Interview with William Latham on the Spider’s Web Audio Book
Conducted by Simon Morris
Q: Spider’s Web is not your typical Space:1999 story.
A: I don’t know if there is a typical Space:1999 story, anymore. We’ve certainly been trying to challenge that concept recently. Spider’s Web was written more than four years ago. I think a lot of things came together to make it what it is. Its role as a linking piece between Survival and what would become Omega was certainly an important part, but when I first started mapping it out, I don’t think I knew that yet. Coming up with an idea for what story I would do for Shepherd Moon was really where it started. I wanted to play with the beasties from “Dragon’s Domain” but we were still mapping out the mythology for Omega and Alpha and we didn’t know what role, if any, the dragons were going to play. So when I say I wrote it four years ago, I started working on it five years ago. What people probably won’t realize without me saying it is this story is very much an homage to Richard Matheson’s “The Shrinking Man” – his battles with the spider. You also can’t tell a story like this anymore without at least acknowledging its lineage to “Alien” and going back even further, “It: The Terror From Beyond Space”. I think a lot of people don’t realize these days that Ridley Scott or rather, Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett, they didn’t invent the idea of a monster stalking people aboard a spacecraft – Jerome Bixby did it first. And there are some court decisions out there that will back me up. But you also have to throw James Cameron in, too. When you’re doing a story like Spider’s Web, you have to establish what people expect from a story like this before you’ll be able to surprise them, and what they would expect would be what they’ve seen in the first two Alien films. So it comes down to understanding the structure of the Alien films, then knowing what you want to pick up from Dragon’s Domain, then knowing I wanted to play in the same milieu as “The Shrinking Man” and then you get a picture of the story you can write and a better sense of the one you want to write.
Q: Spider’s Web also continues the horror lineage you carried through Resurrection.
A: That’s a funny thing. Boris Karloff always hated the term “horror film” – as if the film were made just to gross people out. He liked the word “terror” better, which implies something scary. Spider’s Web is definitely a monster story, but it’s more of an action story – a horror story would be the dragons hunting Victor – this is the opposite. It’s like “Jaws” I suppose – is that a horror film or an adventure film? It’s both – the first half is certainly horror, the second half is certainly adventure, but with the horror underlying the action. If you fall in the water in “Jaws” you’re going to die a very, very nasty death. Same with Spider’s Web. Victor’s hunting these things, and his confrontations with the dragons are all meant to get your anxiety going, but that’s what action thrillers do. At one point, Victor’s walking around with bleeding feet, wrapped in makeshift bandages. Bruce Willis wasn’t available! Dragon’s Domain has some of the most horrific moments of the series, and I think Spider’s Web stays exactly as horrific, if not less so, than the episode that inspired it. Nobody gets eaten by a dragon in this story. If this were written from the dragons’ perspective, Victor Bergman’s a serial killer. The scary character is that dude they see on the bridge of the ship. And Omega and Alpha let you know who that is.
Q: So returning Victor Bergman to the series, or using this story as one stepping stone in that path, only makes things more complicated.
A: Yeah. If you think about it, I’ve used Victor as a hero before, in Resurrection, but this time around, he’s an action hero! I think everybody’s afraid of the dragons. The last person you’d want to put in hand to hand combat with these things is Victor. Wrapping the reader up in the action and horror elements let me sneak in an understanding of the core character here, as he’s facing the dragons – when you find out it’s Victor, you shouldn’t really be all that surprised, because he handles all of this in a very Victor-like fashion. You know the protagonist is from Earth fairly early on because he mentions wood and vampires. You know he’s got some serious analytical chops. So the biggest toy I had to play with was context. We haven’t seen Victor since the end of Survival. We aren’t even aware the Leira have found their new home world. Nobody should have expected the character in Spider’s Web to be Victor Bergman. But from a surprise perspective, we knew we were letting the cat out of the bag that Victor would probably be coming back to the series in this story. You just wouldn’t know when. So when Omega was coming out, a lot of folks were surprised that he showed up so early. At that point, that was the only real surprise left.
Q: Killing off Bergman’s wife Yendys seemed a little harsh to some readers.
