Everything Old is New Again

Space 2049 April 2018 Update

There has been a lot of criticism leveled at the entertainment industry for their habit of “rebooting” or “re-imagining” existing television shows and movies.

Sometimes that criticism is deserved, and other times it’s not.  Sometimes it does make you wonder if Hollywood has run out of ideas, but at the same time there are some stories that deserve to be retold for a new generation to enjoy.

In science fiction, probably the two most notable examples of this are Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and J.J. Abrams’ rebooted original series Star Trek film.

I’m probably a little bit of an odd fan.  I don’t become instantly resistant to reboots or even remakes.  I approach either with cautious optimism.

My first exposure to this was the sort of reboot that was Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I was a very young teenager at the time, and remember being incredibly excited by the idea.  The four or five other friends I had who were Trekkers were not.  They thought it was a terrible idea, though almost instantly became Next Gen fans when the series finally hit Australian shores (as good old video cassettes we had to rent).

When it was announced Ronald D. Moore was going to re-imagine Battlestar Galactica I was a little more cautious than optimistic, because he was going to make some pretty significant changes, but there was excitement and I ended up loving it.  Both the BSG of my childhood and this more adult version could happily coexist and receive equal amounts of affection from me.

When news broke that J.J. Abrams was rebooting the original series Star Trek I was more optimistic and excited than cautious.  I admired his skill as a director and really liked some of the actors that were being announced.  Plus, thanks to the new BSG, I had learned the difference between a reboot and a re-imagining.

A reboot is a mostly faithful remake of an original property.  The characters and a lot of their backstories are intact, though parts of the overall story may differ.

A re-imagining is where the overall premise stays the same, and maybe even a number of the characters, but many things can and often do change.

Both Moore and Abrams delivered genre defining classics, approaching their material from different perspectives.  Battlestar Galactica became an almost instant hit.  There was initial fan backlash but that quickly faded, especially when BSG shining light Richard Hatch (Captain Apollo in the original), accepted a role on the new series. He told fans we could enjoy both and that both were shows worthy of admiration.  The 2009 Star Trek film was also an almost instant hit.  It has the highest US opening gross of any Trek film, and knocked the Dark Knight off it’s highest grossing IMAX perch by more than two million dollars.

The 2009 version of Star Trek has some issues (hello transwarp beaming and the destruction of Vulcan and death of Amanda), but highlighted the best of each main character while delivering a wonderful story.

Galactica’s story of survival against overwhelming odds, and Star Trek‘s story of a better and brighter future for humanity are stories that deserve to be retold so that new generations can appreciate them, learn from them and be inspired by them.

That’s when a reboot or a re-imagining works.

And, now, another beloved series has been given new life because it has a story of family, ingenuity and overcoming extreme odds as a team that is worth telling to a new audience, and that series is Lost in Space.

Rescuing Doctor Smith

Unless you’ve been holidaying on an island without an internet connection for the last six-months, you know that the reboot aired in April of this year and was very well received.  So much so it has earned a second season.

As should be expected (unfortunately) there were plenty of professional critics who found fault with the show, but no one listened to them because we’ve learned their opinions are just that… their opinions, and they are rarely worth the time taken to deliver them.  The rest of us loved the show.  The series has a 95% approval rating on Google from every day viewers like you and me, a 68% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and IGN gave it an 8.5 out of 10.

The series is based on the original 1965 slightly campy television show starring Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Jonathan Harris, Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright, Bill Mummy, Rick Turfeld and Bob May (both as the robot), and the reboot is a relatively faithful recreation of the fan favourite.  The new robot even manages a “Danger, Will Robinson.  Danger” or two.

The Robot and Will

While being a pretty faithful reboot, there are some differences.

The biggest changes are a Battlestar Galactica worthy gender swap, with Doctor Smith now a female and played by one of my favourite actresses, Parker Posey (seriously, if you haven’t seen her over the top performance in Josie and the Pussycats – the movie, you are missing out), and the robot who is now an alien mechanism that initially menaces everyone before befriending Will.  Then there’s Don West, who is now an interstellar mechanic rather than a military man.

If you’re a fan of Lost in Space those changes might irk you, because, let’s face it, Jonathan Harris in his iconic role as Doctor Smith became the star of the series, but I do encourage you to give this new version a go.  This isn’t the first reboot we’ve experienced, but it is the best and you should check it out with a little more optimism than caution.

