The Last Adventure

Jodie Whittaker’s final Doctor Who adventure debuted at the end of October 2022. Throughout the series, the episode where a Doctor regenerates is often of the most powerful of that actor’s tenure. “The Power of the Doctor” was a great case in point, giving the Doctor an opportunity to confront her past and bringing back several companions Doctor Who’s classic era. Unfortunately, in Doctor Who history, there was one actor who was never given a proper final episode and that was the sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker.

Colin Baker’s era on Doctor Who was plagued by several related problems. The top people at the BBC had lost interest in Doctor Who. Because of that, the show runner, John Nathan-Turner, was spending more time fighting to keep the show on the air than actually running the show. When I go back and watch Colin Baker’s episodes, I get the sense that the writers had a lot of talent but were writers who really needed strong editorial guidance. Unfortunately, because of the issues with the BBC, that guidance really wasn’t there and Doctor Who is a show that needs top notch writing and a good editorial vision to work. In the end, the BBC dictated changes in the show, which included a change of lead actor. Colin Baker basically decided he wouldn’t come back for a few minutes of screen time before his regeneration began. So, after Colin Baker’s last season, we start the next season with the Doctor in mid-regeneration and suddenly the Sylvester McCoy era began.

Colin Baker’s Doctor could be irascible, prickly and childish. The only problem is that the TV writers of his era tended to overplay those tendencies making him a challenging Doctor to like. Fortunately, Big Finish productions came along and gave us more adventures for the sixth Doctor. Stronger writers showed “Old Sixie” could also be heroic, fiercely loyal, and determined. In many ways, because of the episodes produced by Big Finish, the sixth Doctor’s era has become one of my favorites. In 2015, Big Finish decided to tackle one of the biggest challenges and write a fitting finale for the sixth Doctor. The result was “The Last Adventure.”

Title notwithstanding, “The Last Adventure” is actually four stories set at different times in the sixth Doctor’s tenure. Each adventure features a different companion. In “The End of the Line” the Doctor and Constance Clark find a train lost in the fog. When they attempt to find help, they find the same train at a different point in time. They soon find someone is breaking down the barriers between parallel universes. In “The Red House,” the Doctor and Charley Pollard end up on a world populated by werewolves. Except they really aren’t werewolves. These creatures are normally wolves who take on human aspects at certain times. In “Stage Fright,” the Doctor and Flip Jackson arrive in Victorian London only to find that a director is putting on plays about the Doctor’s regenerations. Finally, “The Brink of Death” brings us to the Doctor’s final days as he teams up with Melanie Bush only to find himself trapped in the Time Lord Matrix. The common denominator in all of these stories is that the Valeyard is involved.

We met the Valeyard in the sixth Doctor’s final TV season and we learn that he’s the amalgamation of all the Doctor’s darker tendencies all merged into one being sometime between his penultimate and final incarnation. The idea is that the Valeyard is playing a long game and in each story, the Doctor gets another piece of the puzzle until their final confrontation in “The Brink of Death.” I remember at the time “Trial of a Time Lord” was on TV, there were many fan discussions of how the Valeyard came to be. This story gives us an answer and without spoiling it, I thought it was a lovely bit of minimalist writing in that it gives us an answer in one sentence. It’s a great example of how something can be explained without pages of exposition.

I’m a big fan of the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. While there were some rough moments in his first season, I generally loved his tenure from the moment he’s captured by the Rani until he walks off in the sunset with Ace, and then has his amazing regeneration into Paul McGann in the TV movie. Still, I choked up a bit as it came time for “Old Sixie” to go. He met his end showing his best qualities. If you want to know the end of Colin Baker’s story, or even if you just want to sample him in stories from different eras of the Big Finish run, “The Last Adventure” is a great place to go. You can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-last-adventure-1212

The Ghost Ship

Now that I’ve finally caught up with my long-term project of getting all my books back into print, I’m starting to set my sights on some new writing projects. I’ve had an idea for a steampunk short story sitting on the back burner for some time now and hope I can work on it this week. To get my mind focused on steampunk again, I decided to listen to an audio steampunk story on my long commute to work last week. The story I listened to is The Ghost Ship by Madeleine Holly-Rosing and it’s set in the world of her wonderful comic, The Boston Metaphysical Society.

