Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dirty Books: Flash & Buck Tie-Ins

Not too long ago, I read Arthur Byron Cover's novelization of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie for the first time, and found myself entertained - and occasionally appalled - by Cover's frequently lurid embellishments to the Lorenzo Semple screenplay.

For example, while Cover (a well-regarded science fiction writer) goes to great lengths to try and explain the unique nature of the improbable planetary system encompassing Mongo and its plethora of inhabited, bowl-shaped satellites, his adaptation also establishes that Dale Arden had a penchant for 70's New York swingers clubs and group sex before being shanghaied to Mongo. He further strongly implies that Emperor Ming's relationship with his daughter Aura is incestuous and ongoing.

I'm not a prude - far from it, in fact - but, man, I wonder how many junior high school-aged fans of the film picked up the paperback and had their adolescent minds blown by those lascivious revelations?

I'm currently reading the 1979 Buck Rogers tie-in novel, That Man on Beta, by Richard Lupoff (writing as "Addison Steele") and based on an unfilmed teleplay by Bob Shayne. Clearly written before the weekly television show premiered (and its bible established, apparently), the book explores various elements from the pilot film that were never really followed up on once it went to a series. It is also riddled with inconsistencies that suggest that at the time it was written, the author hadn't even seen the finished pilot movie yet.

Twiki can't speak in this book, for instance, communicating solely in beeps and squeaks that only Doctor Theopolis can interpret (very much like R2-D2 and C3PO). Additionally, Theopolis himself is described as a square box, rather than the plastic alarm clock that the film prop resembled. And Doctor Huer is described as wearing glasses!

I'm only about a third of the way through it, but so far, all of the action takes place in "Anarchia," the post-holocaust wastelands outside New Chicago (here called the Inner City, as in the pilot film). This is an element from the pilot that was never followed up on once it sold; in the original movie, it's pretty clear that there is only one, domed city on Earth, and that the rest of the planet is a barren wasteland, inhabited by mutants and savages. I suspect that Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens - neither of whom actually had much to do with the subsequent TV show - may have originally intended for Buck to have occasional Earthbound adventures encountering various post-Apocalyptic survivors, in the vein of Roddenberry's Genesis II or Planet Earth. but, once Buck actually went to series, that idea was abandoned in favor of pure Star Wars-styled space opera, and we even saw other cities on occasion. This book also makes big deal of the computer council that runs the Inner City, but aside from Theopolis, we never saw any of those "guys" again on the show.

One thing the book does do, however, is remind me of just how much Gil Gerard brought to the character. On TV, with Gerard's charm and easygoing approach to the role, Buck came across as a likable wiseass. In cold print, though, he just seems like a dick. Of course, the story has him doing a lot of dickish things, like lying to Huer and Wilma about his unauthorized ventures outside the city and actually trading Theopolis to an Anarchian "gypsy" (who speaks in CB jargon - groan) for a minor bit of information. It's not a trick or ploy, either - Buck simply sees the artificial intelligence (one of Earth's ruling council!) as just a piece of disposable machinery.

Anyway, while the story and characters don't jibe with the show, it's still kind of a fascinating book. I'm curious how it turns out....


  1. Cover was probably playing up elements from an earlier draft of the Flash Gordon screenplay. There was a lot of sexual innuendo about Aura (mostly from Klytus) in the finished film! And Aura was Ornella Muti (drool)! As for Dale, the Ming's ring/seduction scene sorta speaks for itself.
    As for Buck, Huer wore glasses in the classic comic strip, so working from an unproduced script and without photo reference, it wasn't unreasonable for Lupoff to figure they'd follow the comic's visuals. IIRC, Starlog showed some of the initial production designs which had a much more "1930s-future" look than was finally used, and one sketch showed Huer looking very much like his comic-strip alter-ego.
    As for trading Theo, did Buck think the AIs could download themselves from one "body" to another, so all the Anarchian would get is some machinery? It's not unreasonable...

  2. Haven't read the "Flash Gordon" novelization in many years, but I remember finding it frequently hilarious--in a good way.

    Don't know about Dale's orgy adventures, but I'd argue the Ming/Aura relationship is implied in the film itself. When Ming uses his ring to arouse Dale, Klytus comments that she "rivals even your daughter." To me, that suggests that he's tried it out on her once or twice...

    They really did drop the nuclear wasteland angle from "Buck" almost immediately, didn't they? I recall there being a couple of episodes that ventured into the wilderness. In one, they're out looking for a Draconian scientist in exile; if I remember correctly, the landscape looks just like typical Southern California.

    On the other hand, the nuclear holocaust backstory featured heavily in the second-season episode "Testimony of a Traitor." That's the one where ancient recordings implicate Buck in World War III.

  3. Regarding the Buck Rogers novel, I wonder if this was based on the aborted earlier version of Buck Rogers that was meant to be a more serious, action adventure series then the more light-hearted romp we got instead.

    I imagine that once Galactica got picked up as a series, Glenn Larson felt that having two serious Sci-Fi shows was probably a bad idea, Instead, he transformed Buck Rogers into a "Han Solo" rogue-ish kind of character giving the whole series a more light-hearted approach.

    The character descriptions you give make me think that these characterizations were consistient with the earlier, unproduced version of the show.

  4. I read the Buck book which precedes this one. The thing I remember most about it is that the author described a palace as being lavish in that every room was "more luxurious than the next".

    Think about that for a second.

    "Wow! Nice carpet you got in room over's got, what -- is that cat litter?"

  5. You ask "I wonder how many junior high school-aged fans of the film picked up the [Flash Gordon] paperback and had their adolescent minds blown by those lascivious revelations?"

    Curiously enough, I remember being far more, um, affected by a seduction scene between Ardala and Buck in That Man on Beta than by anything in Flash Gordon. Go figure.

    In any event, I have both of these in my archives but haven't read either in many years. I'm thinking it might be time to go dig them up and read them from an adult perspective...

  6. Ooohhh... I haven't gotten to that scene yet.

  7. That Man on Beta was probably conceived when Buck was planned as a series of telefilms and never got filmed when the format changed to a regular weekly series. Both of Steele's novels appeared several months before the show's premiere, which probably accounts for many of the inconsistancies.

  8. I first read Cover's "Flash Gordon" when I was about nine or ten, having picked it up at a used bookstore. I re-read a few years ago and, like you, was a little taken aback by what I read there.

    My parents, bless 'em, were very strict when it came to what was and wasn't permissible on TV or in movies (I didn't get to watch an uninterrupted episode of "Night Court" until I went to college), but they never checked what I was reading. Something tells me if Mom had come across some of the stuff in Cover's book, that used bookstore would have been off-limits for me...

  9. Cripes. "That Man on Beta" really blows. I don't know whether most of the blame falls on Lupoff for his abysmal prose or the writer of the original teleplay for the crappy story.

    I'm just over halfway through it and seriously considering abandoning it... especially since I'm impatient to get started on the David Hagberg Flash Gordon books.....

  10. "...I'm impatient to get started on the David Hagberg Flash Gordon books....."

    You probably won't be, after the first few chapters...
    (I thought they were awful.) :-(

  11. I only skimmed the first couple of chapters of "Massacre in the 22nd Century," but the prose is infinitely better constructed than in the Buck book. Can't speak as to the story, obviously....

  12. I have all four of the Hagberg Flash Gordon novels but I've never read them. I just bought them for the cool Boris covers!