For anyone who isn’t a long time fan, here’s a very brief LiS history: there have been two previous attempts to reboot Lost in Space, one as a film series and another as a television series.

In 1998 there was a film reboot that had great potential but was sunk by a bad script and some overly ambitious special effects.  Starring Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jared Harris and Jack Johnson, Lost in Space the movie had no shortage of talent but it’s story was average and largely disappointing.

The film reboot featured cameos by original series cast members June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Angela Cartwright, and would have featured cameos by Jonathan Harris and Billy Mummy but both declined because the roles weren’t suitable.

Then, in 2004, The Robinsons: Lost in Space tried to recapture the original’s magic with a very serious pilot that is actually not bad.  Starring Jayne Brook, Brad Johnson, Mike Erwin, Adrianne Palicki, Ryan Malgarini, Dick Tufeld and Gil McKinney as new character David Robinson.

This particular reboot was sort of faithful to the original, but chose not to include Doctor Smith, and made John Robinson a retiring war hero who helped save Earth from an alien invasion.  The robot was there, and was the worst thing about the show, and for some reason Penny was a baby and they had a second son, but everything else was pretty spot on.

The unsuccessful pilot had a little too much teen angst and it’s pacing was off despite having been directed by John Woo, but it put a smart framework in place around the whole idea of the Jupiter 2, making it part of a colonisation effort.  It always seemed a bit weird to me that the original Jupiter 2 and the movie Jupiter 2 were crewed by just one family, off on an interstellar voyage alone – the original series family to colonise space, the movie family to build a jump gate so people could go off exploring.

Though the pilot failed to go to series, elements of it seem to have made it into this new version.

The new Jupiter 2 is part of a massive colonisation effort and is housed with many other Jupiters about the colonisation vessel Resolute. That mothership is knocked off her flight path by an alien attack, forcing the families and their Jupiters to launch prematurely and they all end up stranded on a mysterious planet.

Jupiter 2 2

This latest version boasts incredible special effects, a really wonderful cast, a solid story and a story arc that is both engaging and smart.

Having said that, it’s not a perfect show.

It feels like the writers don’t quite know what to do with the new Doctor Smith.  As much as we all loved Jonathan Harris’s over the top, magnificent scene stealing portrayal, that approach wouldn’t have worked with a modern audience.  So they took the humour away from Doctor Smith and made her a little more menacing, and most definitely mentally unbalanced. It’s a good choice, but the character still feels rough around the edges despite Parker Posey’s strong performance.

Likewise, it feels like they’re still trying to sort out Don West, played by Ignacio Serricchio.  His character is probably the least developed.

The Robinson family, however, are – to me – pitch perfect.  The characters are beautifully realised and their relationships are very convincing.  The stand outs are definitely Mina Sundwall as Penny and Maxwell Jenkins as Will.

The rest of the cast is made up of Molly Parker as Maureen Robinson, Toby Stephens as John Robinson, and Taylor Russell as Judy Robinson.

In this iteration of Lost in Space, Maureen is the Mission Commander.  She’s an aerospace engineer who is taking her family to a pre-established colony on Alpha Centauri where she hopes they can build a new life after a disastrous impact event left the Earth largely devastated.

Maureen is the biological mother of Judy, Penny and Will.

John Robinson is a former US Marine.  His marriage to Maureen has been a little rocky, thanks in large part to the numerous secret missions he was often on, keeping him away from his family.

John is the adoptive father of Judy and the biological father of Penny and Will.

Judy is a bit of a prodigy.  At 18 years of age she is the medical doctor for the mission (multiple colonists travelling to Alpha Centauri, not just the Robinson family).

Penny is, as with the original, the middle child.  She’s artsy, dreams of publishing the first book written on another planet, and is the most outspoken of the Robinson children.  Where Judy tows the line, Penny looks for ways to bend and twist that line.  Or abandon it completely.

Will is really the character who we, as the audience, experience this adventure through.  He befriends the robot, and through his influence changes the mechanoid from what appears to be a killing machine, into a helpful, human-friendly companion.

As mentioned above, Don West is one of the mechanics on the Resolute, the colony ship carrying the Jupiters to Alpha Centauri.  He’s a bit mercenary, but has real heart which we slowly get to see throughout the first ten episodes of season one.

