Star Trek: Prodigy

As I mentioned recently, I subscribed to Paramount Plus so I can enjoy the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as its released. I’m still enjoying the series, but while I’m subscribed to the service, I’m also checking out some of the other recent entries in the Star Trek universe.

One thing that has bothered me in Star Trek since The Next Generation is how competitive entry into Starfleet is presented to be. It doesn’t bother me that it’s presented as competitive. After all, exploring space should be aspirational and I have no problem with the idea that its a job for the best and brightest. The problem is the scale of the competition. Back in The Next Generation, Wesley Crusher took a whole bunch of exams and became one of three finalists for some region of space to make it into the academy. Only one of them would make it. How many people started the application process wasn’t clear, but it seemed like these were the only three finalists from several worlds. More recently, in Strange New Worlds, it was stated that thousands of people applied for every single posting.

Two things bother me about these moments. First, we know that Starfleet has many, many ships and many Starbases around the galaxy. In some seasons, it seems like a ship is destroyed every episode. Most of these ships are presented as having somewhere between fifty and a thousand crewmembers. I don’t know how many people there are in Starfleet, but it seems like there are a whole lot of them and there’s real attrition because exploring space is dangerous business! Sure, they come from different planets, but it still strikes me that there’s no shortage of people in Starfleet even though it’s also supposed to be extraordinarily competitive to get in the door. It pushes my willing suspension of disbelief. Also, while I like the aspirational aspect of the competition, I watch a show like Star Trek because I’d like to imagine myself exploring the universe with those people. If it’s presented as too competitive, then I begin to see it as an unachievable dream. Interestingly enough, this is where Star Trek: Prodigy comes in.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Star Trek: Prodigy is a 3-D animated series co-produced by Paramount and Nickelodeon. The show opens on a mining colony outside the Federation where prisoners are used as labor. They’re overseen by a mysterious figure known as Diviner. One of the prisoners, a young man named Dal, is assigned to work deep within the asteroid being mined. There he along with a Medusian in a travel suit called Zero discover the derelict Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Protostar. Dal and Zero assemble a team of people to resurrect the Protostar and flee Diviner. Their team includes a Tellarite mechanic named Jankom Pog, a rocklike creature named Rok-Tahk, and a slime-like alien called Murph. The inexperienced crew make a getaway aboard the starship with help from a holographic Captain Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager. The ragtag crew learns about the Federation and decides to take the ship back to Starfleet. In the meantime, we learn that Diviner has been searching for the ship all along and is none too happy with the young people absconding with the prize he’d hoped to find. Diviner, his daughter Gwyn, and the robotic enforcer Drednok go in pursuit of the Protostar.

As our young crew learns about the ship and its abilities, they find that letting it fall into Diviner’s hands would be a bad idea. Along the way, they encounter some strange new worlds, learn to work together as a team and rise to meet the challenges presented to them. There may be a certain realism in presenting placement in Starfleet as highly competitive, but to me, Star Trek’s strongest stories are often about how characters cope with unexpected challenges. There’s no question the best and brightest face difficulties, but sometimes it nice to see people who didn’t necessarily rise to the top of the class, rise to the occasion.

Over the years, Nickelodeon has produced some great shows for younger audiences. While Star Trek: Prodigy may not rise to the quality of a show like Avatar: The Last Airbender, it still tells an engaging tale, expands the Star Trek universe in some good ways and worked equally well for my twenty-year-old daughter and me.

Stay on This Channel

Terrahawks, Volume 1

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a long drive from my home to the observatory where I work. Because of that, I like to listen to audiobooks and audio plays while on the road. This past week, I downloaded and listened to Terrahawks Volume 1 available from Big Finish Productions and the Gerry Anderson Store. The production is directed by Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie Anderson. I gather Terrahawks was shown in the United States, but it came out when I was starting university, so I never saw it at the time. So what is Terrahawks?

Gerry Anderson was a producer well known for producing memorable science fiction and adventure stories in the United Kingdom. Among his most famous shows were Thunderbirds, which ran from 1964-66 and followed the exploits of International Rescue, an agency equipped with advanced air, sea, and space craft that went to the aid of people in trouble. This was followed by the 1967-68 series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons which imagined a top security organization charged with protecting Earth from space invaders. Both shows were produced for younger audiences and featured marionettes. Anderson would go on to produce live action shows in the 1970s like UFO and Space: 1999. Like Captain Scarlet, UFO also featured a security organization protecting the Earth from aliens.

