content by

Jason Henninger

Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Colonization is No Joke: Earth2

Another week, another televisual corpse to dissect. This time, I’ll stick the scalpel in the fascinating, frustrating world of Earth2, a show that—with a little more luck and a few different choices—could have been big time. I mean that sincerely. Earth2 had a whole lot going for it—cool concepts, writing, good budget. It’s one of science fiction TV’s more unfortunate casualties. It lasted a single season, fall of 1994.

As the rewatch-in-one series continues, I find that in almost every show I review I think of Battlestar Galactica and Lost, two recent shows that got things epically right and epically wrong. Earth2 has more than a little in common with both. As with those shows, there’s a large central cast in a hostile environment, survival hangs in the balance, and there’s a mix of sci-fi and mystical fantasy woven into the plot. In fact it becomes less science and more fantasy as the show goes on. Earth2 even has a few future Losties are in the cast.

[Lost. In space.]

Not Quite NeverNever: The Dresden Files

When I first took up this Rewatch-in-One series I knew that there would be a variety of reasons for cancellation of shows. Some were just bad to begin with. Some suffered from poor programming or marketing decisions. Some had writing or acting issues. And some? Well, I knew going into this that there would be a few I just couldn’t quite explain, shows without any weakness that I could tell, cut down for no good reason.

Case in point, The Dresden Files. Solid acting, cool set design and cinematography, what seems to have been a high budget and good effects, a load of excellent source material from which to draw. Why the hell was this only one season? A mystery indeed. Maybe it was cursed?

[Who wouldn]

Deep Recesses and Rarified Peaks: Manimal

Simon MacCorkindale. What a truly splendid name. Say it when you feel sad. Simon MacCorkindale. There’s a smile built right in! This jaunty name reminds one of Eddie Izzard’s alternatives to Jerry Dorsey. I believe it remained unchallenged in the realm of superb British nomenclature until the advent of Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Perhaps fate itself led this fellow with an amazing name to star in a show with a portmanteau for a title.

Manimal came and went during the 1983 fall season. Glen A. Larson created the series, along with just about every other TV show created between 1970 and 1990. As with many other shows from the late 70s and early 80s, you can enjoy it in two ways: either as a show that stands up despite some dated material (as was the case with Kolchak) or as a time capsule full of perfect hair and Members Only jackets. Manimal is a mix of both, but, let’s face it, mostly hair.

Also there was always a guy before and after commercial breaks going, “Mmmanimal!”


Their tofu scramble is a poem: The Middleman

Full disclosure: This is only kinda-sorta a rewatch. I had never heard of The Middleman (or the graphic novel that spawned it) before my intro to the rewatch-in-one series. The name came up so many times in the comments that I just had to check it out. So I watched it for the first time. But then I watched them all again right after so I guess it is a rewatch after all.

The Middleman aired on ABC Family in 2008. Read that sentence carefully and you’ll already know what went wrong.

The show felt like the impossible lovechild of Men In Black and Pushing Daisies, pairing absurd sci-fi and fantasy adventure with rapid-fire smartass dialogue. And it lasted almost one season. So, yeah, that’s an imperial ton of funtimes in a short span, accompanied by that long-lasting, familiar aftertaste of hating every moron who ever worked for the network that dropped the series. Things like this make battle-scarred Browncoats shake their fist at the heavens and cry out,  “????????????!” or words to that effect.

[Trout! Trout! Trout!]

Now Here are the True Facts: Kolchak: The Night Stalker

A supermodel dabbling in dark magic curses her competition, plucking them off one at a time, only to be foiled and locked away. An episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? No, that was cheerleaders, not models. A mysterious creature devoures zoo animals’ bone marrow and collects electronic equipment? An episode of Fringe? Could have been, but wasn’t.

Perhaps it is unfair, but it’s impossible for me, as a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Fringe, to talk about Kolchak: The Night Stalker without thinking of the shows it so clearly influenced. I don’t know if the creators of either of those shows ever directly credited Kolchak, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Chris Carter cited it as a significant inspiration for The X-Files. I’ve only seen a few episodes of The X-Files so I’ll refrain from comparing it to Kolchak, but feel free to do so in the comments.