Doctor Smith isn’t Doctor Smith.  She’s actually June Harris, a criminal and potential psychopath who drugs her sister, assumes her identity, and lies her way onto the Resolute.  In the attack that strands multiple Jupiters on an alien world, she impersonates Doctor Zachary Smith who is wounded by the robot (and played by Bill Mummy from the original series).  She leaves him to die and spends most of the first season lying to and manipulating everyone.

Jupiter 2 1

The Jupiter 2 probably isn’t as much of a ‘character’ yet as it was in the original, but it does play a large part in every episode of the show.  It’s a relatively faithful reproduction and amalgam of all of the Jupiter 2’s that have come before it.

As with the original series, the show is very much about family.  This version of the Robinson’s is a little more dysfunctional than any of the others we’ve ever seen, which is a good thing because it creates drama without resorting to overly annoying angst. How does this version of the Robinsons differ? Maureen and John are separated, Judy is Maureen’s only child from another marriage, and Will is a very anxious and slightly lost but still, eventually, heroic little boy. In previous versions he was a lot more confident and driven. In this version we see him earn his confidence and strength and it’s beautiful, because it’s incomplete and we know, like us, he still has a long way to go.

The show is compelling and full of heart and worth your time.  It’s visually beautiful, wonderfully acted and well written.  The direction and cinematography are outstanding and like watching a feature film, and every set and prop drips realism and functionality.  You believe you’re on board the Jupiter 2, and believe a vessel like it would have been made by human hands and launched into space to serve as home for a family as it joins a colonisation effort.

What the show proves is that the old can become new again, and that there really are some stories that deserve to be retold over and over again because they’re important, and because they’re relevant. Every generation deserves its own Lost in Space, it’s own Star Trek, and even its own Star Wars because those stories will never not be morality tales that can inspire and positively affect us. Humanity is a work in progress, and these stories are our touchstones and are the signposts that help us aspire and dream and grow.

Since watching the new Lost in Space series, I’ve spoken with friends and family about it.  All of them have universally enjoyed the show, with many saying that one of the things they loved most was the fact they could watch it with their children.  That doesn’t mean that the show is childish in any way.  It’s not.  It’s intense, breathtaking and exciting, but not in a way that alienates children, though in a way that could make them snuggle down in mum or dad’s arms during the tense moments!

Every time I see a remake done this well, it gives me hope.

There are ways to bring back beloved shows with powerful messages that will work in the 21st Century, with just a few simple tweaks.

As always, I maintain hope that we’ll see a reboot of Space: 1999.

Until then, enjoy this wonderful blast from the past.  Season 2 of Lost in Space will air in the first half of 2019 on Netflix.

Lost in Space was developed by Matt Sazama, based on the work of Irwin Allen.  It’s score is by Christopher Lennertz, featuring snipits of John Williams’ iconic original theme. The cinematographer is Sam McCurdy.

The show is produced by Zack Estrin, Kevin Burns, Jon Jashni, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Neil Marshall and Marc Helwig.

It was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Each episode runs from between 47 minutes and 65 minutes.

For more information on the original series, visit the LiS Wiki.

For more information on the Netflix series, visit the official Lost in Space page.

To watch the unsuccessful 2004 pilot for The Robinsons: Lost in Space, visit YouTube.  The resolution is terrible, the special effects are unfinished, and it’s broken up into ten or so minute chunks, but you’ll find it engaging if you’re a fan.

Here’s hoping the rights holders for our favourite 1970s sci-fi series get the message and consider a reboot of a fan favourite show that still has an important and relevant story to tell.

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Moon Dust Key to Lunar Construction

Earth and Lunar

Mars is more often than not in the news these days as the primary focus for future human settlement, having surpassed the moon as everyone’s number one go to in the popular consciousness.

Though the moon might no longer be foremost in everyone’s mind when it comes to space colonisation, it’s still front and centre for a number of space agencies.

NASA, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, the Indian Space Research Agency and the Chinese National Space Administration are all progressing plans to build everything from an International Lunar Village to an operational moon base on our satellite.

One of the challenges that has confronted these various space agencies as they seek to put a permanent settlement on the moon, has been how do they build the various structures without bankrupting their respective countries?

Taking materials from Earth and launching them to the moon is time consuming and incredibly expensive.  Multiple launches would be needed to build anything big enough to house a research facility or even a mining operation, with each of those launches costing millions of dollars.

Now, however, European researchers are wondering if they can use moon dust to build an International Lunar Village.

The entire surface of the moon is covered in regolith (moon dust), which is fairly fine particles of silicate.  The regolith covers everything on the surface of the moon to a depth of between four to five meters, going as deep as 15 meters in the Lunar highlands.