In 1983, Gerry Anderson returned with a new television series. Like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO, it would feature a secret organization protecting Earth from an alien menace. This show also marked a return to a show produced with a children’s audience in mind featuring puppets. This time, the puppets would be “glove” puppets rather than marionettes, but the show would still feature Gerry Anderson’s quality model work and special effects. The show was called Terrahawks. The aliens were led by a witch-like android named Zelda. She was accompanied by her sister, Cy-star, and her son, Yung-star, plus an assortment of colorful minions. They operated from a base on Mars.

The titular Terrahawks were Earth’s defense force, led by Dr. “Tiger” Ninestein. He was one of nine clones and if he ever died, one of the other clones could be brought in to replace him. His second-in-command was Captain Mary Falconer. Working with them were Lieutenants Hawkeye, Hiro, and Kate Kestrel. Kate also worked as a pop musician and her songs were featured in the show. The Terrahawks organization also has a force of spherical robots called Zeroids. Each of the Zeroids have their own unique personality such as the gruff but loveable Sergeant Major and his right-hand, the French-accented Dix Huit. When Terrahawks started, it seemed Gerry Anderson planned to give it the same kind of earnest, serious treatment as he did Captain Scarlet and UFO. However, budget constraints and the type of puppetry, which was new for Anderson, made it hard to take the show as seriously as its predecessors. Many creators would struggle to bring such a show into line with their vision, but Anderson seems to have rolled with it and allowed the show’s more absurdist and humorous elements to come to the fore. What made the show work were the fun scripts and brilliant voice acting. As such, the show translates very well to an audio-only format.

The Terrahawks Volume 1 audio was released in 2015. It contains eight 30 to 40-minute stories plus a making-of feature. The audio opens with “The Price is Right” in which a government inspector arrives to audit the Terrahawks after Zelda has gone on hiatus for several months. Working at the National Observatory in the United States, I’ve seen many of these kind of inspections and the humor was much appreciated. In “Deadly Departed,” it appears Zelda has finally been destroyed, but everyone is surprised to discover that Tiger Ninestein is named as her heir! The episode “101 Seed” was an episode written for the original series by Gerry Anderson, but never filmed.

“A Clone of My Own” was perhaps the most interesting story. Zelda begins killing off Tiger Ninestein’s clones. Lurking in the background is a serious look at the individuals who are Tiger Ninestein’s clones and the ethics of using them as backup models for the Terrahawks’ leader. Another really interesting idea was explored in Chris Dale’s “Timesplit.” In that one, Zelda’s minion Lord Tempo creates two versions of Lieutenant Hawkeye based based on the possible outcomes of an encounter. He would either escape or be captured. In this case, both happen.

Two of the funniest episodes are “Clubbed to Death” in which Zelda starts a payday loan scam on Earth and “No Laughing Matter” in which a comedian is sent to paralyze our heroes by making them laugh to the point that they can’t effectively defend the Earth.

Throughout the stories, the Zeroid robots infuriate the always-serious Dr. Ninestein. In the final story, “Into the Breach,” the good doctor creates a new type of Zeroid called a Cyberzoid that follows orders perfectly and it looks like the Zeroids will be shelved for good in favor of new robots that sound like fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I enjoyed these audio stories a great deal. The story “Deadly Departed” is free to download at the Gerry Anderson Store or from Big Finish Productions if you would like to give the stories a try. Otherwise, you can find the full volume at the links below:

Peering Into Distorted Mirrors

The first time I encountered the idea of parallel worlds — where you might encounter familiar faces existing in an altered reality — was the classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” written by Jerome Bixby. The episode imagines Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura entering an alternate version of their world where a totalitarian Imperial Earth controls the galaxy instead of a benevolent Federation of Planets. Crewmembers move up in rank by assassinating superior officers and starships are sent to dominate worlds. To me, and I believe many other fans as well, it stands out as one of the more memorable episodes. Despite that, Star Trek would not revisit the “mirror universe” again until Deep Space Nine. At that time, we learn that Spock of the mirror universe attempted to affect changes to the Earth Empire, which, in turn, made the empire weak and allowed the Klingons and Cardassians to take over much of the galaxy. Of course, one wonders what the Mirror Universe equivalents of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D were doing during this time.

