Wednesday, February 15, 2006

MUIR BOOK WEDNESDAY #10: Exploring Space:1999

Sometimes, I can't believe it's been a decade since I turned in my final draft of my first book, Exploring Space:1999: An Episode Guide and Complete History of the Mid-1970s Science Fiction Television Series.

The book was actually published by McFarland in April of 1997 (almost nine years ago), and since then has been reprinted in both hardback and in soft cover. It even earned some nice reviews!

Which is crazy, because when I wrote the book, I figured that the "history" of Space:1999 was just about over. The laserdiscs had bombed on the market, the Sci-Fi Channel was about to stop rerunning the show - permanently, and new ventures like Babylon 5 and SeaQuest DSV were garnering significant popularity. I figured 'what chance does a 20 year old show from the 1970s have of achieving an objective re-consideration today?"

I wrote my book because I wanted to answer some of the absurd criticisms thrown at the series over the year, and least have it on the record - somewhere - because so many accusations were not true. Most of them, in fact, were false...and absurd.

I remember there was a TV special, for instance, in 1994 hosted by William Shatner, Carrie Fisher and Dean Cain, in which the writers authoritatively claimed that Space:1999 was inspired by Star Wars! That's a mean trick, considering Space:1999 premiered in September 1975 and Star Wars didn't come 'round until May of 1977...

But it's funny how fate works. In 1997, the very year my book was released, Columbia House released several episodes of Space:1999 on VHS. Then there were two huge series conventions in 1999 and 2000. And also by 2000, DVD was here to stay, and the entire series was re-released in that format to extraordinary sales and resurgent popularity.

As I write this today, there are new Space:1999 novels (from Powys Media), new models of the famous Eagle spaceship (from Product Enterprises) and even new action figures based on the series (from Classic Toys). The year 1999 did not herald the end of Space:1999 fandom as I had naively feared, but - to the contrary - seemed to indicate the arrival of a next phase with a brief "reunion" movie called "Message from Moonbase Alpha," starring Zienia Merton and written by series scribe, Johnny Byrne.

Exploring Space:1999 is my first child, the first book I ever wrote, so I do love it like a first-born, though I can see how my writing has developed and improved over time. Today, if I had the chance, I would probably take a different tack writing the book, because Star Trek is no longer the dominant force in science fiction television. Since I wrote the book, we've had a decade of X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, plus Firefly, Stargate, a new Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, and Lost to consider. But for much of Space:1999's twenty something years, it had to deal with Star Trek as competition, and so that factored in to much I wrote about the series.

Anyway, Exploring Space:1999 features an interview with Catherine Schell (the actress who played Maya in the second season), it republishes (with permission) the New York Times review of the series by Isaac Asimov, and boasts a detailed episode guide.

Here's what the critics said:

"... [The book] offers a well-written look back at the show...He [Muir] takes the reader from the stunning pilot film portraying the marooning of Moonbase Alpha onward through two seasons of mystery and menace from beyond the beyond...This...thoroughly researched work also addresses the curiously strident attacks the show has received from fans of Star Trek. In the chapter Defending Space:1999, Muir compiles the criticism against the show (including a New York Times piece by Isaac Asimov) and provides good counterarguments for the series's place in the pantheon of television science fiction. Recommended..." - LIBRARY JOURNAL

"...a must for series fans..."-VIDEOSCOPE"

"...a comprehensive treatment of this neglected British-made television series...provides a detailed history...and presents a critical commentary that displays familiarity with a wide range of popular culture material." -AB BOOKMAN's WEEKLY

"...a perfect companion...insightful..." - TELEVISUALS & THEME TUNES

"Muir's book is a pretty good history of SPACE:1999, and it includes a painstakingly detailed episode guide."-FRANKLIN HARRIS, PULP CULTURE, Jan 07, 1999.

"Thorough and impressive..."-Martin Willey, THE CATACOMBS

"...a very well-made account...a thoroughly researched look into Gerry Anderson' epic...the author is honest and open about the show's flaws...and he goes a long way towards debunking some of the absurd criticism thrown at the series..." - POPACALYPSE: The TV Bookshelf.

"Invaluable information is provided on the series... [some of which] never revealed before. A must for any fan of the series." - LE SITE QUEBECOIS DE COSMOS:1999.

And here's a sample from the introduction:

Space:1999 occupies a unique and not altogether happy position in the Valhalla of televised space adventures. It is the program that [some] Star Trek fans love to hate, even 20 years after its debut.

