Sci-Fi’s Fascination With Plastic Tubes

Planning a jump to hyperspace but don’t want your crew turning into hamburger? No problem—just stick ’em in a tube! The suggestively complex tube is found everywhere in science fiction and makes for good storytelling. Be it cryogenic Tupperware or regeneration, this is the appliance of the millennium! Sci-fi writers have limitless possibilities when plugging a tube into their story, and we always climb in with their characters. Take a look at how plexiglass and stories come together.

Regeneration chamber from The Fifth Element:  Leeloo is an alien savior thrown into 23rd-century New York after her remains are reconstructed in a wicked fast regeneration chamber. This nifty tube whips up a new skeleton, muscle tissue and skin in seconds, and with a sense for New York fashion, even applies a toilet-paper outfit. How convenient! While modern medicine is not as expedient, new experiments may one day allow hospitals to print human tissue and replace lost organs with replicated stock. The regeneration scene in Fifth Element is a reminder of the fused bond between technology and medicine.

Bacta tank from The Empire Strikes Back:  What did Leslie Nielsen say about bathrooms? “Never touch the comb in the blue water.” A pity they never warned Luke Skywalker before a medical droid dipped him in a Bacta tank. How humiliating to float in a dunk tank before your friends—while wearing an adult diaper. According to the official Star Wars Wookieepedia, the tank is filled with healing fluid. But the Occupy Hoth kids sure had rich friends in the medical industry! Those tanks aren’t cheap at 100,000 credits. They also weigh about 500 kilograms. You didn’t need to know any of this.

Med-Pod from Prometheus: The Weyland Corporation has stocked the vessel Prometheus with the best toys and outer gear that money can buy. There’s even a nifty device called the “Med-Pod.” But don’t be fooled by this charming IKEA centerpiece. This is really a tenacious robotic surgeon that loves to play “Operation” with humans. Thought I’d pop a spoiler, didn’t you? Go see the movie before you’ve eaten.

Stasis tubes:  One of the hurdles in sci-fi is that you don’t age well on interstellar trips. Better to sleep in a cozy stasis tube than arrive at your destination in time to collect social security. Some tubes protect your body from the violent forces of FTL jumps, like in Supernova, although a defective box will turn you into chili. The sleep tubes in Alien are efficient, but the chance of waking up with a monster in your chest will ruin your breakfast. Using a sleep tube in Pandorum is like waking up in an engine block at Jiffy Lube. HAL gave freezer burn to some unlucky scientists in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Roy Scheider had the better deal in the sequel 2010 as he climbed out of a sleep tube with a realistic case of muscle degeneration.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    I have an entire vintage sci-fi cover art post about this if you’re curious…. And I only selected medical vials — not all the stasis chambers, glass spaceships, etc…

    1. Thanks for the link! Vintage sci-fi artwork is terrific stuff. I still find them on paperbacks in used bookstores.

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    Yup yup — I too adore sci-fi art from the 30s-70s…

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