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


If you enjoy my posts, please take a moment to learn about my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com or consider supporting me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers so that I can maintain an ad-free experience here at the Web Journal and you can get a behind-the-scenes look at my creative process.

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.

Revisiting a Classic

It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a 1958 science fiction film with a screenplay written by one of my favorite authors, Jerome Bixby. I’ve heard that the film inspired Dan O’Bannon when he wrote the screenplay for Alien. The overall premise is much the same. Aboard a spaceship, the crew is locked in a life-or-death struggle with a formidable alien creature. Bixby himself is probably best known as the creator of Star Trek’s mirror universe and also the author of the short story “It’s a Good Life” which was the basis of a Twilight Zone episode of the same title starring Bill Mumy. I met Jerome Bixby briefly while standing in line to watch Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan in 1982.

I recently came across a 2010 comic book adaptation of It! The Terror from Beyond Space published by IDW comics, who currently publish Star Trek and Doctor Who comics in the United States. The comic is written by Dara Naraghi with art by Mark Dos Santos. I liked the idea of retelling the story of a classic film as a comic book so I picked up the short run series, then rewatched the original film.

The comic series essentially follows the plot of the film. A spaceship goes to Mars to rescue a crashed exploratory mission. When they arrive, they find only one survivor, the captain of the original mission. All the evidence suggests that the first mission’s captain killed his crew so that he’d have sufficient resources to survive until the rescue party arrived. All the while, the captain maintains his innocence, saying a monster killed the crew. The captain is taken prisoner, but as the rescue ship prepares to leave, they dump some waste overboard, leaving the door open. This provides a path for the Martian to get aboard.

I suspect largely for budget reasons, the movie rushes through the early part of the story on Mars. We hear some narration over a lovely panorama showing us the wreckage of the exploratory ship and the rescue ship getting ready to leave. Then we cut to a press conference where an official on Earth tells a room full of reporters what happened. Soon after that, in the movie, the monster begins making trouble.

The comic spends most of the first issue on this early part of the story. This allows us a little more time to get to know the crew and wonder about the captain of the first mission. We also get to know more about the relationships of the rescue ship’s crew. In the movie, it’s hinted that the captain and the chief scientist had a romance. In the comic, that’s a bigger element of the plot. One of the things I love about the movie is that it actually had women in the crew, unlike Forbidden Planet, where the C-57D had a distinctly all-male crew. It was refreshing to see some black characters among the crew in the updated version as well.

I was initially disappointed to see that the first issue of the comic only really acknowledged the movie with a fine-print copyright notice on the inside front cover. However, in the second issue, we learn that a member of the rescue party takes orders from a shadowy group called the Bixby Wing, which was a fun nod to Jerome Bixby.

Overall, the comic maintains the feel of the 1950s film while updating some elements. The monster feels like one that would have been envisioned in that era, if they’d had more effects money. They maintained the overall look of the tall, cigar-shaped rocket ship, including the iconic thick hatches between decks. I’m sorry to say that the three-issue comic series is out of print and hard to find. The comics were part of IDW’s “Midnite Movie” series, which they don’t seem to have released digitally. Still, I do recommend the comics if you can find copies and the movie always makes a fun way to spend an evening.


If you enjoy my posts, please take a moment to learn about my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com or consider supporting me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers so that I can maintain an ad-free experience here at the Web Journal.

Space Precinct Audio Books

Stories about the police tend to make good television shows. There’s the potential for action, a good mystery, and real, interpersonal drama. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed several of these shows, including Barney Miller, Columbo, and Hill Street Blues. This drama also translates well into the past as we’ve seen in shows like Gunsmoke or any number of British historical mysteries. That said, police in the future seem less common. They do exist. Notable examples include Constable Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Mr. Garibaldi in Babylon 5, but aside from the occasional episode, the police work is rarely the focus. Some of that is no doubt the fact that science fiction shows tend to focus on frontiers beyond the purview of law enforcement, but what might a science fictional police show look like? As it turns out, Gerry Anderson, creator of Space: 1999 and Thunderbirds, actually did produce a police show set on an alien world called Space Precinct.

