Q: ) Tell us a bit about yourself and your previous books?
JOHN: Well, I'm a full-time writer working out of an historic home built in 1912 in Monroe, North Carolina. I'm the author of twelve published books at present. My first book was Exploring Space: 1999 (McFarland, 1997), a guide to the 1970s science fiction TV series that is also the subject of The Forsaken. My latest book is An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith (Applause, 2002), a companion to the View Askew films from the director of Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma.
Between those two titles I've written a variety of film/TV reference books all concerning my favorite genres: horror and science fiction. Some of these titles include: Horror Films of the 1970s (a Booklist Editor's Choice for 2002),Terror Television (a Booklist Editor's Choice for 2001), Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper, The Films of John Carpenter, Wes Craven: The Art of Horror, A Critical History of Dr. Who on TV, and analytical guides to Battlestar Galactica, One Step Beyond and Blake's 7.
Before completing The Forsaken for Powys, two of my original short stories (fiction) appeared in the Official Farscape Magazine in issues #6 and # 8 and that experience proved to be good practice for writing the Space: 1999 novel. I've also been fortunate to interview Johnny Byrne (story editor of Space: 1999), Martin Landau, Catherine Schell, Brian Johnson and other members of the series' cast and crew for articles in magazines like Filmfax and Cinescape, so I felt well-prepared to tackle a new 1999 adventure.
Q) Why did you choose "Space Brain" as a reference point for The Forsaken?
JOHN: That's an interesting question. When I began formulating the story, the publisher, Mateo Latosa, talked with me a great deal about what I wanted to accomplish in a new Space: 1999 novel. I had a notion that I wanted to do a story that was a metaphor for environmental issues; where the Alphans would be forced to make a choice between two options, just as today our country must choose between long-term issues (like the health of the environment) and other things, like the economic well-being of our people - two issues which sometimes conflict. The issue in a story like that is always consequences. What are the consequences of losing the rain forest or an arctic wildlife zone?
Once that was decided on, I realized that one episode of Space: 1999 that really hinted at terrible, galactic consequences was "Space Brain." In that story, the moon accidentally destroys this benevolent space brain and in the coda, Koenig says to Helena, "think of all the planets that depended on that brain. Think what they lost... " To me, that was an opening for a new tale, an adventure in which Alpha encounters one of those affected planets and Koenig sees how their actions - even an accident - have consequences.
Also, "Space Brain" has a weird, unexplained moment in it. It comes about two-thirds through. The space brain and Moonbase Alpha have successfully communicated. Both sides are working together to avoid a collision. Then, an Eagle carrying nuclear charges goes haywire and scuttles the whole plan. How or why that malfunction occurs is never resolved in the episode. The space brain would not have scuttled the Eagle - it was trying to help, to prevent its own destruction. Why bother communicating with the humans on Alpha if it just wanted to destroy them? It could have done that with its "crushing antibodies," right? And, isn't it awfully convenient that the Eagle should malfunction at the exact moment when the crisis could be resolved peacefully? For me, that little issue became the crux of a bigger story. My idea was that something more powerful than the space brain wanted it dead, and decided to intervene, using the moon, as it were, as a kind of bullet.
Also, I've got to add that "Space Brain" offered us the opportunity to deal with the big, expansive things like planets, stars, and Eagle trips, and we knew from the get-go that the second Powys book had to be a planet story. Bill Latham had done such a brilliant job with a suspenseful, Alpha-based story in Resurrection that Mateo and I knew we had to go in a completely different direction or suffer by comparison.
Space: 1999 always had two kinds of stories: the Alpha-bound, claustrophobic, mounting-terror stories (like "Troubled Spirit," "Force of Life," "Alpha Child" and "End of Eternity") and the planetary adventures ("Full Circle," "Guardian of Piri," "Testament of Arkadia"), so Powys needed to prove to readers that this book line was going to do both kinds of stories successfully, and that decision also shaped the story to a degree. Our little gimmick on that front was that the first half of Forsaken would occur on a planet, and the second half of the book would be the backlash, the fall-out from that trip.
Q) The introduction of Tony was very smooth, answering the question as to why he's one of Koenig's right hand men in year 2. Was it yours or Mateo's idea to introduce him in this novel?
JOHN: I believe it was my idea, but Mateo was fully in support of the notion and more than encouraging. He gave it his lessing, having decided from the get-go that Year Two was a part of the canon. We both knew that the charge for The Forsaken was to make it a "bridge" novel, an adventure that connects the two (disparate) seasons of Space: 1999. There were a number of elements involved in that arena, including the laser batteries, the construction of Command Center, the disappearance of some important characters, and the addition of Tony.
My feeling is that for Tony to have surpassed other characters we saw in the series (like Winters in "The Infernal Machine, who was Paul's replacement... ), he would have had to really earn Koenig's trust. And that's what we set out to accomplish in The Forsaken: give Tony Verdeschi a grand, believable, and memorable introduction.
Q) I thought it interesting that you give us a glimpse of their intimate lives - Morrow & Benes, Koenig and Russelll. Did you choose to do this because it seemed so underplayed in the first season?
