An Interview With William Latham, Author of Space:1999: Resurrection
by Simon Morris
Q: Space:1999: Resurrection is the first original Space:1999 novel since the 1970s. How did it come about?
A: The inner circle behind these books spent about a year or so talking about what the Space:1999 books should and shouldn’t be. We were aware there was a lot of fan fiction out there. I can honestly say I haven’t read any, since I’m pretty new to Space:1999 in general. We talked about other franchises that have been relaunched. Dr. Who. Star Wars. But especially Star Trek. And I’m not just talking about the Trek book series. We talked about the films as well. We wanted to avoid the mistakes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – you know, run off and try to do something on a grand scale, just because we had a potentially big canvas to play on. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the model.
Q: In what sense?
A: Star Trek II was a perfect example of how to relaunch a series. You played within the existing confines, to get the fans comfortable. If my book takes any real risks, it’s that the characters start behaving out of character fairly early in the story, but there’s a reason for it. That was kind of my own personal challenge. I think readers expect you to go wrong with the characters. By the end of the book, I wanted to show that I really did understand them. Star Trek II gave you the classic characters in familiar territory, with their relationships were all over the place. I know we thought doing a sequel to an existing episode was a little dangerous. The readers might get a little concerned that we really couldn’t do anything new.
Q: You said you’re pretty new to Space:1999. How new is new?
A: I saw my first episode of the show this year, in 2001. I saw a bunch of them. Mateo sent me videotapes to get me exposed to the show, and after a couple of weeks, I guess I saw about twelve of them.
Q: Are you worried that’s going to get the fans concerned?
A: I walked in knowing that was an issue. I knew there were going to be people in the inner circle who could correct my technical inaccuracies, so that helped a little. I kind of had a safety net beneath me. The episodes I saw initially didn’t give me much to grasp onto.
Q: How many episodes did you see?
A: Let’s see. I saw about twelve episodes, all from Year One.
Q: What was your impression of the show while you were watching it?
A: What’s funny is Breakaway is one of the last episodes I saw! Let’s see. I remember being pretty unhappy with Collision Course. I thought it was really unfair what they did to Koenig, and I’m saying that as a writer. I guess I just disagree with the moral of the story. Let’s see. I knew of the series, even though I’d never seen it. I knew that in its day, the production values were pretty high. I went to a convention in New York last year and actually got to hear Johnny Byrne and Christopher Penfold talking about the time constraints they were under. The first few episodes I saw were okay. I watched one a night for a week or two. Then, I saw Black Sun and that’s the one that kicked the series into overdrive for me. The characters just came to life, particularly Victor Bergman. He gave me a foundation to build on. That’s still my favorite episode. That was the Rosetta Stone of the series, for me. I think I could have watched Black Sun and one other episode and written the book. I won’t tell you what the other episode is.
Q: So how did you end up writing the book?
A: I was talking with Mateo a fair amount about what I thought he should do just from a business perspective, you know. All the stuff about launching a franchise. And I started pushing him to make the first book something familiar, and I just talked and talked and eventually there were some time constraints coming in, and I thought to myself that nobody else was gonna finish a book in time for when he wanted the first one out. I think Mateo knew I could put together a good book. The big question was could I put together a good Space:1999 book. And the fans are gonna be the ultimate decision makers on that one. Being new to a series is in some ways a handicap, but it keeps you objective. Let’s not forget, when Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer started Star Trek II, neither of them had really seen the show before. Nick Meyer brought great things to Star Trek, as an outsider. Hopefully, I’m following in his footsteps.
Q: What’s the book about?
A: We’re keeping the plot pretty secret. I can tell you it’s a sequel to a first season episode. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot I can divulge.
Q: Was this book a challenge?
A: Sure. When I write an original novel, I make the rules. In the case of Space:1999, somebody else has written the rules. I had to relate to existing characters, work with them in somebody else’s sandbox. Frank Miller talks about playing with other people’s toys when he writes graphic novels with Batman. That’s how I looked at it. There are a couple of different types of episodes of Space:1999. I told Mateo I felt comfortable working on a book inside the base more so than introducing a new planet and having the Eagles heading off the base to engage some new society. There are too many technical considerations. I think I could write a kick ass Star Trek battle scene, because I know about phasers and photon torpedoes and all that stuff, but until I’m more well-versed in Space:1999 lore, I’d be a little leery. I know the fans have been waiting a long time for this. That was a definite concern. But you have to put it out of your head, and just do the writing. We knew going in that everybody was probably gonna buy a copy of the first book. But if my book was a real stinker, they wouldn’t buy the second. That was the biggest pressure I felt.
Q: Take us through the evolution of the book.
