For Sci-Fi Saturday I have to post about Farscape, a science fiction TV series from 1999-2003 that (on the advice of a friend) I just started watching. I’m only up to episode 18 of season one, but I’m enjoying the series so much I thought I’d post about it. There are four seasons comprising 88 episodes (22 per season), so my opinion could change, but so far, I’m totally loving it.
I also want to mention the third Ben Bova book I’ve read recently. Bottom line, I really enjoyed it. Definitely the best of the three. It restored my faith in Bova.
Lastly, this morning I had, what even for me was, a particularly weird dream experience. Our subconscious minds are quite surprising and just plain bizarre sometimes!
Farscape is an Australian-American collaboration that is most notable for its association with The Jim Henson Company, which provided not just alien make-up and prosthetics, but animatronic puppets, two of which are major characters in the series.
Those of us who grew up with Star Trek remember how the aliens were humans with bits stuck on their faces. The Next Generation series even featured an episode that suggested the galaxy was seeded by some ancestor race, so many races shared a baseline DNA. (The Alien franchise came to suggest something similar.)
While Farscape has many humanoid races, some even entirely human (but known as Sebaceans), it also (through the use of puppetry) features some that are utterly alien. Part of the show’s charm comes from how engaging those two major characters are.
With only 18 episodes so far, I’m just a hair past seeing 20% of the series, but right now I give it a provisional Wow! rating. It reminds me a lot of the original Star Trek as well as Babylon 5 and classic Doctor Who. The special effects aren’t impressive, but the production absolutely reeks of the love and joy of the stories. For all its cheesy goodness, I’ve found it absolutely riveting.
The basic premise involves a diverse group of aliens who have escaped from, and are on the run from, the Peacekeepers, a corrupt fascist military organization (think “the peace of the grave”). The initial group consists of Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey), a Delvian former priestess (blue-skinned, bald, empathic); Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a Luxan warrior (think Klingon, but with a lot more prosthetics); and Dominar Rygel XVI, a former Hynerian ruler betrayed by his cousin. Rygel, only two feet tall, is one of the Muppets. I mean puppets.
They have escaped on (and with) a huge spacecraft that is living being, a Leviathan named Moya. Fully integrated with Moya is her pilot, a multi-limbed being known simply as Pilot (the other major animatronic puppet). Six people operate it — the same six also operate Rygel. Moya is peace-loving and carries no weapons. She was originally captured by Leviathan hunters and sold to the Peacekeepers for use as a prison transport.
In the first episode, they are joined by John Crichton (Ben Browder), an astronaut from present day Earth who gets sucked into a wormhole during a test flight. The wormhole deposits him far across the galaxy — in the midst of the escape. In the confusion his ship collides with a one-man Peacekeeper ship resulting in the death of its occupant.
Which unfortunately turns out to be the brother of Bialar Crais (Lani Tupu), a Peacekeeper captain chasing the escaped prisoners. Crais swears vengeance on Crichton, who was picked up by Moya and the escaping prisoners. Crais will not rest, to the point of defying orders, until he recaptures the prisoners and kills Crichton.
Also joining the crew in the first episode is Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), trained as a Peacekeeper soldier from birth. She makes the mistake of supporting Crichton’s story about the accident and is stripped of rank and marked for death. She is a Sebacean, the fully human-appearing race (from which all Peacekeepers are selected).
The series has a general arc, as well as some shorter arcs, but tends to be fairly episodic without too much reference to episodes past (other than elements of the ongoing arcs). For instance, the series has no need of the “previously on Farscape” recap.
It reminds me of Star Trek in the chunkiness of its props, controls, and displays — a consequence of low budget. Control panels, especially, are almost humorous in consisting of random lights and toggle switches. Moya’s controls are especially vague. It also reminds me of Star Trek in some pretty iffy science and how I wished they had better science advisors (me! me! please, me!). They could also have used a military and weapons advisor. Claudia Black commits to her role but doesn’t seem much like a trained-from-birth soldier (don’t get me wrong, I’m totally crushing on the character).
It reminds me of classic Doctor Who in its practical effects, especially the DRDs (Diagnostic Repair Drones), which seem like beetle-backed Roombas with eyes on stalks and other attachments. There are (supposedly) hundreds of them taking care of Moya. The sets also remind me of something from Doctor Who.
It reminds me of Babylon 5 in its imaginative but somewhat crude space CGI (looks like Video Toaster work). Also, in how both shows feature decidedly non-humanoid aliens or use major make-up or prosthetics for the humanoids.
It reminds me of all three in its sheer heart, humor, and humanity. In all four cases, the love and joy behind it all shines through. It’s like a stage play in that the story and characters are central; everything else is window dressing. Contrast that with all the modern junk food that’s mostly empty window dressing.