European scientists suggest the dust could be used to create bricks using a 3D Printer.  These bricks would build roads, launch pads, habitats and other necessary facilities.

Artistis Impression of Future Lunar Base

Tests are currently planned to see how the regolith will withstand radiation once it is compressed and used as a building material.

The big thing is that Lunar dust is electrostatic because it is constantly bombarded by solar and cosmic radiation.  It’s electrostatic nature is what causes it to cling to everything it touches.  This could pose a problem and may prevent it from being a common building material, but we’ll know more soon.

The tests won’t actually be done using real moon dust, but an Earth substance that is comparable – volcanic soil.  The geology of Earth and Lunar is very similar, and scientists have discovered that remnants of a 45-million-year lava flow near Cologne in Germany closely mirrors moon dust.  Using that volcanic dust should give them an accurate idea of whether or not the moon dust will be a viable material.

The tests will not only determine functionality under radioactive extremes, but the actual longevity of any structure built using the material.

3D Printed Model of Habitat

So, what about this lunar village?

The image above of a bisected habitat module was created by architectural design and engineering firm Foster+Partners for the European Space Agency.  The proposed building looks appropriately futuristic, and a little Space: 1999.  Which I love!

The ESA plans to build the village in the southern polar region, where a good deposit of ice water has been discovered.

In a joint effort between the ESA and Roscosmos, the ESA will be sending their PROSPECT (Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation) mission to the moon in 2020 aboard a Russian Luna-27 mission.

This will be the first of a series of planned ESA missions to the moon, that will, the ESA hopes, deposit robot workers to help kick start their colonisation efforts.

This is all exciting news.  I do wish NASA were more involved, but perhaps that will happen as the missions draw closer to launch, or perhaps NASA has their own plans that they just aren’t ready to share with us.

To learn more about these exciting initiatives, visit Phys.org, Space.com, and Syfy.com.

I love it when we take one step closer to life off our planet.  Let’s face facts and be proactive, Earth is stretched beyond it’s capacity to safely support human life and we need to be reaching for the stars if we hope to have any kind of future.

We’ll keep you up to date on this initiative as more information is released to the public.

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In Loving Memory

In Loving Memory Banner

As fans of Space: 1999 we knew him as the indomitable Commander John Koenig.  To others, he was Rollin Hand in Mission: Impossible, Bob Ryan in Entourage, Major General Adlon in Meteor, Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, Alvin Kurtzweil in The X-Files, and Leonard in North by Northwest, among many other roles.

To his peers in Hollywood he was an incredibly versatile actor, chameleon-like in his ability to “slip into the skin” of a character.

To Barbara Bain he was a large and important part of her life, having been a loving husband and her acting and producing partner for many years, and of course, to his daughters, Susan Landau-Finch and Juliet Landau, he was an inspiring and devoted father.

A couple of days ago, on the 15th of July, Martin left this world, leaving behind an enviable acting, producing and teaching legacy that will be long remembered.

Martin was 89 at the time of his death, and passed away from “unexpected complications” while hospitalised at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre in Los Angeles.

Martin Landau

Space 2049 sends it’s deepest condolences to Barbara, Susan, Juliet and every single one of Martin’s family and friends, and we also extend those condolences to his many fans.

For me, Martin will always be John Koenig, and it saddens me that he won’t get the chance to guest star in some future version of the show helping a new Commander Koenig to battle some impossible situation.

If you’d like to learn more about this incredible actor, producer and acting coach, you can visit his Wikipedia page here, his IMDb page here, and his biography.com page here.

Hopefully one day Space: 1999 will get the reboot it deserves, and through it’s re-emergence into popular culture, thousands of new science fiction fans will revisit the original series and, through that, explore Martin’s remarkable body of work.

Rest in peace, Martin.  You will be missed.  Thank you for Commander John Koenig.

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A New Space Age

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Space, and our place in it, is a big topic of discussion right now.

We have private companies vying for a place beyond our atmosphere, alongside governments attempting to position themselves for the future as our world continues to struggle with mounting population, resource and climate issues.

We even, apparently, have the United States’ Congress contemplating a ‘space army’… because… um… the Covenant are coming?  Could be the Cylons.  We’d probably want to stop the Cylons.  Probably the Covenant too.  But I digress.

Space is a hot topic and it’s only going to get hotter.