Mirror Universe Collection

IDW Comics decided to explore this idea in a set of comic book miniseries which have been collected in the graphic novel Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mirror Universe Collection. The graphic novel contains three complete story arcs. The first, “Mirror Broken,” tells the story of how the mirror universe Jean-Luc Picard took command of his version of the Enterprise. This story features beautiful painted artwork by J.M. Woodward and is possibly the best artwork I’ve seen in a Star Trek comic. The story by David & Scott Tipton does a nice job of weaving a Next Generation story out of our glimpses of the mirror universe from the TV series. The second arc is “Through the Mirror” which imagines the mirror universe Picard and his crew finding a way into our universe to plunder technology and resources. Of course the Picard of our universe must do what he can to thwart the mirror Picard. The final story arc is “Terra Incognita” in which the mirror universe engineer Reginald Barclay is stranded in our universe and must find a way to blend in. This proved to be my favorite story since it focused on one character, how he was the same and different from his counterpart in “our” universe and how he had to learn to fit in to survive and thrive.

The graphic novel also contains two one-shot stories: “Origin of Data” and “Ripe for Plunder.” Both stories were interesting. The latter involves the mirror universe Data seeking out the deposed Emperor Spock in exile. The idea was interesting, but I thought the tale deserved more nuance than a one-shot story allowed.

To me, the appeal of parallel universe stories is that they allow us to explore “the road not traveled.” We can look back at history and ask what if historical figures made different choices than they did in the history we know? This is what I do in my Clockwork Legion novels. Such alternate universes don’t have to be “dark” universes like the one presented in Star Trek’s mirror universe. They can be an exploration of human drives under different conditions. They can provide for a fun character study. Although I have issues with Star Trek: Into Darkness, I still love the idea of exploring the Enterprise’s encounter with Khan Noonien Singh under different circumstances than we knew in the original series.

In an interesting piece of real-world alternate history, I gather Jerome Bixby and his son Emerson wrote a sequel to “Mirror, Mirror” called “Broken Mirror” for Star Trek: The Next Generation. This version was written before Deep Space Nine’s creation and imagined Spock from the mirror universe discovering a problem which developed when Captain Kirk and his landing party returned to their home universe many years before. Apparently matter from the two universes would have been leaking into one another creating a disaster about to happen, which required crews from both universes to work together. I would love to see this story adapted or even a published version of the screenplay.

Dark alternate universes provide an interesting approach to the cautionary tale. “Mirror, Mirror” and its sequels give us a look at what our future might be like if we give into our darker, more totalitarian natures. After all, there’s no guarantee the Star Trek universe is ours. We could be living inside the mirror.

You can explore my alternate version of the late 1800s by reading the Clockwork Legion series, which is available at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Exploring Strange New Worlds

A little over two weeks ago, I was a panelist and vendor at El Paso Comic Con. I had a great time at the convention. Tamsin Silver and I hosted three writing panels. On two of the panels, we asked another attending author, Alan Morgan, to join us. The panels were the best-attended writing panels I’ve seen at El Paso Comic Con. We spoke about “Researching Your Fiction,” “Getting to Know the Characters in Your Head” and “From Weird Westerns to Space Opera.” The first two panels were focused very much on the process of writing. We discussed how research is important whether you’re writing historical fiction, space opera, or even fantasy set in a world of your own creation. At the very least you need to know how things work so you can describe them realistically. The character panel focused on how we can pull from people all around us to create characters. Alan brought a great perspective to both of these because he writes games as well as fiction. The final panel, “From Weird Westerns to Space Opera” essentially brought the themes of the other two panels together by considering how the process of creating all speculative genres share common elements.

It was appropriate to discuss space opera at the convention, since one of the featured guests was none other than William Shatner. My wife and I got to meet him briefly for a photo op. Unfortunately, these photo ops don’t give much opportunity to interact, but we did exchange pleasantries and I have heard Shatner speak on other occasions.

William Shatner, David Lee Summers, and Kumie Wise

Now I will confess, I did Photoshop this image slightly. Since everyone was unmasked for the photo, they placed us a few feet from Mr. Shatner. I simply closed up the gap to give the photo a more friendly feel. One thing that was fun about meeting Shatner when we did was that it came just before the debut of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds which features a character first portrayed by none other than William Shatner.

In earlier posts, I’ve discussed my reluctance to subscribe to streaming services. However, I’ve been looking forward to Strange New Worlds for a while and I decided I didn’t want to wait for the video release. Overall, I enjoyed the first episode and I look forward to seeing how it plays out. For those who haven’t seen it, this new Star Trek is set aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise roughly six years before Captain Kirk takes command. The Enterprise is commanded by Captain Christopher Pike played by Anson Mount. His First Officer is Una Chin-Riley played by Rebecca Romijn and his science officer is Mr. Spock, played by Ethan Peck.

