This is a review and analysis of the first Powys Media Space: 1999 novel, namely Resurrection, written by William Latham, and published in 2002. This review was originally posted in Online Alpha in April 2008, but has been adapted to this webpage via some reordering and minor modifications to text, mostly additions to clarify name or episode references.
This webpage will start with a review, the first part spoiler-free, the second part with some "light spoilers" (definition further below). This webpage then proceeds to a very spoiler-heavy analysis, that dives into the details of the story. Finally, this page links to a Thread Page which includes the original email to the list, replies by the publisher and author, and the reviewer's responses to both.
(This section starts with a non-spoiler section followed by "light" spoilers. By the latter, I mean that if you are aware of the basic premise and foundation of the story, including what or who the primary antagonist is, or wish to find out a little more regardless of spoiling some basics, feel free to read the Light Spoilers... part.)
Well, it has been a long time since I have done a review of an officially-licensed Space: 1999 novel. I ordered the previously published Powys S19 books some months ago, got them soon after; but had a few delays and priorities of my own in getting to reading any. I finally sat down to read my first Powys Media book a couple weekends ago, namely Resurrection by William Latham.
First, however, is the Foreward, by the late Johnny Byrne, one of the major episode writers (and the most prolific one) on the series. For those tempted, out of habit, to just launch into the main part of the novel, one word of advice here: don't! The foreward is a brief (two-page) but wonderful piece, filled with memory and musing on themes of the series, including one of my favorites, the series as an origin story of a people.
On to the novel itself, by William Latham....
Character-wise, he focussed very heavily on four characters in this story, but did present a few more familiar or semi-familiar characters as well, mostly very briefly, however, albeit with a little bit of background sketched in. I thought he did well writing three of those four main story characters to good depth for this story, the fourth, okay. Two characters are the majority of the focus, and in some ways, this story is a character study of the two, and their contrasts.
Plot-wise, the story is not necessarily complex, as this is more of a character study in some ways, and even more a thematic story; but nonetheless, the plot does move well, has a good number of mysteries, surprises, and twists, and the story moved along fairly swiftly in many ways.
Theme-wise, well... this was probably the dominant factor in this story, in my opinion anyway, which could be a strength or a problem, depending on how well you care to dive into the themes presented in this story, which are of a very dark nature, as the back of the book describes: "A force of pure evil. A perversion of nature...." That said, I thought the thematic aspects were clearly well thought out and well-written, and that is where the "strength" aspect comes in.
Generally-speaking, despite the subject matter of the story being a very dark type I usually do not care much to read, the story did draw me along nonetheless, more than I expected, and it was well-written for the most part, and most impressive with the amount of thought put towards the thematic material, dark and difficult as it is, and often highly engaging at a thematic level if troubling at the same time.
(This point is continued in the Light Spoilers portion which follows.)
This book does contain a lot of dark passages, "mind of the killer" sort of thing, descriptions of demented "artwork," walking corpses, etc. As with "End of Eternity" (a.k.a. EOE among fans), the episode on which this story is based, I would say Resurrection is well-written, but very dark, the only light aspects being that humanity actually comes out pretty well in contrast with a force of pure evil. I am personally not keen on very dark, horror-style stories; but both Johnny Byrne and William Latham, in their respective stories, knew how to write the main antagonist -- an immortal alien named Balor -- well and make the Alphan characters and audience look at some meaningful points about civilization, leadership, and immortality, and not the writer focusing on any gross/silly "how high and how messy can I make the body count" style of story.
The plot, as I indicated, did have a fair number of twists and surprises, and stayed fairly consistently interesting. Character focus stuck to four, three of them most effectively, in my opinion, and two of them (Cmdr. John Koenig and Balor) most of all and virtually no one else, to benefits and perhaps drawbacks as well. Thematically, this was deep, dark, and very much focussed on a variety of related philosophical points that were obviously, in my opinion, thought out for awhile, and well-presented. It also seemed to touch very briefly on one of the central ideas hinted at subtly or slightly more strongly throughout the series: what is sometimes called (outside of the original series) the Mysterious Unknown Force (or MUF).
Distilling all this to a simple ranking of my overall opinion was difficult in this case, but overall I would say 2.7 out of 4.0, or a B-. Again, not my favorite sort of subject matter, but well-written for the most part, and most impressive with the amount of thought put towards the thematic material. It is also seems a very fitting extension of Johnny Byrne's EOE episode (and it is thus fitting that Johnny wrote the foreward to this book). I suspect anyone who includes EOE among their favorite episodes of S19 will find this book a fitting extension.