Space Precinct tells the story of Lieutenant Patrick Brogan and his partner Officer Jack Haldane who transfer from the New York City Police Department to the Demeter City Police Department on the planet Altor. The planet is a colony world settled predominantly by humans, Creons, and Tarns. A big focus of the show is Brogan’s family life with his wife Sally and two children. Overall, the stories featured a nice blend of action, humor, science fiction, and family drama. It could be a little campy at times, but that was part of the show’s charm. Sadly, the show is not currently available on region 1 DVD or region A Blu-Ray, though you can find some episodes on YouTube. Fortunately, Richard James, who played a Creon police officer named Orrin in the series, has penned two sets of stories set in the world of Space Precinct. Both of these are available as audio books, which you can pick up from Big Finish Productions at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-precinct

The first of the audio books is based on the unfilmed introductory episode of the series. In the audio book called Demeter City, we meet Lieutenant Brogan while he’s still in New York City. Brogan and Officer Haldane are on the trail of some gun smugglers who seem to be operating from the planet Altor. In the meantime, Brogan’s family see advertisements encouraging visits to the same planet. Tired of life in their small apartment, they try to persuade the Lieutenant to at least take a vacation and visit the planet. Brogan decides to apply for a police exchange program to Altor both to pursue the criminal gun runners and satisfy his family. While on Altor, Brogan and Haldane begin to unravel a criminal network that seems to have its grip on the planet while Brogan’s family do their best to make a life in an orbital habitat. As the investigation continues, Brogan and Haldane discover the biggest threat to their investigation may be within the department itself. All in all, it was a solid story and well narrated by Richard James. However, having watched a few episodes of the series, I found it pretty easy to guess one of the villains. One thing I did like in this story was that it clarified that the 2040 you see on the badge in the opening credits is Lieutenant Brogan’s badge number and not necessarily the year the story is set.

The other Space Precinct audio book at Big Finish is a collection of short stories called Space Precinct: Revisited. There are four stories in this audio book. “Kernel Panic” is told from the point of view of the station’s robot, Slomo, and how he helps the officers thwart a notorious gangster who threatens the 88th Precinct. In “Everything Must Go,” hundreds of people gather for the grand opening of a new orbiting shopping mall – only to find themselves held hostage by a gang of Human Future activists. “Point Blank” tells the story of a politician gunned down. When the weapon is found, there’s no sign of fingerprints or DNA evidence. I really liked that Officers Orrin and Beezle who normally serve as comic relief had a major role in solving this case. Finally, following a routine drugs bust, Officer Castle starts to behave very strangely. After placing Officer Took in extreme danger, questions are asked concerning her conduct.

Each of these audio books have a run time of a little over two hours and I had fun listening to them and learning more about the world of Space Precinct.

Neutrinos and the Day After Tomorrow

In Episode 178 of the Gerry Anderson Podcast, Chris Dale featured the film The Day After Tomorrow on his Randomizer segment. This is not the 2004 film about climate change. Instead, it was a 1975 segment of an American after school series called Special Treat, which offered educational programming aimed at teenagers. It appeared soon afterward on the BBC. The show was produced by Gerry Anderson and starred Nick Tate, Joanna Dunham, and Brian Blessed. The show was produced between seasons one and two of Space: 1999 and it shares models and props with the television show. One of the show’s goals was to introduce kids to Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Anderson apparently had the notion that he might turn this into a series, so wrote it in such a way that more episodes could follow the special.

I was intrigued by Dale’s discussion of the show on the podcast, so decided to seek it out. The episode is available on the DVD The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson, along with several other one-shot gems produced by Anderson. The Day After Tomorrow reminded me of what Lost in Space might have been like without the Robot or Dr. Smith. Two families travel in a near light-speed craft to Alpha Centauri and beyond. Of course, this becomes our “vehicle” for discussing the effects of special relativity. Nick Tate, best known as Alan Carter in Space: 1999, is the captain and he travels with his daughter. Brian Blessed and Joanna Dunham play a husband and wife scientist team with a son. Like the Robinson kids in the early episodes of Lost in Space, these kids are smart, but manage to avoid crossing over into the annoying territory that kids in science fiction shows have been known to do. Since this is 1975 and well before Brian Blessed became known for “Gordon’s Alive!” in Flash Gordon, he delivers a subdued and believable performance as a scientist.