[Zombies and robots and moss, oh my]

Bend Over and Chew On This: The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Imagine this meeting. Screenwriters Carlton Cuse and Jeffrey Boam pitch a series idea to producers. “An airplane crashes onto a bizarre island,” Cuse says. “There’s science fiction and romance and fantasy and big stunts and ghostly appearances of dead fathers and destiny and time travel and heroes and villains and wise cracking antiheroes and mystery. Or, wait… never mind the island or the airplane. All that stuff, only in the style of light-hearted old western serial adventures.”

“Will there be chairs broken over bad guys’ heads and lots of broken glass?” asks a producer. “And folks tied to railroad tracks? And a smooth talking saloon chanteuse?”

“Sure will,” says Boam. “And a crazy orb that causes super powers. And a hardheaded tracker with a fondness for fine crystal. And the secret origins of Levis, hamburgers and Dunkin Donuts. And a horse who knows Morse Code and plays chess and a mad scientist with goggles and an airship. Trust me, 19th century scifi is the coming thing!”

[Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam…in the ghetto]

Introducing the Rewatch in One

I wonder if a few years ago, when first launched, the folks who put the site together knew that rereads and rewatches would be such a big part of the experience. These rereads/views vary in length and depth of analysis, but what they have in common is that it’s fun to be reminded of why our favorite science fiction and fantasy stories hold esteemed places in our hearts.

The big stories, such as Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, or the ever-popular Wheel of Time merit equally big and detailed discussions. But there are plenty of shorter works also deserving attention. Take Firefly, for example. In its original airing, it didn’t even make it an entire season, but it has established a serious and lasting fandom.

[What do you do with the little guys?]

I Am Not a Number!: The Prisoner

Whenever a story pits an individual against an amorphous authority, it’s bound to be described as Orwellian or Kafkaesque. Seldom, however, does the intelligence of the work in question really merit these designations. The Prisoner is one of the few cases wherein the comparisons are definitely worthy. And for that matter, few shows since could fairly be considered “Prisoneresque.”

In my opinion—and I’m glad to say I’m not alone in this—The Prisoner is one of the finest TV shows of all time. It’s a very high water mark, to which elaborate recent creations such as Lost really don’t measure up (and the remake of The Prisoner I shall stick in a box with Highlander 2, the American version of Life on Mars and a few other Things That Should Not Be).

[Everyone votes for a dictator.]

The Answer is Yes: Mad Monster Party?

“The full moon brings out the monster in you. / A strange tune seems to be playing for you. / Could you be someone’s invention, so unreal as you feel tonight? / Did you sell your soul to the devil at that monster party last night?”

Imagine an animated monster film more silly than genuinely frightening but still very creative and not without moments of subtle menace. Sound cool? Now imagine that the film is an obvious influence on Tim Burton and Pixar. Definitely cool, yeah? Now imagine it’s a musical with Phyllis Diller. Did I lose you? Don’t worry. It’s still cool.


[Into the air, zombie bird-man!]

Series: Monster Mash on

The Beauty of The Kalevala

I hold a special fondness for poems and stories that bridge oral tradition and literature. I think it was in that switch, from oral to written, that fantasy as a literary form was born. Such works — the PanchatantraEpic of GilgameshOdyssey and the Mabinogion to name a few — are the ancestors of contemporary fantasy. The Kalevala is another such bridge.

I would not be surprised if among the erudite readership of this website there are those who have studied The Kalevala at great length. If you’re out there, please chime in. I’m just a casual reader struck by the scope, adventure, humor and emotion of the work. I would never have even heard of it if not for reading somewhere that Tolkien loved it. Now that I’ve read it I regard The Kalevala as one of the most engaging epic poems I’ve ever read, en par with Ovid’s Metamorphosis, though less complicated.

[Kalewala, taikka Wanhoja Karjalan Runjoa]

Making Senses

In Voltaire’s Micromegas, a gargantuan visitor to Earth says that in his home world there are 39 primary colors and 1,000 senses. Ever since Voltaire (though not due to him) extra senses have cropped up throughout science fiction, fantasy and comics.