The comic and the audio book are set in an 1895 that’s just a little different than the one we know from history. You’ll find rudimentary steam-driven computers, airships, and a United States ruled by the wealthy of “the great houses.” In the Boston of this world, ex-Pinkerton Detective Samuel Hunter, medium and spirit photographer Caitlin O’Sullivan, and scientist Granville Woods investigate supernatural mysteries. I’ve been reading the comic since it began and I was excited when Madeleine Holly-Rosing announced that she planned to release a long-form audio story set in the world of the comic.

In the audio story, a mysterious, derelict ship sails into Boston Harbor. Anyone who tries to board is attacked by spirits and soon meets their end. Samuel, Caitlin, and Granville are brought in to try to find a way to end the menace of the mysterious ship. To do so, they must first find out what ship has actually arrived. When getting aboard the ship proves too perilous, they turn to Boston’s new library where Caitlin discovers more restless spirits and a young man who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the spirits on the ship. It soon becomes clear that the ghost ship’s very presence may create a scandal for at least one of the great houses. The audio drama is told in eight half-hour episodes and features the voice talents of Emily C.A. Snyder as Caitlin O’Sullivan, Ryan Philbrook as Samuel Hunter, and Martin Davis as Granville Woods.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when hearing a favorite comic translated into audio. I was pleased to say that all the main characters sounded very much like I imagined they would sound. The supporting characters had distinct voices and the action was easy to follow. The serial nature of the audio story felt very much like an adapted comic adventure, even though this story only appears in audio. The piece was well produced by Eddie Louise and Chip Michael. It would be delightful if Madeleine was able to bring us more audio adventures set in her world. At this point, it appears that the best way to order your own copy of The Ghost Ship is to pre-order a copy through the Backerkit site set up for the recent Kickstarter campaign. It’s at: https://the-ghost-ship-audio-drama.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders/396663 and you can get updates on the audio book at at https://bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com/the-ghost-ship-audio-drama/

I’m happy to say that her story has, indeed, put me in the mood to work on a story in one of my own worlds. I’m already plotting my own machinations. My story won’t have ghosts, but I do have some automata and at least one airship disaster planned. Now, it may be a little while before you get to read that story, but I do have something planned for tomorrow. Sheriff Chuck Davis from my novella Breaking the Code finds himself in the world of the fae, paying an unexpected visit to Queen Titania’s Court. Learn more about him and the novella tomorrow, June 8, at Deby Fredericks’ blog: https://wyrmflight.wordpress.com/

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:

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.

Lightning Wolves Update

As I mentioned two weeks ago, Hadrosaur Productions is in the process of releasing updated editions of the Clockwork Legion novels. This week, I’m proud to announce the release of the second edition of book two, Lightning Wolves. Although the cover is much the same as the previous edition, sharp-eyed folks will notice that Laura Givens adjusted the look of Professor Maravilla. He now looks much more like I pictured him in the novels. Lightning Wolves was a top-ten finisher for Best Steampunk Novel of the Year in the 2014 Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll.

For those unfamiliar with the Clockwork Legion novels, Lightning Wolves takes place a few months after Owl Dance in the year 1877. At the end of the first novel, the United States army had thwarted the Russian assault on Denver, but the Russians still occupied the Pacific Northwest. Now that they have regrouped, the Russians, under the direction of the alien Legion, are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable and Professor Maravilla, the one man who can help, has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer named Fatemeh Karimi and a former sheriff named Ramon Morales lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

As with Owl Dance, this edition is not markedly different from the previous edition because I didn’t want it to deviate from the audiobook read by Edward Mittelstedt, which has not been updated. However, the ebook and print editions have been reformatted.

Neal Wilgus wrote the following in Small Press Review: “David Lee Summers is a talented spinner of pseudo-science adventures with nary a vampire or zombie in sight. This may not be ground-breaking literature but it’s great fun to read and well worth the time spent doing so. Don’t miss it!”