While I was prepared to see the cast to discuss the wonders of Einstein’s theories, there was a moment that truly surprised me about two-thirds of the way into the show. Joanna Dunham’s character, Dr. Anna Bowen, is observing a red giant star when she warns that she’s detecting “massive neutrino emissions from the red sun.” A moment later, the sun explodes into a supernova! As it turns out, the notion that a supernova would be preceded by a neutrino burst is a theory proposed by my graduate advisor, Dr. Stirling Colgate, in a 1966 paper. This theory would finally be demonstrated in 1987 when a neutrino burst was detected just before Supernova 1987A was observed.

Stirling Colgate at the Digitized Astronomy Observatory after the detection of neutrinos from Supernova 1987A

It’s hard to look at the special and say that it was full of groundbreaking or mind-blowing science. Mostly it seemed like a fun, action adventure show that tossed in some tidbits about special relativity. Still, writer Johnny Byrne had done some homework in astronomy to know that it had been theorized that a neutrino burst would precede a supernova explosion. As a science fiction writer, I know story and character come first, but I really do appreciate a moment like this when I see a writer going the extra mile to understand his subject matter.

A Man Among Ye

I love a good pirate story. Given that I have written a series about space pirates, that should come as no surprise, but I’m pleased to read a well-told tale about pirates in any era. One of the reasons pirate stories appeal to me is that pirates exist outside the norms of social propriety. Because of that, you can use them as a way to examine social structures and moral codes. Do those structures, laws, and moral codes keep people from harm, or are they about keeping certain people in power? They’re also interesting in a narrative sense, because the best pirate stories explore these kinds of issues while giving us an anti-hero we can root for and putting them into a situation that’s fun and exciting to watch.

Tom Hutchison, owner of Big Dog Ink comics, has a show on the Comic Book Shopping Network called the Midnight Collector’s Club, where he sells interesting collectable and new titles from other comic companies. One of the books he showed off was issue number one of A Man Among Ye written by Stephanie Phillips and featuring art by Craig Cermak. The cover caught my eye as something that looked like it took on the topic of pirates in a way that was both serious and fun. I read the first issue and immediately wanted to know what happened next. I lucked out and my local comic shop had issue 2.

The time period and general setting of the comic will be familiar to viewers of the series Black Sails. The protagonist is Anne Bonney. She’s aboard the Kingston, commanded by Calico Jack Rackham. We have some scenes on Nassau and Charles Vane makes an appearance. Unlike Black Sails, we’re not mixing in characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It’s clear Stephanie Phillips has read many accounts of real life pirates and is both inspired by them and understands their limitations.

A Man Among Ye opens with the crew of the Kingston raiding a British ship. A young sailor from the British ship survives and sneaks about the Kingston. The young sailor soon proves to be Mary Read. Those who know their pirate history will recognize Mary as another real-life pirate who sailed with Rackham and Bonney. As the story progresses, we discover that not all the crew are happy about Anne Bonney’s presence on the Kingston or with Rackham’s captaincy. A sailor named Biff makes plans to dispatch Bonney and lead a mutiny against Rackham. All of this makes for an exciting and thrill-packed adventure story. Phillips shows a deft hand in her scripting by keeping the action moving and making me want to turn the page to see what happens next.

While there’s plenty of action, there’s also an exploration of women’s roles in society. We learn that Anne was expected to marry and become a housewife. She rejected that life to become a pirate, but clearly not all pirates think she has a place among them and they are even less thrilled when young Mary Read shows up. Even beyond that, there’s some mythological underpinning with the story taking some inspiration from the Greek myth of Actaeon and Artemis. Two issues in and I’m hooked. If you’re looking for a good rip-roaring pirate yarn that will also make you think a little more about society and its structures, check out A Man Among Ye. If you want to do the same, but in space, checkout my Space Pirates’ Legacy Series.

