Why The Orville is my SF Fix


When I was growing up, I hit the TV Guide every week to find out what science fiction shows were airing this week.  Then, it was digest-sized and had very short summaries of the shows.  I had to look up one word “ensues” because the description for the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode “Nightmare” used it.  I still don’t have a clue why that particular word was used for that particular episode.

And when the big season premiere issue came up, it was a big event, because I was checking out what new SF shows were premiering.  Most of them didn’t last long.  But there were shows like:

  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  Gil Gerard was in that one as title character
  • Battlestar Galactica.  The original with Lorne Green.
  • The  Bionic Woman.  Spy/tennis star Jamie Sommers becomes essentially a superhero through technology.

There’s been other SF shows throughout the years, like Star Trek The Next Generation and Xena, Warrior Princess, but it’s been a while that I’ve found one I wanted to stick with. Most of them have been getting darker and darker.  Especially since I was able to shake lose some of that dark I got from Desert Storm, I can’t even watch Xena any more.  It’s too dark for me now.

Then The Orville with Seth McFarlane showed up last year.  I saw the commercials and was cautious, because the humor was kind of, well, dumb.  But from all my time enjoying Hollywood TV shows, I know one thing is always true:

Pilots tend to be horrible.

The writers haven’t settled into the show yet or figured out what they want to do.  They’ve written this single episode for the purpose of selling a series to the men with the money.

The actors also haven’t really gotten into the characters yet.  If you’ve ever attended a theater performance, it’s best to see it near the end.  The actors will have refined their roles.

And then I tuned in.  Humor was still awkward.  But the show had something I hadn’t seen for a while.

It was bright.

It was hopeful.

Whoa.

I didn’t realize I’d been missing something hopeful until I had it. We’ve had way too much dark, way too many anti-hero characters, and way too many unhappy endings.

The show has its critics.  A lot of people seem to want it to be a comedy or a drama, so when it blends the two, they don’t know what it is.

But, even with only 13 episodes, it had some very thought provoking episodes, especially towards the end of the season.  Yet, they also stayed on lighter end with the humor, so thoughtful didn’t become dark.

And they treated the women characters as characters, not eye candy.  The women are dressed in the same uniforms as the men, fitted both both genders.  The women also have had some important roles, and even some story lines.  I particularly like the doctor, and at least she had normal kids–not the super-intelligent ones SF shows tend to have (Star Trek The Next Generation, SeaQuest DSV).

But I’m in withdrawal!  The show is not going to premiere until 2019.  It’s for a good reason–more time for the scripts, and also because of the special effects requirements.  Robert Picardo is coming back again (yay!), and they will be adding two new cast members.  Check out the news about the show over on TV Guide.

If you saw The Orville, what did you think of it?

The Evolution of Space Opera


When I was growing up, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea aired at 4:00 on KTLA, and then Star Trek followed it.  We also had Lost in Space. I also had this big yellow book of the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century comic strips.

All of these started with the pulp magazines in the 1930s, which introduced space opera.  They paved their way for the shows above.  But Star Trek did something different:

Another popular sci-fi show with a strong space opera flavor to emerge during the Swinging Decade sought to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Star Trek differed from the fare that came before as it coupled the action-orientated characteristics that were commonplace within the genre with philosophical, thought-provoking themes. For a brand of science fiction that was introduced to pop culture discourse as “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn spaceship yarn,” Star Trek proved that this type of accessible entertainment could contain substance as well as pure entertainment.

In “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” Westfahl notes that Star Trek was the first on-screen space opera to successfully combine the classic pulp adventure elements with “Ruritarian” themes. The Ruritarian space opera is distinguished by sophisticated characteristics which often entail romance sub-plots and solar systems governed by their own political establishments. In these stories, alien lifeforms tend to be three-dimensional and driven by their own personal motives — such as greed, thievery, etc.

There’s a lot of interesting history that starts with the pulp and how it goes not only into our reading of books, but also TV and movies.  We move so fast forward that we sometimes forget how things originated and what we can learn from it.