When it is not being ridiculed or attacked, 1999 is often forgotten or overlooked by science-fiction historians and television critics, probably because it was a British-made product that never aired on the major American television networks. Perhaps Space:1999's biggest problem is simply that it appeared at the wrong time. It stands sandwiched between Star Trek (1966-1969) and Star Wars (1977), two milestones of the genre. Star Trek is noteworthy because it was the first serious space program [in America] to feature continuing characters, and Star Wars, of course, opened up a whole new realm of amazing special effects and make-ups. But between those great accomplishments stands a seldom-seen, spectacular exploration of the unknown that deserves far more attention than it has received.

Space:1999 premiered in September of 1975 and featured the ongoing outer space adventures of Commander John Koenig, Dr. Helena Russell, Professor Victor Bergman, and the 311 astronauts and scientists stationed on Moonbase Alpha. What made the series unique was that these intrepid heroes journeyed through space not aboard a warp-driven starship, but on the moon. On September 13, 1999, a surge of magnetic energy caused the nuclear waste dumps on the far side of the moon to explode. The result was like a giant nuclear engine, pushing the moon out of Earth's orbit and into a space warp which ultimately deposited the moon light-years across the galaxy.

Starring internationally renowned actors Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse and Catherine Schell, Space:1999 was the only serious space adventure of the early 1970s. Star Trek was long gone from first-run, and although Planet of the Apes (1974) and Harlan Ellison's The Starlost (1973) had premiered before Space:1999, both shows concerned bizarre future cultures rather than space travel. Battlestar Galactica, the next big outer space extravaganza, did not arrive on the scene until late 1978, and by then Star Wars had changed the face and feel of science fiction television forever...

Even though it is locked between two juggernauts of sci-fi, Space:1999 pioneered many of the groundbreaking visual effects that would later make such dramatic impact in Star Wars. Perhaps more significantly, many major 1999 character and story concepts would be repeated in the successful Star Trek productions of the '80s and '90,s particularly The Next Generation.

There is, however, much more to appreciate in Space:1999 than its historical position. It featured one crucial element that [contemporaries] Logan's Run (1977), The Fantastic Journey (1977)...and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) all lacked: a brilliant and consistent vision of the universe. Indeed, the first 24 episodes of Space:1999 featured a richly-visualized world where space was a terrifying, confusing and spectacular mystery. Each story explored the unknown and portrayed the Alphan space voyage as a journey into wonder, awe, and horror. Unlike the futuristic superheroes of Star Trek, the travelers on Moonbase Alpha were recognizably human and contemporary. They were unprepared both technologically and psychologically for a long voyage into deep space, and as a result, their emotions, fears and attitudes often caused more harm than the aliens or space phenomena they encountered.

...Space:1999 episodes were often downright grim. The series was obsessed with mankind's failings and dark questions of existence... In many ways, Space:1999 was much more a child of The Outer Limits (1961-62) or Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) than of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. Replete with effectively dark photography, stylish feature-film techniques, Gothic story lines and a Wagnerian musical score, Space:1999 represented a dark side of space adventure...

...Space:1999 was born after Watergate and Vietnam. Considering this, it is perhaps fitting that various episodes reflected a distrust of politicians ("Breakaway," "Earthbound" and "Dragon's Domain"), or addressed the futility of war ("The Last Enemy," "War Games.")

More importantly, and this is undoubtedly the reason Space:1999 is so universally despised by scientists, the program consistently and vehemently expressed distrust of the mainstream scientific community. In Star Trek's sunshine view of future technology, science had shaped man's world into a perfect society with no hunger, no disease, and no crime. In contrast Space:1999 was, in the words of Science Digest, about the downfall of "20th century technological man." Beyond the initial disaster which establishes the premise for the series, many Space:1999 episodes reflect a distrust of scientific solutions ("Breakaway," "Voyager's Return," "Collision Course," and "Black Sun.")

...So if you are a longtime Space:1999 fan, rediscover the mystery and excitement of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's 'supreme space adventure' in these pages. If you are new to Space:1999 or a science fiction fan who has disregarded it because of popular reputation, read on and experience a world very different from Star Trek. It is a world where humans often make mistakes, where mysteries are intentionally left unanswered, and where the laws of physics defined by scientists no longer apply..."

Exploring Space:1999 is available at Jump into a world beyond belief and order the book, if you can.

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