In previous articles, we’ve reported on the body whose job it is to encourage the nations of the world to cooperate on all things “outer space” – the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.  It’s also this body’s job to keep a register of all objects launched into orbit.  And there are a lot.

All of that is a hefty responsibility, particularly for what is, essentially, a very small group of people operating from what is, nowadays, outdated legislation.

Governing all things Outer Space for Earth is the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.’  Yes.  That’s something of a mouthful!

The Treaty, in brief, provides a basic framework on international space law, and includes the following:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by government or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects, and;
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Obviously, they need to update the language to say “humanity”, instead of “mankind”, but they also need to review the whole thing because unless I’m mistaken we’ve launched quite a few harmful objects into orbit that threaten the safety of any mission that carries humans into space, as well as the lives of every astronaut on the International Space Station (and if a satellite goes rogue and smashes into the ISS, I don’t know if any nation could afford to repair it), plus, things fall to Earth and if they survive re-entry, some of those things are very radioactive.

I’m also pretty sure some businesses, and perhaps even governments, want to lay claim to certain celestial bodies for mining rights.

The International Space Station

The Treaty was signed in January 1967, by the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.  Over time, others have become signatories or ‘party’ to the Treaty, though not all nations on Earth have bothered – mostly because they don’t have space programs.

The Treaty has been amended over the years, but could still do with a rework as we face that once final frontier, right now.

Treaty Declaration - UN

50 years ago, when the Treaty came into being, years before most of us were born, all of this was the stuff of science fiction.  Now it is science fact.

Elon Musk intends to die on Mars, Australian Scientists have just worked out a way to make astronauts safer in space (thank you Australian National University) thanks to a new nano-material they’ve created that can reflect light on demand and has a temperature control, and can, it is believed, be developed further to protect our brave space pioneers from harmful interstellar radiation.

As each year passes, we grow closer and closer to making those things that inspired my generation – and possibly yours – a reality: China and Europe are exploring the idea of building a human outpost on the moon (hello Space: 1999), multiple agencies and governments and businesses are gearing up to travel to Mars (hopefully not is any sort of a disastrous way – we’re looking at you, Mission to Mars and Red Planet), and multiple space-mining companies are springing up (Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, and Kepler Energy and Space Engineering bringing with them visions of The Expanse and the dynamics that exist between Earth, Luna, Mars and the asteroid belts in our solar system) looking at ways to help Earth and humanity.

What’s going to happen as industry and government vie for control of the incredible resources that exist beyond the atmosphere of our small but beautiful blue-green planet?

What happens if greed overrides the common good?

News.com.au and other outlets around the world, recently reported that one particular asteroid’s precious metal deposits could crash the world’s economy.

How long will idealism stand against the level of wealth available to us beyond Earth?

The ideal would be that we could all come together, like Space: 1999 and Star Trek propose, but the reality of human nature is that greed is here and it’s been around for a long time, and, sadly, a lot of people are motivated by that.  As a result, we’ve justified wars for resources on this world for centuries and chances are we will find ways to justify wars for resources off world too.  Is it possible our next big conflict won’t be a World War, but a resource war fought over the Asteroid Belt or the Kuiper Belt?

One thing is certain, we as a species are finally heading into space.  We got there, at least as far as our moon, then sort of retreated, built an international space station, and dreamed while waiting for someone with courage to propel us forward again.  Now it looks like we’re finally returning to space and planning to go further than we’ve ever gone before.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do it in a way that is measured and sensible, and that benefits all of humanity and not just the rich, and hopefully the United Nations will help us do that and do it with wisdom.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive, and an incredibly frightening one as well.  Some of our greatest minds don’t believe we, as a species, can survive on Earth much longer because of our growing population and disappearing resources, and as a result have to go out into space.  They’re probably right.

The decisions we make right now, the precedents we set, and the way we go about establishing this foundation of exploration, is so vitally important.

What can you do about it?

Get involved.  Whether through aspiring to be one of those space pioneers one day, or by holding your elected representatives accountable, you can, in some small way, have a say on whether or not our future as a species takes these next steps wisely, or selfishly.

We’ve kind of screwed up Mother Earth.  It would be nice if we at least learned from the mistakes we’ve made.

As much as I love some of the almost dystopic science fiction out there, I don’t want our future generations living any of those possible realities.

Do you?

As all of this starts to ‘nut’ itself out, we’ll report on it here. The future is being built right now, and hopefully it will be built on strong and lasting foundations.