You can pick up the paperback edition of Lightning Wolves at Amazon.com.

The ebook edition is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Edward Mittelstedt’s reading of Lightning Wolves is available at Audible.com.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about Owl Dance, there will be a brief pause before the updated editions of The Brazen Shark and Owl Riders appear. This will allow me to make more progress on other books I’ve committed to editing. Watch for news about Greg Ballan’s second Hybrid novel, Forced Vengeance, and Lyn McConchie’s collection of weird western tales, The Way-Out, Wild West, soon.

In the meantime, I learned that Comixology’s Independent Comic platform is being folded into Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Because of that, I had to hustle and create a version of my comic Guinevere and the Stranger according to KDP’s guidelines. Fortunately, because my artist and letterer delivered great, high-resolution files, this wasn’t terribly difficult. The upshot is that you can now get an electronic copy of Guinevere and the Stranger through Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N9JVMQV/

Of course, you can still purchase print copies of the comic directly from me by visiting https://www.hadrosaur.com/GuinevereStranger.php

Guinevere and the Stranger is an adaptation of a chapter from Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. The comic book introduces the vampire Roquelaure and shows how he met Queen Guinevere in the years after the fall of Camelot.

Owl Dance Update

I hope my readers in the United States are having a good Thanksgiving weekend. I’m spending the weekend with family and reflecting on those things I’m thankful for. One of the things I’m thankful for has been the opportunity to work with some great publishers and editors over the years, such as Sky Warrior Book Publishing who published my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. Sky Warrior connected me with some great editors, gave me excellent marketing tips, and generally supported my efforts as an author. Still, after some discussion this fall, we decided it was to our mutual advantage for Sky Warrior to return the publishing rights to me. We’re parting ways, but I’m thankful that we’re parting ways as friends.

Owl Dance

The new edition of the first book in the series, published by Hadrosaur Productions, is now available. The new edition hasn’t changed much from the previous one. The paperback edition has a spiffy new layout featuring some cool-looking separators designed by Laura Givens. Laura also remixed the cover slightly to make it a little brighter. I only gave the book a cursory edit, looking for any minor copyedits that might have been missed. Partly that’s because the wonderful audiobook edition read by Edward Mittelstedt is still available and I don’t want to revise the text so the audio and text don’t match. I hope to make the new edition of Lightning Wolves available in about two weeks.

Owl Dance is set in 1876. In the novel, Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro, New Mexico meets a beguiling woman named Fatemeh Karimi of Persia, escaping oppression in her homeland. When an ancient lifeform called Legion comes to Earth, they are pulled into a series of events that will change the history of the world as we know it. In their journeys, Ramon and Fatemeh encounter mad inventors, dangerous outlaws and pirates. Their resources are Ramon’s fast draw and Fatemeh’s uncanny ability to communicate with owls. The question is, will that be enough to save them when a fleet of dirigibles from Czarist Russia invades the United States?

Richard Harland, author of some of my favorite steampunk novels, including Worldshaker and Song of the Slums, says, “Owl Dance has everything. Airships, owl-ornithopters, a clockwork wolf, a multiple alien entity, a fast-shooting sheriff, a Russian plot to conquer America, and a very sexy, eco-aware, Bahá’í Persian healer-woman – I mean everything! Heaps of fun!”

If you’ve already read and enjoyed Owl Dance, thank you for your support. If you haven’t discovered the series yet, this is a great time to start. As I say, the new edition of the sequel, Lightning Wolves will go live in about two weeks. After that, it’ll probably be about six weeks before the final two novels are published, since I need to finish some editing and layout work on two new Hadrosaur titles from Greg Ballan and Lyn McConchie.

You can purchase the paperback edition of Owl Dance at Amazon.com.

The ebook edition is available at Amazon.com and Smashwords.

Edward Mittelstedt’s reading of Owl Dance is available at Audible.com.

