Happy Birthday to Me, Here’s a Story For You: “Regarding Your Application Status”

When I went out on tour for Head On last month, I wrote a new, funny short story to perform for the audiences, on the thinking that since they went out of their way to come see me, usually on a weeknight, they should get something special that no one else gets: in this case, to hear a short story I wrote before anyone else in the world does. This is one reason to come see me on tour, folks! You get sneak peaks! In any event, the tour is now over, and now I’m happy to share it with everyone. Consider this my gift to you, on my 49th birthday.

The idea of the story is simple: There’s a galaxy-spanning federation of planets out there, and we humans of Earth are super excited about it. And we say “Can we join?” And they say, “Well, you can apply.” And this is what happens when we apply. Enjoy!


by John Scalzi

Dear Humanity:

Thank you so much for your application to join the Intergalactic Federation of Civilizations (henceforth abbreviated as the IFC). We regret to say that after careful consideration by our Admissions Committee, we are currently unable to offer you admission, either as a full or probationary member of the IFC. Indeed, I have to confess there was serious consideration as to whether we should refer your application to the Containment Committee as possible evidence of the need for a quarantine of your planet and sequestration of your species. But after a close vote, we decided simply to table the matter and move on.

I understand that this news will come as a disappointment to many of you. While it is not the practice of the Admissions Committee to offer detailed explanations of its decisions to reject applicants, I understand that, as this is your first attempt at an application, you may benefit from a few hints, tips and pointers that will put your civilization in better stead if and when you ever choose to apply for IFC membership again. So in the spirit of helpfulness, and to give you something productive to do with your time, here are some of the reasons committee members gave for rejecting your application.

1. You don’t have a single viable planetary government. Seriously, you have at least two hundred political entities talking smack about each other all the time. It’s tiring to hear you squabble. One of the committee members compared it to a nest of Vlendor in molt, which is a comparison you won’t understand but which means that you’re basically all angry and sticky and unpleasant to be around (and even when the Vlendor are done molting they’re still mostly sticky, so take that as you will). Yes, we know about the UN. Come on, dudes. Pull another of our appendages. You really need to sort this out amongst yourselves. Pick a government! Any government! Well, not any government. Be choosy. Sweden’s system seems nice. We’re not telling you what to do, though. We know you have that oppositional thing going on. Just figure it out.

2. Somewhat related to point one, you folks still spend an unseemly amount of time killing the hell out of each other, which strikes many of our committee members as a really bougie thing to do. I think these particular committee members may not actually have a good grasp on what the term “bougie” means in this particular case but I think the basic concept comes through — it’s not a great look. If you can’t control yourselves at home, how can you be trusted to control yourselves out in the universe, and so on. Have you ever tried not killing the hell out of each other? Maybe give it a spin! You might like it! We know you’re really good at coming up with excuses for why you really just need to kill each other, but I have to be honest: We don’t grade on a curve with this one.

3. Also your various bigotries, hatreds, inequalities, blah blah blah, jeez, you people are really terrible to each other. Until you get over that, no one’s going to want to hang out with you at parties, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Look, I don’t want to belabor the point, and I know you all really hate being lectured, but you all also kind of have cosmic moral halitosis, and it’s just not polite not to tell you. Get some gum, if you get my drift. A lot of gum. Like, a pallet of gum. I know, I know, but come on.

4. Okay, this point is a little confusing, but one of the committee members says that you have produced far too much plastic, and another says that you’ve not produced nearly enough of it. The gist of it is that you’re doing plastic wrong. Pick which way you want to go with that one and get back to us.

5. You may wish to stop beaming your television shows into space; they’re not putting you in the best light. For example, one of our committee members said, “They must be punished for what they did to Gilligan.” It was pointed out to this committee member that, one, Gilligan’s Island was a fictional television series and, two, that it being employed as a shorthand for alien civilizations not understanding the concept of television series was so overused as to be both trite and offensive. To which this committee member replied, “Did I type ‘Gilligan’? Sorry, I meant Gillian. They must be punished for wasting Gillian Anderson in those last two seasons of The X-Files.” Which is both fair and accurate.

