Tuesday, February 26, 2008

V: The 2nd Generation--Reviewed

If you're like me, you've been waiting for a proper sequel to the 1983 NBC miniseries, V (written & directed by Ken Johnson) for the last 25 years. (Jesus, I'm old.) NBC did air a sequel mini (The FInal Battle), but by then the network and creator had parted ways and the result was... best forgotten. There was even a short-lived weekly series--again, best forgotten.

Which is exactly what Johnson has done in this new novel, adapted from his unproduced script for a new miniseries: he's utterly ignored The Final Battle and the subsequent regular series. *whew*

For the uninitiated (everyone else can skip to the blockquoted section below), V is political allegory disguised as sci-fi, inspired by the classic Arthur C Clarke novel Childhood's End and various WWII/holocaust books and movies, including "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis.

The original mini, and the new novel both carry the dedication: "To The Heroism of Resistance Fighters--Past, Present and Future--This Work Is Respectfully Dedicated."

The plot has aliens who appear to look just like us coming to earth "because we need your help" to save their planet from environmental catastrophe. In return for our help, they promise to share with us "all the fruits of our knowledge" and then leave us as they came: in peace.

In reality, they are a reptilian, fascist superpower--a sci-fi version of the Third Reich that immediately sets about doing to Earth's scientific community what the Nazis did to the Jews.

In short order, they have succeeded in conquering the whole planet without firing a shot, whereupon their real operation begins: the theft of every last drop of Earth's water, which "will take a generation." Next, tens of thousands of people start disappearing, and we realize that there is another basic shortage on the alien planet: food.

There is also a throwaway line about some humans being used as soldiers to fight in a war against their Leader's enemy, an unknown power that has defeated them before.

At the end of the mini, the human resistance leader sends a distress signal into space pleading for that unknown enemy's intervention. This is done with the understanding that it might be decades before they receive any response and longer before help arrives, if it comes at all.

Even if they do come, the resistance knows it's a gamble. There's no guarantee that the enemy of their enemy will be their friend. The 2nd Generation picks up the story 20 years later...

As a novel, V: The Second Generation is pretty bad. Johnson's prose is wooden (that's being generous). He tends to pepper the book with a lot of the same phrases and exposition over and over again—to the point of absurdity. I also noticed a certain tendency to describe his female characters (even the aliens) based on their sexual attributes.

Without actors to bring them to life, his characters tend to fall pretty flat. With the continuing characters—Julie, Donovan, Diana, et al—at least we (and Johnson) have the memory of the actor to fall back on, and that helps... The new characters don't fare as well. They are almost uniformly one-note.

The exception is Emma, the popstar/collaborator who has Diana's ear and who, in the end, does what I'm convinced Christine Walsh would have done if Johnson had remained in control of V back in the 80s: she redeems herself by giving Diana a hidden camera interview no one will ever forget. Emma being a popstar, and not a journalist, it doesn't resonate quite as well as I think it would have with Christine (who doesn't appear)--but it's still powerful. One of the best scenes in the book.

The Leader also makes quite an impression, though in such a small appearance we never really get to know her. Yes, her. Though the original mini has several references to The Leader as a "he," Johnson (for reasons unknown) retconned him into a she. Eh, whatevs. It worked.

Anyway, as bad as it is as a novel, as a story, I found V: The Second Generation immensely satisfying.

It’s not perfect—far from it—but it is undeniably superior to The Final Battle, and that's the bar it had to clear. At least, with me. We finally have the proper resolution promised--and demanded--by Johnson's original mini, as well as a very interesting way forward if he chooses to (or has the opportunity to) continue. After all this time, V: The Second Generation is quite a thrill.

So, here's a brief (haha) rundown of the plot with some further commentary/criticism....
Read the rest, if you're so inclined, here.


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