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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Princess Ardala Vs Wilma Deering

Commander Kane, Princess Ardala's 2nd in command, aspires to rule (or help rule) the Draconian Empire. In this, he is even encouraged by Draco. All of Ardala's sisters have married men whom they could control. Kane longs to marry Ardala, temper her wild, irresponsible tendencies, and thus help groom Ardala to succeed Draco.

There's only one problem. Ardala doesn't want him. Like any child, she always longs for what she cannot have. And she recognizes strength in Buck Rogers, a man who should have died several times, both due to her treachery (in framing him as a spy), and by sending him out to battle the "pirate ships" that attack her supposedly defenseless flagship. So when Buck courts her, in his 20th Century way, in the ballroom, she welcomes his advances. 

Sensing he is losing his hold over Ardala, Kane interrupts their dance, and asserts that she must attend to affairs of state now. Ardala's response is instant, and primal:

Ardala made a low animal growl in her throat. Her eyes flashed, and she raised her long talon-like fingernails as if she intended to rake Kane's face with them.
--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E. Steele (Richard A Lupoff)

The warrior princess is a longstanding Science Fiction trope. The idea of the feral, barely civilized princess, harkens back to Lupoff's comparison between Emperor Draco and Genghis Khan. It also makes an interesting comparison in the novel between Ardala and Wilma Deering. 

As Buck leaves the ball, Wilma Deering corners Buck. Like Ardala, Buck has awakened feelings in Wilma too. Unlike Ardala, who is all passion, Colonel Wilma Deering is all cold intellect, with her emotions firmly in the "Off" setting. Buck's arousal of unfamiliar feelings leaves Wilma confused. So she constantly vacillates between love and hate of Buck, between wanting to rush to his defense, and wanting to condemn him to death. 

Wilma may be the cool, civilized woman. Unlike the Princess, she's achieved her rank in society through hard work, determination, and merit. She may not intend to use Buck or control him like Ardala. Still, in this way, even though she's 180 degrees different from Ardala, she treats Buck in a similar way to the Princess. If he responds as she desires, she believes in him. If he doesn't...well then, he must be the enemy!

As Buck shakes off Wilma's advance and leaves the Ball, there's a poignant moment. Ardala parades grandly from the Ball, sure of her womanhood, and believing that she has Buck under her spell. Wilma watches Buck leave, and bewildered at his refusal, her passion for him turns dark at his rejection. Once more, she tells herself that he must be a spy. Then she gazes down at her fingernails. 

Unlike Ardala's, her fingernails are short and carefully trimmed.

If this physical difference between the two women was not an elaboration of Lupoff's but present in Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens' screenplay, it was abandoned during production. The Princess Ardala we see is not a feral creature. She's sensual, calculating, and willful. She is no warrior princess, capable of literally clawing out Kane's eyes. Still, she's more than a match for Kane, even if she can never capture Buck's heart.

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Twiki's Rebellion

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, after the reception in the Palace of Mirrors, Twiki and Dr. Theopolis follow Buck. When they see him sneak aboard Princess Ardala's shuttle, they follow, and hide in a cupboard. Unfortunately, the cupboard is refrigerated. At one point, Twiki emerges shivering. Dr. Theopolis reminds him that they need to stay out of sight, and orders him back inside. 

Instead, Twiki grabs a bottle of Vinol, opens it, and takes a swig. The computer brain Dr. Theopolis relents at this point, musing that the Vinol will help prevent Twiki's circuits from freezing. So he can drink the rest of the synthetic wine, provided he returns to his refrigerated hiding place immediately.

What can you say? Due to Dr. Theopolis' loyalty to Buck, Twiki was banished to the wasteland along with Buck. Then he was chased, and nearly taken apart by scavengers. Is it any wonder he starts to rebel in small ways, like getting down on the dance floor, or taking to the bottle? Poor Twiki! When adults like Buck behave, it's always the drones that suffer!

Dragon Dave

P.S. Keep safe on the space ways. Remember to never drink Vinol and Fly.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Evolution of Twiki

All the while Buck and Ardala had been dancing, Twiki had watched and listened, his mechanical relays and circuits clicking over in time to the music. Now he tried a few steps of his own in imitation of Captain Rogers.

"Twiki, stop that! People are watching!" Theopolis scolded. 

--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Richard A Lupoff (Addison E Steele)

Disco surged in popularity in the late 1970s, due in no small part to the movie "Saturday Night Fever," which came out in 1977. The film was so popular (even more popular with adults than "Star Wars," which also came out that summer), that it's easy to imagine Lupoff thinking of John Travolta when he wrote that scene. While Disco proved a fad, today's dancing are just as freeform and expressive of one's feelings as John Travolta's star-making performance. Unlike more formal styles, there are no barriers to entry. One doesn't need to practice intricate movements. With little or no experience, one can just get down and boogie. Even Buck's robot companion, the drone Twiki, decided to follow Buck's lead, and give it a go.

While we all know and love the waist-high wisecracking robot from the film and TV series, in the novelization he is quite different. The first time Buck sees him, he can barely keep from laughing. Twiki totters around the room with his head at an angle. The drone reminds Buck from the chimpanzees he saw in the Chicago Zoo during his childhood. Nor does Twiki talk. Instead, he squeaks, squeals, and makes electronic noises reminiscent of the droid R2-D2 in "Star Wars." The interplay between Twiki and his talking A.I. companion Dr. Theopolis makes an interesting comparison with R2-D2 and C-3PO in "Star Wars."

