Star Trek: Phase II

A few days ago, I came across a listing on the Eaglemoss website for a replica of the Starship Enterprise based on the design that would have been used in the television series Star Trek: Phase II.  This series has fascinated me since I first heard about it right around the time I first heard about Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In fact, the first poster for the movie I had seen featured the Phase II Enterprise. I decided I needed one for my collection.

I remember picking up a magazine sometime in 1978 announcing the forthcoming movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As a young Star Trek fan, this was exciting news indeed. The article also mentioned a planned television series called Star Trek II was on hold.  Apparently the sets and models for Star Trek II would be upgraded and used for the new movie. The article, as I recall, expressed some hope that if the movie proved a success, Paramount would move ahead with the series. This was like a dream come true. A new Star Trek movie and series.

As time went on, I heard less and less about the new series. I didn’t really get the story about what happened until I read Susan Sackett’s The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture a year or so after the movie came out. Even then, that book only contained tantalizing hints. Essentially, it revealed that soon after the cancellation of the original series, Gene Roddenberry had been approached to develop some new version of the series. The first culmination was the animated series. After that, a movie was developed but the script was ultimately rejected. Finally a TV series—Star Trek II or Star Trek: Phase II—was given the green light for development. It reached the point that they had signed most of the original cast and they were about to begin shooting when suddenly Star Wars came out and Paramount decided to turn the pilot script into a movie.

Susan Sackett gave a little more detail than this broad outline in her book, but not much. I finally located a book that gave much more detail about how the series started and the circumstances that caused it to go from being a series to a move. This book was Star Trek: Phase II, The Lost Series by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who at the time they wrote the book were respected novelists who had done a couple of Star Trek novels, but would go on to be producers of Star Trek: Enterprise.

The book is really quite the treasure trove, and not just for the Star Trek fan curious about the Star Trek series that never happened. If you’re interested in developing stories for the screen, this book includes Alan Dean Foster’s treatment for the pilot episode, “In Thy Image” along with Harold Livingston’s complete first draft script. These would ultimately be modified to become Star Trek: The Motion Picture. What’s more, there’s also the complete screenplay for an episode called “The Child” which ultimately was rewritten as a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture doesn’t have the best reputation, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the movie. Of course, it becomes clear from the Reeves-Stevens’ book that much of the problem stems from the fact that it is the pilot episode of a TV series. It’s not supposed to leave you sitting on the edge of your seat. It’s supposed to introduce you to characters and settings who will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat in future episodes. Susan Sackett’s book made clear that it was a pilot episode further watered down to be palatable to network executives and take as few chances as possible. That said, while I think Harold Livingston’s first draft script has better elements than the movie, the ending of the movie is much stronger than the one he first wrote.

Unfortunately, Star Trek: Phase II The Lost Series is now out of print. I had to buy a used copy. If you’re at all interested in Star Trek or writing for the screen, I highly recommend it for its candid look behind the scenes of the screenwriting process. I’m finding it very helpful in a project I’m working on, but can’t talk about yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to say more soon about that project, but in the meantime, this is a good excuse to once again share the short film whose screenplay I wrote. Enjoy!

If you like this clip, you can read the full story in my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N5EH8QP/

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The Greatest Showman

This weekend finds me at Gaslight Expo in San Diego. If you’re in Southern California, I hope you’ll consider dropping by this event at the Town and Country Hotel and check out all the great steampunk festivities. You can get more information at http://www.gaslightexpo.org

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the new musical The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman. I had been looking forward to this for some time. After all, there are few actors like Jackman who have the talent and the presence to be both believable action stars and great musical performers. What’s more, I’ve long been fascinated by P.T. Barnum. In many ways he defined showmanship. He had a complicated relationship with his performance company. It’s easy to dismiss Barnum as someone who exploited the “oddities” who worked for him (and anyone else, for that matter). Yet, if not for Barnum these people arguably would have had far worse lives in nineteenth century New York. What’s more, Barnum was a skeptic who called out people who preyed on others, such as William Mumler, who convinced many grieving people, he could capture the images of the dearly departed in photographs. Barnum showed it was simply a trick done with double exposures.