Penny Dreadful – Season Three

Halloween kicked off this week. Like many people, I enjoy some spooky films or books to get into the spirit of the season. Last week, my wife and I decided to watch the final season of Showtime’s series, Penny Dreadful. Just as a head’s up, I will endeavor to be as spoiler free as I can about the final season itself, but I will likely include some spoilers from the first two seasons. Proceed with appropriate caution!

Penny Dreadful Season Three

Penny Dreadful’s third season picks up where the second season left off. Sir Malcolm has gone to Africa to take the body of a loyal companion back to his people. He soon meets an Apache named Kaetenay, played by Wes Studi, who informs him that their mutual friend, Ethan Chandler is in trouble. Meanwhile, Ethan Chandler has turned himself into the authorities because he killed numerous people in his werewolf form. Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s Creature has gone to the North Pole aboard a ship. Back in London, Dorian Gray and Lilly, a woman resurrected by Dr. Frankenstein, seem to be happily-ever-aftering while the series’ protagonist, Vanessa Ives has been left alone and is one again going mad. Fortunately, Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle drops by and refers her to a good psychologist, Dr. Florence Seward, played by Patti LuPone, who played Joan Clayton in season two.

Over the course of the first episode, Dr. Jekyll, played by Shazad Latif, pays a call on his old classmate, Dr. Frankenstein and asks for assistance in his work at Bethlam Hospital. We also learn that the king of all vampires, Dracula has arrived in London and has an interest in Vanessa Ives. All of these characters in different locations and all of these plotlines are a lot to wrap up in nine episodes. If anything, I’d say that proves to be the final seasons greatest weakness. In particular Ethan goes through many twists and turns as he travels in America, meets a witch, and confronts his father and his past. I felt like we breezed through that storyline so fast that we didn’t have a chance to understand why Ethan made some of the choices he did and for a series that seems concerned with matters of good and evil, I was somewhat confused about which he actually turned out to be. The brief season also makes the ending feel abrupt and unsatisfying. There’s an interesting thread in the season about women and how their right to be individuals can put them at odds with societal expectations determined largely by men. I didn’t really feel like this thread was resolved in a satisfying way. It seemed to me that one or two more episodes may have gone a long way to giving the series a more complete feel.

Despite that issue, there were several elements I enjoyed in the final season. The characters of Kaetenay and Dr. Seward were fascinating and well acted. I particularly enjoyed the final season’s portrayal of Dracula. The writers and actor took a nuanced approach to the character. He could come across as genuinely charming and vulnerable, yet he was also decidedly creepy. Frankenstein’s Creature also went through a sad and well performed story arc as he regains his memories and seeks his long-lost family. The final season also seemed to feature a bit less gore and fewer jump scares than earlier seasons.

Overall, I was glad to have watched the entire Penny Dreadful series. There were some great moments that will stick with me. Even though I would have liked better resolution to some elements, pondering those will likely lead me to some story ideas. Of course, you can see my own take on vampires in my Scarlet Order vampire series. The links below will take you to the books:

If you’re a fan of comics, don’t miss the chapter I adapted from Dragon’s Fall with Bram Meehan and Michael Ellis.

The Valley of Gwangi

Last month, Robert E. Vardeman mentioned that he’s a fan of the Ray Harryhausen film The Valley of Gwangi in a post on his Patreon site. A couple of weeks later, when I was on a panel discussing Weird Westerns with Jeff Mariotte at the virtual CoKoCon, the film came up again. Although I had been aware of the film and had seen clips, I’d never watched the whole thing before, so I took this as a sign that I should finally sit down and watch it.