This makes me wonder if Glen Larson originally planned to use a chimpanzee-in-a-suit for Twiki, as he had previously for Daggit in "Battlestar Galactica." If so, I'm glad Larson's concept of Twiki evolved into the fun-loving guy we all know and love. For all his complaining, George Lucas, the creator of "Star Wars" was right: "Battlestar Galactica" copied too many aspects of "Star Wars." Larson's final version of Twiki helped make "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" a far more unique creation.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Wilma's Outrage

In "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," this grand ball is an event to which Buck Rogers has been invited. He feels overwhelmed, and completely uncomfortable, as you can imagine. For it wasn't that long ago that the Artificial Intelligence Overlords had judged him a traitor, and banished him to the wastelands. Although he was granted a reprieve, he has never proven his assertions of his innocence, or his suspicions that Earth is unwise to link itself with Draconia. And yet here he is, expected to dress to the hilt, and act like an important dignitary, at an event which he feels in his heart is a sham, and which will herald the ruin of his planet.

It's not as if anyone on Earth even wants him in the room (aside from his Artificial Intelligence friend Dr. Theopolis, and possibly the drone Twiki). He's here simply as a favor to Princess Ardala, the Draconian would-be-conqueror of Earth. She declares to the Earth dignitaries that he is a hero, for having defended her flagship from the dreaded pirates. Yet he can't help but feel as if he's being played. As he stated earlier at his trial before the AI overlords of Earth, he's like a pawn in a game of chess.

Buck doesn't understand the intricacies of 25th century dance. So when he approaches Princess Ardala, and asks her to dance, she allows him to instruct the orchestra to play something more suited to his tastes. What he requests is something more familiar to him. Something from his past. In the novelization by Richard A Lupoff, as the orchestra begins to play, Buck pops his knuckles, setting up a rocking rhythm, like a famous disco dancer of the ancient past. Everyone in the hall, even the princess, gapes as Buck demonstrates a sexy boogie step of the late 1980s

While everyone in the hall is shocked, and some like Wilma even offended, Ardala is much more uninhibited. She joins Buck in "getting down," and has as much fun as he does. The Earth dignitaries, including Wilma, seem backward and puffed with pride. As a viewer, it's hard to immediately feel for them. It's especially hard to feel for young, beautiful, vivacious Wilma. She seems the most likely to accept societal change. Yet she is appalled, even outraged by Buck's display. 

Imagine if this scene were to play out in Jane Austen's time. What if Buck Rogers had traveled back in time instead of forward? What if Buck had attended a ball in Jane Austen's novel Pride And Prejudice? Remember the scene in Jane Austen's famous novel in which Mr. Collins, the clergyman related to the Bennett family, attempts to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy? Mr. Collins has a strong pastoral and friendly relationship with Mr. Darcy's aunt. Yet Mr. Darcy is affronted that Mr. Collins would personally introduce himself, rather than follow the norms of that time, and wait for a mutual friend to introduce him. How do you think Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy would have reacted to Buck's boogie?

Suddenly, Wilma's outrage over Buck's flaunting of conventions grows more understandable, and a little harder to easily dismiss.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Jane Austen in the 25th Century

Earth culture of the 25th Century blends elements from all eras of recorded time (at least what the historians can piece together from surviving culture. Such is the formal dance performed in the novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. As Richard A Lupoff (writing as Addison E Steele) describes in the novelization, the dance is a mixture of minuet and quadrille, ballet and free-form interpretive. As the dancers move, they pass along globes containing lit candles. The chandeliers dim as the dance reaches its climax, producing a fairyland of multicolored fireflies floating on the invisible breeze. 

The dance performed in the film "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" reminds me more of the formal style portrayed in Jane Austen dramatizations than it does Lupoff's description. Just as I like Jane Austen's novels and dramatizations, there's a strong love for her books and characters in the Science Fiction community. American Science Fiction conventions regularly host Regency Balls, in which participants attend in period dress. I'm not sure why SF fans like Jane Austen and cosplaying Old English societal norms, but her stories are timeless, and things like dressing up and drinking tea are always fun. It's nice that series creator, producer, and pilot co-screenwriter Glen Larson tipped his hat to fans of Science Fiction and Jane Austen in his film.

As the TV series progressed, Larson would lean more on Lupoff's description, and portray much more of a blending of styles and freeform interpretation in episodes containing dances. Sadly, those scenes never matched the elegance Lupoff envisaged, and seem dated by today's standards. But this dance in the pilot is elegant and impressive.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Embracing Tyranny

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (originally credited to pen name Addison E Steele), after Princess Ardala appears in the Palace of Mirrors, a live holographic projection of her father, Draco the Conqueror, is transmitted from his palace on his home planet via Ardala's flagship. The crowd of Earth dignitaries gasp and cringe at this gross and menacing figure. Then they politely applaud the power and authority he represents.

As Emperor Draco addresses the crowd, Princess Ardala's top military officer Kane whispers, "There are two things your father enjoys most: spellbinding a crowd and conquering a new world. This is a rare opportunity for him--to do both at once."

While Draco promises eternal peace through this pact, the Earthers see it as nothing more than a mutually beneficial exchange. Lupoff compares Draco to such historical figures as Henry the Eighth and Genghis Khan. It is true that both figures, in their own way, would have been seen by some as liberators. It is also true that many of their subjects would have welcomed such a strong leader to reorganize their society and form a stable government. However, Henry the Eighth and Genghis Khan are mostly remembered for the incredible levels of bloodshed and destruction involved in consolidating their power. 

As an outsider, Buck suspects that Draco will lull Earth with promises of peace, only to use his greater access to the world to sweep aside the existing power structure of Earth and rule it as a subject planet. It's interesting how, in Lupoff's description, the Earthers' initially cringe at Draco. But as their off-world food supply is threatened, the people disregard their first impression, and welcome him for his promise to protect their food shipments.

In the TV film "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Draco does not address the Earth dignitaries in the Palace of Mirrors. We only see him at the end. Then he appears as a holographic projection on Princess Ardala's flagship to rant at Kane and Ardala for deciding to attack Earth before the rest of the fleet arrives. It's a one-hundred-and-eighty degree difference between the jowly, obese emperor and the diminutive, wizened ruler. Perhaps the filmmakers rethought, and subsequently recast Draco in this manner to suggest that he often conquered worlds more through subterfuge, and a threat of force, rather than through an actual ability to conquer and maintain power.  