Overall, I enjoyed the show’s music. I thought the songs and dances were quite well done. Several times in the movie, I felt they were building up to a real confrontation between Barnum and his company, but it seems like the screenwriters sidestepped it and ultimately the company just seemed to rally around Barnum when he was at his lowest. Although I don’t really expect musical theater to be the most historically accurate medium, the musical strayed quite far from the true story. Among other things Barnum never had a partner at the American Museum, there never was a romantic scandal with Jenny Lind (although she did get tired of his constant exploitative marketing of her and left his company), and it took about 30 years from the time he opened his museum in New York until it burned down. The two daughters we saw in the movie would have had time to grow up in the time span portrayed.

When I first heard about The Greatest Showman, I was a little disappointed, though not altogether surprised that they didn’t simply adapt the much more historically accurate, albeit stylized, 1980 musical Barnum to the big screen. I haven’t heard a definitive reason this wasn’t done, though I can make some guesses. First and foremost, I imagine the music in Barnum probably didn’t seem hip enough for a modern movie musical. Even though it was released in 1980, the musical feels much like the musicals of the 50s and the 60s. I’m also guessing there were some rights issues. I gather the musical is still being performed and it just saw a recent revival in London. That said, Barnum makes the point that one could have made a more accurate movie musical than the one that was made.

Of course, one of the things that’s strongly emphasized to those of us who write speculative fiction is that we should do everything we can to allow the reader (or the viewer) to suspend their disbelief of the fantastical elements. For me, the history was less of an issue than the problem of the averted confrontation. That point actually is what made me look closely at the history. (That and not remembering that Barnum had a partner named Carlyle, which he didn’t.) With that in mind, I’ll close out today’s post by recommending two authors who get the history right to the point that they can sell you on a little humbug and pass off some razzmatazz.  They are David B. Riley and Laura Givens. I’ve had the honor of publishing them both together in a book called Legends of the Dragon Cowboys. In the book, you’ll meet Ling Fung, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman. You’ll also meet Chin Song Ping, a scoundrel, gambler and trouble magnet who has no little P.T. Barnum in him. Why not check out a copy of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys today at: https://www.amazon.com/Legends-Dragon-Cowboys-David-Riley/dp/1885093837

The Midwest Book Review said, ” These two Western novellas are seasoned a dash of exotic adventure, featuring cowboy protagonists who hail from the Far East and pursue their dreams in the tough-as-nails frontier. Riveting from first page to last, Legends of the Dragon Cowboys is enthusiastically recommended for public library collections and connoisseurs of the genre!”

Steampunk Batman

One of the appeals of alternate history and steampunk is the ability to imagine wrongs of the past made right. Of course, one of the most notorious villains of the Victorian age was Jack the Ripper. For me, my first Jack the Ripper tale wasn’t alternate history, but science fiction. It was an episode of Star Trek written by Robert Bloch called “Wolf in the Fold” in which Chief Engineer Scott is accused of committing some very Jack the Ripper-like murders.

One of my earliest exposures to alternate history was the graphic novel Gotham by Gaslight written by Brian Augustyn and illustrated by Mike Mignola. It imagines that Jack the Ripper travels to Gotham City and starts his murder spree again, only to confront Batman. I bought and read the graphic novel soon after it was released in 1989. I was in graduate school at the time and comics were one of the few things I had time to read. It’s hard to call the original Gotham by Gaslight steampunk. The story pretty much limits itself to technology that was well established in the nineteenth century. That said, the artwork reminds me more than a little of Jacques Tardi’s artwork in The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Also, it’s worth noting that Robert Bloch, who wrote the Jack the Ripper Star Trek episode, also wrote the graphic novel’s introduction.

Earlier this year, Warner Brothers produced a direct-to-video animated adaptation of Gotham by Gaslight. I knew I wanted to reacquaint myself with this story. I watched it on Netflix and liked it enough, I went out and bought a copy. I discovered Best Buy has a special edition that includes a reprint of the original graphic novel—very cool because that meant I could refresh my memory of the original without damaging my first edition.

As it turns out, the plot of the movie is quite a bit different from that of the graphic novel. This becomes apparent right away when it opens with Pamela Isley (better known to many Batman fans as Poison Ivy) working in a burlesque house and becoming the Ripper’s first murder victim. I have to admit to mixed feelings on this point. One on hand, it feels a bit like a betrayal of character to make Pamela a victim. On the other, it establishes right away that you can’t take your expectations of certain characters for granted and that does pay off as the movie progresses.