JOHN: Space: 1999 is a great TV series, in my opinion, because it focused on the big things, questions of evolution, existence, destiny, spirituality and so forth. It should be championed for bringing grand, literate science fiction to television. But on the other hand, the characters sometimes received short shrift because of the focus on these fantastic, awe-inspiring stories.
I know that Mateo and I both felt that if Space: 1999 was to make the transition to novel format - which affords more opportunity to provide detail - we would have to develop the characters to a greater extent than you could in a 50 minute TV episode. I think the actors did a fantastic job developing their characters on the series, but by necessity they were always responding to one crisis or another. The opportunity here was to show another side of Koenig, Russell, Morrow, Sandra and the rest.
Also, frankly, there are two basic ways to develop characters in fiction: through humor or through romance. Humor tends not to work as well on Space: 1999 as it does in say, Farscape or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so that led us down the road of romance, even tragic romance, in the case of Paul and Sandra.
Q) It's alluded to that "something" is keeping a lookout for the Alphan's safety, as their moon hurtles through the universe. What do you think is their guiding force and what purpose do the Alphans' have in the Big Scheme of things?
JOHN: What's great about this book series is that Mateo has explored all of that. We had specific discussions about that. What does the Mysterious Unknown Force want with the Alphans? Mateo demanded that as a writer, I have an answer to that question. I didn't necessarily have to share it with the readers (which I don't), but he demanded that we be consistent from novel to novel in our presentation of this "cosmic intelligence" and its goals for the Alphans.
Without sharing that information, I will say that in my own personal view - and this is what I wrote in Exploring Space: 1999 - I think the Alphans have a spark lacking from many other races seen in the TV series. If you look at the first season, the Alphans never meet aliens that are less advanced than they are. The Alphans are always the primitives. But even though they are technologically superior, those other alien races have lost something vital. The Pirians destroyed themselves, leaving behind their machines. The Zennites have lost the capacity to love. The Sidons are intransigent in their moral beliefs. The Deltans and Bethans are involved in a constant state of war. The Arkadians blew up their world.
To some extent, the universe as dramatized in Year One is a dead or dying place, filled with failed ecologies. Even the Earth of pre-Breakaway 1999 is a failed experiment - dangerous nuclear waste issues and political machinations seem the order of the day. The Alphans, by "breaking away" from Earth and heading out into the universe, get a second chance to escape the downfall of Earthman. On their journey, they witness notable "failures" like the Zennites, Sidons and Pirians. Why? Are they being groomed for something? For some new destiny? For some new home? That's the crux of the issue, I think. But that's just my point of view and not necessarily endorsed by anybody else, at Powys or elsewhere.
Q) Was there any input that you received from Prentis Hancock when writing up the final story of Paul Morrow?
JOHN: I was delighted to have his blessing and his brilliant foreword, but we never discussed specifics about the character. Paul's arc was very important, and seemed natural. I think it is very understandable and very human that Paul might yearn for a better destiny than one he would find as Controller in Main Mission. He had the training, the character, the strength, and even the arrogance to be a leader. I think Prentis Hancock would have loved to play the part as written in The Forsaken, and I for one would love to see that!
Q) Who is your favorite and least favorite Alphan and why?
JOHN: I like all the Alphans very much. I think my favorite is probably Koenig. I appreciate the fact that he isn't a space cowboy or exaggerated hero. He's just a man doing his best and rising to the challenge He's an administrator and an astronaut, like somebody you would find at NASA today, and that element of realism is very appealing to me. The easiest characters to write are actually Victor, Alan and Tony because they have the most distinctive voices. Alan and Tony are a little looser, a little less formal in their speech and thoughts, than the rest of the crew. Victor is wonderful because he's the philosopher, and as an author, you can bring forward all this interesting, metaphysical conversation through him and it never seems out of character or like exposition. The other characters have their hooks: Sandra is kind of delicate and precise; Kano loves his computer; Dr. Mathias can get testy in a crunch, and so on. I had a difficult time with Helena until I seized on the foundation of her character: intellectually she is a brilliant woman, but physically and emotionally she is frail, breakable. Her character is a conjunction of opposites.
Q) Will you be working on another Space: 1999 Novel?
JOHN: For the short term, I'll be involved writing a short story for a Powys Space: 1999 anthology, which should be fun. Mateo has a stellar line of authors coming in to write new novels and add to the mythos, including Brian Ball and a return engagement by Bill Latham, whose Resurrection, I believe, is the finest Space: 1999 novel yet put to print. Mateo and I talk all the time, so its very possible there will be another John Kenneth Muir/Powys Space: 1999 collaboration down the road. It would be a lot of fun to write another novel.
Q) Anything else you wish to talk about?
JOHN: Well, let's see, let me be a shameless self promoter here for a moment. I hope everybody goes out and orders The Forsaken from Powys (PowysMedia.com). I've enjoyed hearing the feedback from fans and encourage them to visit my official Home Page (JohnKennethMuir.com) and e-mail me their thoughts on the novel.
Also, my books, from The Films of Kevin Smith to Horror Films of the 1970s, can be ordered through Amazon.com or direct from the publishers. I also write a monthly column on genre issues for Far Sector (Farsector.com), so I hope some fans will visit and take a gander.