A: Mateo had pretty much decided what I was going to work on, given other things I’ve written. He sent me the episode he thought I’d be good at writing a sequel to. I watched it and we started talking about what might be interesting to do, in between watching other episodes. I checked out Martin Willey’s website, and that was helpful. In particular, I got to find out what the author of the original episode had to say about his story, and what some critics have had to say. The original author’s concerns were paramount in my mind. He described some of what he perceived as faults in his storyline, and I knew exactly where he was coming from. Those guys never had enough time to write the episodes. Martin’s website gave me the few pertinent details I needed to throw together a story. Then, it was a matter of pitching an outline to Mateo. We hashed out some details, and a lot of the story evolved while I was writing it. In a lot of ways, this book was very much a collaborative effort. Plus, we had some Space:1999 fans read some early drafts just to get an idea of where we stood, and the feedback was much more positive than I expected. Then, it was just a matter of finishing the book, then polishing it, fleshing out certain aspects of it.
Q: Can we expect another Space:1999 book from you at some point?
A: Never say never. I don’t know. There are plenty of people already lined up to write the next several books. I’ll have to wait and see how this one does. If people want more, I’d at least consider it. I’ve got an idea I’ve been kicking around.
Q: What’s involved with writing a Space:1999 story? What are the things you’re thinking about when you’re first putting together an idea?
A: Well, let’s see. A good story is a good story, whether it’s Space:1999 or not. You’ve got to be consistent with the universe that’s out there. There are concerns that some readers might prefer one season over another, and everybody wants their favorite characters to be the stars of the book. Then you have to make sure you’re working inside the chronology properly. I’d say the biggest challenge is doing something that hasn’t been done before. Surprising a reader in a known universe gets tougher and tougher all the time. In mapping out the plot of this book, I threw in a whole bunch of things that people may not see coming. There are ways to move a story along that you see more in thrillers, and less in science fiction novels, that should surprise people in this book. The heart of any story is conflict, and the conflicts here go pretty deep. There are a couple of major components, to answer your question. You’ve got to use the characters as your foundation, and really build a story around them. You can’t just come up with a threat and throw it at Alpha. At least, I couldn’t. You set up the borders, the chronological borders, and you unleash a set of events. But I did get to add my little bit to the mythos of the show. There’s a part of Alpha you’ll see in this book that’s never been seen before.
Q: Are there any special challenges in writing a sequel?
A: I didn’t really look at it as a sequel. There are characters and incidents from an original episode that are vital to the plot of Resurrection, but I thought of it very much as its own entity. What drives people crazy when they hear it is I only watched the episode once. I still haven’t watched it again. There aren’t many good sequels out there to books or to movies, but what usually makes them work is they’re not just retreads of the original. This one goes off in its own direction. Mateo gave me a lot of freedom. I’ve never read a Space:1999 novel, so from the point of view of structure, and characterization, I could approach it pretty much any way I wanted to approach it. I had it easy, at least from my perspective. I got to put the first set of bricks on the foundation. I didn’t have to build the roof, or make sure the doors work, or any of the really complicated stuff.
Q: What’s been most satisfying?
A: Resurrection is actually my tenth novel. And what has amazed me about all of them is the surprises you get as an author, where characters do things you as the author don’t expect them to do. You can outline a story and sometimes the characters just go off the beaten path. That’s usually when you know you’re onto something special. Plus there are afterthoughts that you just kind of insert into the fabric of the book and some of those afterthoughts, things that were never planned, turn out to be some of the best parts of the book. One of the guys who read the first draft has a lot of excitement waiting for him when he reads the finished product, because there’s a whole bunch of new stuff in there that we’ve gotten some really good feedback about that wasn’t even in the draft he read.
Q: What do you hope the reaction will be when a fan finishes reading Resurrection?
A: One of my favorite reactions I’ve gotten from people about my books is complaints that they missed a good night’s sleep, because they stayed up late reading and lost all track of time. But to be honest? When you’re a fan of a series you want to walk away remembering why you loved that series in the first place. I want people to feel like they just unearthed an episode they’d never seen. The advance readers have said the spirit of Space:1999 is in the pages of the book, that it captured the feel of the show. That’s incredibly flattering to hear. It’s hard enough to write a book, but to write it in an existing universe, and then have people say that it belongs there, if the readers feel that, I’ll be satisfied.
Q: Some fans will want to know what music, if any, you listened to while writing a book. What did you listen to while writing Resurrection?