Ethan Peck and David Lee Summers at WIYN

The episode opens when a starship approaches a planet to make first contact. We then cut to a scene in Montana where Captain Pike is on leave between missions while the Enterprise is undergoing refit. Admiral Robert April turns up and informs him that the first contact mission went awry. What’s more, that mission was being commanded by Una. So, the Enterprise must leave on its mission early to find out what happened. Robert April is a character we first met in the animated Star Trek series where he was introduced as the captain of the Enterprise before Pike. I won’t say much more at this point because I don’t want to risk spoilers. One of the things I did find interesting about the episode was that it posited the idea of the warp drive being weaponized. Tying this back into the discussion of the El Paso Comic Con panels, one thing that came up back in the 1990s when I was first researching engines and plausible methods of faster-than-light travel, was how often new power sources can be weaponized, which led to the dual concepts of Quinnium weapons and the Erdon-Quinn drive in The Pirates of Sufiro. You can see the results my research along with an array of colorful characters by reading the novel, which is available at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

Another fun element of the new Star Trek series was getting to see more of Ethan Peck’s work. As I’ve mentioned before, he visited the WIYN telescope on my birthday in 2019 as we were commissioning the NEID Spectrograph, which actually looks for strange new worlds around other stars. I am glad to be part of a team that’s paving the way for a Star Trek-like future and I think it’s very cool that one of the actors in the series has actually seen some real exploration of strange new worlds.

Burning Dreams

While waiting for this Thursday’s premier of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, I decided to spend some time with one of the novels featuring Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the Starship Enterprise in the days before Captain James T. Kirk. Soon after I had watched the second season of Star Trek: Discovery season 2, which introduced Anson Mount as Captain Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One, and Ethan Peck as Spock, I dived in and read D.C. Fontana’s novel Vulcan’s Glory which is also set in this era along with reprints of Marvel Comics’ great series Star Trek: The Early Voyages. As you might imagine, Fontana’s novel focused on Spock and I picked her novel since she was so involved in Star Trek’s development and the development of Vulcan culture. I wasn’t disappointed and was treated to an enjoyable look at Spock’s early years aboard the Enterprise. For my recent read, I chose Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno which focused on Captain Pike.

Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno

Burning Dreams was released in 2006 as part of Star Trek’s 40th anniversary celebration and it’s a sweeping novel that covers much of Captain Pike’s life and career. In the two-part original series episode, “The Menagerie,” we learn Captain Pike was grievously wounded saving cadets during a training voyage. He becomes a quadriplegic who can no longer speak. Spock takes him to the planet Talos IV. The inhabitants there have phenomenal powers of illusion and can create an environment where Pike’s active mind can express itself. What’s more he has a companion, the survivor of an earlier crash named Vina, who was also seriously wounded and relies on illusion for a happier life than she would have in human society.

The novel opens in the 24th century. Several decades have passed since Captain Pike was left on Talos IV. Spock is an ambassador and he’s summoned to Talos IV. He remembers leaving the captain on the planet. We then shift to Pike’s point of view where he meets Vina again and begins telling his life story. We learn that Captain Pike’s family terraformed worlds for the Federation and we learn how he developed his love of horses. Once Pike is grown, we follow him on a transformative mission where he served as first officer under a hawkish Starfleet captain. Then we follow one of his adventures aboard the Enterprise. The novel tells us that Pike commanded the Enterprise for two separate five-year missions. The novel ends with Ambassador Spock reaching Talos IV, where he learns Captain Pike has died. Despite that sad, but expected news, we are treated to the kind hopeful ending the best Star Trek episodes excelled at.

Around the early 1980s, Gene Roddenberry and a few people in his inner circle went to some effort to define Star Trek’s “canon.” By that point, Paramount Studios had granted licenses to create tie-in media such as books and comics. Understandably, with an eye on the series’ future development, Roddenberry wanted to define the official continuity of the series and no one monitored the continuity of that tie-in media. That said, this process was taken to extremes. Whole series and movies were declared not part of the canon and I’ve seen fans get into intense arguments over what is and isn’t canonical Star Trek.

I’ve seen indications that the current Star Trek production team has a friendlier approach to the tie-in media and I’ve heard murmurings that they have tried to find ways to work in certain elements from the tie-in media that play well with the established continuity, but don’t over-constrain the current writing teams. Enough details about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds have appeared in the media to make it apparent that its story differs in some details from those presented by Margaret Wander Bonanno in her novel. Still, there are a few tantalizing hints that the series and novel may dovetail in some interesting ways.

