Interview With John Kenneth Muir, Author of Space:1999: The Forsaken
by Simon Morris
Q: How did The Forsaken come about?
A: Mateo has worked really hard to launch this book series, and we had discussed the idea of a 1999 novel many times since we met three years ago at the „Breakaway“ convention in Los Angeles. When Powys acquired the license, we began serious discussions about what kind of story would be fun to tell in the 21st century. Mateo and I often have intense rolling conversations about the series in which we play off each other’s ideas and things just kind of snowball. It was out of one of these rolling dialogues that The Forsaken was born.. I pitched an idea to Mateo, he liked it, we tweaked it together, and when we found something that was really exciting – and controversial – he said, ‘that sounds like a book!’ Also, I credit Johnny Byrne. He’s very much the spiritual father of this book. I had a three hour conversation with him about the future of Space: 1999 and what kind of stories would be interesting (this was back in January or February of 2001), and I used some of that material in various print interviews, but he got me thinking of amazing things. He’s such an imaginative and brilliant writer.
Q: What is your experience with Space: 1999?
A: I wrote a reference book called Exploring Space:1999, for McFarland () in the mid-90s. It was published in 1997. It went to a second printing and has sold very well. I’ve been a guest speaker at series conventions in Los Angeles and New York, and had the good fortune to interview many of the program’s brain trust, including Johnny Byrne and Brian Johnson (for Filmfax), Catherine Schell (for my book), and Martin Landau (for Cinescape). I’ve also written about Space: 1999 in Rerun Magazine and in my encyclopedia of horror TV, Terror Television (2001). So I’m very familiar with the series; it’s an enduring love. It never gets old for me, and I feel like I’m always seeing something new in it. I’ve been following the DVD releases with excitement and I was fortunate enough to read an advance version of Resurrection back in the summer-fall of 2001, I guess it was. And it blew me away. Scared me silly.
Q: Most of your work is non-fiction, so did you have any trouble adapting to fiction?
A: Not particularly. It’s different, but I’ve had good experience preparing for the assignment. Although I’ve written eleven non-fiction books in the last six years, I’ve also sold short stories to The Official Farscape Magazine („That Old Voodoo in issue # 6 and another in issue # 8 called „Make a Wish“) and Reality’s Escape. Back in 1996-97, I wrote a novel entitled The Cyprus Harlots. So this isn’t my first stab at fiction, or even at series fiction, for that matter. Since I was in high school, I’ve written scripts for crazy horror movies that I made on videotape with friends, so fiction is fun for me.
Q: What’s the book about?
A: In general terms, The Forsaken concerns destiny versus free will. That sounds heady and philosophical, but Space: 1999 was often concerned with just such weighty philosophical issues. If you watch the first year, it’s all about destiny. The Alphans seem to be dealing with that mysterious unknown force. In Year Two, it’s all self-determination – „we make our own fate,“ and all that. My thought was that something pretty drastic – and catastrophic – must have happened between seasons to cause those overt philosophical changes. That’s not to say the book is some dry, metaphysical treatise. One of the things we wanted to do was include some major action sequences…some tension and excitement.
Q: What was the challenge of writing a Space: 1999 novel?
A: I love and admire Space: 1999 in the deepest sense imaginable, but it isn’t a humorous series, and wasn’t designed to be. Personally, I find that a little difficult as an author. Humor advances characterization, story, everything, and it’s against my natural inclination to hold back. Writing fiction for Farscape, for instance, feels very natural because referential humor is such a core concept of that franchise. In Space: 1999, there can be humor, but it can’t be the kind of zinger or self-referential joke you’d hear on Farscape, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s a formality to writing for Space: 1999 that is a challenge. You have to intimate „cosmic“ possibilities without being ponderous or pretentious. The book has to have gravitas, but not be boring or staid. It’s a delicate balance, but fortunately I have good people looking over my shoulder to kick me in the ribs when I misstep…
The other difficult thing was the creation of a new alien race. This isn’t a TV show where you can put a few ridges on an actor’s head and say „these are space capitalists“ or „these are space communists,“ or „this race is like samurai warriors on another planet.“ You can’t get away with that in a full-length book. Your alien culture has to be believable, consistent, and really and truly alien. That was a major challenge, but I have to say, Mateo completely encouraged my vision, and even augmented it. He was so supportive of my efforts, and believed from the get go that this alien race had to be more than „the alien of the week.“
Q: Any thoughts about following Resurrection?