A: Let’s see. I’m a big film score buff. The opening of the book I remember distinctly – the music from John Williams’s score to Superman, the music where the camera is first approaching Krypton. I knew I wanted to listen to that music for the opening before I even sat down to write it. For the rest of the book? A lot of Howard Shore music. Particularly his complete score to Seven and Looking For Richard. I frequently listen to Cliff Eidelman’s score to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when I’m editing a book, particularly the climax of a book, and I did that this time around, too. What else? John Barry’s Raise the Titanic and The Deep. I think for a few sections I listened to Shore’s Silence of the Lambs. I can usually be expected to listen to some John Carpenter, too. This time around it would have been the newly updated Escape From New York soundtrack. I know I was listening to Film Score Monthly’s release of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. I think a little bit of Ifukube’s Godzilla music. Oh, and the new collector’s edition of the score to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series. For the most part, though, this book was scored by Howard Shore, especially his Looking For Richard score. When you read the book, that’ll make more sense. It’s a really intense score. Anything else? A little bit of Patrick Doyle’s score to Henry V. That’s very much like Looking for Richard.
Q: What do you think would surprise readers most about the writing of a Space:1999 book?
A: I don’t think I can generalize about a non-sequel. A sequel leaves you, at step one, painted into a corner, because you’re picking up the pieces of a story that already had an ending. The primary challenge you face is NOT rewriting the original story, and taking it somewhere else. So there are really two premises in the book. There are what I’ll call the dovetailing elements, that tie it into the original story, and then there’s the story that makes up the backbone of the new book. That backbone has its own structure, with its own set pieces and what I’ll call surprises. Where I really had fun on Resurrection was playing with the expectations I would assume readers would have. People have been waiting twenty years for somebody to revisit the Alphan universe in a novel. The biggest surprise, though, that people probably wouldn’t think of, is the amount of bouncing around of ideas that you ultimately need to go through to get a whole story together. There’s a whole set of things you can’t do because they’ve been done already. There are the things you can’t do because it would betray the characters, or the spirit of the show. There’s a kind of delicate balance in an existing franchise, as formulaic as they may seem to be, they have their own unique boundaries that you can’t really cross. You can give ‘em a good kick every now and then. But you have to stay faithful to the whole. Then, there are the terminology debates. If you refer to an object on Alpha, it’s got a name. But depending on where you look or whom you listen to, the names aren’t always the same. There’s nothing more fun, in being new to the universe, to have to stop in the middle of a sentence sometimes and jump over to Martin Willey’s website just to see what you’re supposed to call a can opener.
Q: Any advice for other authors in the series?
A: It’s got to work as a story before it’s even a Space:1999 story. Over the course of the book series, you’re going to see what Mateo calls “bridge stories” that bridge the two seasons, and then that go out after the last episode. There’s a conscious effort to try to fill in the gaps. I was very lucky in that I didn’t have to really worry about any of those bridging elements, but other authors will and it’s hard stuff to tackle. The fans are going to be tough critics on those stories. But, this is science fiction fandom we’re talking about. They’re going to be tough on any stories. I guess the biggest advice I would give is really dig into your story and find stuff you like reading and put some of it into the book, throw a little passion into the story. Don’t be afraid to take some risks.
Q: What would you say is the greatest strength of Space:1999?
A: When you scratch beneath the surface of the show, it’s not what it appears to be. It’s not a straight science fiction show. It has horror elements to it. In that sense, you can tell this show wasn’t the product of American TV networks. There’s also a strong element of mysticism. I can’t say I’m a big fan of mysticism in general, but it’s interesting to see something other than the standard Judeo-Christian mindset in outer space. As far as science fiction series go, there’s certainly no other I can think of that seemed so open to particularly Eastern mysticism. Maybe that’s just the product of the age in which it was produced, or the fact that it has a decidedly British soul. What I found most interesting, though, is something that’s a little hard to explain. In the 1970s, there was a kind of “Lifeboat: Earth” mentality that I think gave rise to what we now would call the environmentalist movement. In the 1960s, with Star Trek, there was a very frontier-oriented mindset, of going out to explore and find new things. It’s very capitalist in that sense, very much into finding new markets. Space: 1999 is in many ways more introverted. It has an older soul, if I can call it that. It’s about trying to survive, not exploration for its own sake. That’s much more like real life, I suppose, than Star Trek. To be out in space, the ultimate macrocosm, and to be confined in what is essentially a microcosm, which is Alpha, is pretty fascinating. Alpha is much more like Earth than is, say, the Starship Enterprise. You screw things up and it’s all over. You can’t call Starfleet and ask for a supply ship. That’s a unique perspective for a television show. If there’s a message in Space:1999, it’s that help isn’t coming, with the exception of a mysterious unknown force or two. It’s very existentialist in that sense. It’s not about ideals so much as it’s about facing realities. The fact that they squeezed mysticism into a show with an almost nihilist spirit, that’s not something you run across every day. There was definitely something interesting in the framework of the show.
Q: What should we expect from Resurrection?
A: In a nutshell? Help isn’t coming…