Someone becomes a vampire and suddenly they can see at night, smell blood from a distance and hear hearts beating. Peter Parker gains a danger sense. Daredevil is blind but has crazy sensory powers. (We all know, or at least we really should know, however, that the old martial arts movie trope of the blind badass is far from accurate. I’m not saying blind people can’t be badass, but rather that blindness does not give you a superhuman enhancement to other senses. There’s a change in focus, but not an actual change in the nature of a blind person’s hearing or any other sense. The many variations of Zatoichi make for fun characters, but there’s no truth to it.)

How would it actually work to have a non-human sense? How would a non-human sense or superhuman sensory acuity feel? (By the way, this is just a big post full of speculation and questions. Feel free to jump in with all the answers you like. I’m not really providing any.)

[The traffic lights turn blue tomorrow]

Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog

Akira Kurosawa, Japan’s preeminent film director, has influenced just about every genre of film making in the west, especially westerns and action films in general (though some of Kurosawa best movies, I believe, are slower and more personal, such as Ikiru and Dodes-Kaden). Everyone from Sergio Leone to George Lucas to John Lassiter has drawn on his work.

Naturally, Kurosawa had his own influences as well. A voracious reader, he loved Georges Simenon. Stray Dog began as a novel, Kurosawa’s attempt at a Maigret-style detective story. Kurosawa felt his story didn’t succeed as homage to Maigret. I don’t know Simenon’s work well enough to compare, but I find the film (which Kurosawa adapted from his own unpublished novel) succeeded wonderfully on a number of other levels.

[For twenty whole years I]

Series: Noir Week on

The Boy Who Lived… With His Gran

Neville Longbottom doesn’t have Ron’s loving family, Hermione’s brains and talent, or Harry’s prophecy, lightning bolt scar, money, athleticism or celebrity status. He’s not the center of the story. There will never be a book called Neville Longbottom and the Misplaced Toad. But none of that changes the fact that Neville, the Not-Quite-Chosen One, is the bravest and best hero of the Harry Potter series.

Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?


Right on.

Neville is second fiddle to no one. Oh, and if you haven’t read all the books, stop here. There are spoilers below. Also, bad words.

[Read more]

Series: Potterpalooza on

A drinking song for the end of the world

Just in time for the Apocalypse, the ever-charming singer/songwriter Jill Tracy is offering (temporarily, which, if the world is coming to an end, goes without saying) a free download of “Doomsday Serenade.” So, keep the absinthe flowing and sing along as frogs rain down and the sun grows cold. Rapture, after all, does not mean the same thing to all of us. Should we all survive to see Sunday, the hangover might be bad enough to make us wish Armageddon really had come, but at the very least you will have a lovely song to play until the next time someone cries out that the sky is falling. 

Jason Henninger is optimistic and made plans for Sunday. 

Translation is the Other Side of the Tapestry

Henri Parisot translated Jabberwocky into French three times. The translations are similar but for a few details, most important among them being the name of the eponymonster itself. He chose Jabberwock, Jabberwoc and lastly, Bredoulochs (as well as changing le fatal bandersnatch to pinçmacaque). Forgetting any illustrations you have seen, do the words Jabberwock, Jabberwoc and Bredoulochs conjure the same image? While none are a match for either the glaive vorpalin or the vorpaline épée, which one would win in a fight? And how would the winner fare against the Romanian Traxncaxvici

In Ranier Maria Rilke’s poem Klage, he says: “Ich glaube, im Boot, /das vorüberfuhr, / hörte ich etwas Banges sagen.” Stephen Mitchell translates this as follows: “I think there were tears / in the car I heard pass/ and something terrible was said.”

Mitchell’s choice of translating boot into car rather than the more likely boat has always puzzled me. This changes not only the word but also the location of the action. In one poem, the narrator is near a body of water. Rilke wrote it in Berlin so I presume this means a river, which could then mean the argument happened in a small punt. I see a romantic afternoon gone wrong. In Mitchell’s version, a car. The narrator could be walking along any street. The poem was written in 1900. How common were cars in Berlin at that point, anyhow? (Perhaps Mitchell is a fan of They Might Be Giants.)

My understanding of German is negligible. I’m not bringing this up to criticize Mitchell as a translator but rather to show how a slight change in translation can have a significant effect.