A: And to this author. I like Yendys. But if you’ve read Omega and Alpha, Yendys died for a reason. Not a good one, necessarily. Cutting Victor off, leaving him emotionally stranded, created the glue that would make him easily fit into the Year Three continuity. His bond with Yendys could easily have kept Victor on New Leiram after the events in Alpha. Which might also have kept Eroca on NewLeiram. So if you think about it, Victor Bergman is more than the sum of his parts. He’s a focal point in the Space:1999 universe, and there’s gravity to that. Victor needed to be in pain to be manipulated. Needed an emptiness inside him. The last page of Spider’s Web really tells you what Omega and Alpha are going to be about, but you’d be hard-pressed to guess the details. If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that demagogues can’t show up when things are good – they usually show up right after things have been bad – that’s the physics of what lets a demagogue get in power in the first place. You don’t have the Treaty of Versailles and the economic collapse in the 1920s, you probably don’t get Adolph Hitler. Not every crisis results in a demagogue, but every demagogue is preceded by a crisis. So poor Victor, his role in everything that will come in Omega and Alpha, just goes to show that MUFs aren’t very nice.
Q: Spider’s Web goes a little surreal when Victor is having his visions.
A: A lot of that, including the physical movement he’s experiencing, is very much an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Alpha, Koenig has a very, very similar experience, but they’re different experiences, experiences manifested by different MUFs. That’s something somebody might have fun analyzing. Science fiction gives you freedom to go a little surreal sometimes, to throw information at the reader that you as the author knows is in a particular context but the reader can only subliminally absorb it. Alpha, the novel, lays things out a little more linearly at its opening. The MUFs, like all of us, are very defined by their beginnings. Their movement into our universe, at its birth, has huge repercussions in our universe. Giving people multiple passes as that, in a surreal fashion, then linear, then surreal again, gives you something that’s fun and challenging as a reader. It’s more like poetry, where you have to glean what you can from highly compressed language or imagery. It’s not for the Tom Clancy fans of the world, who like everything detailed and spelled out for them and described to its fullest possible extent. But then again, neither was 2001. If you ever map out the plot of 2001, it’s very, very simple. But the way it was presented, in typical Stanley Kubrick fashion, it’s not simple to follow. What Kubrick did in that film, and I guess I shouldn’t just say Kubrick but also Arthur C. Clarke, they created a future, then really, really sold you on the believability of that future, then slowly removed the new context you’d gotten familiar with, leaving you almost literally hanging in space, without knowing anything. I can argue that Kubrick did almost the same thing in “The Shining” – put you in an alien context, made it familiar, then turned the humans, or one of them, into an alien – so it’s kind of the mirror image of 2001. “Full Metal Jacket” is the same thing.
Q: How does the audio book for Spider’s Web vary from the Resurrection audio book?
A: I think Rupert did a fantastic job with Spider’s Web. Rupert walked into the project with a serious handicap, in that his name isn’t Barry Morse, and I don’t think it caused him a moment’s hesitation. He made it his own, performed it on his own terms, and more power to him. He gives Spider’s Web a real intensity that I think matches the story perfectly. Barry read Resurrection like a father would, with love and warmth. Rupert reads Spider’s Web like a kind of slightly sadistic older brother, who’s trying to scare you late at night but knows he can’t scare you too much or Mom and Dad will hear you whimpering through the wall. But he also gets the emotional content in the story and changes tone, changes his pace at the right times. There are some very emotional moments in the story and he aced them, just like he aced the action scenes. There’s no comparing the two audio books. They’re very different stories read in very different ways, and both end up as exactly what they should be. So, my hat’s off to Rupert. I’m very happy with what Rupert produced. If he only wanted to do audio books for the rest of his life, I think audio book listeners would be the ones to gain the most. He’s become a very serious asset in the Powys team, like a new player on a baseball team who can hit a home run whenever you need one.
Q: Audio books are suddenly becoming a staple in the Powys line.
A: That’s a testament to Rupert and changes in technology. Getting Resurrection out took years. Getting Spider’s Web out is taking only a matter of weeks. We’re a very small outfit, but you’ve gotta admit, we are pretty cutting edge!
Q: What’s next?
A: Omega and Alpha, not to mention The Prisoner’s Dilemma. And I think Eternity Unleashed at some point. Eternity Unleashed is going to come out as a regular book one of these days. Perhaps a bit enhanced. Time will tell.