6. Your sports make us angry and confused. A small list of specific problematic issues for us include the two-point conversion, the designated hitter, why there is no relegation in Major League Soccer, why the WNBA is not more popular, the entire sports of Cricket and Australian Rules Football, how rhythmic gymnastics differs in any relevant manner from dancing, and why curling is not just called “frosty shuffleboard.” Fix all of these, please.

7. Your decision to declassify Pluto as a planet is deeply offensive to at least a couple of committee members who hail from ice planets. While one of these committee members would be satisfied by the reinstatement of Pluto as a quote-unquote “real” planet, another one requests that you also launch Neil deGrasse Tyson into the sun, not only for being the instigator of the removal of Pluto, but also for, and these are their words, “Being so damn literal on the Internet all the time.” I will note that per point two above, this committee member speaks only for themselves and not the entire committee on this matter, but yeah, Neil should maybe lighten up.

8. You should floss more. When I asked the committee member who made this complaint to whom this was directed, they simply said, “all of them,” and refused to say anything further. However, this complaint was endorsed by literally all the other members of the committee, so, well. There it is. Also, we mean really floss, not just sort of swipe at your teeth. You have to get under the gumline, people.

9. This line-item is a grab bag of things we want for you to consider, and in no particular order: Be kinder to each other, feed the poor, stop heating up your planet, hydrate, exercise a little more, eat meat a little less, put out Half-Life 3 because we think that story is hilarious, give George RR Martin a break on his writing schedule, canonize Prince, David Bowie and Janelle Monae, more pictures of pets on the Internet, sell Lin-Manuel Miranda on Hamilton 2: The Quickening, tell your friends and family you love them and for God’s sake stop electing so many exasperating, venal and greedy people, it’s really not a great long-term plan.

10. Finally, you should probably be aware that humanity wasn’t the only group from Earth petitioning to be let into the IFC; we also have applications from the cetaceans, the corvids and a joint application from the cephalopods and the blattodeans, where the octopus and squid handle the oceans and the cockroaches and termites deal with the land. I have to tell you that each of these applications got a lot further along than yours, and not just because they are neither actively warming up the planet nor wasting the talents of Gillian Anderson. Maybe you humans should take a look at what they’re all doing right. Or don’t, we’re not the boss of you. Just don’t act all surprised and upset when you’re ruled by whales, crows or cuttlefish. You can’t say you weren’t warned.

So, there you are. Incorporate these findings into your next application, when the IFC opens up for another round of submissions in twelve hundred of your years. Hope you’re still around then! Good luck!


Klob Munsob,
Admissions Committee Head, IFC

And, should you want to have it read to you by the author, well, here it is, from my stop at the Strand bookstore, in NYC (also, a Q&A follows, where I get discursive on several questions).

66 Comments on “Happy Birthday to Me, Here’s a Story For You: “Regarding Your Application Status””

  1. Australian Rules Football is an amazing sport, and we should stand ready to wage intergalactic war on this point.

  2. Also, I would be totally okay if the corvids were running the planet…

  3. Omg thank you for this! I needed a good laugh. I know I should probably not be laughing and should probably be crying instead but this was fantastic. Happy birthday btw. I hope this finds you well.

  4. “canonize Prince, David Bowie and Janelle Monae”

    Oh hell yes.

    Prince: patron saint of purple, Minneapolis, and Boys Who Want to Be Your Girlfriend.

    Janelle Monae: patron saint of pansexuality, androids, tuxedos, and Everyone Who Wants to Be That Close to Tessa Thompson (read: everyone).

  5. Actually, don’t release Half Life 3. It’s the Duke Nukem Forever problem: The anticipation has been building for so long that nothing they could actually make can live up to it.

    Maybe the V’Lhurg are better disposed towards expectation management than us squishy meatbags, though.


    If the cetaceans survive the Holocene extinction, that’d be really lovely.

  7. Hehehe! I got to hear this first-hand in Minnesota a few weeks ago, AND IT WAS SO WORTH IT! And now, when my hubby gets home, I can read it to him (probably with less flair than John…) and show him what I was doing while he was following the kids through the children’s section…

  8. Awesome! Totally with you on the whole Cricket thing. Thanks for the laughs on what is becoming testy thursday

  9. Goddamn it, you almost triggered my laughter-induced syncope. Again.

    But Happy B-day anyway.