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Palace of Mirrors

Within the Palace of Mirrors there were splendid chambers and halls for every purpose and sort, each more magnificent and sumptuous than the next, for all the surviving wealth and all the surviving glory of Earth were represented here. And even so, within the Palace of Mirrors, there was none to compare even remotely, in dazzling magnificence, with the Grand Ballroom.

In the novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (originally credited to the pen name Addison E Steele), Science Fiction and Mystery writer Richard A Lupoff goes on to describe this most heralded and prestigious chamber, set in the most heralded and prestigious building, and in the most heralded and prestigious area of New Chicago, or the Inner City. The ceiling in this regal chamber gives one the impression of a glowing jewel through which colors, spectrums, and intensities of light vary, and never cease to delight the eye. The walls are mirrored, and the floors likewise reflective. 

The effect of being in the room was thus one of being wholly surrounded by, bathed in, permeated, and all but absorbed by a supernatural solution of pure light and tone.

Richard A Lupoff spends several pages explaining how the Grand Ballroom is hung with regal banners and displays. Trumpets sound. Prestigious government personnel of all sorts, both from Earth and Draconia, enter amid much pomp and circumstance. I have no idea how much of this rich description was included in the screenplay written by Glen A Larson and Leslie Stevens, and how much was invented by Richard A Lupoff. In any case, Lupoff paints a picture of a grand affair of state, in which the Earth government pulls out all the stops, and only invites the most important people, to attend this ceremony intended to cement relations between Earth and the Draconian Empire. 

Obviously, a 1970s production crew was never going to pull all this off on a TV budget. I doubt even the movie studios of the time could have reproduced Lupoff's description faithfully. All of which goes to show that, when it comes to exciting our imaginations, books wield far superior power to movies and TV shows. Or at least they did, before computer generated digital effects were available. 

Here's what the TV production pulled off in 1978.

In a way, Richard A Lupoff's novelization serves as journey through time just as startling as Buck's. For Lupoff's novelization of the screenplay written by Glen A Larson and Leslie Stevens could not have been filmed in all its glory when he wrote it back in 1977. But forty years later, in 2017, with the aid of modern techniques (including computer-generated special effects), and with the backing of a powerful movie studio, a new film version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" could be made that would faithfully reproduce the words Lupoff originally put to paper with a plunking, ringing, clickety-clack typewriter. It'd be nice if someone in Hollywood would do that, don't you think?

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: For the Love of Jennifer

In the last post, I posed the question: in the movie version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," why would Buck refuse to accompany Wilma and her rescue party back to New Chicago? Remember, he's seen the ruins of old Chicago. He's found his family's grave. It must be obvious to him by now that everyone he knew and loved was gone. As he's just been attacked, why should he remain?

Remember, in the original screenplay, upon which Richard A Lupoff (writing as Addison E Steele) based his novelization, Buck is grateful for her timely rescue, and willingly accompanies her back to New Chicago.

One possible answer is simple bravado, but that doesn't feel right to me. Buck usually did things for logical reasons. He didn't usually refuse to act in his best interests, or the interests of others, when one's personal safety, or one's existence, was threatened. 

Late in the first season, Buck and Twiki see a woman in a shopping mall in New Chicago. She looks familiar to Buck, like a ghost from his past. Eventually he tracks her down. She is the spitting image of Jennifer, a woman he loved in 20th Century Earth. Nor was she just a fling. He had planned on marrying her when he returned from his deep space mission. Only his ship experienced a freak accident, and he returned 500 years later. Of course, she's not the woman he loved back in the 20th Century, but as he discovers, she is someone he might possibly learn to love, given the right circumstances.

Does it make sense that Buck would refuse to accompany Wilma back to New Chicago, even at the potential cost of his life, to find Jennifer's grave? That's the only answer that makes sense to me. I'd like to think there's a better reason behind the script writers decision to change Buck's response to Wilma's rescue than simple bravado. 

What do you think?

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Search or Defiance

In the film version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Buck is not exiled to the devastated lands outside. Instead, after his discussion with Wilma Deering, he voluntarily leaves New Chicago to search the ruins of Old Chicago. He is accompanied in his quest by Dr. Theopolis, the A.I. Overlord (although they are never called that in the film), and the drone Twiki. In a cemetery, Buck discovers a grave listing the names of his immediate family members. Then he and his new friends are attacked by a pack of savage humans who live in the ruins of the once great city.

Earlier in the film, Buck had declared his intentions to venture unaccompanied, wherever he wished, in order to learn more about his past. Colonel Wilma Deering threatened to shoot him, but then decided to let him go. Now, in the film, she and a party of soldiers arrive to save him. No explanation is given for how they discovered he had left the Inner City, or why they chose to follow him. 

In addition to this reordering of events (in the book, he is exiled after the trial; in the film, he ventures out before the hidden transmitter is found on his ship), there is another crucial difference. In Richard A Lupoff's novelization (credited to the pen name of Addison E. Steele), Buck Rogers is grateful for Wilma's timely rescue, and willingly accompanies her back to New Chicago. In the film, he defiantly states that he's not through searching for answers. When Wilma insists they return, he declares for a second time that she will have to shoot him to stop him for continuing his quest. This time, she refuses to back down, and has one of her soldiers shoot him. (Only after they return, in the film, do Dr. Huer and Wilma learn of the hidden transmitter, which necessitates Buck's trial).

The ordering of events in Lupoff's novelization, based on an earlier version of the script, makes sense. Buck's venturing out of the highly defended Inner City, in the film, can be explained away, as can Wilma discovering his decision and sending out a search party. (A sad consequence of this reversal is we lose Dr. Huer's heroic fight to save Buck in the film). But what about Buck's defiance when he and his electronic friends have just been rescued from certain death? How can we understand Buck's insistence upon remaining in Old Chicago, now that he knows his family has died, and the world he loved really has been destroyed? Is it simple defiance, a willing rejection of the truth? Or is he still searching for something? And if so, what?