In a world like Star Trek where they’ve established that multiple universes exist and they’ve even created new canonical universes through time travel stories, I find it hard to get too worked up about what is and isn’t part of the canon. I was glad to meet Margaret Wander Bonanno’s version of Captain Pike. It delighted me that she used aspects established in D.C. Fontana’s Vulcan’s Glory and the Marvel comic series. I would love it if elements from Burning Dreams appeared in the new TV series. If they don’t, I’m still glad to have spent some time with this novel’s version of Captain Pike. All I ask is that TV series tell a similarly compelling story.

Revisiting the Cage

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debuts in just a few days. It will follow the crew of the Starship Enterprise under the the command of Captain Christopher Pike. Captain Pike, his first officer, Una, and his science officer, Mr. Spock appeared for several episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. That noted, Discovery was not the first time we encountered the Enterprise in the days before before Captain Kirk. Strange New Worlds is a series inspired by Star Trek’s original pilot film from 1965 called “The Cage.”

Like many Star Trek fans of my generation, I first encountered “The Cage” cut into the original series’ only two-part episode, “The Menagerie.” In that story, we learn that Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Pike was grievously wounded in an accident saving cadets. Spock hijacks the Enterprise and takes his former captain to Talos IV. It turns out that a visit to Talos IV is the only death penalty offense in Federation law. Kirk and a commodore catch up to the Enterprise and put Spock on trial. In the trial, as part of his defense, Spock plays a recording of the Enterprise’s first visit to Talos IV, which also happens to be the original Star Trek pilot.

Screen shot from “The Cage” (CBS)

“The Cage” has a somewhat unique place in television history. Most of the time when a network turns down a pilot film, that’s the end of the story. In this case, the network liked the pilot just enough to commission a revised pilot. The sets were updated, new people were cast to fill critical rolls and the producers went for a more action-packed script. All of this became the original Star Trek series most people are familiar with.

I first became aware of “The Cage” during my pre-teen years. I knew Gene Roddenberry occasionally screened a personal print at conventions, but there were few opportunities for most fans to see the episode except as part of “The Menagerie” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Despite that challenge, I wanted to experience the original pilot. My solution was to use an audio tape recorder to record the parts of “The Cage” that had been cut into “The Menagerie.” With that, I had my own audio play of “The Cage.” A few years later, “The Cage” would be released on home video and it was finally aired on television for the first time in 1988.

Because I worked so hard to experience “The Cage,” it holds a special place in my heart. There’s a lot I really like about Star Trek’s first pilot. I like Captain Pike’s vulnerability. I like that his first officer was a woman. Spock is emotional here and I like how he contrasts with the somewhat colder captain and first officer. I love the bridge design, which feels a little more “real” and militaristic than the brightly colored version of the set we got in the series. That noted, some things about “The Cage” have not aged well. The navigator’s name may be José, but it’s a very white cast compared to the production version of the series. Although we have women as first officer and captain’s yeoman, they’re presented as exceptions to a rule that most officers are men.

In the episode, the Enterprise receives a distress call from a ship that crashed on Talos IV. The Enterprise arrives and finds survivors. However, the survivors turn out to be illusions and the whole thing is an elaborate plot to trap Captain Pike for a zoo-like exhibit. In the exhibit is a woman who seems interested in seducing the captain. The woman, Vina, turns out to be the crashed ship’s sole survivor. The Talosians have become so addicted to their power of illusion, they can no longer maintain their own machines. This last idea seems to have become even more relevant in the years since the story was filmed. The Talosians want Pike and Vina to start a colony of humans who can build a new civilization. When Pike seems less than thrilled about this idea, the Talosians arrange for Pike’s first officer and yeoman to beam down as additional choices for Pike to breed with, leading to a famous, unintentionally funny line where Spock, left standing on the transporter pad shouts, “the women!” I like to think there’s an alternate universe version of this scene Vina is given the choice, only the men beam down, and Number One shouts “the men!”

I like the actors who will be portraying Captain Pike and his crew in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I like that we’re seeing a more diverse cast. I was fortunate enough to meet Ethan Peck who plays Spock in this version when he visited the WIYN telescope in 2019, so I look forward to seeing his work. I anticipate there will be moments that will make me groan or prove unintentionally funny, but I also anticipate moments that will inspire me, which has always been Star Trek’s greatest gift to me as a writer and a scientist.

Adaptations and Retellings

The idea of adapting a story and retelling a story may sound much the same, but I’d suggest they’re slightly different things. Adapting a story is finding a way to tell a story in a new medium. For example, adapting a story to be filmed as a movie or told in an audio. Retelling is more like what happens when I tell a story to someone and then that someone tells the story to someone else, emphasizing the parts they liked and adding new details, and so on.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

I recently watched David Lowery’s film The Green Knight. Although I’m a fan of early Arthurian literature, I had never read the original poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The movie certainly reminded me of Arthurian literature of its period. The poem is believed to have been written circa 1380 AD. Arthur’s knights gathered for revels and a quest happened. A hunt formed an integral part of the quest and beheadings happened. All of these elements reminded me of Culhwch and Olwen, which appeared in written form around the same time, but is believed to have originated in the 11th or 12th century.