WARNING: This "Analysis" is very detailed and very much...
FULL OF SPOILERS!!!!
If you have not read the novel yet, you probably want to skip the remainder of this page and... read the novel first. Seriously... extensive spoilers follow.
Also note that though the "analysis" will progress rather "linearly" in some ways, I will make frequent forward (and later backward) references or generalizations about the whole novel.
On Alpha, an artist with no technical background, and losing hope in an essentially hopeless battle against the final ravages of cancer, is starting to make what seem like some of his final requests.
Elsewhere, a strange air loss is occurring in a lesser-used corridor of the Catacombs, and everyone is puzzled at the evidence at the scene, but other than it being a nagging mystery as to why this even happened (and with a nice piece about vacuum as the enemy seeking to creep "in" where it is unwanted), seems relatively minor, so they seal the section and re-oxygenate it -- and that is when the problem starts taking shape, literally. A life form begins assembling itself, in a very creepy fashion. The story takes awhile to reveal what -- who -- it is, but the hints are there in the narration, revealed a little at a time, and despite my previously knowing the premise (but nothing beyond that), it was interesting to "watch" unfold anyway.
Later, all of the Alphans drop unconscious, and wake up about two days later. The written narration, from Koenig's point of view, was very fluid, making two disappear like an instant but disconcerting change. Meanwhile, the artist passed away during the period of unconsciousness too, apparently peacefully.
Mysteries crop up about: a security alert that was started moments before everyone went unconscious, but no one can trace now; why two people from the area the alert originated from were not found there, at their duty posts, but in Medical. The Alphans take some time trying to figure this out; but as the mysteries remain unsolved and Commander John Koenig has them searching for something unidentified, the Alphans' tension becomes palpable, then irrational. The latter transition was nicely done in the story, first from the point of view of a frequently-seen guard who is usually in the "background" of the series, but is briefly but effectively brought to the foreground for a scene here. His calm turns into fear which grows quickly within the space of a single scene, and then gets echoed in various ways by others, different for each person, yet similar in nature.
David Kano obsessing about Main Computer as something others see as almost godlike (good or bad), but that he knows is actually not very smart (nice direct references to "2001: A Space Odyssey" too), and that he starts fearing someone shouting his name and requesting an answer that neither he nor computer have. Capt. Alan Carter getting paranoid about the most innocuous words of another pilot, makes a nervous but vague report. Controller Paul Morrow pictures his grandfather haranguing him about failing in his duty to open the family store promptly at 6AM and perhaps losing a customer -- and implications Paul might fail his duty in Main Mission. Sandra Benes fears the true problem is not being uncovered because Koenig's orders do not make sense to her. It all starts adding up to one of John Koenig's apparent greatest fears: losing the tenuous order that Alpha has, that he has to oversee, and that everything could be lost as a result. The POV goes through several characters, touching on what their greatest fears might be, below the layers of habit, professionalism, and intelligence.
Prof. Victor Bergman sees the pattern, seemingly unaffected by it himself, and tries to talk sense to Koenig; but John is beyond reasoning, and the commander's fear comes to pass in this form: Main Mission is empty. Everyone has left their posts. I kept expecting Victor to be able to argue sense into John at some point. That is what often happened, since despite Koenig's bouts of high/extreme tension, at various points in the series, he has often does see his way to sense through some forms of troubling influence. That this time, he did not snap out, proved interesting, and that Victor finally has to give up and hope that guiding John to his quarters to get some sleep may prove more helpful than words.
John gets to his quarters, and some part of his mind is still a bit rational, seeing unusual signs in his quarters -- and then a dead, rotting Alphan, Mike Baxter, whom Balor previously drove to insanity and death, now resurrected. Then Balor himself, behind all of it. John loses it at this point, and is soon being tossed out of an airlock by Balor. Seeming revenge on Balor's part. It is a strange scene of Koenig dying in the vacuum, only to settle into the dust and stare into space, surprised at the clarity of what he is seeing and feeling, vacuum on him (his feelings now surprisingly peaceful and accepting of the vacuum he feared before) and utterly unfiltered starlight, with no atmosphere, no glass, no helmet plastic in between -- and wondering when his last moment is and deciding it has passed, especially when he starts "hearing" a voice.