It’s pointed out in the commentary that the graphic novel was only 40 pages long and that doesn’t really provide enough material to fill out a 70-minute movie. What I like is that they didn’t add stuff just to add stuff. They fleshed out the mystery and we got to see my favorite aspect of Batman—we got to see him working as a detective, hunting for clues and actually figuring out who the Ripper is.

They also made it more steampunk than the original, but it’s not a gratuitous addition of gadgets. Instead, they added a World’s Fair, which was very much a showpiece of technology at the time, and they gave the police an airship. This latter works because in Batman: The Animated Series the police are shown as having airships, so it was great to see that idea explored in this alternate history version. They also gave Batman a couple of steampowered gadgets. Of course, Batman always needs cutting-edge technology in his work.

There’s great voice acting in the movie with Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Anthony Head as Alfred the Butler, and Jennifer Carpenter as Selina Kyle. The DVD’s special features are pretty much teasers for other DC/Warner film projects, but the Blu Ray includes a couple of bonus Batman cartoons, a commentary and a making-of featurette. All in all, this ended up being one of my favorite adaptations of a DC comic book. It seems like the makers of the live-action DC movies could learn a thing or two from the animation department.

Of course, if you’re in a steampunk mood, you should check out my Clockwork Legion series. I have plenty of airships to go around, plus there’s even the New Orleans World Cotton Exposition in the fourth book—one of the original World’s Fairs. You can learn more about the series by visiting: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion. If you’re in Las Cruces, I’m signing copies this morning at COAS Books downtown from 10 until noon. If you miss that, I’ll be at Branigan Library tomorrow from 2 until 4pm.

Bombshells

While visiting Bisbee, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I found a fun figurine of Batgirl with something of a steampunk makeover in a boutique called Va Voom! I walked around the shop two or three times and finally decided she had to come home with me. I also decided I had to know whether she had a formal appearance in the comics. As it turns out, she did. She was the star of DC’s Bombshells Annual #1.

For those not familiar with DC’s Bombshells, the comic was set during an alternate World War II and imagines that many of the DC Universe’s female superheroes have gathered together to fight for the Allied cause. Among the Bombshells are familiar heroines such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Batwoman, who I remember discovering in reprints of vintage Batman comics, also takes a major role here. The team is spearheaded by Amanda Waller, who readers of Suicide Squad are sure to recognize. I’m sad to say the comic has ceased publication, but the last three years are widely available in collected graphic novels both in print and ebook editions.

The Batgirl story in this world actually opens in the swamps of Louisiana during 1941. Killer Croc has gone in search of the Batgirl of the swamps and he succeeds. What’s more, he discovers she’s a vampire! The action moves to West Point in 1941 where Amanda Waller is talking to a new recruit named Francine Charles. Waller sends Charles on a mission to recruit Batgirl to the Bombshells. When she asks why, Waller tells her Batgirl’s story.

We learn that Barbara Gourdon was a French girl living during World War I who loved tinkering with machinery. Her mother has fields of lavender and her father is a police officer. He buys her an airplane and she learns to fly. She ultimately falls in love, but disappears when she must save her lover. It’s up to Francine Charles to learn how the ace pilot became a vampire and to see if that vampire can be recruited to the Bombshells.

At the beginning of the summer, I talked about “superhero fatigue.” In that case, I spoke primarily of finding nothing but superhero movies at the cinema. One place I rarely suffer superhero fatigue is in my local comic shop. There are many fun and innovative titles on the shelves and I see the superheroes I grew up with being taken in new and interesting directions. Superhero fatigue in the movies has much to do with the fact that we’re seeing stuff that happened 20 years ago or more in the comic pages!

I love the idea of a feminist superhero team like the Bombshells. After reading Annual #1, I picked up the entire first year of collected stories and was impressed by the writing and the artwork. I love the exploration of characters who received too little page time back when I read comics more regularly many years ago. In the Batgirl comic in particular, I liked how they gave her a lavender bat costume like she had in the Adam West series, but also created a good reason for her to have that costume.