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Where No Shadows Fall

Vir Cotto Babylon 5 Header

Any visitor to this site knows that I’m a massive Babylon 5 fan.

I love the show.

Love it.

As sacrilegious as it is to some science fiction fans, Babylon 5 shares equal place for me with Star Trek, Space: 1999 and Star Wars, three shows that defined my childhood.  Each hold equal first place for different reasons, and each is special in its own wonderfully unique way.

But… one way in which Babylon 5 is head and shoulders above most, if not all other science fiction shows (even Star Trek and Space: 1999), is in its story and the way that story was executed.

Yes, Sheridan really pissed me off toward the end of the series and I’ll never forgive the character for the way he treated Lyta, yes the conclusion to the Shadow War was a little rushed but that was the studio’s fault and no one elses, and yes Season 5 had a really average first half, but over all that show kicked ass.

The incredible story J. Michael Straczynski wrote would not have transferred to the screen though, without the excellent performances of its main cast.  The characters he created were brought to life, beautifully, by a collection of exceptional actors.

One of those actors was Stephen Furst, who, sadly, passed away on Saturday.

Stephen played Vir Cotto, the efficient, long-suffering aid to Ambassador Londo Mollari.  He was Londo’s conscience, his foil at times, and his friend when that character most needed one.

Stephen played the role with humour, sensitivity and passion, making a character that could have been one-dimensional an integral part of that series.

Stephen first came to the notice of audiences in 1978, in the movie Animal House.  From there, he appeared in multiple roles in television and film, and eventually moved into directing and producing.

To some, he was Flounder from Animal House or Doctor Elliot Axelrod from St. Elsewhere, to many he was Vir from Babylon 5, but to others he was an activist and spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association.

It was that disease that took Stephen’s life, as it took his father’s life in 1972.  Stephen died from complications related to diabetes at his home in California at the age of 63.

He will missed.

Vir Cotto 3

J. Michael Straczynski, when he heard the news, made the following posts to his Twitter account:

First, in response to a notification from another Twitter user, Jeremiah Holt:

“Goddamnit… a really decent, great, kind guy.”

Then:

“On behalf of everyone who worked on Babylon 5, Stephen Furst will be missed profoundly and everlastingly.”

In another post:

“Lost Babylon 5 Main cast: Michael O’Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conway, Jerry Doyle, Richard Biggs, now Stephen Furst, all too soon.”

JMS Post RE Stephen Furst

Space: 2049 extends its deepest condolences to Stephen’s family and, alongside them, his colleagues and his fans, we grieve his loss.  Deeply.

It is our sincere hope he is sleeping in starlight, in a place where no shadows fall.

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SciFi Standard Bearers

SciFi Standard Bearers

Televised science fiction has been enjoying something of a resurgence these last few years, with some people wondering if we’re entering into a kind of ‘Golden Age’ of scifi.

Maybe!

People my age, who were born in the 1970s and 1980s, once thought that the latter half of the 1980s and the entirety of the 1990s was that Golden Age, because of the number of science fiction shows on free-to-air TV at the time.  Shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs, Quantum LeapThe X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond, Farscape, Babylon 5 and it’s spin-off Crusade, Stargate SG-1Earth: Final Conflict, SlidersSeaQuest DSV, and more.

Honestly, it was pretty amazing.  Even in Australia, where we still don’t get a lot of scifi content on free-to-air and have to wait for those shows to arrive on DVD (or at that time, video cassette), we could still catch two or three shows a week – The X-FilesFarscapeSeaQuest DSVBuffy the Vampire Slayer and Space: Above and Beyond.  All while waiting for the latest Star Trek or Babylon 5 episode to arrive on video.

With that amount of content, you’d expect some duds, but most of the science fiction and, what eventually came to be known as ‘genre shows’ (thanks to Buffy) were pretty good.

Then it all stopped.  We had the odd ‘sputter’ with the amazing Battlestar Galactica reboot, and we had CharmedAngelV, and the Stargate spin-offs for a while, but suddenly genre series seemed to all but disappear from our screens.  Until recently.

Now, over the last few years, all sorts of incredible, not easily definable television shows have captivated science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as mainstream audiences alike – The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Vikings, the revamped Doctor Who, Westworld, Ash vs The Evil Dead, Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, The Strain, Legion, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, Agents of SHIELD, The Exorcist, The Expanse, Dark Matter, Killjoys and soon, the brand new Star Trek: Discovery.

