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."