The show was created by Rockne S. O’Bannon, who wrote the script for Alien Nation and also created seaQuest DSV, Cult, and Defiance. All four seasons, remastered, are available on Amazon Prime. I think, for science fiction fans, it’s well worth checking out, especially if you’re weary of the mass-produced modern glitz. It takes one back to the days when story and character mattered.
A while back, I posted about the Ben Bova novel Uranus (2020). More recently, I posted about the sequel, Neptune (2021). While I liked the former okay, there was much about the latter that raised my eyebrows. It seemed child-like somehow or a regression to a 1950s kind of science fiction.
They say the third time pays for all, and that’s certainly true here. This past week I read Mars (1992) and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Bova died in 2020, at the age of 88 years (and 21 days), so obviously Uranus and Neptune are from the last part of his life. It’s amazing the guy was still writing in his late 80s. We should all be so lucky and productive.
He wrote Mars at 59 (I’m not too far off from that myself), and that clearly made a difference (I can only hope I’m still writing blog posts then).
Mars concerns the first human expedition to Mars. It involves a multi-national collaboration of Russians, Americans, Japanese, and others. Bova doesn’t appear to think much of politicians; the USA is something of a reluctant player. Russia controls the mission, and Russian astronauts lead the multi-national group of scientists.
The protagonist is Jamie Waterman, a Navaho geologist who joins the mission only because the selected scientist got appendicitis. The backup scientist is voted out by the others for his abrasive personality, so Jamie ends up on the mission (causing some friction). When, upon landing, Jamie forgets his carefully scripted line and just offers the Navaho greeting, yá’át’ééh (hello, it is good), the politicians back home are upset and want him pulled back to the orbiter.
Later, his insistence on changing the mission plan to explore a canyon where he thinks he spotted ancient cliff dwellings causes even more friction. Unfortunately, a mysterious “Martian flu” that afflicts the entire crew puts everyone, and everything, in jeopardy.
The story moves along nicely, and the affliction is a neat mystery (chances are you’ll never guess what it is). As is so often the case, the technology they use is outdated (film cameras, for instance). Most SF authors have been bad at guessing future tech (many believed faxes would remain a thing).
But all-in-all, great read. Bravo Bova!
Dreams are generally weird. Mine tend to be prolonged narratives that shift and evolve in that strange — yet within the dream somehow sensible — way dreams do. When we talk about how the use of camera and, especially, editing make movies dream-like, it’s these strange shifts and evolutions that we’re referencing.
One of my goals is lucid dreaming — being fully aware one is in a dream and taking control of the dream. I’ve only been able to do this twice, although there have been many times when I’ve realized I was dreaming but was still carried along by the dream.
This morning’s dream involved a prolonged shifting narrative that, as usual, I mostly don’t remember. A few elements stuck with me, though. The strongest is that, after some sort of (outdoor?) lecture or class I attended, someone told me I should join “mutis mutandus” — apparently some sort of organization I got the impression was a cross between Mensa and the Jesuits, but with some sort of associated deadly peril (like they’d kill you if you proved unworthy).
I didn’t know what it was, so I began asking around, but when questioned people were forced to admit they had no idea. Even the person who originally said it confessed he didn’t know.
Then I was sitting at a table (in an alley?) when our teacher (apparently named Mark?) returned, so I asked him. But his explanation was vague and unsatisfying… and then I woke up.
Often, although I realize I’ve had a prolonged narrative of a dream, I only recall the last bits. For example, the narrative I had Friday morning involved people motoring away on a caravan of snowmobiles (it was winter; lots of snow; I was in a restaurant (?) parking lot watching them go; there was a feeling of job-complete satisfaction (and then I woke up)).
First thing I did this morning was look up “mutis mutandus” — or, as it turns out, mutatis mutandis, which is Latin for “with things changed that should be changed.” It’s a phrase not much used anymore, but I’ve seen it from time to time (usually in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which I’ve come to realize can be a bit pretentious at times).
Thing is, I can’t recall the last time I saw the phrase (and no doubt had to look it up then, too), so having it play a key role in a dream is some deep sub-conscious dredging!
I also remember the dream had two occurrences of me filling a bowl. An early one in a restaurant, where I was putting shrimp in a bowl that I suddenly realized had contained salsa; there was still some in it. Then, at that table in that alley, I was filling a bowl with metal bits, paperclips and such that I’d dumped out as part of my search for “mutis mutandus” — but now there was too much stuff to fit in the bowl, so it was overflowing.
I wish I could record my dreams. They’re so interesting and peculiar!
Thought for the day: Beepers beep, buzzers buzz, but bells don’t bell. They ring, peal, jingle, or sound. Does this say something about modern technology?
Stay dreaming, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.