All of which has me thinking, of course, about alternate universes.

[Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions]

My Sarah Jane: Remembering Elisabeth Sladen

Over the past year or so, the presence of Doctor Who in the offices has grown massively. New writers have come in with a pre-existing love for the show and others have discovered just what it was they were missing. The end result being an office that will talk at length about anything Who-related.

When the news came on Tuesday of Elisabeth Sladen’s passing, we stopped cold. This was Sarah Jane Smith, vibrant and indomitable, how could she be gone?

To say Sladen was adored is an understatement, and we simply couldn’t stay silent in this regard. Below the cut, you’ll find tributes to Elisabeth Sladen gathered from the staff and contributors here at, here to share their own memories and thoughts on the lovely Ms. Sladen.

Forever our Sarah Jane.

[Read more]

Series: Doctor Who Series 6

Last night I dreamt that Simon Pegg hated me

I dreamed that I was at San Diego Comic-Con.* I spotted Simon Pegg (with the same hairdo as he wore in Paul) weaving his way through the crowds. I immediately told him how brilliant he was and how I adored him. I told him I had been a fan since I saw him on Youtube in a skit with Bill Bailey where they played spies or assassins or something who jumped around on a hotel bed pretending they were at a rave or a disco or some other place that would be awesome because Bill Bailey and Simon Pegg were there. I just knew we could be great friends.

*Also known as the North American Fanboy Love Association.

And how did he respond to my outpouring of genuine gosh-you’re-swell? He was a total ass! Dream-Simon, let’s call him, waved his arms madly saying, “Can’t you bloody geeks give me a moment’s peace?” He told me that if there were ever a sequel to Run, Fatboy, Run he wouldn’t put me in as an extra because it was obvious I wasn’t about to run anywhere. I was shocked, to say the least. I mean, here was Tim from Spaced, spewing serious venom at me. And it got worse: later, Dream-Simon tweeted insults about my children and my religion. I vowed that if ever I saw that if I ever saw the bastard, there’d be some serious red on him by the time I was done.

And then I woke up.

[Schnell mit der rocker! Schnell mit der boogie!]

Tor Books: A History

April 1, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Tor Books. The story of Tor is the story of science fiction in America, a land whose history is marked by the future.

The Tor brothers, Linus and Wilhelm, were born in Mazdaberg, Switzerland, a small Zoroastrian town near Bern. Intrepid and inventive, the brothers were known as risk takers, adventurers and raconteurs of wild tales. As youth they traveled from town to town spinning yarns for whomever might pay them a gilder or florin or whatever currency Swiss folks used back then.

In 1898 they left Switzerland for New York. The reasons for this are uncertain; Wilhelm Tor, jr. says his father decided to depart after spending a long weekend with H. Rider Haggard. Linus in his diary said they fled the growing tide of anti-Zoroastrianism in Europe.

Whatever the reason for the departure, they came to America with only the clothes on their backs and a small makeshift cider press cobbled together from the wreckage of a freighter off the Bernese coast. The Tor brothers sold cider—hot or cold—from a small cart on the corner of 5th and Broadway in Manhattan, the site of the famed Flatiron Building. (Of course, in those days, the building was still flat and made of cast iron. It wasn’t until architect Daniel Burnham redesigned the building with a lighter steel skeleton that it reached its present height.)

[Know the unknown]

Fanged and Hairy and Mad

Why aren’t werewolves as popular as vampires?

When I was a junior in high school, I read Interview with the Vampire and, soon after, The Vampire Lestat, and I really wanted to be a vampire (though Anne Rice’s other novels all fell flat for me). Tortured souls, doomed for all eternity…well, I felt like a tortured mortal already. Vampires were always sexy and fast and melodramatic, and I only ever managed one of the three.

As everyone in the universe knows, vampires are popular. Lots of people fantasize about being a vampire. I think True Blood has it right: if vampires were real, they’d have groupies, in abundance.

Also perennially popular are zombies, but no one I know of wants to be one. And then there are werewolves. Far from obscure. Everyone knows what a werewolf is. There’s no denying, though, that werewolves simply don’t get the love the upper-fang set gets.

[The moon is steeped in milk and blood]