It's a question that has vexed me, so I thought I would share it with you. (Hey, I'm considerate like that).

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Dr. Huer's Strength

In Richard A. Lupoff's novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (written under the pen name of Addison E. Steele), it falls on Dr. Huer to petition the Council to reverse or suspend their decision. One can only imagine what is going on in Dr. Huer's mind as he steps into that august chamber. Up until now, he has believed that Earth needs the treaty with the Draconian Empire. Now he is about to argue that the Council should reverse its judgment of a capital crime, and allow him, Wilma, and Buck to endanger the treaty with the Draconian Empire. 

As you can imagine, Prosecutor Apol is against him. The very fabric of our society," Council Apol lectures Dr. Huer, "is threatened when a ruling of the Council is reversed, or even suspended."

"If by some horrible error of judgment the Draconians are admitted to Earth, and they come to us not as friends but as traitors and enemies in our very midst, then all will be lost," Doctor Huer argues. Then we will suffer an absolute defeat!"

Despite Apol's opposition, the Council votes to suspend Buck's sentence and proceed with Doctor Huer's plan. When Wilma congratulates Doctor Huer, he urges her to quickly gather as many people as she can. They must go heavily armed, and they must find him quickly. If the scavengers and other rabble find him first, all their efforts on Buck's part will have been in vain.  

One can only imagine what was going on in Doctor Huer's mind when he decided to side with Wilma and appeal to the Computer Council. The Council banished Doctor Theopolis for daring to defend Buck, and quickly elevated another of their own to replace him. Where did he get his inner strength to challenge the Council, his earlier faith in the Draconians, and perhaps his future in New Chicago, to save the life of another person?

Humanity has lost nearly all of its heritage, and gradually been weaned back into a semblance of maturity by the Computer Council. But not all of its history, culture, and beliefs have been lost. Take for example, this curious artifact placed prominently on Doctor Huer's desk. 

Perhaps that ancient tome, not mentioned in Richard A. Lupoff's novelization, holds a clue as to the source of Doctor Huer's strength.

Dragon Dave 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: For the Love of Buck

In Richard A. Lupoff's novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," the Computer Council of New Chicago has ruled in favor of Prosecutor Apol. For his acts of espionage and treason against the state, Captain William Buck Rogers, along with his representative Doctor Theopolis, are banished to the devastated lands outside. 

Doctor Huer, the sage of the Inner Cities, and Colonel Wilma Deering quietly leave the chamber, while the other Human spectators shake hands and slap each other on the back to celebrate the verdict. 

Later, Doctor Huer is still rueing the verdict when Colonel Deering bursts into his office. "Doctor, I need your help desperately!"

"What is it?" Huer asks, startled. 

"It's Buck Rogers." Wilma was nearly in tears. "We must get him back, Dr. Huer. We must!"

Initially, when Doctor Huer and Doctor Theopolis chose to believe Buck's story, Wilma refused to accept their assessment. She claimed he might possibly endanger Earth's treaty with the Draconian Empire. But now she begs Doctor Huer to petition the Computer Council. If the Council will allow Buck to return, she could fly him out to Princess Ardala's flagship, and use his allegations, based only on supposition and logic, as an excuse to search the ship for weapons. 

It's a strange argument for her to make. There's no logical reason why Dr. Huer should agree. All the facts, as they know them, suggest that Buck Rogers is guilty of espionage. Furthermore, Wilma's plan will endanger the treaty with Draconia, and therefore Earth's future. Nonetheless, Dr. Huer agrees to help her save Buck. 

Logically, you have to wonder why "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" continues to be popular. People still love watching this old 1970s TV series. It's not because the show offered gripping drama. It's not because the shows were smart in a scientific sense. But it offered one quality that is difficult to manufacture, one that so many fail to find. Simply put, the show had charm.

At the heart of the series was Buck, an All-American Hero displaced in time. He was an underdog in the sense that he had lost everything and everyone that he ever cared about. Yet he quickly chose to settle in New Chicago, and was always willing to help everyone he found in need, whether they came from Earth or some other planet. That's why all the good people, and even most of the antiheroes he met in the series, usually befriended Buck by the end of their adventures together. And that's why, even after knowing Buck for so little time, Wilma and Dr. Huer would risk their lives, and the future of Earth, to save him.

As Dr. Theopolis, the Computer Council member who was exiled from New Chicago for steadfastly defending him, told Wilma, "He's a wwwwuuuunnnderful man." Now that's the kind of person you will risk everything for.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Doctor Theopolis' Sacrifice

She lowered the laser, dumbly returned it to its holster, and stood watching the scene before her. She saw guards rushing from remote entrances of the hanger toward the man she had shot. 

In the novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century", written by Richard A. Lupoff (under his pen name of Addison E. Steele), Buck declared his intention to leave New Chicago and see the surrounding devastation. It seemed the only way for him to connect to the Earth he had left behind. But Wilma Deering, the dedicated military officer, could not let him leave. After all, the authorities were still verifying his story about being from the 20th Century, and awakening aboard Princess Ardala's Draconian flagship. So when Buck tells her that she'll have to shoot him to make him stay, Wilma represses her feelings and shoots him. 

When the investigators discover a hidden transmitter aboard Buck's ship, she feels vindicated in shooting him. He must be an agent of the space pirates that are cutting off Earth's food supplies. That transmitter would have relayed the safe route through Earth's defensive shield to whoever sent him. This is a capital crime against the state, far more heinous than eating and drinking more than one's allotted portions of food and drink. Buck has just handed Earth's enemies the means of directly attacking the planet! The Computer council quickly convenes a hearing. Despite the most persuasive arguments of Dr. Theopolis, the Artificial Intelligence overlords of New Chicago agree with A.I. prosecutor Apol: Buck Rogers must indeed be a spy.