A: Bill [Latham] is a good friend of mine, and he wrote a riveting, heart-pounding horror story. Honestly, that’s the kind of Space: 1999 adventure I enjoy most. Give me „Force of Life,“ „Dragon’s Domain,“ or „End of Eternity“ any day! I like the gory, gothic, horrific aspects of those episodes a lot. But for the second novel of the Powys series, we all recognized it would be redundant to follow a great story of that particular genre with a similar one. We had to go in the opposite direction – do something totally different. In his interview with Powys, Bill compared Resurrection to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a rip-roaring adventure. Keeping the Trek analogy going, The Forsaken is probably more like The Motion Picture. It is concerned about the „bigness of it all,“ and therefore there’s a lot of territory to cover! For instance, Resurrection didn’t leave the confines of Alpha, and had this tremendous feeling of claustrophobia. The Forsaken is mostly a planetary adventure, and that means lots of material involving Eagles in flight, a new alien race, and other really intense plotting complications. But we felt strongly that the planet adventures are an important part of the Space: 1999 history and legacy, as much as the self-contained tales I actually prefer, so we set out to create one that we hope will surprise people.
Q: The Forsaken has been described as a bridge novel? What does that mean?
A: Even the casual fan knows how things changed between seasons of Space:1999. After Year One, we lost Victor, Kano, Tanya, Paul, Main Mission and so on. In Year Two, everyone was wearing new uniforms, Alpha had lasers installed on the base, and Command Center was underground. One mission of the bridge novel is to explain how some (not all…) of these changes came about.
One of the things I like about the book is that it is almost literally a bridge. It starts out very much like a Year One adventure in mood and mystery and ends like a Year Two adventure in terms of conflict and action. It’s sort of the missing chapter in Space: 1999 history. That’s what will make the book controversial.
Q: How so?
A: As soon as you fill in a blank, there will be people who don’t like what you’ve fit there. Some will accept it; some won’t. But the great thing about this new book series is that Mateo is willing to ask hard questions and follow ideas through to their natural conclusion. I actually chickened out on a few things, but Mateo has balls of brass. If something should happen because it’s right, it’s going to happen in the novel. On a TV series, characters can’t change week to week. In a book series, especially one in which some characters „disappear,“ there is the possibility for growth, death, reversal, development, you name it. How these changes are received is anyone’s guess…but it’s a very provocative idea. I hope it gets people talking. That’s the way to get the series back in the forefront of the public’s imagination – to make it faithful to what came before, but also to energize it with new, exciting ideas. The more people that pick up Resurrection or The Forsaken and start feverishly debating them, the better. That’s an infusion of new life, because it means people care.
Q: Does that mean beloved characters will die?
A: I’m not going to answer that. Read the book.
Q: Is The Forsaken a sequel to any particular episode of Space: 1999?
A: The book begins with an event we saw dramatized in one particular episode, and then explains, rather dramatically, the catastrophic ramifications of that event. It isn’t a sequel in the traditional sense of the word, but something that occurred in Year One causes the Alphans considerable grief.
Also, there’s a thematic strand that Bill created in Resurrection that is followed up in The Forsaken, to give the book series its own internal consistency.
Q: Do the supporting characters appear in The Forsaken?
A: They do. Alan Carter and Paul Morrow play major roles. Tony Verdeschi is there too, to a lesser degree, and there are some surprises for Tanya. Just about everybody is in the book: Sandra, Kano, Mathias, Ben Vincent, Bill Fraser, et al. There’s fleeting mention of Yasko, Jim Haines, Petrov, Crato, and other Alphans we know and love. I felt very strongly that the book series needed to re-establish the supporting characters and bring them forward with unique things to do.
Q: What do you think the fan reaction will be?
A: You can never tell. I’ve written books about many different TV series, and some fans appreciate the thought that goes into your work, even if they disagree with your conclusions, and others merely despise you for honestly offering them. I have found Space: 1999 fans to be a very thoughtful and welcoming bunch. They’ve always been very respectful of me, even when we had disagreements about particular episodes or ideas. I think they understand that the series is supposed to be awe-inspiring, challenging and sometimes tragic. And I think those words pretty well describe The Forsaken. If a fan goes into a reading of the book with those notions, he or she won’t be disappointed.
Q: What do you think is Space: 1999’s greatest strength?
A: It asks the important questions about humanity. It doesn’t fall back on political potboilers or genre tropes. It is about mankind facing his destiny among the stars. That’s enormously appealing and the reason why the series remains popular after all this time. The stories beckon and stir our souls, and we long to know, along with Koenig, Russell, Bergman and the others, the mysteries of our beginnings and our ending…
Q: If you had to describe The Forsaken’s theme in a few words…?
A: Oddly enough, it would probably be a line of dialogue – paraphrased – from a low-budget John Carpenter movie, Prince of Darkness (1987): „Although there is an order to the universe, it isn’t at all what we had in mind…“