Friday, January 14, 2005

They were expendable

Over in the DVD Verdict forums — aka The Jury Room — there's currently an active thread about science fiction or fantasy films that would make great movies. I offered these suggestions:

Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat (especially The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World) and Deathworld (especially Deathworld 2) series. Great science fiction in the classic style, with a sense of humor.

Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. Two of my favorite stories of all time, and perhaps Asimov's best-realized robot novels.

Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever series. People who dig The Lord of the Rings or sword-and-sorcery fantasies would enjoy these incredible tales about a man with leprosy who is mysteriously transported to a land of dark magic, where he becomes an unwilling hero.

And especially, a real, honest-to-Lester Dent Doc Savage, Man of Bronze.

After I'd submitted by post to the thread, I thought of another group of science fiction novels that, in the hands of the right filmmaker and with today's CGI capabilities, would make fantastic movies.

Back in the 1970s, veteran sci-fi writer Edmund Cooper (using the pseudonym Richard Avery) penned a series of paperback potboilers about a spacefaring team of explorers who traveled to new worlds and made them safe for colonization by humans. The team was called the Expendables, because the United Nations staffed the missions with convicted felons (each of whom also happened to be a brilliant expert in some field of science) facing life in prison or death sentences. Half the team got wiped out in every book, thus proving themselves genuinely "expendable."

The leader of the Expendables was Captain James Conrad, an irascible cuss with one bionic arm and one bionic eye, who'd been kicked out of command duty in the Space Service in disgrace due to his violent tendencies. Conrad's faithful companions were Lieutenant Indira Smith, a woman from the Subcontinent with bionic legs and white hair (from the trauma that cost her the legs), and Dr. Kurt Kwango, a half-Nigerian, half-German ecologist who was both the brains and the muscle of the operation. (As you might suppose from their survival throughout the entire series, these three characters were not, in fact, expendable. Their traveling companions, on the other hand, might as well have worn red-shirted Starfleet security uniforms.)

In each novel, Conrad, Smith and Kwango would lead their merry band of cutthroat geniuses to a nearly discovered Earth-type planet, charged with taming whatever native dangers existed there so mankind could manifest-destiny its way in. Of course, each planet to which the Expendables traveled held some awful secret. Kratos (The Deathworms of Kratos) was overrun by gigantic, flesh-eating, wormlike creatures. Tantalus (The Rings of Tantalus) was guarded by killer robot monkeys. Zelos (The War Games of Zelos) was populated by real live human beings, whose appearance and culture was remarkably like that of Earth's ancient Vikings. Argus (The Venom of Argus) carried a double threat — carnivorous plant life and intelligent baboons.

The characters were uniformly one-dimensional and stereotypical in that '70s sort of way, but the Expendables' adventures were engrossing reads and thrilling, lightning-paced entertainment. And any of the four books in the series — especially The Deathworms of Kratos and The Venom of Argus — could be turned into blockbuster film fare along the lines of Pitch Black.

At any rate, I'd plunk down twenty bucks each for the DVDs.

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous EmEll offered these pearls of wisdom...

Thanks for the reminder of "The Expendables" - brings back a lot of memories, plus I am nearly psychotic due to lack of REM sleep trying to come up with the authors name.

Many thanks.

5:49 AM  

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