Cowboys and dinosaurs meet in The Valley of Gwangi

The film starts off looking like it’ll be a pretty ordinary western. T.J. Breckinridge runs a struggling rodeo on tour through Mexico in the early 20th century. Her former boyfriend, Tuck Kirby, wants to buy her out, but she doesn’t want to sell. T.J. has an ace up her sleeve. Gypsies brought her a tiny horse from Forbidden Valley and she expects it will be a great attraction. A paleontologist named Horace Bromley, recognizes the animal as no ordinary horse. He declares it’s the prehistoric horse, Eohippus. The leader of the gypsies say the little horse is cursed and convince Bromley to capture the horse and return it to Forbidden Valley. Bromley, of course, is interested to see what other creatures might live there. To get the horse, the gypsies have to knock out one of T.J.’s men, Carlos.

Tuck sees the gypsies leaving and discovers they’ve taken the Eohippus. He sets out after them. Unfortunately, Carlos saw Tuck and thinks he’s responsible for the theft. T.J., Carlos, and several of the rodeo riders set out after Tuck. They all soon arrive just outside the Forbidden Valley. After sorting out what’s going on, Tuck nearly recaptures the Eohippus, only to have it disappear into a cave in the cliff face. T.J., Tuck, Horace, and the rodeo riders set out after it. It turns out the Eohippus didn’t go into a cave, but entered a passageway leading to the Forbidden Valley. The rodeo men clear out some rocks and soon our band goes riding into the valley.

Once in the valley, our heroes discover that Eohippus isn’t the only prehistoric creature living there. They’re soon attacked by a pteranodon. After dealing with the flying creature, they encounter a small plant eating dinosaur. The rodeo riders decide it would make an even better attraction than Eohippus, so they chase it, only to have the dinosaur snapped up in the jaws of Gwangi, an Allosaurus. From this point on, the movie becomes full-on cowboys versus beautiful Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs. Our rodeo riders take refuge in a cave that foreshadows the Land of the Lost TV series I watched as a kid. Eventually, the cowboys capture Gwangi and take him back to town. In a finale reminiscent of King Kong, Gwangi breaks free and rampages through the town where he corners T.J. and Tuck in a cathedral.

All in all, the movie is great fun and a terrific example of a Weird Western story. As always, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters are a marvel to behold. There’s a scene where the rodeo riders attempt to lasso Gwangi and Harryhausen seamlessly blended the live-action and stop-motion photography. The only real problem with the effects happened because the film’s post-production was rushed and Harryhausen was never allowed to color correct his footage. As a result, the dinosaurs have a tendency to change colors from purple to gray to green from scene to scene. While I’m not generally a fan of tinkering with old movies, I wouldn’t mind seeing a color-corrected special edition of this film where the dinosaurs are each a consistent color.

You can find Robert E. Vardeman’s Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/robertevardeman

As a friendly reminder, this blog is supported and kept ad-free in part by my Patreon, which is at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Tank Girl

In my last post, I discussed the panel “Bad-Ass Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy” that happened at this year’s virtual CoKoCon. Among the people on the panel with me were five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Linda D. Addison and Jenn Czep, the talented author of such books as Cloud to Cloud and Blackstrap’s Ecstacy: A Corsair Captain’s Log. Both mentioned Tank Girl as one of their favorite bad-ass women in speculative fiction. When authors of this caliber recommend something, I listen. I remember Tank Girl appearing on the shelves of comic shops I visited back in the early 1990s and I remember when the 1995 movie came out, but I hadn’t actually read the comic or seen the movie. Among other things, that was the period of my life when I was just getting started with my astronomy career and my first child was born in 1995. So, I decided to learn more about Tank Girl.

Tank Girl in comics and at the movies

Tank Girl started in 1988 as a comic created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, which appeared in Britain’s Deadline Magazine. Set in the near future, the action takes place in a post-Apocalyptic Australia. The title character not only drives a tank, but lives in it as well. Her boyfriend is a sentient kangaroo named Booga. Her closest friends are women called Jet Girl and Sub Girl. You can, no doubt, figure out their vehicles of choice. The stories are generally ribald adventures. One of my favorites involves Tank Girl being fed up with the bad beer foisted on her by some large corporation and decides to find and steal some good beer. She convinces Jet Girl and Sub Girl to go with her. They succeed only to wind up teetering on the edge of a cliff in the tank, in danger of falling over due to the weight of the beer cans. Of course Tank Girl and her friends decide to dispose of the beer by drinking it! The best way I can describe the Tank Girl comic is Mad Max meets Loony Tunes.

