Tuesday, January 17, 2017

#NonFiction Review: Fascist Lizards from Outer Space by Dan Copp

I was 9 years old when the original V miniseries debuted. Having grown up on Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers (at the time, Star Trek was just that old show my parents watched), I was absolutely blown away. I was allowed to stay up long enough each night to watch the first hour, and then had to watch the rest on VHS the next day. I was just as hooked on V: The Final Battle when it aired, and I remember being completely devastated (as only a kid can be) when I missed the final episode of the short-lived TV series due to a poorly time sleepover.

I read the novelization by A.C. Crispin (still one of my all-time favorite reads), all of the tie-in books, and the entire DC comics series. The only reason I didn't have the lone 12-inch Visitor figure is because it never seemed to make its way to Canada. If you're ever stuck for a gift idea, one of those figures would be awesome. Just leaving that out there . . .

Anyway, that's a long sort-of introduction to Fascist Lizards from Outer Space: The Politics, Literary Influences and Cultural History of Kenneth Johnson's V. The moment I spotted that digital ARC on NetGalley, with the familiar image of the jackbooted Visitor standing before the graffiti'd poster, I knew I had to give it a read.

What struck me most in reading Dan Copp's book is just how little I understood about the phenomenon back then. To me, it was just an action-packed sci-fi spectacle, full of cool ships, awesome lasers, and kick-ass aliens with hidden reptilian faces. Don't get me wrong, I did understand the holocaust references, but I had no idea how deep its political commentary on fascism ran. Similarly, living in a pre-internet age where TV Guide and Starlog were the sum total of my pop culture knowledge, I had no idea that Kenneth Johnson's involvement ended with the first miniseries, and I had no concept of the budget constraints that contributed to the franchise's demise.

Now, looking back with Fascist Lizards from Outer Space as a roadmap, it's astounding to realize how and why the franchise changed. With the departure of Kenneth Johnson, the intelligent political themes were dropped, the dark social commentary was torn away, and things descended into cheesy sci-fi clichés. I remember being disappointed in the bad effects, reused footage, and character deaths in the TV series, and I didn't quite understand why Diana swapped out her sexy uniform for soap opera gowns, but now it all makes sense. In the span of just a few years, a brilliant sci-fi themed story of fascism became a cheap soap opera . . . and don't even get me started on the lame 2009 reboot that completely missed the point.

I'm glad Dan talks about Kenneth Johnson's personally penned sequel to the original miniseries, V: The Second Generation, because it was in reading that book that I first understand what happened to the franchise. Dan, of course, goes into much greater detail, and paints a much broader picture of the influences and inspirations, outside forces, and critical reception. Although the book repeats itself in places, and probably could have been a bit shorter, it's still a fascinating read. I can honestly say I have a better understanding and a greater appreciation for the saga, and a deeper sense of remorse over what could have been. Even if you were never a fan, this is a must-read for any fan who has ever wondered about how and why broadcast television destroys so many of our beloved genre franchises.

Paperback
Expected publication: April 1st 2017 by McFarland & Company

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

3 comments:

  1. My dad got his finger caught in the blender trying to steal cookie dough when he was little. It resulted in his finger being slightly crooked. I tell you this because long did we try to figure out what TV show it was where a crooked finger was the only real way to tell an alien from human and we THOUGHT it was narrowed down to V. And since you obviously know this show perhaps you could tell me; did we get the right show?

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    1. And... never mind. Google fu tells me it was a show called The Invaders.

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    2. LOL - V wasn't quite so subtle, but then again they never tried to hide. You just had to rip off their masks to reveal the lizards beneath. :)

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