Balor brings Koenig back inside, yet denies being the "voice" that Koenig sensed, and denies healing Koenig, instead talking about Progron (Balor's homeworld), immortality, the nature of leadership, and the yearnings of people underneath for order directed by such leaders, seeming parallels to religion, the bane of immortality, Balor believing, to even greater depths -- in several senses of the word -- of how his way of restoring a people's drive was right, and how foolish the Progrons were for banishing him.
These scenes are thematic, almost uninterrupted, very densely-packed philosophical passages, of the restored Koenig speaking for most people in seeing how Balor has some interesting points about the various topics but has taken a most psychotic, demented, empty take on them, not to mention taking some terrifying solutions. Koenig and Balor keep missing each others' points completely, in a way that was written effectively.
Interspersed are other scenes, including that the artist character has resurrected into some gross parody of himself, finding some bizarre and disturbing new forms of art, largely at the cost of Dr. Helena Russell, re-emphasizing Balor's insane variation on "high" philosophy, showing how perverted it is, that in all of Balor's hundreds of thousands of days thinking in his living prison, he did not see his mistake; but how his own mind's thoughts and emotions merged, as written, into something philosophical yet totally primal at the same time, and coming to see the universe around him through that dark filter.
This is a trip even further into the mind of perhaps the most insane alien the series presented, not of some half-mindless eating machine like the Dragon from the "Dragon's Domain" episode (scary as the Dragon is too), but someone with philosophical tendencies that turned dark a very long time ago. Very troubling. Balor tries to convince John of how right he is, but only when Balor starts destroying the half-resurrected Mike Baxter, and Koenig reacts, that the impasse is broken, seemingly for the better at first, but really for the worst. Koenig, already made immortal by Balor, fought Balor, and despite overcoming Balor and weaking him in the process, has resulted in a Koenig who suddenly seems to feel far too god-like too, taking on arrogant and Balor-like tones that if anything seem even worse than Balor's.
This was a tricky thing for the author to pull off, but he had set up, via Victor and later Helena (more on them later) starting to find some explanations of the nature of Progron immortality, which I found rather nicely-done and interestingly-presented, giving detail while avoiding devolving into the imfamous "technobabble" problem. It is a fine line between science fiction "explanation" and technobabble (and in the eye of the beholder too), but I think the author nicely stayed on the right side of this.
However, when it came to Koenig's turning, some part of me was not entirely convinced, and some part of me was convinced enough. This was a curious point that worked both ways for me, having me doubt his turning yet that also adding more tension in my mind, for a little while at least, about whether Koenig was really turned or it was an act on his part. I do not know if the author intended this, or I missed a point somewhere, or what.
Though this is largely a story about John and about Balor, Victor has a good showing in this one. He has a sort of immunity, well-reasoned by the author, to Balor's fear-generating ability, and the character makes several smart moves at a number of points. Except Balor may be more onto Victor than the latter realizes. One of the good moves Victor makes is to find a way to bring Helena out of her near catatonic state, after he realizes part of the mechanism of the fear.
Helena plays a role in trying to find a solution to the Balor problem (which the author makes look even more difficult this time around, in some convincing ways). However, with her character, I had trouble formalating an opinion on how well she was written in this story. I would say only "okay" -- but am not sure why, probably because I sometimes have trouble with the Y1 (first season) presentation of Helena at times, and thus have a weak basis of comparing her character here, especially since she is not really herself here.
Other characters, after some brief views of their point of view earlier in the story, essentially disappear from the plot for most of the rest of the story. There is a plot point to it that is convincing, yet it does narrow the focus, in a way that sometimes seemed like a good approach, and sometimes seemed like a slight weakness. I could not make up my mind on this for this review, though I did decide that a major part of the story is a character study of Balor and of Koenig, and comparing them, especially over leadership, so my partial qualms are minor.
Working towards the end goes through several more effective plot twists, some surprises, and quite an interesting resolution, I thought.
Just a few points or questions that didn't really fit in elsewhere but that I still definitely wanted to make.
The original Online Alpha posting (from which this webpage was derived) drew replies from the publisher and the author, to which I responded further. This thread is in its entirety, including my original posting. The replies and responses started partway into the thread. The thread is distilled in the typical pattern of Thread Pages, of which it is a part. Note: This thread has all the same spoilers as this webpage, plus additional ones.
Review of Powys Novels
S-12/27/09: Finished adapting review from original 04/14/08 review email.