Read the rest at Film School Rejects: https://filmschoolrejects.com/adventure-awaits-brief-history-space-opera/#ixzz51Rioo5Ri

Adventures Around the Web Octber 21-26


This week, the colder temperatures marched in, and then bounced around.  Pretty typical for DC, but it’s hard when your sinuses are going, “I’m not happy”…

Lulu the dog flunked out of CIA bomb-sniffer school because she just didn’t care

Spy dog fails classes at CIA!  Lots of very cute dog pictures for Friday.  Labs have a gentleness about them that’s just fun to look at.  Link courtesy of Day Al-Mohamed.

Serialized television has become a disease

I’ve of mixed feelings about serialization.  Early on, I did think it gave shows a continuity they desperately needed.  On the show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, it was like the writers hit a reset button each time they wrote a new episode.  If aliens invaded the ship, it was treated as if it was the first time, even when it wasn’t.  Characters come into our lives and become something more, just like in books.  But serialization does not allow episodes to stand out.  What if the serialization for the year is poor?

Adding Tags in OneNote

This one’s a software tool I’ve been using for my research library.  I was on Evernote, but I switched over over because I don’t need extra software to confuse things.  I already had OneNote as part of the 365 subscription–why pay for a second program?  I know Scrivener had notes for projects, but I always thought research notes should be available for reuse. That’s a little hard if it’s done by project.  I also heard someone say that OneNote doesn’t have tagging.  I don’t use it myself, but the link explains to to tag.  And a photo of my research library …

A screenshot of my index pages showing headers for Ocean Liners and links underneath.

 

 

Twilight Zone Origins in War


Being a Science Fiction fan, I grew up on reruns of Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Twilight Zone, just to name a few.  Probably the most memorable Twilight Zone episode is the one with William Shatner and the monster on the wing.  I couldn’t help it; I put a nod to that in my last novel.

But one of things I really like is the behind the scenes of how shows were made.  The stories behind the creations.

Twilight Zone originated from Rod Serling’s war experiences and his way of dealing with it in the story:

While taking a picture with a friend during a lull at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific, an Air Force plane dropped a box of extra ammunition that landed on Serling’s friend and flattened him fatally. This event would give him inspiration in many of his scripts and stories.

I remember when I came back from Desert Storm.  It was such a big experience that really, I couldn’t put words to it.  I felt like I needed to bleed off some of the poison of it but my stories turned very dark.  The weird part was that I couldn’t see how dark they were … took someone else to point it out to me.

Though I still couldn’t see it.

About the same time, I did a review of Phil Clay’s Redeployment, a collection of short stories.  I’d committed to the review, opened up the first page, read the first line, and wasn’t sure I could do it.  I didn’t want to go back and say I couldn’t do it, so I skipped to the next story, which was less dark and read it in pieces.  I doubt if many people read the entire book because it was so dark.

But I could see the undercurrent of this anger running through the book–I doubt if the writer knows he has it, but he will eventually.  It was in mine, and I had to back away from it if I wanted to sell anything.

So I had to consciously shift away from dark stories, and even ideas that looked like they were going to veer dark.  I don’t have to think so much about it now, though every now and then it catches me off guard.

And I still write about my time in the military, but it’s very different.

A Dearth of Reboots


Every time I turn around, it seems like there’s another reboot of something.  Like MacGyver.  I remember the show when it first aired, and it was a fun action show with an unconventional hero.

The new version?  Meh.

It just isn’t the same.

Josh Whedon talks about reboot fatigue.

You bring something back, and even if it’s exactly as good as it was, the experience can’t be. You’ve already experienced it, and part of what was great was going through it for the first time.

I think there’s a lot of truth in that.  Movie, TV, and even books are affected by what’s going on in the culture and even the news.   Some of the ideas develop out of that, because that’s what the audience is wanting to see.  So a show rebooted after twenty years would be very different than the original, not to mention not having the original actors, which also influences the series.

