Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Space: 1999!

I was a big fan of Space:1999 when it aired on broadcast television in the mid 70's. It was a smart if dour science fiction show offered up when a fan had to seek out Saturday morning cartoons to get a hit of the good stuff. Science fiction is so common today that is easy to forget that finding a choice nugget like Space:1999 on a weekly basis was treasure indeed. The show began life as the second season of UFO from the Gerry Anderson outfit. But the vagaries of network decision making made that impossible, but only after the Anderson folks had invested no small amount of money into props for the second season. So those props, a Moon base mostly, was retooled a smidge and a plot dreamed up which caused the Moon to slip out of Earth's grasp and begin a peripatetic journey across space began. 

The show is famous for its stars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, a powerhouse Hollywood married duo who had become famous on Mission Impossible. The stories of how the two were wooed were gleefully described by Anderson in his several discussions of the show. To make a long story short, they were demanding. And according to Sylvia Anderson the pair were terrors on the set. But what a set it was, immense and artfully designed. My favorite character from the first season was Barry Morse as Victor Bergman, an older and wiser advisor to the commander of Moonbase Alpha. 

The first season of the show is very quiet, with thoughtful reflective stories being the order of the day. With the second season came an American story editor and a brisker approach to storytelling. There's no doubt that the first season is the one which made the show's reputation with its somber slowly developed storytelling, but there are things in the second which are attractive. Not the least of these is Mara, a shape-changing alien who joins the wayward Earthlings and helps them when she can. It's a fun show, a solid sci-fi effort when such things were rare in a pre-Star Wars universe. 

Charlton Comics got the license to produce the comics in the United States. I fell in love with these as much, if not more than the TV show. The art of Charlton tyros like Joe Staton and John Byrne made the color series a more than solid entertainment on the spinner racks of the day. There was also a black and white magazine, this was run by Gray Morrow's outfit and again, is extraordinarily handsome. Below are the covers for both series.

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Monday, February 27, 2023

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - The Radio Shows!

After reading all the novels, listening to the LP recordings, watching the television show, and viewing the big screen movie, I can safely say that the finest and best presentation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the original radio shows which kicked all off way back in the late 70's. The mischievous energy lurking in these recordings is the ideal voice for the low-grade, slow-rolling insurrection which lives at the center of this epic yarn. 

For clarification, the six-part trilogy has had its parts labeled "phases". I guess it works, at least well enough to keep the parts in their separate CD cases. 

The Primary Phase is the original radio series which kicked off the phenomenon. This is the sources which the LP could only emulate, the TV show evoke, and the movie aspire to. It fairly bristles with wit and is that best of all stories, one so filled with ideas that they battle to come out. It's not unlike Silver Age Jack Kirby comics, full of concepts which are touched on before getting slapped aside to make way for another. The brutal commentary on the modern world is not done with much charity but the humor makes the dose drop more easily for those offended readily. The eventual quest for the question for the answer is "42" is as always, a delight. 

For all intents and purposes, the Secondary Phase is a coherent part (as much as anything is coherent in this saga) follow up to the first six episodes and we find out who actually gave the order for Earth to be demolished. This series was produced very quickly, so quickly in fact that not all the sound effects were put in before it was time to broadcast.  If you've read the second novel, from which adapts this radio play, you will find many differences, and not small ones either. The first series was a shot in the dark and had the freedom which comes from few expectations, this one was created under the gun of deadline and high expectations. It's not as good. 

The Tertiary Phase of the radio drama was not created until this century and while the late Douglas Adams had input in 1993 when this adaption of the third novel was first proposed, he was long dead before it was actually recorded early in this century. This production moves the Hitchhiker's Guide from its rowdy roots to a fully developed production with more modern techniques. It succeeds in many ways because they were able to reassemble the original cast. The loss of Peter Jones as the voice of the Guide is the only real change and the substitute serves well despite lacking the wonderous tone of lamentation which informed the original performances by Jones. 

The Quandary Phase gives us a story with a rather different tone. In this one our hero Arthur Dent finds romance with a woman named Fenchurch, the very girl who had seen enlightenment just before the Earth was destroyed in the original story. Her existence is a mystery as it the very Earth on which they both find themselves. This is based on the novel by Adams which reads the most traditional and that shows up in this radio adaptation. Unlike the other Hitchhiker stories the audience is encouraged to feel for the characters as approximates of real people. There's a sadness to this one that the others miss. I'm not sure it's a good thing either. 

The makers of the Quinteseential Phase, the penultimate show is indicative of this last set of radio plays felt comfortable making changes to Adams' story and mostly it was to make the yarns a tad more consistent. None of the radio plays beyond the first two have the energy, and even the second one is let potent than the first, but this one is close. We see Megadodo lose control of the Hitchhiker's Guide as Ford searches for corruption (he wants to join in I think), Arthur makes sandwiches, and we meet another Trillian (I think) who presents Arthur with a daughter named "Random" (not conceived in the way you think).  to be replaced by the There's a sense that the series has been riding the momentum of that amazing first impression for quite a while and the gas has all but left the balloon so to speak. 

The Hexagonal Phase of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is based on a novel Douglas Adams did not write. It is based on ideas he put forth, but a chap by the name of Eoin Colfer actually wrote the book. I've never read the book, so I cannot compare it to the radio play, but I suspect that there like in the radio show there's an effort to tie up the story a bit (as if the plot really ever mattered). There is not one novel or television production as good as the radio shows (again I haven't read the sixth one). I don't view the "trilogy" as a narrative really, but a continuing series of events, not unlike life itself which almost never make sense in the end, nor have the best ending possible. One issue to remember with this final installment is that it was made in 2018, forty years after the first one and nearly fifteen years after the later phases. Many cast changes had to be made. Still, the radio shows present this seemingly haphazard quality better than any of the other formats. To that extent the six radio dramas are successful in the extreme. 

And that wraps my month-long look at The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Until next time remember -- DON'T PANIC!

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Sunday, February 26, 2023

Mostly Harmless!

Mostly Harmless is the last Hitchhiker novel by Douglas Adams. (There is one more but I have little interest in right now.) And by all accounts, even that of Adams, it's the least of the batch. This one is one most structured like a traditional novel, evoking the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs technique of bouncing back and forth between characters chapter by chapter. I was most disappointed in this one because it fails to bring forth the character of Fenchurch, the love of Arthur Dent's life who he found int he previous book. Thanks to the wonder of multiple realities she is done away with in a sentence, an ignoble end to a character I found very charming. 

The plot is pretty simple really. Trisha McMillan regrets not going into space with Zaphod Beeblebrox. The Trillian of another universe did that. She's a reporter looking for scoop and finds one when a tenth planet named Rupert appears in the solar system. Meanwhile Arthur ends up on a primitive planet as the resident sandwich maker, a role he relishes, and he seems happy. That is until Trillian (of that other universe) shows up and presents him with a daughter named Random. He tries to make the best of being a dad, but it's made more difficult when Ford Prefect shows up after a escaping the clutches of the Vogons who have taken over the offices which produce the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's more complicated of course but by the end of the book everyone is back on an Earth just before it is once again destroyed. And weirdly the characters seem relatively fine with oblivion. Strange. 

I can see that Adams wanted to make this ending dovetail with the beginning of the first story. It created an elegant worm ourboros affair for the stories, not totally befitting the series, but I have to admit it is a downer. Adams was apparently going through some stuff, and it's reflected in the general grimness of this story. I didn't really detect anything new in this one, save for the section where Arthur is content. I'm glad he found that, at least for a time. I guess that some fans were disappointed we get no more of Zaphod in this one, but I actually pleased by that as he's my least favorite character. A better title for this one might've been "Mostly Pointless", which seems to me to be the main point of this final Adams Hitchhiker yarn. 

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Young Zaphod Plays It Safe!

The short story "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" pretty much delivers what the title suggests. It's a solo story featuring Zaphod Beeblebrox before the events of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In this tale a less abrasive Zaphod takes some officials to an underwater crash site. The wrecked ship is filled terrible things such as chemicals for warfare, equipment to mine the past, and so forth. But the worst thing has escaped, one of three synthetic people who have gone to Earth. The nature of this false creature is that they seem harmless but are terrifically dangerous for just that reason. It is implied but not stated explicitly in this version of the story that the synthetic person is Ronald Reagan. These notions are explored further in the fifth novel Mostly Harmless. I'll get around to that later today. 

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Saturday, February 25, 2023

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish!

I was disappointed in the fourth novel in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish feels much too normal to be a Hitchhiker book. It's a romance and is full of naturalistic scenes of relatively normal conversation. There is the occasional oddment but by and large the book seems pretty normal. And that's a worry. 

We follow our hero Arthur Dent back to Earth where he finds things startlingly normal on Earth. Even his house is ready for habitation, though it shows evidence he's been gone for a long time. The center of the story is Fenchurch or Fenny as he is also called by her brother. Fenchurch is the woman who is referenced in the very first novel who came to an incredible enlightenment just before the Vogons destroyed the Earth. Now we find her alive as are all of the earthlings with no memory of the Vogons. But she has hallucinations. Arthur falls in love with her and seeks her out. They discover they both can fly and we get scenes of them having sex among the clouds. Then the clue of a fishbowl sent to both of them sends them to California to consult a man who is generally considered nuts. With his help they find out why the Earth is returned. Then they get a hankering to leave Earth and just then Ford Prefect shows up. And poor old Marvin even puts in an appearance. 

It's as if Adams was taking that all-purpose towel and wringing it out yet one more time. The viable fluid is getting thinner and thinner. For all the wild inventiveness which makes the original radio play such a delight (and the early novels as well) there seems to little of it here. Adams seems to be happier with life and that comes through as well. Good for him, I'm glad he found some measure of delight. But the brew which wrought the Hitchhiker's Guide was not a brew concocted of happiness, but of world weariness with heaping helpings of sarcasm. This is true love it seems, and good for them. But it left me a bit flat. 

There is one more novel and before that a single short story. More on those later. 

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Friday, February 24, 2023

Moonchild Comics!

I've been aware of Moonchild, The late Nicola Cuti's peculiarly nubile creation for many years, running across the character in The History of Underground Comics. I've never read any full-blown story until I got this collection. I ordered up Walt Wentz's collection of Moonchild stories. He's collected the Moonchild stories from the early fanzines and underground comics and put them together in a slim but intriguing magazine-sized B&W comics package. At eight bucks counting shipping this curiosity is worth the price of admission. 

If you're a Nick Cuti fan like me, it falls into the must-have category. You see a very young Cuti at work here, with much of the work raw and at times amateurish. But there's an undercurrent which makes it hang together some way. Moonchild is a Starbaby, a space-based fairy, and like Little Annie Fanny or Barbarella is naive and innocent while possessed of a healthy female body. There is actually little sexual content here, but there is lots of suggestion and nudity. Mostly this is light-hearted and weird cartooning. There are also some Pussywillow strips, a more purely underground version of Moonchild. This collection ain't for everyone. I'm not sure I get it all, but it's a very good look at a solid comics talent's early formative work. And Nick's a heck of a nice guy to boot.

I found this Nicola Cuti gem hidden away in a comics shop I get to infrequently. It's a place that I can count on to have all sorts of strange items, and the folks there didn't let me down. I've wanted a copy of this since I caught sight of it on the internet. Moonie is the renamed "Moonchild" a character Nicola Cuti created way back in the 60's, a psycho blend of a childlike face with sex bomb characteristics. It's a staple of Manga and Anime today, but then still quite unsettling. Here's a link for more details. Of all his creations, Cuti says that his mentor Wally Wood told him that Moonchild had potential. Moonchild has been changed into "Moonie" now, a somewhat more adult version of the character, more in the tradition of Little Annie Fanny and suchlike. I talked on this blog about getting my first collection of Moonchild stories here.

Moonie and the Spider Queen adapts a three-issue limited series from MU from around 2004. The introduction suggests that the novel form has more pure sex in it, and my random sampling suggests this is likely true. The story is amply decorated with drawings from the comics series by Cuti with inks by the late Dave Simons.

I can't say the novel is especially erotic, but it is offbeat and the shifting from narrative points of view between Moonie and Perry, the two protagonists of the story gives is a wacky neo-Burroughsian feel.

It's a weird item, but I'm a sucker tor the work of Nicola Cuti. It's not always my cup of tea, but it's always an interesting brew. 

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Jason Of Star Command - The Complete Series!

Jason of Star Command is the series I remember from all those Saturdays so very long ago. I'm older than Filmation's target audience, but as a sci-fi geek, I was interested in this old-fashioned adventure series still. It's a throwback to the old serials starring Buster Crabbe and Crash Corrigan. The series is set in the same Space Academy that had aired the previous season, but this time the action if focused not on the Academy and the young cadets, but on a more military section of the base full of adults who are actively engaging the threats that are in space, specifically a villain in the classic Ming style named Dragos.

Jason (Craig Littler) and his partners Professor Parsafoot (Charlie Dell) and a beautiful chick named Captain Nicole Davidoff (Susan O'Hanlon/Pratt) detect and fight episode after episode, each ending in something of a cliffhanger in the classic fashion. They are led by Commander Canarvin played by Star Trek vet Jimmy Doohan. Sid Haig plays Dragos to the hilt with his booming laugh becoming almost the signature for the show. The first season is a lot of fun and briskly paced as each episode is only ten or eleven minutes long. 

The second season offers up full half hour episodes and in place of Doohan gives us a blue-skinned alien named Commander Stone (John Russell). Davidoff is replaced by a statuesque black lady named Samantha (Tamara Dobson). Dragos and Jason and Parsafoot are still around and slugging out each week.

The has that Filmation look, being shot exclusively in a warehouse where Filmation had its sets and special effects sections. So, they were able to really crank out these things quite quickly. That's the thing about Filmation that has really impressed me as I've been watching these, is the way they were able to accomplish so much in really small timeframes with relatively small money. Looking at the some of the bloated movies of the last few years which have been dripping in costly special effects but bomb in the area of story and character, it's refreshing to get material that's rich on character and done for a relative song, but very effective. 

These aren't perfect by any means, but they are fun and offer up more than a smidge of mystery if not actual suspense. Although I will say that Jason does seem to rely on his pocket robot "W1K1" a bit too much from episode to episode to save his bacon. But that's a small cheat and still clearly within the traditions of the classic serials. If you can find them cheaply, I'd heartily recommend these. 

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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