseled chins.

His repeated attempts to fool the star liner recruitment office are always foiled, and in his desperation he finally breaks into the ship yard, intending to steal a star liner, but in doing so he discovers the real secret...

Byron, in all his glory

A few quotations from the story:

"There's future for you in Laker Spacelines", It proudly blared, showing a picture of a tall, handsome Starliner Captain welcoming his passengers on board. The scene switched to the liner's flight deck The immaculate Captain opened the warp-drive controls to maximum and the ship surged forward. If you are over six feet tall, of a pleasant appearance and feel that a liner pilot is the job for YOU, call at ou recruiting centre TODAY!" The man on the screen turned a sickeningly bright and even smile to the camera and the advert faded out.

and later on, after Byron has attempted to steal a starliner and discovered the flight deck was a fake:

Byron was still recovering from the shock as Knowles led him back outside the ship and under her nose. There was a bigger shock waiting for him there: he thought at first that the figure standing there was a robot--it was about his height and he had never seen anything SO ugly, there were wires and tubes and connectors coming out all over it. But underneath all the metal and plastic there was flesh. Flesh bonded directly to metal and plastic. It was half man, half machine cyborg. The creature walked under the nose to the circular bulged dome that Byron had always thought was a radar scanner.

Byron at the end of the story

The Annual should be available second hand from Ebay or comic book dealers, or can be found online.

  • Fantastic, thanks!
    – Alan B
    Apr 26, 2023 at 7:32

Sounds a lot like the Brain & Brawn series from Anne McCaffrey et alii (Wiki link)

The premise is that children who are deformed but with otherwise healthy brains can be transplanted into "shells" (a reinforced life support cylinder for the brain only), they become the "brains" of the ships. They are partnered with "brawns" who provide the physical part of the deal.

  • It does indeed and I suspect the one I am thinking of may have 'borrowed' the concept. Will investigate further ...
    – Alan B
    Apr 22, 2012 at 15:53
  • This is the closest to what I'm thinking of so I'm going to accept this as the answer.
    – Alan B
    Apr 24, 2012 at 7:51

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