I get why the studios are doing reboots.  They think that if the series was successful once, it will be successful a second time.  When I was Voyage to the Bottom of Sea fandom, I wanted the series to be revived because I wanted to see more stories.  That’s, in fact, why people write fan fiction stories.  But in hindsight, that show was very much a product of the 1960s, starting out with spies because James Bond was hot, and then when that died, they went to aliens and monsters.  If someone recreated it today, it would have the same name, but that’s probably all it would share.

Better still would be if they stole ideas from the past and used them, rather than reboot.  I’d be disappointed at a reboot of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  I’d watch a show that took the basic idea and went in a direction suitable for today.

Please, no more reboots.

 

Hollywood Military vs. Real Military


I was watching Star Trek The Next Generation the other day.   It was the pilot episode, part II.  Q (John Delancie) shows up and Picard yells “At ease!”

That’s a standard military order.

What he said next wasn’t: “That’s an order!”

I’ve heard this particular phrase from Hollywood military a lot.  Turned up on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea on a fairly regular basis, and seems to be in just about anything in the media with military.

Never heard an officer in the Army actually say that phrase.

I think this shows up in Hollywood is because a lot of people really don’t understand the rank structure or officers vs. enlisted.  We’re taught right from the first day at basic training about following the orders of the people in charge.

Because in a war, not following the orders can cause soldiers to get killed.  In the film A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise gets a Marine colonel on the stand and traps him into confessing because that movie did understand how orders worked (Tom Cruise was pretty far away from anything military in his characterization though).  Everyone kept trying to say the people involved hadn’t followed orders, but the colonel was adamant that everyone followed orders because lives would be in jeopardy if they didn’t.

The officers don’t need to tell the people under them what they say is an order.  We all know it is.

This is a 7 step illustration of what “at ease” looks like.

First woman to pin on the dolphins


Submarine on the surface, Mt. Rainer in the background
PUGET SOUND, Wash. (April 18, 2016) – The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730) transits the Hood Canal as it returns to home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a strategic deterrent patrol. Jackson is one of eight ballistic missile submarines stationed at the base providing the most survivable leg of the strategic deterrence triad for the United States. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray/Released)

 

We now have a woman submariner! The first woman has pinned on the dolphin qualification badge

When I was growing up, I loved reading and watching anything about submarines and undersea. I checked out submarine books from the library—Admiral Rickover’s book on the first nuclear submarine, and Robb White’s novels.  Even the movie tie in for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (which is quite different from the movie that aired). 

Submarines are just cool.  Nothing like seeing one burst up out of the water on an emergency blow.  Of course, I’ve only seen that on TV, but it’s still cool.

By the way, she’s enlisted, and a cook.

The End of the VCR


It’s been all over the news that the last manufacturer of the VCR is shutting the line down.  I remember when the VCR first came out.

At the time, Star Trek was running back to back with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as part of a Sci-Fi afternoon.  One day, the station pulled Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and in the fandom crowd, we found that it had pretty much disappeared.

We couldn’t rewatch favorite episodes or ones that we had never seen.  Many of us hadn’t seen the first season at all because it was in black and white, and some of the stations only showed the color three seasons.

Some of the fans were able to tape a handful of episodes, and these grainy, poor quality tapes made the rounds.  If we found a fan with another episode we didn’t have (there were 110, so lots of room for this), we were all eagerly for copies.

There were still some episodes I had never seen from the first season. 

Finally, after about 10 years, Columbia House came out with the series on video.  It was pretty expensive and subscription based, so you couldn’t buy anything to your budget.  Like grab a tape with episodes I hadn’t seen, and then pick up ones I had later, when I could afford it.

The show finally resurfaced on Sci-Fi, when it still focused on science fiction, and they showed all the episodes from the beginning to end.  And it was eventually released on DVD.