While summing up his defense arguments, Dr. Theopolis had told the Computer Council, "If you find Buck Rogers guilty, then you must find me guilty as well. I cannot continue to serve a society that doubts the core of my being." So when the Council rules against Buck, he and Twiki choose exile with Buck over further life in the Inner City.

In the ruins of old Chicago, destroyed shortly after he left Earth, Buck tries to connect with the Earth he left behind. But when night falls, the outcasts in this devastated land pursue them. Dr. Theopolis tells Buck that he's not the target: the scavengers are really after himself and Twiki. Despite the technological wonders they represent, Theo and Twiki's only value to the outcasts is the food and supplies that their computer components and rare materials will provide.

Buck is just another Human outcast now. 

It's hard to imagine one of the computer overlords voluntarily leaving the Inner City, knowing the certainty of his fate outside. It's equally hard to imagine the other computer overlords allowing Dr. Theopolis to leave. In the subsequent TV series, the emphasis shifted away from the A.I. rulers of New Chicago, and we rarely saw Dr. Theopolis. It would have been interesting to learn more about the Computer Overlords, not only how they interacted with each other, but also how they served, and occasionally even risked their continued existence, for the Humans under their care.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Eating & Drinking in the 25th Century

In the movie "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Colonel Wilma Deering escorts Buck throughout New Chicago. Surrounded by the fabulous architecture of the future, she tells him a little about the apocalypse that nearly destroyed the Earth. Eventually, they end up in a restaurant, or at least a seating area where people might gather and enjoy drinks. But we don't see them eating or drinking in the movie.

In fact, eating and drinking seem to be activities largely confined to the past. People in New Chicago, also called the Inner City, seem to largely get by on food disks. These food disks are produced by food grown off-planet. Recently, pirates have attacked food shipments. Thus, Earth hopes to forge a treaty with the Draconian Empire to police space shipping lanes.

In the novelization written by Richard Lupoff (writing as Addison E Steele), Wilma leads him to a table in the mall. When a waiter appears, she orders two glasses of Vinol, a synthetic wine. "Okay," Buck replies. "Then let's make it two or three. I'd like to get nice and drunk." 

"We're a culture of moderation," Wilma responds. "Everything is carefully balanced. If somebody ruins a serving of food, or greedily consumes two when he's only entitled to one, then somebody else goes without a meal that day. What you would call immoderation, just a petty foible in your world--is a crime in mine. And criminals are invited to leave the Inner City." 

So in the original conception of the story, New Chicago appears far less a utopia than in the film. Life there is hand-to-mouth, and drunkenness and overeating is a crime. Sin against society too much, and you get exiled into the radiation-ruined wasteland. 

In the subsequent TV series, Buck continually tries to breathe a little life into a largely sterile society. One way he does this is by attempting to grow and making his own food and wine. Doctor Huer and Wilma view this as an eccentric quirk to be accommodated and politely overlooked. Had the characters and stories stuck more closely to the original screenplay (upon which Lupoff based his novelization), perhaps these leaders of New Chicago would have applauded his efforts, or even hailed them as a hope for making Earth truly self-sustaining.

But then, who wants to watch "Buck Rogers: Hydroponics and Wine-Making in the 25th Century?"

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Importance of Chicago

At first, Commander Kane believes that Buck Rogers has been preserved for 500 years. Then another idea occurs to his suspicious mind: what if Buck is part of an elaborate ruse to investigate Princess Ardala and himself, before they reach Earth and negotiate a treaty with the Draconian Empire? Nonetheless, Kane and Ardala allow him to return to Earth, and wait to see what happens.

Once Buck arrives on Earth, he waits in a room for hours, while investigators study his ship. Then Doctor Huer comes in, accompanied by the drone Twikki. Hanging from Twikki's neck is Doctor Theopolis, one member of a super race of computers that exists apart from Humanity. They have evolved into a separate life form, and program their descendants without the aid or interference of Humans. These computers run the Inner City, and even as important a man as Dr. Huer must still bow to their dictates.

Dr. Huer is a kindly man who attempts to ease Buck's arrival in the 25th Century by telling him that he has arrived at the coordinates originally programmed into his space shuttle. The Inner City is also called New Chicago, and is built upon the ruins of the old city. Whatever dangers the U.S. President in the 1980s foresaw (remember, Buck Rogers was developed and filmed in the late seventies, during the Carter presidency, before Reagan took the reins, and long before he proposed his Star Wars defense plan), wars devastated the globe after Buck left Earth. These wars left civilization in ruins, and nearly drove Humans to extinction. But at least Buck has returned to the land of his youth, even if it is drastically changed from when he lived there.

Through the process of reading the novel, and then watching the movie again, these questions struck me powerfully. Why should the space shuttle have been programmed to land in Chicago? Chicago seems a bizarre choice for a 20th Century space shuttle landing site. In the real world, in the 1980s and beyond, the shuttle returned to Earth in Florida, with the occasional landing in New Mexico or California. So I have to wonder what made the writers think that 20th Century Chicago could host a space shuttle landing. (And why it should land there, when it would then need to be transported back to Florida anyway?) Further, what makes 20th Century Chicago so unique in people's minds that it should serve as Buck Rogers' home, as well as the seed from which New Chicago, the home of civilization on 25th Century Earth, should sprout.

I guess one day I'll have to visit Chicago. Perhaps that will help me understand why the space shuttles should have landed there, and the unique importance of the city that inspired the writers of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." Then, along with Buck, I can sing, "Chicago, Chicago, you're my kind of town."

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Ardala's First Impression

In the opening prologue of the movie "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,' we learn that Buck blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and experiences freak conditions in space that preserve his body, while his ship floats aimlessly through space for 500 years. Richard Lupoff, writing the novelization as Addison Steele, elaborates on this prologue sequence beautifully. He describes a passing swarm of meteors that surround the spaceship, and how the impact of these small pieces of space debris release a mix of gases inside the hull. 