The book should be appearing at more vendors soon. You can see a book trailer and find all the places where the book is available at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

The Martian Chronicles

Last month, I received an ad from Big Finish productions saying that their production of The Martian Chronicles would be going out of print soon. This audio production starred Derek Jacobi and Hayley Atwell whose performances I love. What’s more, Big Finish offered the production at a very nice clearance price, so I picked it up. It turns out the production was a dramatization of three stories that comprise what might be called the “Captain Wilder arc” in Bradbury’s famous collection along with one other story. The stories dramatized were “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” “The Off Season,” “The Long Years,” and “The Million-Year Picnic.” The production proved quite good and it made me want to go back and re-read The Martian Chronicles in its entirety. My only regret is that I discovered the production so near the end of its production run, I can’t steer you to it to listen for yourselves.

The Martian Chronicles is a classic example of a “fix-up” novel. It’s a batch of short stories, related by their setting on Mars and follow a rough narrative arc. The narrative arc describes the exploration of Mars by humans, how the Martians resisted human colonization, how humans prevailed and began to settle and ultimately how conflict back on Earth caused most humans to abandon the red planet. Unlike most novels, we don’t really follow one set of characters through these stories. Each story is its own independent narrative. The exception is the Wilder arc. Captain Wilder and members of his crew turn up in three of the stories. In the audio production, Derek Jacobi plays the good captain and we effectively see an abridged version of the full collection’s narrative arc through his eyes.

The Martian Chronicles

I first read The Martian Chronicles in high school. Soon after reading the book, I was fortunate enough to meet Ray Bradbury and he signed my copy. It was fun to look back in the book and see the chapters attributed to the distant future of 1999 and the early 2000s. When Bradbury signed my book in 1983, those years were still just enough in the future to make me wonder if the adventures could happen. When I re-read the book, I decided to get an ebook copy, so I could keep my signed copy in the best possible shape. I was surprised to learn that Bradbury and his publisher had actually revised the book after I read it. Those first missions were moved from 1999 to 2030. A story was removed and two more were added.

At first, I was disappointed that the ebook I picked up wasn’t identical to the version of The Martian Chronicles I’d first read back in the 1980s. But after a little bit, I decided to give this new version a try. After all, I’ve been working on a cycle of revising some of my first novels, some of which started life as fix-ups, to make them better. I did enjoy my read and I learned that the dramatizations weren’t slavish adaptations of Bradbury’s words. They interpreted the material and breathed new life into it, letting me see Bradbury’s words in a new light, which is something good drama can and should accomplish.

The Pirates of Sufiro

I was also surprised and delighted to discover ways The Martian Chronicles influenced my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. The first chapters of Pirates were written as short stories and the narrative arc I created to weave them together told the story of a colony’s rise and how human nature almost brought it crashing down again. I’ve never mastered Bradbury’s talent for beautiful prose, but I see how his love of his youth and family story helped me to take inspiration from my own youth and the stories of my own family when weaving a story set far from Earth. I learned to take the issues that concerned me and weave them into a new story. I was also fascinated to see that when Bradbury felt a part of his original vision was no longer fresh and new, he was willing to update it. If you’d like to learn more about The Pirates of Sufiro, the story I started dreaming up in the years after I met Ray Bradbury, visit http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

The Magnificent Five

As I’ve noted in earlier blog posts, I’ve been listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which distributes new episodes to various podcast platforms on Mondays. Recently, they introduced an audio book and novel by co-host Richard James called Five Star Five: John Lovell and the Zargon Threat. The audio book is available from Big Finish Productions and I downloaded it so the family could listen while taking my youngest child back to college a couple of weeks ago. Five Star Five was the name of a movie project Gerry Anderson was developing after Space: 1999 and I’ve often heard it called his answer to Star Wars. A script had been completed, studio space had been secured, and work on pre-production began when the project was abruptly halted because one of the major investors pulled out of the project. Unfortunately, the project was never finished.