By then, I’d evolved so much as a writer that the flaws of the show really stood out.  I liked the actors, liked the special effects, but there were problems with the stories.  And the producer tended to do things because he though the audience would never notice, so I was rewinding to see if yes, the actor in the later scene had actually already been killed by a monster.

It’s still amazing though how much VCRs and the video tape changed how we watch TV and films.

Women on subs


I grew up watching reruns of Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,  with David Hedison.  I managed David’s website for about 10 years.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was set on board a futuristic submarine with these awesome front windows so you could see what was going on outside.  The first season started out with spies, which were hot everywhere, and then abruptly the trend died, so they went to science fiction and monsters with the change to color.

And the show lacked women.  The producer, Irwin Allen, thought women were too expensive because their make up took longer, so the show had so few women in the later years you could count them on one hand.  It was a shame, because the Seaview was set up as a private research submarine, and they could have easily added a woman or two to the cast.

But now real submarines are going to have women.  That is something I might have tried.  Aside from being in the wrong service, but still … submarines.

 

Required submarine reading:

Up Periscope, by Robb White

Some way awesome fan images of the Seaview.   Submarines!

New TV Season–Good, Bad, or Meh?


The new TV season is about to start in the next few weeks. I remember how I used to grab the next copy of the TV Guide when it arrived in the mail on Thursday and rush through to my favorite shows to see what the episode was about.

Now I don’t even subscribe to TV Guide.

And I find I watch fewer shows every year. Partially because the networks are so eager for instant hits (like book publishers) that they cancel a lot of them if they aren’t successful within 2-3 episodes. It’s not worth even getting interested if the show’s not going to survive.

The result has been that I usually discover a show once it’s been on the air for about 3 years, and sometimes when it’s about to get cancelled (Person of Interest).

Anyway, here’s some comments on a couple of shows:

Bones

This is one that I got the first season for and just about inhaled it. Loved the characters, loved the stories, and loved the combination of forensics and anthropology.

It’s also one that I stopped watching. I think it really lost something when they recast the boss of the Jeffersonian to Cam, and also when they had Zack go to a mental institution. I get why they probably had to have Zack leave the show in the long run. They’d gone about as far as they could with the character.

But they could have had him hired by someone, and then come back periodically. Instead, they crossed a line I’ve sometimes seen in series books where the author is pushing for the next big thing and changes the series in a very fundamental way.

The casting of Cam also changed the series, too, because it made the series entirely about crime. It might just be my personal preference, but the story was originally about scientists (“Squints”) and law enforcement clashing over how different they were, which was always a fun conflict. Sure, series do change, but this change took it away from the cool stuff of science and just made it forensics.

I stayed watching this one for a while, but I got to the point where everything now feels tired and old.

NCIS

This is the original one. I didn’t watch it originally because I thought it was going to be another JAG. TV is hugely imitative, especially when anything is successful. I started watching it the year after Tony’s undercover operation to get the drug dealer.

The characters really make the show. It’s even survived numerous cast changes, because they make the effort to develop a new character as a unique person. That’s pretty satisfying for the actors. Criminal Minds, on the other hand, has had problems keeping women because they obviously cast two of the roles as simply “the blond and the brunette,” and still think like that. The result is that the brunette character tends not to feel like a part of the series, but just a placeholder.

NCIS is either in Year 14 or 15, which is astounding that it’s managed to stay fresh. Series usually starting running out of stories about Year 7.

NCIS relies both on story arcs over the season, but also use solo episodes. One of the things I really like that isn’t always present in TV series is that the series refers back to old episodes. One of my early favorite series was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. But one of the big problems was that each episode hit a reset button. So when the aliens came to take over the ship, it always felt like they were treating it as the first time.

This is such a big thing in NCIS that if a guest star’s character is still alive, they may resurface at a later date. Even some of the dead ones have come back! It makes for a wonderful continuity, and keeps the show same and changes it, because those characters change.

Curiously, the network honchos can’t figure out why the show is so successful. Go figure.

What are you looking forward to this TV season?