I enjoyed the film a lot and it encouraged me to seek out the original. After doing some research on the web, I decided to give Simon Armitage’s translation a try. I found his translation very readable and I appreciated it that it’s printed side-by-side with the original Middle English. Some of Armitage’s modern colloquialisms did pull me briefly out of the story, but overall, I thought he did a fine job of conveying both meaning and poetic sensibility. I also learned that the movie The Green Knight was much more a retelling than an adaptation.

Calling The Green Knight a retelling is by no means intended as a criticism. I enjoy retelling stories and have sold several of my retellings over the years. I think a retelling can bring new insights to characters, highlight hidden elements in stories, and make older stories more relevant to new audiences. The poem alludes to quests and trials as Gawain travels to complete his quest at the Green Chapel. The movie visualizes two of those quests, drawing on another story for one of those quests. David Lowery clearly emphasized Gawain’s class and privilege, then used the quest as a way for him to learn the value of courage. In the poem, Gawain doesn’t need to learn courage as much as he needs to learn honesty and perhaps even that it’s acceptable to be afraid.

It took me about the same amount of time to read Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as it did to watch the movie. I’m glad I did both. Also, it’s worth noting, the introductory material to Armitage’s translation was fascinating. I learned, among other things, that because Germanic languages tend to emphasize first syllables, early Germanic poems tended to use alliteration. Because Romance languages tend to emphasize last syllables, their poems tended to rhyme. English takes words from both and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was an early example of poem that used both techniques.

I share a retelling of Arthurian legend as part of my novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires, which you can learn more about at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

I also adapted the early story Culhwch and Olwen. Learn more about that at: http://davidleesummers.com/cando.html

Nosferatu’s Centennial

One of my blog readers who lives in the shadows and doesn’t leave comments in posts recently pointed out that this year is the centennial of F.W. Murnau’s film Nosferatu. This is the earliest cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Notably it was not a sanctioned adaptation and Florence Stoker sued Murnau. All prints of the film were ordered destroyed. What we have of the film today are prints assembled from bits and pieces that survived in personal collections.

Nosferatu

I first became aware of Nosferatu around 1983 when I watched Werner Herzog’s remake of the film starring Klaus Kinski. I was captivated from the opening credits of that film, which showed rows of mummified bodies. The implication is that you’re seeing Dracula’s victims over the years. Even though Dracula drinks blood in the film, the real horror comes because he brings the plague with him, which kills far more people than he does alone. One of the things I really loved in Herzog’s adaptation is the dark, creepy ending.

I loved Herzog’s remake so much, I wanted a copy on home video almost from the moment I could afford my own home video player. I married in 1990 and my wife had not seen the film, and I wanted to show it to her. I looked, but soon discovered that Herzog’s remake had not been released in the United States. So, we decided to rent the original. By the 1990s, many prints of the 1922 Nosferatu were available. It wasn’t officially in the public domain, but it was treated as a public domain property. These were often poor quality prints with a public domain music track of some form in the background. Versions like this are still widely available both on video and on websites like YouTube. Despite the poor transfer, Murnau’s cinematography was still compelling. I loved his used of light and shadow. I enjoyed the special effects such as Count Orlock rising from his crypt or the tarp on the ghost ship sliding back and the hatch lifting on its own.

When I watched the original, I had been surprised that Murnau changed the character names. Dracula became Orlock, Mina Harker became Ellen Hutter, Renfield became Knock, and so forth. I’ve heard it suggested this was done to disguise that Nosferatu was an adaptation of Dracula, but it doesn’t seem to make sense, since all versions of the 1922 Nosferatu I’ve seen have an early title card indicating it’s based on Dracula. I’ve also seen it suggested that Murnau simply made the names more Germanic to match the German setting of his film, which seems more likely. Of note, Herzog’s 1979 remake doesn’t change the names from the novel.

Since that early print, I have found DVD prints where a serious effort is made to restore the 1922 original to the best possible quality. I have the version from Germany’s Kino Lorber, which restores the tints to the original film and made a serious effort at restoring the film. It is lovely to look at and, for the most part, the cinematography still holds up today. There are points where the acting is very broad, as was the case in many early, silent films, but there are also really effective moments. I find it striking in most scenes with Count Orlock, the other actors look genuinely afraid or worried. So, if you’re going to celebrate the centennial of this classic film, I do recommend finding the best possible copy you can.