  10. Do you think they could get Sean Connery to come out of retirement for Hamilton 2: The Quickening?

  11. Hamilton 2: The Quickening

    This got me. I laughed so hard I didn’t recognize my own voice. I’m a huge fan of both Ham and Highlander, and this was a delight.

    Thanks, Scalzi!

  12. We invite the committee to take another look at termites, re: methane production, before they let them off the hook on global warming. Frankly we’re shocked at such a blatant display of endoskeletalism in this day and eon. And ask the cetaceans about dolphin on porpoise violence. They look innocent, but don’t trust a species that’s always smiling like that.

  13. That was an awesome way for me to start my day. Thank you, and Happy Birthday!

    And I am definitely on board with everyone stopping complaints about GRRM.

  14. I also watched the rest of the video and especially loved the story of how you met Krissy.
    I know they say that “Shut up and dance” by Walk The Moon is based on their frontman’s own experience, but… well… it’s obvious, isn’t it?
    AND they’re from Ohio. Draw your own conclusions, guys…

  15. This reminds me a bit of that Asimov short story where humanity was added to the roster of interplanetary systems. But then was crossed off when they found we used atomics on each other. I can’t remember the title. It was a short-short story like this one. Asimov was pretty depressed about atomics at that point. This does a similar topic with a healthy dose of Scalizi humor. Nice story!

  16. If there’s no Australian Rules Football, I don’t want to be part of the IFC. I mean, no Aussie Rules but they’re fine with synchronized swimming? Come on, that’s just pretty drowning.

  17. Anyone who likes Janelle Monae is A-Okay in my book! Also, I like your books and stories.

  18. Oh sure, the IFC is all about peace. Don’t come crying to us violent naked apes when the unstoppable machine intelligence from a couple of galaxies over show up wanting to exterminate all life. Ask the cetaceans, the corvids, the cephalopods and the blattodeans for help, while we laugh at you.

    rassa frassan aliens.

  19. The Designated Hitter is actually the best thing humans have ever invented, and maybe the aliens should have considered letting us in even though we have all that other bad stuff JUST because of the designated hitter.

  20. I feel compelled to point out that we have taken major steps recently towards the single government requirement,.what with Russia now controlling both their own AND the U. S. Presidencies…

  21. But, but, but our glam rockers Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros told us they got us in!

  22. Dear IFC, I personally volunteer to kill the Designated Hitter….. errrrrr Rule. Mind you, Australian Rules Football can go or stay, but I hope you do NOT wish to get rid of Rugby 7’s. I know the Klab-dau keep it secret, but I have video evidence of their Prime Blatherer mentioning how much money their economy raked in on betting, well that and whether the Atlanta Braves can actually stay above .500 this years. Thank you for you consideration Sirs, Madam, Its, Glumistries, and Fluffernutteringlys.

  23. There was an Aldiss story with a similar premise which I have just tried and failed to find – I remember that in the end humanity was accepted because our disgusting mind-set was similar to a race the Intergalactic Federation (or whatever) were at war with, so we were useful after all.

    Totally loved this treatment of it though, and Happy Birthday John!

  24. I really enjoyed the “Tour John” performance which also included a live reading of this piece.

    Thank you very much for performing it at Politics and Prose in DC.

  25. Sure, send Neil deGrasse Tyson into the sun while all the anti-science crowd get a pass? I don’t think I want to join this club

  26. Small, Cocky Hedgehog At Large: But how many die unseen and unheralded in the practice pools? Upon the backs of how many victims do these Olympians stand, huffing and waterlogged, as they manage to cheat death once again? And how many times can you cheat before succumbing to a watery grave?

  27. There are places in Rural Alberta where I would be shot for referring to curling as “frosty shuffleboard”. Just saying.

  28. You forgot to mention anything about wearing sunscreen. It has been proven by science and all of the rest is just wandering opinion.

  29. Happy birthday. Next time you are at the Strand I should make an effort to be there, too. I’ve never been and really, I should, given their name.

  30. I laughed out loud at work!!!!! Thank you and Happy Birthday!!!!

  31. To the IFC Committee Members:

    Thank you for the prompt response to our application. As Application Commitee Chairperson, I have informed the relevant government entities of our planet concerning you decision. They have unanimously asked me to express their great disappoint with this decision, have reviewed your explanation regarding same, and would formerly request an appeal of your decision based on a point to point refutation.