There are so many ‘genre’ shows airing right now that it’s actually difficult to keep track of them!  But, how many are traditional science fiction?  Scifi set in space, on a starship, zooming about all over the place?

Very few, actually.

I don’t think anyone really knows why.  At one point it might have been an issue of cost, because science fiction shows have never been cheap, but with Game of Thrones costing a whopping six million dollars per episode, that’s probably not a consideration any more.

It might be because, as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair from Babylon 5 would say, “Nothing is the same anymore.”  We’re not watching television in the same ways as we used to.  We’re streaming shows and we’re watching them on multiple platforms.  Also, we’re getting, on average, half as many episodes per season as we once used to.

People are time poor in the 21st Century, and on top of that the old studio system doesn’t hold as much sway as it once did.  Plus, many of us are paying for our content and because of that we’re expecting something special.  We want ‘event’ television, but event television that tells an intimate tale.

Science fiction is definitely event television, but it hasn’t always done the intimate bit very well.

Thankfully, that is changing and we’re starting to see more traditional scifi again.

Right now, there are three standard bearers for science fiction television.

The Expanse, Killjoys, and Dark Matter.

All three take place on a larger canvas, telling bigger stories, but focus episode to episode on the lives of a few characters, taking us deep into their worlds.

With The Expanse, we’re following a crew of four, learning about them and their relationships episode to episode.

With Killjoys, we’re following a crew of three people, unravelling the mystery of their lives.

With Dark Matter we’re following what was a crew of six (but that fluctuated in Season 2) as they try to remember who they are – and on discovering that, try to fight against who they were and become better people.

In just two seasons, for each of these shows, we have learned more about their main characters than we did most of the characters on any of the old Star Trek shows.

These new series are showing the way for modern science fiction, and it’s exciting.

I haven’t seen The Expanse yet, because it hasn’t aired on television or been made available to us on DVD or BluRay, for reasons that are just stupid, but I am a fan of the books and follow all of the news on the show and it looks amazing.

Killjoys and Dark Matter, however, I can comment on, and both are outstanding.

Killjoys took me four episodes to get into, but by episode five of Season One I was hooked and I’ve been in love with the show ever since.  What hooked me?  The characters.  Dutch, Johnny and D’avin.

Dark Matter grabbed me straight away and has kept me wanting more season to season.  What grabbed me?  In particular Two (Portia), Three (Marcus), Five (Emily), Six (Kal) and the Android.

All of the other stuff in both shows is just icing on the cake.

As well as the intimate story lines mentioned above, those shows have something else in common – they have strong female leads, they don’t shy away from issues of sexuality and gender, and they show us a multicultural future where light and dark dance around the edges of what are very ‘grey’ realities.  I love Star Trek‘s utopia like future, but I get that today’s audiences want some sort of discourse on just how screwed up we all are.  They want to it see it reflected and mirrored on television, and they want to see our heroes fighting, and at times submitting, to that.

Rather than break these shows down in any detail, I encourage you to watch them if you haven’t – and to continue to support them if you already enjoy them.

If you want to know more about these three excellent series, you can visit their official websites here: The Expanse, Killjoys, and Dark Matter.

As someone who hopes to see an old favourite, Space: 1999, rebooted, there are lessons that can be learned from these new shows about how to structure a series and most especially about what a modern audience wants.  Intimacy.  Inclusion.  An exploration of modern issues.

Space: 1999 was already doing some of that back in the 1970s, with a very multicultural crew on Moonbase Alpha, and any reboot of it would no doubt be able to tackle that and other things that are important to us now, and in very creative and intimate ways.  I can imagine a transgender crew member, and with a character like Maya an episode or two or five focused on inclusion and the occasional bigotry that can come with not understanding something or someone.

More and more, as I dissect both of these more traditional science fiction shows and compare them with other genre offerings, I see a place for Space: 1999 in modern television (obviously with a few changes), and get more and more excited about the possibility.

Moonbase Alpha was a microcosm of Earth, and it’s philosophical ‘bent’ was all about us (in the 1970s) asking “who am I?”  “Why am I here?”  Where am I going?”  Things many of these genre series are debating right now in their own unique and dramatic ways.

I hope that this renaissance of science fiction that we are enjoying right now continues for some time, and I hope that a new Space: 1999 becomes a part of that.