I suppose I should take a moment to discuss the role of cryogenics here, as I mentioned it in a post last month. But I already discussed the topic at length in a post last month, so I'll just reiterate that the movie prologue, and Lupoff's writing, do their job. We're sold on the idea that Buck Rogers could awaken after five hundred years without any negative aftereffects. (I was sold far more effectively, in both instances, than H. G. Wells manages in The Sleeper Awakes, a 1910 rewrite of his earlier novel, When The Sleeper Wakes). We don't really even think about it, because we're anxious to get on with the story. So I'll shut up on cryogenics, and get on with the next topic.

Five hundred years later, Princess Ardala and Commander Kane bring the space shuttle aboard their flagship, and wake him up. This is our first impression of Buck: he's out-of-it, physically and mentally. He's in no fit state to fathom his presence on a spaceship from another planet. Nor is he aware of how much time has passed. So he asks for an aspirin to clear his head. Instead, the Draconian doctors inject him with a tranquilizer that leaves him punch drunk, and even less able to perceive his present reality from his centuries of dreams.

For some reason, this scene has always been especially memorable to me. Buck is clearly dopey, and is incapable of answering Kane's questions. Nor does he seem to notice the strange appearance of Ardala's bodyguard, the mutant Tigerman. All he can focus on is Princess Ardala's beauty. It's an interesting beginning in Buck and Ardala's relationship, one that made Ardala think less of him initially, as women tend to despise men who get overwhelmed and tongue-tied by their beauty.

Of course, Ardala changes her opinion of him later, after he has demonstrated his bravery, tenacity, and he singles her out at the Ball...

Dragon Dave

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Terror in the Skies

It's been decades since I read the novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century". For all that time it has taken up space in my bookshelves. When a friend helped me move to my current house, he continually marveled at all the boxes labeled "Books" he carried to and from the moving truck. So was it the book worth keeping (and carrying) around? Was it worth reading again? Did it offer a uniquely different experience from the movie? 

I decided it was about time to find out.

In the prologue of the novelization of the Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens' script, credited to Addison E. Steele (a pen name for Science Fiction writer Richard A. Lupoff), we learn there is some need perceived, at the highest levels of the United States government, for a deep space mission. The President gathers senators in the Pentagon, and tells them that this must happen. Then instead of chipping away at the budget, or going on TV to state why they will (or will not) support this program, they return to the Senate and vote to fully fund a five month mission to chart the planets of our solar system.

Perhaps on the President's mind is the network of satellites that circle Earth. These satellites eavesdrop on all Earth communications, and occasionally destroy satellites from rival countries with powerful laser beams. Perhaps the "bald truth" the President tells the Senators is a swarm of meteorites heading toward Earth. Perhaps it is both the threat of the constant state of "musical chairs" played by armed satellites and the threat of annihilation similar to that which drove the dinosaurs to extinction. Let's face it: in 1979, when the script and book were written, those fears were as valid as they still are today. 

When the space ship is finished, it blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. In so doing, it brings the dreams of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and other Science Fiction writers Lupoff admired, such as Edmund Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Hugo Gernsback, John W. Campbell, and Hamilton's wife Leigh Brackett. Surprisingly, Lupoff doesn't mention Edgar Rice Burroughs in this list. In Science Fiction circles, Lupoff is acknowledged as an expert on the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. But then, Burroughs did not send John Carter to Mars aboard a rocketship, let alone a space shuttle.

What will happen to Earth after Buck Rogers leaves is not apparent, or even hinted at, in the movie. But in the book, we perceive a worried world leader who mobilizes Congress in a way that has not happened since Kennedy's Moon missions. This, along with the constant tussle of the satellites orbiting the Earth, gives us some indication of what will occur after Buck leaves Earth, which adds a different dimension to my understanding of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century."

Dragon Dave

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Getting Reborn With Mark Millar

What happens when you die? Where does your spirit go? Is death the end of one journey, and the beginning of another? Or is this life all that there is? These are questions that everyone wonders about, and even the most scientific of authors, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, have wrestled with.

In his current series Reborn, comic writer Mark Millar addresses these issues. Through his eyes, we follow Bonnie, an old woman eking out her final moments of life in a hospital. When she dies, she reawakens in a fantasy land brimming with fairies, mythic monsters, and yes, even the occasional dragon. Bonnie discovers that she is no longer feeble and suffering from cancer. Instead she is young and energetic. Her youthful body is far stronger than in her former life, she clad in armor, and she wields a sword. Amid a battle, she reunites with her father, her dog, and begins a search for her husband, who journeyed to this fantastic land before her.

Not all who populate this realm live as soldiers. Some settle down and have families, while others enslave the weak and perpetuate their evil schemes. Still, the fact that monsters and evildoers inhabit this realm means that those who seek to live by the sweat of their brow, and in harmony with others, must occasionally band together to protect themselves, their families, and their villages. It may be the afterlife, but that doesn't mean that Bonnie has reached Heaven. This is a world like our own, in which evil exists alongside good, and often fights for supremacy.

Bonnie isn't just another new resident of this fantastic land. People see her as a great hero who has long been prophesied to rescue them once and for all from the forces of evil. While Bonnie never refuses to help others, she isn't interested in building an army and launching an all-out assault on evildoers. Her first priority is more personal: she wishes to find other members of her family on Earth. So she travels this new world with her father and a pet from her childhood, the latter a dog that, like she and her father, is far larger and stronger than he was on Earth. 