I also liked how Batgirl took a dark turn and became a vampire. The opening scenes in the Louisiana swamps with Killer Croc reminded me not a little of Marcella DuBois’s debut in my own novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. What’s more, Marcella is one of my own characters who I’ve explored in an alternate timeline. That version of Marcella appears in Straight Outta Tombstone which has just appeared in a nifty trade paperback edition. I have a feeling Marcella would be right at home with Amanda Waller’s Bombshells

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop/dp/1481483498/

Star Blazers 2202 – Part One

I grew up with reruns of the original Star Trek. I was eleven-years-old and obsessed with Star Wars when it came out. However, there was a third series I loved as much as those and that was Space Battleship Yamato, perhaps better known to American fans as Star Blazers. The series was something of a mainstay of Japanese television and cinemas from 1974 until 1983 when the movie Final Yamato was released. In 2010, a good, albeit dark, live action movie was made. However, what I’ve been delighted to see is that the anime is being given a quality remake. Season One, set in the year 2199, was released six years ago. Season Two, set in 2202, started its run last year. It’s being released as a series of seven movies, which will then be broken up into television episodes. What’s more, the new Star Blazers has finally garnered US distribution and I’ve just finished watching the first half of Star Blazers 2202.

In the first season, aliens known as Gamilas have invaded the solar system and bombed the surface of the Earth until it’s uninhabitable. What’s left of humanity has retreated underground. They receive a message from an alien called Starsha who sends plans for a fantastic wave motion engine. She says if they can build a ship and get to her on the planet Iscandar, she can give them technology to clean up the planet. Captain Okita gathers a crew aboard the titular Yamato and they set off. At the risk of a spoiler, they succeed, though not without sacrifices and major changes to galactic regimes.

In the second season, a new enemy has appeared called the Gatlanteans. Somehow, Earth has managed to build a whole fleet of warships based on Yamato’s technology in a very short time and the “somehow” is addressed as part of the mystery of the series. In the meantime, the former crew of the Yamato receive a psychic distress call from a goddess-like alien called Teresa. She needs help and is also threatened by the Gatlanteans. However, Earth doesn’t want to help. It’s up to the crew of the Yamato to reunite in defiance of Earth’s government to find out who Teresa is and help her if they can.

One of the things I loved in the first season was that they took some care to update the science, and while the series takes some liberties in the name of telling a good space opera yarn, it was not bad. The second season does allow itself to fall into some 70’s SF tropes. The Gatlantean’s mobile base, which looks like a planet-sized comet is sometimes called a Quasar. Scientists today wouldn’t call it that—though it is reasonable that such a body would probably have huge radio emissions and might resemble a Quasar at first glance. Also, the asteroid belt is far too densely populated.

Both seasons are full of blink-and-you-miss-it moments. At times this can make watching the series a challenge, but it also means the series stands up to repeat viewings. I often catch things on a second or third pass that I missed the first time. This is also a series I enjoy watching both in subtitled and dubbed versions. The subtitles help me focus on the dialog while the dubbed versions let me just look at what’s going on while people are talking.

One thing the 2202 season has added that’s interesting is product placement. There are some familiar logos appearing here and there. It’s a little sad, but anime of this quality is notoriously expensive. I’m willing to put up with some of this if it allows the creators to continue making a quality show.

I’ve heard the updated Star Blazers called one of the best science fiction anime. I’d actually go a little further. It’s easily one of my top ten favorite all-time science fiction series and possibly even one of my top five. It’s definitely worth a look. The complete season one along with the first half of season two are available with subtitles at Crunchyroll.com. It’s available with English dubbing at Funimation.com. Note, to watch most of season two on Funimation you currently have to subscribe, but if I read the release schedule correctly, it’ll be available without subscription starting on August 31.

What about the second half of season two? As I mentioned, season two is being produced as seven motion pictures. Only five of those have been released in Japan. Two are still awaiting release. It appears that Crunchyroll and Funimation are putting the series on hiatus at the mid-point until the series is finished. If you’re a fan of Star Blazers or just want more information about the show, Tim Eldred runs an excellent website: OurStarBlazers.com.

Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur

This past weekend I watched a movie that’s been on my “want to see” list since it came out in 2004, Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur. It promised to deliver a more historically accurate vision of King Arthur than other films and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it more-or-less succeeded in a Hollywood action movie sort of way. The movie came to mind when I received my contributor copies of the anthology Camelot 13.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Arthurian history and lore. On a subject where there are nearly 1500 years’ worth of lore and fiction, no one can create a new version without people bringing their own perceptions to the table and nitpicking this element or that. With that said and before I go too much further, I’ll note that the earliest documents on which the Arthur story is based essentially say that around 500 AD during the Roman occupation of Britain, a general led the Celtic tribes in a campaign against the Saxons and there was a big battle at Badon Hill. Arthur’s name doesn’t even appear in the history’s until almost 300 years after he supposedly lived.

