Saturday, March 1, 2008

V: The Second Generation

For starters, the concept of V was something I've always loved. As a kid, I liked the alien invasion sci-fi stuff. A nine-year old whose existence hinged on the Star Wars movies, sci-fi on TV is pretty much a no-brainer. However, as I got older I noticed the things about V that flew right over my head as a kid -- the allegory of the rise of fascism and its attendant side-effects.

Kenneth Johnson, the creator of V, walked out of V: The Final Battle before production began. He had hoped to keep doing a series of movies with the same sort of thoughtfulness his original cautionary tale conveyed. However, NBC had been pressuring for a television series after the gangbuster ratings of the original miniseries. Johnson reluctantly agreed to a second miniseries, but NBC demanded more action and less of the allegory. So Johnson walked, taking with him most of his ideas on how he envisioned a sequel.

Johnson's sequel was originally to be a screenplay for filming in recent years, but production was stymied for a variety of reasons. Knowing full well just how much fans had been clamoring for the project, Johnson turned it into a novel. Although my life hasn't allowed me to dive into this book as much as I would have liked, I was able to recently finish it. My verdict? It's okay.

It's 20 years later and the Earth has been under the heel of the Visitors all that time. The events of both V: The Final Battle and V: The Series have been ignored (for better or for worse). V: The Second Generation paints a very bleak picture of Earth's future. About half of the planet's oceans have been taken by the Visitors, extending coastlines and royally screwing up the weather. Much of the adult human population has been conscripted into the Teammates -- the human forces of the Visitors. It doesn't look like humanity has a shot in hell of getting their planet back.

The book also introduces a number of new characters -- the second generation, if you will. Unfortunately the development of these characters takes place at the detriment of the ones we already know, almost as if we're supposed to accept the familiar characters as a given. Another unfortunate aspect of this, coupled with ignoring the subsequent productions, is that we are given nearly no clue as to what happened to several of the key characters from the original miniseries. Kenneth Johnson did such a great job in the original miniseries getting us to care about the characters that not knowing what happened to most of them was almost a betrayal (I apologize for slipping into fanboy hyperbole there).

Like the miniseries that spawned it, the novel also moves in a bunch of different directions. While this sort of thing works in screenplays, it's a bit jarring in a novel. Maybe I'm approaching the old-as-dirt demographic but I found it almost akin to MTV-style, jump-cut editing but in prose. This admittedly is a minor quibble.

Without spoiling things, the story itself doesn't totally deliver. The story builds up to a climax that relies on too many pieces being in place to stop a ticking clock that seems to be there for the sake of heightening emotion. It's not terrible, and I certainly wasn't expecting a retread of the miniseries, but I had truly hoped for something that would have built on the sole fact that 20 years under the Visitors would have made life incredibly difficult. How would that have changed society? Johnson touches on this stuff briefly but seems to feel that mentioning it is enough and that exploration of it would get in the way.

I really wanted to like this novel. For years, I had been curious as to what Kenneth Johnson had in mind as to a follow-up. While the story is moderately entertaining, it unfortunately pales when compared to the original miniseries. I'm sure Mr. Johnson put a lot of effort into this, but I didn't like it. Kenny, I'm sorry. I will continue to sing your praises from the highest mountains for creating V, in addition to your fine work on The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation. I truly wish this novel were better than it is, but it's not.

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