Issue 5 of Reborn was my favorite thus far, featuring some major revelations about her husband, and leading to the final confrontation in Issue 6. But it was also bittersweet, as only one issue remains in the current series. From all accounts, the series is selling well, so depending on what occurs in the final issue, it's possible that Millar will write a sequel series sometime in the future. He's done that before, with series like Kick-Ass and Jupiter's Legacy

Interestingly enough, a hardcover novelization by Sarah Lotz is due to hit bookstores later this year, so those who missed the comics will have a choice of purchasing all six issues in one volume, or purchasing a prose adaptation. Many of his stories also get adapted for the big screen, so there's always a potential movie version to hope for. Still, that's far and away, while Reborn is pulsing with vitality, and available to read now. 

In many ways, Reborn seems like an interesting series for Mark Millar to write, as he's a devout Catholic. Reading Reborn seems a little surreal when Millar posts on Facebook and Twitter about attending Mass more often during Lent, and giving up things during this holy season of the Christian calendar. But Reborn is all in good fun. At its core, the story reminds us that Life, in whatever form, is always a battle between good and evil. Just like Bonnie's, our lives should be quests in which we fight for what is right, aid those in need, and strive for the people and things that matter to us. 

Even if that means we too must battle the occasional dragon.

Dragon Dave

Monday, March 27, 2017

Scarlet And Hyssop Vs Downton Abbey

The formal splendor of an earlier era
in the Victoria And Albert Museum in London, England

While I don't know as much about his life as I would like, Scarlet And Hyssop seems like a rather brave novel for E. F. Benson to write, given how well connected he was with anyone-who-was-anyone in English society back then. His father's high standing in the Church of England granted him entry to the rich and powerful, but if he incurred someone's wrath, that could have made his writing career more difficult. The fact that it is a challenging novel to read, with largely unlikable characters, makes it all the more surprising he would write it. Stories that require understanding a key, or the contemplation of an underlying symbol to really enjoy a story, do not always sell well. Stories that require a second reading to gain a fuller understanding of the author's intent do not always age well. While writers such as G. K. Chesterton, George McDonald, and Charles Williams have not been forgotten, they can hardly claim a place in our hearts like Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, or J. R. R. Tolkien. 

Perhaps it was a mistake for E. F. Benson to write this novel. His long bibliography, and the sheer range of his writing, suggest that he really loved every type of literary genre. When a writer does not concentrate on one or two genres, but spreads his net wide, it is inevitable that he will not always succeed at everything he attempts. While some reviewers loved it, critical assessment of Scarlet And Hyssop largely tends to be negative. As I mentioned, I found it a challenging novel to read. Still, as my post-reading realization demonstrates, there was more going on in the story than could be initially grasped on the surface level. This left me with a desire to read the novel again. With my better knowledge of the characters, and the goal Benson was striving toward, I'm sure it would be a richer experience. 

It goes without saying that, if I felt the novel was an utter failure, I would not even contemplate a second attempt.

When the TV series Downton Abbey premiered on TV, I took an immediate dislike to it. Although the characters inhabited a world similar to those described by writers such as E. F. Benson, I found little to interest me in their petty schemes and jealousies. Similarly, when I first watched the movie Gosford Park, I had just as much difficulty in appreciating it. Here was a story about a murder among the rich in a country house of the nobility. But instead of allowing me to follow a police investigation that led to the capture of the murderer, screenwriter Julian Fellows forced me to wade through portraits of largely unlikable characters. The murderer even gets away with the crime at the end of the movie!

Recently I watched the movie again, and found it intriguing enough to view a second time with commentary with screenwriter Julian Fellows. This actor, writer and producer, the creator of Downton Abbey, is a modern English Baron, and a peer in the House of Lords. As such, he divides his time between telling stories to the populace and contributing to the government of Britain. He has made his name by writing about the types of people he grew up with, both among the rich and titled, as well as the lowly servants. What might seem to us an incomprehensible social structure is something he understands. On the commentary for Gosford Park he said something that stuck with me. He said that the sense he got, from the relatives and people he knew, was that the high and mighty eventually decided to abolish their complicated systems of etiquette, and relax their highly formalized way of life, simply because they found it too tiresome to perpetuate it. In other words, the system grew over time, until it became to unwieldy that those at the top, the ones who theoretically benefitted most from it, finally gave up on it and opted for a simpler way of life.

Don't get me wrong. I still dislike Downton Abbey. Even after watching it again, I'm still not wild about Gosford Park. But the similarities between those stories and Scarlet And Hyssop suggest that E. F. Benson was writing a story along similar lines to those historical stories being told today by writers such as Julian Fellows. The major difference is Benson was pointing out the dangers of perpetuating certain aspects of English society while they were occurring, while Fellows is looking backward to teach us lessons from the past. Given the interest in--and apparent hunger for--TV series such as Downton AbbeyScarlet And Hyssop represents an opportunity to immerse oneself in the glamorous and stratified society of an earlier era. If the ritualistic nature of that bygone era intrigues you, and the type of characters who lived and worked within it fascinate you, then perhaps you might find Scarlet And Hyssop an interesting and entertaining novel.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Scarlet And Hyssop by E. F. Benson

This year got off to a slow start reading-wise, but included some highly interesting novels. Along with other places, the books I read in January transported me to England, Scotland, and Africa. While it is impossible for me to share with you all the fascinating discoveries I made on those journeys, I thought I would give you a little taste of them. The first novel I completed, and the focus of this post, was Scarlet And Hyssop by E. F. Benson.

Scarlet And Hyssop hails from Benson's early literary career. Published in 1902, it comes just nine years after his first novel brought him instant literary success, and is his twelfth published book of long-form fiction. By this time he had also published a collection of short stories, a nonfiction book, and would in the same year coauthor a book on physical fitness. So this represents Benson well into his early literary career, still eighteen years away from the publication of the first of the Mapp & Lucia novels, for which he is best remembered.