Both the 1922 original and the 1979 remake influenced the look of the vampire super soldiers who appear in Vampires of the Scarlet Order and will also appear in the sequel that I’m currently plotting. You can explore the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Space: 1999 – Earthbound

The end of February brought us a new Space: 1999 audio adventure from Big Finish Productions. Ostensibly, we are presented with three stories, “Mooncatcher” written by Marc Platt, “Earthbound” written by Iain Meadows, and “Journey’s End” written by Nicholas Briggs. It turns out, “Mooncatcher” is the only completely original tale on this disk. The other two stories are, in fact, a two-part retelling of the classic TV episode “Earthbound” which featured Christopher Lee as the alien space ship captain Zantor. I’ve been looking forward to this release because “Earthbound” was one of the most memorable episodes of the original series and Marc Platt is one of my favorite classic Doctor Who authors. Platt wrote the weird and wonderful twenty-sixth season Doctor Who episode “Ghostlight” along with the novel Lungbarrow, which delved into Time Lord society and the Doctor’s personal history in a really interesting way.

Space: 1999 – Earthbound

Platt’s story didn’t disappoint. As the story opens, the Moon is hurtling toward a strange, spherical object in space. Moonbase Alpha personnel receive strange transmissions from its vicinity and the object is so smooth, it appears to be artificial. Astronaut Alan Carter and Paul Morrow (both played by Glen McCready) take an Eagle spacecraft to go investigate. As they approach, Moonbase personnel figure out the signals they’ve received are a warning. Carter and Morrow are out of range, so Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell go out to try to help. Before they arrive, the sphere opens up and tendrils pull the first Eagle inside. It turns out the object is a life form, like a space-traveling coral reef and this is where the story gets really interesting. The life form begins delving into Carter and Morrow’s memories and pushes them into a dream state. In the original series, Morrow was effectively Koenig’s right-hand man, but we never got to know him well. This audio episode revealed much more about his past in a way that was true to both the classic series and the new audio series. The character came much more to life for me. As one might expect, Carter and Morrow are eventually rescued by Koenig and Russell, though we’re thrown several interesting twists and turns along the way.

The premise of Space: 1999 is that disaster strikes Earth’s moon and it’s sent hurtling out into deep space. Our characters are those people running Moonbase Alpha, a base which both oversees the storage of nuclear material and deep space launches. Although some people clearly follow a military-like rank hierarchy, the implication is that most people on the base are civilian employees. One issue rarely raised in the original series is why should Commander Koenig be the person who makes all the decisions for this group of people stranded far away from Earth. The new version of “Earthbound” addresses that.

In both the TV series and the audio series, Koenig’s boss, Space Commissioner Simmonds is stranded on the base with them. In the new version of “Earthbound,” he steps forward to question Koenig’s decision to look for a new planet for the Alphans to call home and says they’re priority should be to find a way to return to Earth. He makes his case to the Alphans and a vote is called. This early part of the episode has distinct echoes of contemporary populism in both the United States and United Kingdom. The Alphans vote by a narrow margin to return to Earth if possible and Alpha’s command staff is tasked with making the dream a reality. The problem is the dream isn’t a very realistic one and tensions grow between the command staff and the Alphans that voted to go home.

In the midst of this strife, a space ship arrives that looks as though it’s going collide with Alpha. Alan Carter takes an Eagle out to try and stop the collision, but fails. Fortunately, the space ship makes a safe landing near the base. Commander Koenig, Dr. Russell and Professor Victor Bergman board the ship. They find a group of aliens in croygenic suspension. Dr. Russell tries to wake one, but fails, accidentally killing the first alien. The alien ship’s computer wakes another. Distraught, the alien makes telepathic contact with Helena, learns human language, and learns that the death of their crewmember was an accident. In the process, Captain Zantor, leader of the Kaldosians, forms a strong emotional bond with Dr. Russell.

We soon learn the Kaldosians were seeking Earth, and their computer knows how to find it. Commissioner Simmonds sees an opportunity and sets a plot in motion to capture the Kaldosian ship. Dr. Russell struggles to keep this from happening, in part because of her bond with Captain Zantor. Those who know the original series probably remember how the episode ended. However, this isn’t exactly that same story and Nicholas Briggs definitely throws us some twists. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers. Barnaby Kay, who plays Zantor, does a fine job taking over a classic Christopher Lee role. Kay doesn’t so much try to imitate Lee but he works hard to play the character with the same combination of power and Zen-like calm Lee gave to the character.

