Saturday, December 18, 2010
In Appreciation of: Space: Above and Beyond
Karen: As a kid, I grew up reading a lot of science fiction. In my tweens and early teens, one of the books I really enjoyed was Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Leaving out the politics -which as I got older, became more troubling -it's a great space war story. Later on, I read and re-read Joe Haldeman's Forever War. The backdrop of war is always a rich lode for writers; you can tell so many different types of stories, when your characters are constantly confronted with choices to make, particularly choices of a moral or ethical nature. Add in the element of science fiction, and the number of choices increases.
Karen: In 1995, Fox television broadcast a show that dealt with war between humans and aliens less than a hundred years in the future. It was called Space: Above and Beyond, and sadly, it lasted only one year, 22 episodes. But luckily for people like me, who remember it fondly, the entire season is available on DVD.
Karen: The show focused on a group of Marines, the 58th Squadron or "Wild Cards", caught up in a war between a united earth (although the Marines were definitely USMC) and a group of aliens commonly referred to as the Chigs, for their physical resemblance to a chigger. There were side issues too, such as the troubling involvement of corporate juggernaut Aero Tech in the war, questions over the treatment of artificially gestated humans known as in vitros (or tanks), and the alliance of the aliens and a race of androids (the AIs) that had fought a war with humans just decades earlier.
Karen: Of course each marine had their own story: Nathan West's fiancee had been a member of a colony that was wiped out by the aliens, but she was taken as a prisoner of war, and Nathan was determined to find her; Shane Vansen's marine corps parents had been killed in the AI wars, and she needed to prove herself; Cooper Hawkes was an in vitro trying to figure out his place in not only the marine corps but with humanity as a whole; Paul Wang struggled with feelings of unworthiness; Vanessa Damphousse sought some sense of direction. The characters were well-realized, with both admirable qualities and flaws. For example, Nathan's devotion to his missing fiancee was touching, but it sometimes became an obsession that threatened the safety of his team.
Karen: Space: Above and Beyond never allowed the viewer to get comfortable; like in any war, questionable actions were undertaken at times by our protagonists, and they had to take a hard look at themselves frequently. The aliens were not always displayed in a harsh light either; they even appeared to help the Marines find their way home in the episode "River of Stars". The show also had plenty of action, with the Wild Cards fighting in both space and on land.
Karen: I wish this show had been given a chance to succeed. As Fox often did with many shows, it jerked Space: Above and Beyond around from one time slot to the next, with an erratic schedule. I missed a number of episodes, including the two final shows, which served to conclude the story, more or less. Considering the success of the recent Battlestar Galactica series, which mined a similar vein, I think that the Marines of the 58th squadron could have lasted several seasons, if only they had been given a fighting chance.