Police ride through Hyde Park
in London, England

Scarlet And Hyssop is a melodrama about life among the rich and powerful. Centered largely in London, most of the scenes take place in the houses of the characters. You'll meet interesting people of that time: a government worker being groomed for a Cabinet post, a wife who came from obscurity to steer her husband into the Admiralty, and a woman who throws extravagant parties for dozens of people. You'll attend these balls and gatherings. You will ride along on horseback, or sit beside them in their carriages, as they take their regular exercise and outings in Hyde Park. Most of all you'll get an insider view to the morality of the period, in which people marry for position, and look for love in other places. 

At first I thought Scarlet And Hyssop must refer to some of the characters in the novel. After meeting none so named, I researched the terms after finishing the novel. Scarlet and Hyssop are items used by the ancient Jews in their purification rituals. This put into focus scattered references by the characters to pollution in society. It also underlined the actions of one character who, when faced with the truth of her existence, decided to follow a higher line, no matter the personal cost in financial and societal terms. 

There are lots of reasons to underestimate, and even dislike this novel. I found it difficult to get to know the characters, as many of them have similar-sounding names. Also, the story relies more on dialogue than on action. This is not a simple story, such as Benson's first novel Dodo, A Detail of the Day, which focuses on a young woman who marries for money and position, and the young man who refuses to give her up. It does not focus upon the details of a financial scam, such as in Mammon and Co. It is not a coming-of-age story like The Babe, B.A., or the portrait of an aspiring artist wrestling with following his passion versus appeasing public taste, as in Limitations. Instead, Scarlet And Hyssop is more nuanced, and demands greater attention that such easy-reading novels.

Scarlet And Hyssop focuses on a society that has lost its way. Most of the characters are bland, and their lives uninteresting, because E. F. Benson is pointing out how form and etiquette have blinded the aristocracy to what life should really be about. Most of the characters don't really think through why they are pursuing such (largely) pointless schemes. They simply perform the roles expected of them, or fall into patterns of life because they are easy. Thank goodness none of us could be excused of such excesses, or blindly falling into traps, or being taught not to care about what really matters, in today's more enlightened society.

I'll discuss Scarlet And Hyssop more, and compare it to the popular TV and film creations of screenwriter and English Lord Julian Fellows, in my next post.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Cache of Doctor Who Treasure

Recently, my wife returned from travel with a few special gifts. I say a few, but count them: there's eighteen Doctor Who novelizations, one of which contains two stories. Of the novels, there were five books retelling six first Doctor stories, and three novelizations from the second Doctor era. This is notable, as during this time period, the BBC had a policy of erasing expensive video tape after the show's initial airing (and perhaps one repeat), so they could reuse it to record other programs. Five of the six first Doctor stories exist only as reconstructions, combining photographic images with audio tracks that fans recorded off their TV sets at home. Two of the three second Doctor stories are also missing, and only exist as reconstructions. So reading the books will help me visualize those stories better.

I've already started reading Galaxy Four, the first book following the order in which the stories were filmed. It's an odd story, in which the Doctor and his companions land on a planet inhabited by two visiting races. These are visitors from other planets, and both crash landed on this planet. One race is represented by a woman and her cloned companions. Despite her beauty, she feels only distain for others. Her companions seem to feel little emotion excepting fear of their mistress. The stratified society she represents reminds the Doctor of that old fool Plato, who he met on a trip to ancient Greece. Apparently, he tried to tell Plato that he could not found a perfect society, or Republic, based on slavery. Like many the Doctor meets, Plato decided to reject the Doctor's advice.

The other book pictured is a novelization of "The Tenth Planet." It's notable for the final story featuring the first Doctor, and the first appearance of the Cybermen. These Cybermen were crude by comparison with the Cybermen the Doctor encountered on successive occasions, as the race improves the design of their mechanical bodies. Interestingly, recent news reports have hinted that the latest Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, will encounter Cybermen of this original design later this season. That should prove interesting to watch.

The first Doctor Who story I ever saw was "The Genesis of the Daleks." As an early teen in America, I found it difficult to relate to the TV series. The fourth Doctor seemed an utterly incomprehensible figure, and the cliffhanger endings were just plain weird. After seeing "Star Wars" in the cinema, I was looking for more Sci-Fi in that vein. Shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica I could relate to better. Still, I watched the stories from the first season of the fourth Doctor, and read novelizations of other Doctor Who stories, and respected the long tradition of Doctor Who. Years later, after my wife and I married, I became a fan of the show via the third Doctor, a character I could admire and relate to. I love those fourth Doctor stories now, and especially "The Genesis of the Daleks." It'll be interesting to read the novelization, and compare it with the original recording. 

Two other novelizations I'm especially looking forward to reading are Logopolis and Frontios, both by Christopher H. Bidmead. Logopolis takes place on a planet populated by mathematicians who can change the structure of the universe by manipulating mathematical calculations. The TV version of "Frontios," a fifth Doctor story, features actress Lesley Dunlop, who would go on to play Zoe Callendar in a favorite British comedy May To December. "Frontios" transports us to a ravaged world, in which the Doctor attempts to make piece between the Human colonists and a race of giant, intelligent insects. I always felt that this story could have benefitted from a big screen treatment. It would have been great to have seen the devastated landscape on a vast scale, and the war being waged with the best special effects wizards in Hollywood. It will be interesting to see how the book compares with my vision for everything I imagine that story could have been.

Additionally, Christopher H. Bidmead read and commented on a blog entry I wrote about the Doctor Who story "State Of Decay." He wanted to give me his recollection of the dispute between himself, as Script Editor, and the writer of the story, Terrance Dicks. The fact that he would respond to something I wrote is another reason I want to read these two stories.

In closing, I must add that there's a part of me that asks "Why do you need all these novelizations? After all, you've got the TV versions to watch, or at least the reconstructions." But reading is a different experience from watching, and often novelists add scenes deleted from the TV programs, relate the scenes differently, or add additional detail to give you a fuller understanding of the characters and the world(s) on which they live. I look forward to immersing myself in the written versions of these Doctor Who stories, and coming away with an enhanced appreciation for the TV series I love.

Dragon Dave