Space: 1999 Volume 02: Earthbound is available at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-02-earthbound-2505


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New Captain Scarlet

As a science fiction fan, 2005 stands out for me because it marked the return of Doctor Who. I was a fan of the classic series and watched as many episodes as I could in college and had been grateful when the Albuquerque PBS station began getting new episodes within a year of release. At the 2005 Bubonicon in Albuquerque, they had a special screening and I attended with my daughter and a friend. We were delighted to see our favorite Time Lord back on the screen and portrayed well by Christopher Eccleston.

New Captain Scarlet

What I didn’t know was that another series of a similar vintage would also be resurrected the same year. In all fairness, I wasn’t all that familiar with Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons from 1966. In fact, the only “Supermarionation” show I knew at the time was Thunderbirds. What’s more, Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet didn’t have quite as auspicious a debut in the UK as Doctor Who did. My impression is that many original Captain Scarlet fans wouldn’t learn about the new show until after it first aired. It turns out, New Captain Scarlet originally aired as part of a kids variety show called Ministry of Mayhem. The clips I’ve seen remind me of Nickelodeon or Disney Channel variety shows of the same era.

Like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was a science fiction series filmed using marionettes as the performers. As with many Gerry Anderson shows, this show featured fantastic ground and air vehicles and even a flying base for the heroes reminiscent of the Hellicarrier from Marvel’s Avengers comics. The heroes belong to an organization called Spectrum which was formed to defend Earth against alien invasion. Spectrum agents have color-themed code names, hence the titular Captain Scarlet. The original series was rather progressive for 1966 in that Spectrum’s executive officer, Lieutenant Green, was a black man and the fighter pilots were all women.

New Captain Scarlet is, essentially, a remake of the original. Instead of using marionettes, the characters are animated with computer graphics. The series opens as Captain Scarlet and his friend, Captain Black, are sent to Mars to investigate some mysterious alien signals. They arrive on the scene and find an empty crater. Then the signals resume and soon the city of the Mysterons appears. A small probe is launched and heads toward the Spectrum vehicle. Fearing an attack, Captain Black fires at the probe. This sets off a chain reaction which destroys the city. A moment later, the city rebuilds itself. Captain Black and Captain Scarlet run away, only to be killed by the Mysterons. Captain Scarlet is resurrected right away as an agent of the Mysterons. Scarlet returns to Earth with Black’s body and Scarlet then attempts to destroy Sky Base and Spectrum. He’s knocked through an energy beam and wakes awhile later. This time, he’s free of Mysteron control, but he’s also virtually indestructible because he exists in a Mysteron-built body. The Mysterons then resurrect Captain Black to lead the assault.

Most episodes feature Spectrum battling some new Mysteron plot. In the new series, Lieutenant Green is not only black, but a woman. We also get some women agents, such as Captain Ocher, who appears in a few episodes. The fighter pilots are still women, though we do have one episode where a man is a candidate. Unfortunately, he falls victim to the Mysterons early in the episode where he appears.

I couldn’t help but think that Spectrum brought on this conflict themselves when Captain Black destroyed the Mysteron city. However, when I rewatched the episode, I realized the probe he destroyed made an awfully big explosion to be a simple probe. It would seem the Mysterons were out to wreak havoc from the beginning.

One of my favorite episodes of the series is set in New Mexico when Captain Ocher must contend with a biker gang called the Grey Skulls. The gang has existed since the 1947 Roswell crash and they believe they exist to fight against alien invasion. It was fun to see Captain Ocher convince them they’re on the same side and the Mysterons are the new threat. It was also fun to see the animators portray saguaro cacti growing around Roswell! That slight inaccuracy noted, the CG animation in the series did improve over the series’ run.

As you might imagine, New Captain Scarlet has a somewhat dark tone. It’s hard to imagine it fitting in well with the silly Ministry of Mayhem format, which involved the hosts getting involved in pie fights and being placed in dunking tanks. I also suspect that few fans of the original would have known to seek out the remake in such a variety show. Fortunately, New Captain Scarlet is much easier to find today. It’s available on a multi-region Blu-ray disk from the Gerry Anderson store at https://shop.gerryanderson.com/products/new-captain-scarlet-blu-ray-the-complete-series

Speaking of remakes, be sure to tune in on Tuesday, when I will unveil the revised edition of Heirs of the New Earth. This is the final thrill-and-surprise-packed final novel in my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Laura Givens has delivered an outstanding cover and I’ll be showing it off then and letting you know how you can get a copy for yourself.