That’s where Richard James comes in. He took the script and turned it into a novel this year, so the rest of us could finally learn more about Five Star Five. The premise is that the evil Zargon Empire plans to take over the peaceful planet Kestra. On Kestra, Colonel Zana seeks a champion to help save them from the threat. So far, this does sound a bit like Star Wars. The person she hopes to recruit is John Lovell, a freelance freighter pilot who reminded me a little of Han Solo, right down to his hirsute co-pilot Clarence. As it turns out, Clarence is a talking chimpanzee. At first I thought the character would put me off, but it turned out elements of the character hearkened back to both Planet of the Apes and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Once Lovell is maneuvered into helping the Kestrans, the story becomes less Star Wars and more The Magnificent Seven as Lovell goes out to recruit a team to help him defeat the Zargon invaders. His team includes a powerful, but sensitive robot, a mystic, and a kid who communicates telepathically with his robot dog.

Unlike other Big Finish productions I’ve listened to, this one is an audio book with Robbie Stevens serving as the sole narrator. Music and sound effects are provided by Benji Clifford. Stevens’ narration is so well done and his voices for the characters so well thought out, I almost felt like I was listening to a full-cast audio drama. I do highly recommend the audio edition. The total runtime of the audio is 5 hours and 19 minutes, so it does feel more in-depth than a movie, but the action never slows down.

John Lovell and the Zargon Threat also felt very much like a first adventure in a series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gerry Anderson would have produced more movies in the series if the first had proven a success. I suspect the movie Gerry Anderson would have produced circa 1979 would have have rivaled both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises in effects quality. What’s more, I thought this was a more engaging take on the idea of “The Magnificent Seven in Space” than 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars. It would be fun if the folks at Anderson Entertainment decided to give us more Five Star Five adventures.

Regime Change in Oz

Despite a familiar character in the title of the ninth Oz book, a whole new protagonist enters L. Frank Baum’s most famous fantasyland in The Scarecrow of Oz. Book nine of the series opens when a girl from California named Trot and her teacher and companion, Cap’n Bill, decide to take a boat to visit a cave, not accessible by walking along the shoreline. They end up being swept down a whirlpool and coming up into a cave where the only outlet is back into the water or out through a long, dark tunnel. Trot and Cap’n Bill make the best of their situation. The good captain catches some fish and they decide to rest before exploring the tunnel. While resting and deciding what to do, an Ork comes up from the water. This Ork isn’t one of the evil minions of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, but a featherless, ostrich-sized bird with a propeller tail.

This group decides to explore the tunnel. Eventually they find their way out and onto a mostly deserted island. The island’s only inhabitant is Pessim, a little man who never sees the good in anything. We learn that Pessim was stranded on his island by his people because he was so … well … pessimistic. Our heroes eventually fly off the island with the Ork’s help and cross the ocean to the land of Mo, a place where it snows hot, buttered popcorn and the people eat candy for dinner. They soon find Button-Bright, the lost boy from The Road to Oz, happily munching on the popcorn snow. In more foreshadowing of Tolkien, our heroes recruit some eagles to carry them across a nearby desert to a beautiful land. Trot, Cap’n Bill, and Button-Bright soon learn they’ve arrived in Jinxland, a country cut off from Oz by a range of impassable mountains.

Jinxland is ruled by a terrible monarch named King Krewl, whose laws are enforced by a whole coven of wicked witches. There’s a princess named Gloria who is in love with the palace gardener, Pon, despite the fact that Pon’s father dispatched Gloria’s father to become Jinxland’s king. Krewl, in turn, dispatched Pon’s father to take his place on the throne. King Krewl’s courtier, Googly-Goo, wishes to marry Princess Gloria. Krewl orders the witches to freeze Gloria’s heart so that she’ll no longer love Pon. The plan backfires, though, and Gloria refuses to marry anyone!