In the 1990s, MGM was scouting for a hip property to develop into a movie and they bought the rights to Tank Girl and gave it a pretty good budget. As the story goes, once they started seeing the movie, they got scared and insisted that it should have a tighter plot and that the crude humor should be scaled back. As such, the movie’s a classic case of a great comic watered down by studio interference. Despite that, the quirky charm of the Tank Girl character still comes through. Lori Petty who plays the title character bears an uncanny resemblance to her cartoon counterpart. Also, the sentient kangaroos were well realized as practical on-screen effects. What’s more, the soundtrack, supervised by Courtney Love, is excellent and features songs by Devo, Joan Jett, and Ice-T, who also played one of the kangaroos.

Tank Girl is a no-holds-barred, irreverent character. She’ll poke fun at almost everything and if she doesn’t like you she’ll straight-up maim you or kill you. I can see why she’s a favorite of authors like Jenn Czep and Linda Addison. When I think of characters like this, I tend to think of characters like Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters or Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China. Men tend to get these wise-cracking, streetwise roles, so it was refreshing to see a woman in that kind of a part. There have been rumors that Margot Robbie would like to film a new Tank Girl movie. Hopefully she can make a version that captures even more of the comic’s unflagging spirit.

Bad-Ass Women

Late August through early October 2021 has proven to be a busy convention season for me. Most of the conventions have still been virtual, but I have cautiously returned to attending some in-person events. The first virtual convention I attended during this period was Bubonicon 52 Take 2 on August 20-21. Even if you missed it, they posted all of their panels on their YouTube channel in a playlist at: https://youtu.be/eIJoVSjxmlI.

Two weeks later on Labor Day weekend, I gave a science presentation and spoke on seven panels at the virtual CoKoCon. Sessions were held on Discord and Zoom. Unfortunately, these panels don’t seem to have been posted for later viewing, but the discussions were fun and lively. We discussed such topics as writing weird western fiction, keeping classic monsters fresh and new, and the differences between publishing in the small press and larger presses.

At both conventions, I was on a panel with a similar name. At CoKoCon, the panel was called “Bad-Ass Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy.” In that panel, the emphasis was largely on our favorite characters in the genres. At Bubonicon, the title was “Writing Bad-Ass Women” and the panel focused more on the process of writing strong women. The latter panel is available to watch here:

Most of us agreed that there haven’t been enough bad-ass women in science fiction and family, but that the situation is improving. As you can see, there were more men on the Bubonicon panel than women. Still, we all agreed that the process largely involves channeling those bad-ass women we have known in our lives and the ones we do admire in fiction and adapting those traits to our characters. At CoKoCon, I was the only man on the panel. Some of the favorite characters mentioned included Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies, and Dr. Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

I think it should be clear from the list that bad-ass doesn’t always mean “kick-ass.” These women aren’t all characters who emphasize physical prowess. They’re smart characters who think through solutions. An interesting favorite character mentioned at CoKoCon was Tank Girl from the comics and movie of the same name. Although I knew of the character, I didn’t know much about her. I’ve since read some of the comics and watched the movie and may discuss her further in a future post, but among her striking characteristics were her fearlessness and irreverence.

One of the reasons I volunteered for these panels is that I believe in writing bad-ass women into my stories. Whether it’s Marcella and Jane in the Scarlet Order Vampire series, Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in the Clockwork Legion series, or Suki Mori and her daughter Suki Firebrandt Ellis in the Space Pirates’ Legacy series, I endeavor to model these characters on the many bad-ass women I’ve known and admired in real life. One area that was mentioned in both panels were the lack of older women mentor figures. A few were named and again, this is an area where improvement is beginning to happen. One of my favorite strong women leaders from my own fiction is Admiral Ayumba Mukombe in Firebrandt’s Legacy. After being on these panels, I’m certainly tempted to tell more of her story. You can learn more about Admiral Mukombe and the other characters from my fiction at http://davidleesummers.com/