I grew up on the old Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica TV series, at least until Star Trek: the Next Generation started. There’s a lot of good science fiction out there to be read, and while I definitely enjoy and appreciate harder sci-fi, from Niven & Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye to Moon, the more sweeping and somewhat fantastical epics always find that soft spot in my heart, the place where I’m still twelve years old and believe that I can accomplish anything. Which probably explains some of my more erratic behavior.
Take Marvel Comics’ Annihilation, for example. A series of story arcs collected into graphic novels and consumed by Yours Truly, Annihilation is a war in space involving just about every character from the Marvel Universe outside of Earth (which was undergoing the Civil War at the time). Old characters got modern revamps, hated enemies forged alliances of convenience, Thanos was a canny and manipulative bastard and “normal” folks got some of the best lines. There’s plenty of action and great alien locations, making a Halo campaign look like a day at a firing range in comparison. There’s a sequel (Annihilation:Conquest) and a follow-up series, Guardians of the Galaxy, that had my attention for that short while I was able to afford monthly comic books. I’ll always have Annihilation, though.
Recently my wife and I finished watching the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series. It was her first time watching it, and the first time I’d watched that many episodes back to back. In retrospect, RDM modernizing the “Wagon Train to the Stars” storyline and deepening the mythologies at play was a very smart decision, as it deepened the characters and made the story more gripping. Even the much-maligned series finale plays much better by the light of what goes before it, without weeks of fanboy speculation/rage clouding the issue. However, in watching it again I noticed there were some interesting similarities between it and Annihilation that makes them and their ilk so damn appealing to me.
I’m a sucker for good characterization, and these stories tend to provide a heaping amount of characters. BSG in particular involved quite a few ascended extras. Marvel went back to the barrel and pulled out a lot of semi-forgotten cosmic characters, from Drax the Destroyer to Quasar, and brought them front and center in a variety of ways. Drax goes from a hulking green-skinned joke of a character to something resembling Riddick. It was like seeing Starbuck change from the ladykilling Dirk Benedict to the foul-mouthed insubordinate best-frakking-pilot-we’ve-got Katee Sackhoff. In both cases, the campy old version makes me smile and chuckle, while the updated version makes me smile because the character’s gone from camp to badass in the space of 5 minutes.
Doctor Who probably qualifies under this sort of science fictiony pleasure as well, but that’d be a post in and of itself.