In the film, Arthur is the son of a Roman general and a Celtic woman who rose to the rank of general himself. He leads an elite band of Roman conscripts stationed near Hadrian’s Wall. The Saxons are invading the island and Arthur is given the mission to go retrieve the son of a Roman consul favored by the Pope who lives north of the wall before the Saxons rampage over their villa. As the Saxons move in, the Celts, led by Merlin, form an alliance with Arthur. They fall back to Hadrian’s Wall where their version of Mt. Badon exists and have a climactic battle. In this version, Guinevere is a Celtic woman who is also a fighter. Without looking too closely at the details, all the elements fit interpretations of the history I’ve seen.

As it turns out, I cover some of these same events in my novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. However in my version, Arthur is a Christian Celt with some Roman training. His knights are also Celts, including Lancelot, who in my version is from Brittany. Guinevere is a Roman noble. I actually wrote a version of the battle of Badon Hill for the novel, but left it “off camera” for the novel since none of the protagonists were there. What’s fun for me is that I think both versions of the story are valid interpretations of the history such as it’s known. Of course, in the novel, I end up introducing King Arthur to a vampire who wants to find the Holy Grail because he think the artifact will help him find redemption. If you want to go on this quest, you can learn more about Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Of course, if you want even more far out explorations of Arthurian Legend, be sure to check out Camelot 13. Copies will be available at Amazon next month, but you can order a copy today at http://hadrosaur.com/collections.html#Camelot13

Valerian and Laureline

While learning more about the movie The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec directed by Luc Besson and the comic of the same name by Jacques Tardi, I stumbled across another French comic which was recently adapted by Besson. The comic is Valérian and Laureline written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. The movie, called Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, completely slipped under my radar. Because I love a good space opera, I immediately set out to see the movie and read some issues of the comic.

The comic started its run in November 1967. To put it in context, the original Star Trek was still on the air in the United States and Patrick Troughton was playing the title character of Doctor Who in England. It’s pure pulp action Sci Fi, reminding me most of Buck Rogers with a touch of Flash Gordon thrown in for good measure. The artwork, particularly in the first two installments, looks like it’s inspired by Mad Magazine and there is a definite satirical edge to the stories. The characters of Valérian and Laureline also remind me a little of Jamie and Zoe, the Doctor’s traveling companions at the time, but with some of their personality traits mixed up. Laureline, like Jamie McCrimmon, is from the past and doesn’t always want to follow the rules. Valérian, like Zoe, thinks highly of himself, and seems to need rescuing from time to time. I’m not convinced these similarities are deliberate. I suspect there’s an element of the zeitgeist of the period in these passing resemblances.

Fans of Valérian and Laureline are also fast to point out many similarities between the French comic and Star Wars which would come out a decade later. I gather George Lucas has acknowledged the French comic’s influence on the look of his world.

Jumping ahead to the movie, I thought Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was a gem. It captured the spirit of the comic very well and I thought presented a dandy and cohesive story with some cool science fictional ideas that made valid commentary on what can happen when indigenous peoples find themselves caught between two civilizations at war. Valerian and Laureline themselves are introduced during a special ops mission at a market that exists in a different dimension from our own. I loved the way that concept was portrayed on screen.

I enjoyed the performances of Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline. They’re not your usual Hollywood romantic couple. In fact, they seemed just a little uncomfortable with this whole romance thing, but it worked for me because that’s the way romance often works in real life. It’s figuring out how you each work, and not having the writer put phrases in your mouth that the other party has to be a moron to misunderstand and pout about until they make up. The film also features a truly outstanding performance by Rihanna as an alien called Bubble. I also loved the cameos by Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer.

As a bonus, I’ve discovered that about ten years ago, Valerian and Laureline was turned into a French-Japanese co-produced anime. From what I’ve seen so far, the anime’s story diverges from the comic’s, but it still looks fun. I definitely need to watch a few more episodes.

Of course, I’m a sucker for a good space opera. If you want to see my serialized space opera story, please drop by my Patreon site. You can read the first story of my Firebrandt’s Legacy for free. If you pledge just one dollar, you can read nine more stories right now. If you remain a patron, you’ll get each new story as its released. Stop by and check out Firebrandt’s Legacy at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers