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Category Archives: Television

So, a long while back, over a year ago, I got a copy of a godawful book for free. This book was called Low Red Moon and it was a cheapo Twilight rip-off. Girl falls in love with Werewolf who may have killed her parents, but it turns out that he’s a prosecuted minority and – okay, that sounds a hell of a lot better than the book actually was.

 

In any case, reading this awful book gave me an idea for a blog. I would find books for less than $2, and read them, and review them. Every book that I got for free or almost no money, I would devour, and pick apart, and mock, in the hopes of getting Internets Famous, or at least of making someone laugh. (This would, of course, exclude books that I got for free because they were gifts, or ARCs. Low Red Moon was a copy that was damaged out by my place of employment, partly because they hadn’t ordered it, and partly because no one wanted to buy it.) So I went out to used bookstores and raided their discount racks for anything under $2. I found a couple of truly bewildering treasures – I still have to read the double novel by none other than Ed Wood. But much to my chagrin, I found that many of the books I got were actually…  Good.

 

Phoenix Without Ashes by Harlan Ellison and Edward Bryant is a brilliant book. The book is in fairly good condition. There are notes scribbled in a lot of the margins – illegible, inane notes, which, when readable, are only stating “this is what happen son this page.” But the cover is intact; the words are all readable.  The cover price is 95 cents, and I got it for a dollar. I feel like I should have had to pay more for it. Price variance over time is weird.

 

Phoenix Without Ashes was written by Edward Bryant, based on the pilot of the same name for a television show called The Starlost. The Starlost was meant to be a sprawling television series headed by Harlan Ellison. But between the network executives’ meddling and a writer’s guild strike, the project fell to pieces. The book opens with a vitriol and bile filled essay by Ellison about the whole experience, which is at least on par with the novel itself in entertainment/interest value.

 

The basic idea behind The Starlost was defined as the “enclosed universe”. It was about this huge spaceship with all of these individual bubble-worlds populated by particular cultures and sub-cultures. It was an ark, carrying the cultures away from a doomed Earth. They had communication with each other, up until some point 500 years before the story starts, when a disaster separated them, leading them all to, over the generations, forget that they had once been a space-faring civilization who lived on an actual planet.  The pocket worlds each think that they are the entirety of the world (though, with so many of them, I’m sure a number would have known the truth). The ship is also doomed to destruction in 5 years.  The show would have been about the efforts of those who accidentally came upon the truth to save the ship. They would have made contact with other pocket worlds, tried to convince them of the truth, and explored the ship.

 

Since the show only produced one reportedly terrible season, all we really have to go on of this original vision is this solitary book. (And, apparently, a graphic novel of the same name and plot released last March by IDW). And let me tell you, the show should have been amazing. It should have been LOST, except in space, and with actual plot-destinations in mind throughout the whole thing. It should have been the perfect sci-fi series. As soon as I had finished reading the book – whose prose is excellent, but overall unremarkable – I wanted to know so much more about the universe. When I found out that there were no more books in the series, I actually considered finding the television show, just to have a taste of the world Ellison had built. I’ll doubtless buy the graphic novel soon enough.  I want to know more about these characters. What side did Garth end up on? What were the other Enclosed Worlds on the ark? Where was the plot going to end up?

 

It’s not fair that such a brilliant concept got cut down the way it did. I had a little rant about how desperately I wanted more of The Starlost, but when looking for the links to populate this post with, I discovered something beautiful. Something killer. Ark, a 9-episode web remake on Hulu. Tears, guys. I have tears. The Starlost rose from its ashes, to produce a Phoenix.

 

I’ll watch it tomorrow.

“He’s always been very…  flexible.”

Unfortunately, this line does not set the tone for Space: 1999, because every single other line in the premiere episode “Breakaway” is simply agonizing rather than hilarious.  Though the show as a whole remains hilarious.  From the insistence that the problems could be the result of a “virus infection” (when “virus” or “infection” could certainly have sufficed) to Dr. Russel’s wooden acting and silent voice, it is impossible to discover what is actually going on in the show.

Dr. Russel’s complete lack of emotions suggests that, at some point in the series, it will be revealed that she is actually a robot.  Her Data-like immobility, her electrically sparkling eyes (which, I must admit, afflicts all members of the Mooncrew)…  She is clearly just waiting to begin barfing milk through a newspaper.  Even the computer does not trust her; as she watches over a deceased crewman through a monitor, her face reflects eerily in the image of his shoulder.  She spins over to ask the computer a question, and appears to threaten it with a prop identical to the gun we saw used moments ago!  The computer is well aware that this woman cannot be trusted, and will only work when she forces it to with force.  We can presume that she also threatens it with utter obliteration should her secret be revealed.

The brain damage is the result of a radiation attack.  In a scene following Robowoman’s revelation of this, we see a massive Radiate consuming the screen!  — Oh, wait, sorry, that was just a dramatic closeup.  In fact, radiation does not attack.  It’s rather disappointing.

Apparently, in space, no one can here you talk.  Everyone is always whispering for no clear reason, or shouting for just as much clear reason.  They shout most often when speaking into the comms; my best explanation is that they don’t really realize that the comms are there, and believe that they are shouting across space itself to each other.  Considering the physics involved in the launch of the moon from orbit…

Martin Landau asserts that there was a time that the colonists had no centigrade radiation covers (oh noooooo, our temperature can be measured!  LIKE AN ATTACK!), which is followed immediately by a RADIATION ATTAAAACK.  We can tell that radiation is attacking the rainbow-flag-armed Redshirt because he twitches.  Twitching in space means certain doom.  Everyone knows this; it’s a shame that he was working alone.  After a commercial break, he remains alone, and begins sweating and apparently attempting to pull his own face off.  Yet, the slow-moving space-walkers who run gradually into their car confirm that there is no radiation to be attacking anything.  Unless the MAD MAN who has been ATTAAAACKED into TWITCHING is actually radiation.  He begins slamming his helmet against the window.

One would be disappointed to learn that the windows on the space station on which one works can be cracked by being smashed into by a space helmet.  Whether we want our helmets to have more integrity than our space windows is unclear to me; I suspect the preference would be to have neither able to crack the other.

The best moment may be when we discover that one of the station’s engineers is none other than hit musician Bjork.  She, as the other scientists, cannot understand how there can be heat without any radiation!  While in a very real sense this is true (heat moves from hot objects and locations to cooler ones), they are clearly referring to radiation radiation.  The kind that attacks.  WITH LIGHTNING.  ON THE MOON.  The lighting arcs at a ship which they send out to investigate for no clear reason.  During this sequence, our dear Dr. Robot wanders the bridge, clearly making everyone else uncomfortable.  Are perhaps the other crew members aware of what she is?  Or does she just make them nervous, with her vague sociopathic tendencies?

Our balding friend determines that the heat and brain damage was caused by magnetic energy.  Which goes a long way to explaining the lighting, I suppose, but we’re all quite disappointed that the magnets aren’t ATTACKING.  Our heroes discover that their bizarre attempts to determine what the problem is and fix it, with no real rationale behind them, have turned the moon into “the biggest damn bomb mankind has ever created.”    Or maybe it’s the situation itself which as done that.  It’s very hard to tell.  It’s not even clear what the magnetic whatsits are, except that while they are doing damage, they are not capable of attacking.

Finally, though, the magnetic junk does attack.  It attacks the moon itself, creating a jet flame (somehow!) which very slowly pushes the moon out of orbit.  Although mere minutes after the acceleration begins they begin to “decelerate” (well of course they actually just lose g’s, meaning that they have only ceased to accelerate), and the earth appears to be the same size as the moon from an over-the-moon’s-shoulder shot, there is no chance for the crew of Moon Base Alpha to return to home.

The shot of a news reporter describing the incident, and its repercussions on Earth, with no concern for the thousands of lives surely lost in Italy and other places particularly named, suggests that perhaps the robotism is a plague affecting earth somehow.

The credits which follow announce that Gladys Goldsmith was in charge of continuity.  If I bother to review or you bother to watch the very next episode, you will see why I prefer not to acknowledge that my ancestry contains Goldsmiths.  Curse you, Gladys Goldsmith.

In the show’s defense, it does have amazing set design and the occasional quality special effect.   Disregarding the fact that our hero, who is aware of the previous commander’s….  flexibility… has two giant glass, ahem, spheres on his desk, that is.  Other than that, everything looks very very sciency.  It had a massive special effects budget, which really only barely shows.