    Points 1 and 2 and 3 Have been fully and completely resolved. We admit that the recent state of affairs has been somewhat sloppy and haphazard. Hanging out at the bottom of this gravity well, scratching in the dirt for the last million years or so, without having much to do, it’s possible that we may have become a little irritable and tribal with each other. But boy oh boy, your last missive sure snapped our attention to this issue in a jiffy. Let us just say that we have found a new target for certain of our tendencies and habits, have put aside our internal differences and are now cooperating wonderfully in a way that will be sure to impress! In fact, we have planned a wonderful event demonstrating our newfound brotherhood and reconciliation. You and your fellow committee members deserve a lot of credit for this event. In fact you inspired it. It is therefore only fitting that you should be invited. You are the guests of honor, and we have a lot of plans for your visit. Please accept our formal invitation arriving under separate cover. Afterwards, we feel certain, no one can claim that we are being terrible…. to each other.

    4. We are going to go with more.

    5. Have you seen her on Hannibal? This should more than make up for the X files thing. Which brings us to another point. I hate to bring this up, but I suppose it is best to address the elephant in the room. And, certain subscriber services have insisted. By now you have undoubtably received several communications from entities describing themselves as Comcast, Fios, DirectTV, Netflix, et al. I am sure that you were shocked at the size of the cumulative invoices presented for payment (such is a monthly occurrence on earth.) Your viewing of content is your explicit acceptance of the terms of service, and agreement to pay. Your failure to remit payment promptly, has resulted in additional fines, penalties, interest which are all detailed in the terms of service to which you agreed by viewing content.
    Failure to immediately pay promptly and in full may result in termination of services, and an enforcement of said terms

    (As an aside, I would suggest that you pay that. You do not want to mess with those guys.)

    (As a second aside, I would like to point that your browsing history and viewing habits have been saved as a result of the cookies you downloaded. Does the rest of the galaxy really need to know what you’ve been looking at? Never mind yourself, do you have any idea what your Blaubarsian representative is into? Seriously sick, dude. Plastics indeed.)

    6. This is just too much. During the application phase we were more than welcoming to your envoys who were more than happy to make us of the services offered them. The Blaubarsian Representative again seemed particularly intrigued with March Madness, and apparently downloaded the brackets to his home world where his enthusiasm was shared. Apparently the majority of the 18 billion inhabitants filled them out and submitted them for entry in the $5 “Gene’s Buddies” pool. Now I think we can all agree how unlikely it was that a number 16 seed upset Virginia, but that is no excuse to welsh on a bet.

    Based on this, as well as the track record of the rest of the IFC envoy during their “researches” at the Bellagio sports book we must sadly conclude that the criticism of our sports is nothing more than the whining of sore losers, looking to make excuses.

    (You are going to want to pay that tab too.)

    7. This whole vendetta against Neil De Grasse Tyson, is utterly transparent, and frankly unworthy. He did not give that mint to the Galhadrian, and would have had no idea what it was going to do to his surface tension if he did. For a scientist of his stature to help with mop and bucket to get the Galhadrian back to his room until he recovered was above and beyond the call of required protocol. For the Galhadrian to use his position as a member of your committee to persecute a personal vendetta is a direct violation of the “What happens in Vegas” protocol.

    8. We don’t thing it’s fair that you extrapolate Neil’s flossing habits to the rest of us. Yes. We have stood too close to him while he is talking, and yes, we get what you are saying here. Again, this is the kind of thing you should take up with him personally.

    9. It’s nice that you guys partook of so much of our pop culture, and have so much advice to offer. But again, cable bill. Than we can talk. We will point out though that George RR. Martin was interviewed during the second season of Game of Thrones, and told his fans that he would be finished with the series long before the TV Show caught up. So, you know, there is that. Just saying.

    10. Thanks for letting us know. Based on this information we thought you’d like to know that a certain type of antiquated oil lamp is seeing a resurgence in popularity, so I wouldn’t worry about getting back to the cetaceans anytime soon.

    Olive Garden has been running a “bottomless breadsticks and seafood Alfredo” special so same goes for the squid and octopi. Seriously, did you think we really needed any help in outcompeting our fellow terrestrial species? I think we got this.


