The Starlost bonus “episode”: Ben Bova’s The Starcrossed

In the interests of completism, and possibly masochism, I decided it might be worth reading and reviewing Ben Bova’s novel The Starcrossed. This book always comes up when The Starlost is discussed because, as the title suggests, it’s based, albeit loosely, on Bova’s time as technical advisor on the series.

The novel is set at some unstated time in the relatively near future: there are rejuvenation techniques, 3D holographic televisions, and legal marijuana, although pollution and climate change are getting worse (in a near-the-knuckle satire, the city of Los Angeles has taken to dyeing the smog pretty colours and perfuming it to make it more attractive). A television company, hearing of a revolutionary new 3D production technique, decides to make use of it with a blockbuster space opera written by Ron Gabriel, a popular SF writer, which is a sort of mashup between the concept of The Starlost, and Romeo and Juliet (two lovers from feuding clans of space-faring merchants run away together, fleeing from planet to planet with their families in pursuit).

Hijinks inevitably ensue as the production is moved to Canada to save costs: the Canadian production team prove to be hopeless incompetents, a Neanderthal hockey star is cast as the male lead to improve local ratings, the scripts are sourced from a high-school writing competition (something which I’ve heard asserted about the actual Starlost, but I wonder if it isn’t something that Bova made up which bled out into popular perception). Eventually it becomes apparent that the production company is just using the production as a cover for embezzling investor funds, and it all goes, well, south. Bova does, however, give his series the happy ending that The Starlost never had, perhaps a bit of wish-fulfilment, and incidentally invents the deepfake in the process.

Reasonably accurate cover art– most editions are just generic spacescapes.

As a satire of 1970s TV production it’s, well, okay I guess. The portrayal of the Canadian TV industry as small-scale and incompetent seems a bit ironic in hindsight, but then, at the time of The Starlost, it was. The parade of evil Hollywood executives, profiteers, drug-addled directors, prurient censors and ageing stars is entertaining, though not terribly original, and the SF elements are fairly slight but used to good satirical effect.

It doesn’t really provide much insight into The Starlost, however, mostly reading like the author’s rant against television production more generally. Some of it’s plainly not true: For instance a scene where model designers are shown as having no understanding of design or physics, which is certainly not the case for The Starlost‘s actual model team. Although Robin Ward might not be the greatest actor in the world, he’s certainly not a belligerent thug along the lines of “Francois Dulac”, the hockey player in The Starlost, Gay Rowan isn’t an ageing star rejuvenating herself to stay current, and the series never recruited any brilliant but drug-addicted Hollywood directors. Ron Gabriel, the Harlan Ellison-alike character, rings true as an antagonistic figure, but Ellison walked out on the series much faster than his fictional equivalent did. Beyond that the Canadians of the early 1970s were small-scale operators with a lot of anti-American chauvinism, I can’t really see much of the actual production experience in it at all.

Generally, then, I’d say it’s an interesting coda, but not one which really explains much about what actually happened to turn The Starlost from a good idea into the mess it became.

Story time!

New month, new school term, and not one but two new stories for you to read for free!

Big exciting news today: I have *two* stories out, both available to read for free online! The first is in Clarkesworld (which has the most awesome cover this month), it’s called “The Slow Deaths of Automobiles”, and it’s a story about growing up, moving on and saying goodbye– with self-driving cars.

The second story is in Luna Station Quarterly and it’s a(n early) Christmas story, of sorts, a British folk-horror inspired exploration of the true meaning of Misrule.

Enjoy both stories and please support the publications!

Where to Buy Management Lessons From Game of Thrones

This is the management textbook you never knew you wanted, but now you know you have to have it. The hardback has a scary academic price tag, but the paperback has a nice friendly RRP of £20/$30 or equivalent.

Amazon UK link here

Amazon US link here

Buy direct from publisher here

Unfortunately Bookshop.org doesn’t seem to have it, so if you want to buy direct from your local bookshop (and please do) you’ll have to communicate with them directly: the ISBN is 978 1 83910 528 9.

Not sure if you want to buy it or not? Here’s a sample chapter to whet your appetite.

Not that sort of appetite.

The Lunchtime Writer Part Five: On Breaks

One question which leaps to mind on the subject of Lunchtime Writing is: can I (or should I) take breaks? Maybe take a day or two off and make it up later.

Well, sometimes you have to. There will always be days when you have literally no time, not even a spare half-hour, for writing. Or other days when you really should, for other reasons. I remember one of Isaac Asimov’s editorial columns from his magazine, where he boasted that he worked literally every day of the year, and then added (also as a bit of a boast) that this had led to his wife getting angry at him for excusing himself from a holiday visit with guests to go write. Let’s just say there’s more than one reason Asimov doesn’t have a reputation for the greatest social awareness.

But I’ll also say that part of the power of Lunchtime Writing comes from the fact that it’s a daily practice. It’s like learning a language or studying for an exam or exercising or playing a musical instrument: in some ways, doing it regularly is better for your brain than the amount of time you spend doing it.

You can also, of course, shorten the amount of time you spend on it. If you want to make sure you get in some writing every day, you could set yourself a target of 100 words, or even just 1 word, on busy days.

But if even that’s impossible… well, my advice is to keep breaks to a minimum.