I first wanted the show to get a reboot in the 80s.  Then again in the early 2000s.  But now, looking at the world as it is, and looking at what genre television has become, I feel NOW is the time.  It would have been too soon a couple of decades ago.

As far as I know, ITV still own the rights to the television series.

Hopefully they realise the potential of Space: 1999, and give it the new life it deserves.

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The Unexpected Joy of Podcasts

Science Fiction Classics

Have you ever been SUPER late to “the party?”

I have been.  On two occasions.

I still can’t believe I was so moronic.

The first was with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  All of my friends were constantly talking up this apparently amazing TV show about a beautiful blonde cheerleader who kicked vampire ass on a regular basis.  I thought they were mad.  How could a show about a vampire killing cheerleader be quality TV?!  And when I learned she was in love with a vampire on top of all of that, all I could think was “no, no, no, no, NO!”

Holy crap was I wrong.  I came to Buffy half way through it’s second season and never looked back.

The second time I was late to the party was with Podcasts.

I didn’t want to listen to people rabbit on about the things I loved, in case it somehow ruined that thing for me.

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and I’ll watch a bad sci-fi movie or TV episode over pretty much everything else, but the thought of listening to other fans dissect the movies and shows I loved gave me a headache.  I felt that way thanks to the comments sections on various sci-fi news sites.  There was a time, years ago, when you could read some really insightful stuff in those sections.  Comments that validated how you felt, and comments that challenged you to rethink your opinion… and then they became a haven for negative people spouting negative crap that would often cause a ‘flame’ war.

I feared Podcasting would give those negative voices even more of a platform.

Again, I was wrong.  Sometimes you come across the odd negative naysayer and the odd obnoxious panel member, but they seem to be an exception to the norm.

In the last few weeks I’ve become addicted to a whole bunch of Podcasts and I’m really enjoying the experience.

I have a long drive to and from work everyday and I can spend up to three hours in my car depending on traffic.  While I’m happy to listen to music, and sometimes just get lost in my own thoughts, I recently decided to try out Podcasts and have not looked back.  For me, it’s like having a car full of good friends chatting to me about my favourite things.

There are courses you can do via Podcast, there are meditations, there are discussion panels about your favourite movies, and in particular discussion panels on your favourite shows.

I thought I’d share one particular Podcast I recently listened to and loved, and list two ongoing ones that are excellent.  If you’re a sci-fi fan who has never given Podcasts a shot, these ones are some you may want to check out.

Eagle on Platform

First up, the single episode I listened to recently.

Autopilot by Scott Johnson and Tom Merritt.  This dynamic duo watch and comment on the pilot episodes of multiple television shows across the decades and its chock full of awesome.

These guys are HILARIOUS, and many of their insights are both thought provoking and entertaining.

In season three, episode nine of their series, they take a look at “Breakaway”, the pilot episode of Space: 1999.

Check it out here.

Babylon 5 Season 1 Cast Photo

The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 has fast become one of my favourite Podcasts.  Sitting down with Chip, Erika and Shannon is like being wrapped up in a warm B5 and sci-fi geek hug that always makes me smile.  That hour and a bit of my trip into work everyday flies by when these guys are on my list.

I crammed three years’ worth of their Podcasts into four weeks and never once felt bored.  They’re excellent.

If you’re a fan of Babylon 5, this series is a must.

Check the guys out here.

There are multiple ways to interact with Chip, Shannon and Erika, and they’ve created a very active fan community.

Star Trek Through The Years

The last Podcast I’ll mention is Shuttle Pod.

There are, obviously, thousands more, but these three really stood out to me.  Excellent production values, insightful commentary, interesting personalities, humour, and warm ‘feels’ everywhere.

Shuttle Pod is a production of one of my favourite Star Trek news sites, TrekMovie.com.  They discuss everything from the movies, to the shows, and the characters.  Their recent look at the Trek films has been both entertaining and informative.

Check them out here.

If you’ve never given Podcasts a go, now is the time.  Most of us will have a few days off over Easter, and there are worse ways to spend a holiday.

If you’re an old hand at Podcasts and love science fiction, but have never given these Podcasts a try, look them up and have a listen.

I’m thinking of doing a tour through the Space: 1999 episodes as a Podcast, but I’m literally the only Space: 1999 fan that I know!

If I can ever conscript someone to join me, or find a really interesting way to do it solo, they’ll feature here.

That’s it for now.

If you’re an Easter celebrating person, Happy Easter, and eat chocolate and prosper.

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