The recent death of Martin Landau, and the mad mess that Star Trek: Discovery looks like it’s going to be, got this percolating in the back of my brain.
Sci-fi in the 60s was a mixed bag. There was some really cheese stuff, but there were also some stories—and venues for those stories—that were truly trying to look at deeper issues in the best tradition of speculative fiction.
Shows like Space: 1999 and Star Trek were constrained by the limits of the day—low budgets, cheap SF/X, and isolated stories rather than the long arcs we’re used to today. That didn’t stop them from telling great stories.
Despite some admitted flaws, Ron Moore showed us that you can take a cheese space opera like Battlestar Galactica and turn it into a solid medium for telling powerful and insightful stories that resonate with not only the socio-political issues facing us today, but the still-unresolved issues inspired the great stories of our SF childhood.
A modern re-imagining of Space: 1999 could also do this.
First, push the timeline forward almost 200 years to 2199. Why not 2099? It sounds better. “2199" has a better cadence and rhythm to it. The flow of the sounds rolls off the tongue better.
Plus... it’s gives enough leeway to get us out of the “10 years into the future” problem that so much of 60s and 70s SF ran into. 2099 is only 80 years into the future. We’re already 18 years past 1999, and we have nothing like Moonbase Alpha or the Eagles. Our smart phones may be fancier than the gizmos used in either Star Trek or Space: 1999, but technology hasn’t advanced as much as they thought it would back then.
And neither has society. Yes, it’s changed. But the changes have been slow, costly, and much smaller than was envisioned.
Even as a kid, I had a bit of an issue with “Moonbase Alpha”. Why give it a label if there weren’t any others? 2199 solves this (and a couple other things) by adding at least 3 other bases.
Moonbase Beta is a research facility which has, at it’s heart, a massive super-collider. By utilizing the natural vacuum of space, it’s able to gain super-conducting capacity—and not worry about blowing up the Earth. (something else happens instead).
Moonbase Sigma is a secret military base built by a NATO-like alliance and kept hidden from everyone on the far-side. It is staffed by a small contingent of military, with limited resources and heavy firepower.
Moonbase Omicron Food and other consumables comes from collections of botanical domes (akin to those on the Valley Forge in Silent Running) located at the north pole. They contain plants and animals for use as food, medicine, fibers for fabric, etc. Eagles transport raw materials to Alpha where it is processed into plastics, fabrics, food, and other consumables and distributed to the other bases. Organic waste from the various bases is transported by eagles back to Omicron where it returns to the system as fertilizer.
Moonbase Omega is a “guardless prison”. The death penalty has been outlawed in almost all nations on Earth, but some criminals are considered too dangerous to be kept in even the strongest prisons on Earth. These prisoners are sent to Moonbase Omega, via Eagles. The cargo containers in which they are transported include a bunch of food, medicine, and supplies. Once inside the base, their is no way out. No ships, no space suits, no radio or other communication.
Moonbase Theta is a mirror of Omicron, but sits at the south pole, surrounding Omega. It is the life-support system for the base, providing food and recycling the air.
With the exception of Sigma (which is rumored to exist, but never verified), each base knows of the others.
Blink not Boom
It is a combination of the nuclear waste stored at Alpha and an experiment at Beta which creates the “Breakaway Event”.
Rather than an explosion providing reaction-thrust to cause the Breakaway, the buildup of unknown radiation interacts with an experiment in the super-collider and warps space-time, and “translates” the moon from one point to another.
The details of the “shift” or “blink” should be properly discussed and have a foundation in semi-plausible physics. But for the purposes of storytelling, a few rules would apply.
- The initial accident causes a fundamental change in the moon itself, making the entire thing the “engine”. It can’t be turned off or controlled.
- Blinks result from a build-up of energy in the “engine”. This buildup is partially from internal sources, and partially from external sources such as sunlight, solar winds, cosmic rays, etc. When the “capacitors” reach a certain point, they discharge, causing the blink. Eventually, the discharge threshold is discovered, and the blinks can be predicted with some degree of accuracy.
- The folding of space includes a “magnetic” component—the connecting points of the folds are attracted to stars within a certain range.
The basics of the crew can remain the same, but without regard to the sex, gender, ethnicity, etc., of the original actor. Make the crew incredibly diverse—in more ways than just their looks.
The only exception I might suggest is that Commander Koenig remain a man if the new storyline follows the original. At the start, Koenig’s orders and judgement are often questioned because of the circumstances of his leaving and then returning to Alpha. It should be clear that the doubt stems from Koenig’s history, not gender. If that thread isn’t used, then Koenig’s sex or gender don’t matter.
The crew, as a whole, should be incredibly diverse (though Sigma may be less so depending on how politics plays into the story). The moon is an international project and should look like it. This should also be reflected in food, language, habits, cultural perspectives and attitudes, etc.
So Many Birds
Eagles: ‘Nuff said.
Okay... for those who need more: The eagles must, absolutely, be present; virtually unchanged in design. They are the workhorses of the moon, and they are as beautiful as any draft horse could ever be.
But they’re not suited for every task, so...
Osprey: An 8-person transport vessel (like a mini-van) with no cargo capacity and some limited weaponry. Or they can be outfitted with less passenger space and room for light cargo or weaponry. Where the Eagles are the Sikorsky of the show, Osprey are the Huey.
Kestrel: A 3-person recon and survey craft with extensive electronics, but minimal weaponry.
Sparrow: Single-person transport and survey craft. They are fast, maneuverable, and completely unarmed.
Raven: A military fighter craft along the lines of the Viper (Battlestar Galactica) or the A-10 Warthog (US Military). These are based at Moonbase Sigma, and are not revealed until later in the show.
All craft should be realistic in design and function. Some may be built with a modular functionality like the original eagles (plug-n-play components).
Telling the Story
Space: 2199 should be grounded in a way similar to Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, but without so much pathos. It should also call back to the sense of discovery, intellectual curiosity, and social awareness of Space: 1999 and the original Star Trek. It would need to approach important and sensitive topics with an awareness and understanding of multiple sides to every issue, and not just be a trebuchet for lobbing social-justice anvils. I’d put it on the scale somewhere between Killjoys and Falling Skies.
And... it should work closely with scientists who love pop-culture; as both a tool for educating, and as a source of fun.