Over in the main part of Oz, the Scarecrow—remember him, he’s the guy in the title—is meeting with Glinda the Good. Glinda has just learned about all the terrible goings-on in Jinxland, plus she sees that Trot, Cap’n Bill, and Button-Bright could use rescuing from this terrible situation. She sends the Scarecrow to the mountains with some magical rope on a mission of regime change.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve been listening to these books in free recordings available at LibriVox.org. One of the things that made this recording fun was that it featured different voice actors in each of the parts. There was some variation in the sound quality among the actors, but I really didn’t have a problem with this since it’s a free recording and everyone was clear and audible. It was also interesting to note that they changed narrators from chapter to chapter. I thought this would bother me, but it actually worked nicely and I enjoyed hearing the different approaches each narrator took in reading the material. Even after I finish the Oz series, I may well look around for other books to listen to, especially ones with multiple narrators.

Space: 1999 Redux

Saturday’s post about Space: 1999 didn’t come out of a vacuum. On Christmas day, when I went to the Big Finish Productions website to download some Doctor Who audio, I discovered they had produced an audio re-imagining of the Space: 1999 pilot episode, “Breakaway.” This is the episode where a nuclear stockpile on the Moon explodes, blasting it out of Earth orbit and sending it on a journey through space. This appealed to the part of me that really enjoys writing retrofuturistic stories. After all, 1999 is now in the past and the series is now a look at “what could have been” more than “what will be.” Big Finish didn’t just create a new version, they expanded it into a two-hour movie-length version with more details. I recently downloaded it and gave it a listen and I’ll share my thoughts. Before I do, I thought it would be fun to go back and read the original novelization of “Breakaway” released when the series was on the air. Novelizations often give a chance to explain more about the characters and the story than you see on screen, so I thought that might give me a little more background. It turns out that my neighborhood used bookstore had four copies of the novelization in their science fiction section.

As it turns out, Breakaway by E.C. Tubb is not simply a novelization of the first episode. It attempts to weave four episodes from the series into a single narrative arc. With a mere 141 pages, Tubb doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into backstory or character. What we get are effectively novelettes of the episodes “Breakaway” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” The two episodes “Ring Around the Moon” and “Black Sun” are combined into a third novelette. We don’t really learn anything from these stories that we didn’t learn from watching the episodes. Tubb does work to develop the romance between Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell. He also provides a more direct narrative link between the resolution of “Ring Around the Moon” and the events of “Black Sun.” It was interesting to see that Tubb killed off Commissioner Simmonds, an annoying politician from “Breakaway” even though the character would actually meet a far more interesting end later in the series.

The Big Finish production of “Breakaway” proved much more ambitious. Writer Nicholas Briggs, who has written many of the Big Finish Doctor Who stories teamed up with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the original Space: 1999 producers, to re-imagine the series. The plot is effectively the same as the original plot, Commander John Koenig has been dispatched to Moonbase Alpha to launch a mission to the distant planet Meta. The mission is in danger because the crew of the probe has started to succumb to a mysterious illness.

Solving the mystery is the primary impetus of the original pilot. In the new version, Koenig learns that his predecessor has been ordered to cover up that the illness is even happening and Dr. Russell is trying desperately not only to learn what’s happening but trying to keep the mission from getting launched until they are sure the people going to Meta won’t get sick. In effect, this new version takes a dramatic situation that already existed and ratchets it up so that it becomes much more engaging. What’s more, Briggs and Anderson developed a clever new way to get the Moon to break away from Earth orbit. I won’t say too much about how it’s done, because that ends up being something of a spoiler for the end of the episode. However, where the original meant packing an implausible amount of explosives on the moon, this one gives us an explanation that makes me think it could happen. Certainly, I’m much more willing to suspend my disbelief for the new explanation than the original one.

Briggs left us with something of a cliffhanger at the end of his version of Breakaway. Fortunately, new episodes of Big Finish’s Space: 1999 are due this month. I’ve already reserved my copies to find out what happens! You can get details about the Big Finish version of Space: 1999 at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-1999

One of the things I love about this re-imagining of Space: 1999 is how it improves on something that was good albeit flawed. This was one of the things I tried to do when I created my new edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. I worked to keep the parts of the novel that were good, the characters people responded to, but I also tried to take a good hard look at parts of the book that didn’t work so well for readers and revise them and make sure I created good, solid explanations for why things happened. You can learn about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html