We all remember the skin-tearing, blue-bolted awesomeness of the original V mini-series—and the not quite as awesome weekly series that followed—but do you also recall the effort to move V off your television and into the book world?
There was a brief time in my youth when I was very into the V universe. I wore out my VHS tapes of both the original miniseries and The Final Battle, and would have traded all my Transformers for a Hasbro-made shuttlecraft. Let's face it—Mike Donovan was pretty much the coolest guy on the planet. Except for maybe Ham Tyler. As the low-rent, one-season weekly series was stinking up the airwaves—it did quite poorly, of course, but the SyFy marathon is showing me that it was much better than I remembered—a set of V novels was filling up bookstores shelves, as well as my own.
Since the upcoming reboot does not look too promising to me (Seriously, the bottom of the ship is an HDTV? You're gonna stick with that?) I had to go into my old boxes of books and dig out the remaining copies that I could find from my V library. I never did get a complete set—there were 16 in all, many released after the show was canceled and the world had lost interest — but looking over the ones that survived my many moving vans was a fun trip down memory lane.
V: The first book based on the show was a straight novelization of both the Original Series and the Final Battle combined into one hefty tome. At the time it was maybe the longest book I'd ever read and actually did add a lot of color to the story, filling in gaps that were left open in the 10-hour TV-movie. (Basically more gruesome deaths and real sex scenes! Juicy stuff for impressionable minds.)
EAST COAST CRISIS: This was the first V book to break outside the TV world to introduce new characters and plot lines to the mythology. It takes place concurrently with both halves of the mini-series, but the setting is New York and Washington. You get to read about the adventures of the "other" resistance, led by an aging New York Yankee (boo), and learn how the U.S. president becomes a brain-washed pawn of the Visitors.
THE PURSUIT OF DIANA: Written as a prologue to the then-upcoming television series, this book brought the old gang back together—Donovan, Julie, Ham, Elias, the fifth columnist, Martin, and of course, lizard queen Diana—although none of the action from this episode actually made it into the scripts of the TV show. The plot details the immediate aftermath of the Visitors departure from Earth, as those aboard the L.A. mothership figure out how to return to the planet without freaking everyone out; rescue the frozen human dinners on board; and keep Diana from rallying her brainwashed human conspirators in order to escape back to her home world.
THE CHICAGO CONVERSION: Remember the creepy shot from the pilot episode, where the entire Vistor fleet is just chilling out behind Earth's moon? That's the setup for this novel, which also picks up after the events of "Final Battle" as a group of shock troops, immunized against the red dust, try to destroy the Chicago-based Resistance from the inside. It also establishes my favorite trope of the books—titles constructed with formula: "The [Name of U.S. Region] [Sinister Noun]". (See "The Florida Project" or "The Oregon Invasion.") I was always hoping for "The Michigan Rag" or "The Indianapolis 500," but it was not to be.
PRISONERS AND PAWNS: The next book in my collection, though not the next in the series, takes us back to L.A. for more Donovan/Julie/Ham/Diana goodness. It's also our first introduction to some of the characters that were later revealed during the show, like Diana's catfighting partner, Lydia. Although it takes place during the time frame of the first TV show, and claims to follow the continuity, it bears little resemblance to anything that aired.
THE NEW ENGLAND RESISTANCE: In this episode, V meets Stephen King as we travel to Maine to meet a lonely scientist, a town full of mysterious shotgun wielding rubes—who hide a secret!—and a sadistic Visitor captain who loves to torture humans (and his own kind) even more than he loves to eat them. The doctor has developed a new anti-Visitor toxin that he has to test (on Very Special Guest Star Willie!) while avoiding the human traitors among the simple town folk. Also, Willie can talk to bears somehow.
A note at the start of "Prisoners and Pawns," from its author, Howard Weinstein, explains that the first batch of books (starting with "Pursuit") were commissioned as a series of novels that would be released in concert with the new weekly series debuting in the fall of 1984. The books were extremely rushed and written without the benefit of knowing what the television writers were planning to put on the air. It was basically sanctioned fan fiction and in most cases the quality of writing rises only slightly above the average fanfic. The books are short, simple reads, but loyal enough to the themes and characters of the show that it's easy for a real fan to get sucked in. Mostly because they turned out to be way better than the show the show that inspired them.
As Weinstein wrote:
"I can only hope that the TV series has been good enough—and popular enough—that it's still on the air as you pick up this novel. As many of you know, it's not uncommon for a new television series to have a life expectancy similar to that of a person floating in the void of space—without benefit of a spacesuit.
What's will V's fate be? Who knows?
If the writers, producers, actors and all the other talented people who work on a TV series have the time to craft this show the right way, it could have a long run. Decent action-adventure, with a little thoughtful substance mixed in, could make for pretty good television."
Yes, it could, Howard. Yes, it could ... but don't hold your breath.