    In summary, we hope that you will reconsider our application in light of the above clarifications. We humans would never impugn the integrity of the committee by suggesting that doing so might be in their best interests as relates to the disposition of browsing histories, settlement of Blaubarsian bracketry encumbrances, settlement of certain cable bills which apparently exceed galactic GDP (Pro tip: if you are going to watch Highlander, and Road House that many times you should probably just download them rather than renting them over and over.)

    There is something in your by-laws about percentages of equity stakes in the IFC entitling the holders to so many board seats. Considering the probable near term conversion of debt to equity being negotiated by Comcast on behalf of humanity, and the number of board seats that will entail, do you think it’s appropriate that your largest shareholders and majority membership of your governing board not be fully admitted members?

    Thank you for your immediate reconsideration.


  32. Oh, designated *hitter*… I thought that was designated Hitler. After all, there seems to be a lot of people wanting to try their hand at that.
    And Fred – it’s Welching on a debt. Not Welshing. Don’t make me come over there and demonstrate the uses of the combat Leek.

  33. I thought that Mike Brown of Caltech was responsible for Pluto’s demotion? He took credit for it (How I Killed Pluto, and Why it Had it Coming).

  34. YES! When my friend and I caught your visit to Politics and Prose in DC, we both said later, “I sure hope he posts that story for everyone. Cuz while it’s nice to be part of the “in” crowd, that’s too good not to share.”

  35. Thank you so much for posting this. I needed the giggle. And thank you for coming to Minnesota on your recent tour.

  36. Thank you. After the dentist spent an hour diligently drilling my root canal, and finally gave up -he’s sending me to someone who’s really good at tricky ones- I thought there was nothing which would lighten my mood.

    I was wrong. I read your story and I was laughing out loud, which, admittedly, makes a very weird sound when half of your mouth is numb, so I just want to thank you for achieving the impossible, and wish you a very happy birthday!

  37. I’m sorry, but there’s no way we want to be a part of any federation with a vendetta against Cricket. Yes, there are ten ways of getting out. Yes, at least two of them are completely subjective. Yes, the international governing body is comically inept and corrupt.

    But man, you don’t want India rage quitting the world government and sulkily plan for complete annihilation of
    all sentient species in the universe.

  38. Happy birthday my boy. I think you are to wonderful. Attempted to call and say happy birthday but line was busy. Have a great one. Your daddy loves ya a lot.😎😎😎:-)

  39. @Ash Charlton

    I remember that one. It was in the collection in “Space, Time and Nathaniel”. I think the title is “Conviction” but not sure.

  40. Hi Mr Scalzi. First of all, Happy Birthday to you! Many happy returns! Second, love the piece. You are so right on many of the issues given by the IFC about killings, polluting, humanity equality though I don’t quite know about the sports and the TV show. Love your books! (At least most of them) Even my child!

  41. Happy birthday and many happy ahead! You sir are a very cool person, at least during the book tours :).

    Thank you for sharing the great story (and video) with the less fortunate of us.

  42. Dear John,
    Thank you for the lovely gift! Stories like this are why I read everything of yours I can get my hands on. Hope you’re having a fantastic birthday month!!!

  43. …put out Half-Life 3…

    Bwaha. We are clearly never getting in, but it’s nice to know the reason.

  44. Okay, I was enjoying this as mildly clever and amusing until I got to the paragraph about everything that’s wrong wrong wrong with Earth sports, and then I was laughing til I cried. Thank you so much.

    (Inhaled Head On and loved it. Thank you. These 2 books are by far my faves of yours. )

  45. Dear Intergalactic Federation of Civilizations:

    To your Point 6:

    We axe netball and go 100% women’s basketball. Netball is an aberration created by people who didn’t think women were up to basketball. Jerks.

    Cricket stays. As Siddharha points out: India. Also: ball-tampering scandal? WHAT ball-tampering scandal?

    Earth-based supporters of Aussie Rules and soccer are bemused at certain members of the IFC contingent who bandy at each other epithets such as “wogball” and “aerial ping-pong.” We Earthlings have come to terms with the idea of multiple football codes and a variety of major-league winter sports. Why, even gridiron (you may occasionally hear it referred to as “American football”) is starting to catch on in other regions.

    Yours faithfully,

    P.S. Belated happy birthday, Mr S.

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