Reopening the Stargate

Earlier this week, word broke that Amazon was in discussions to purchase MGM. If that goes through, it could provide a return path for the Stargate franchise.

Reopening the Stargate

Happy Friday!

I hope the weather has been as nice for you as it has been for me this week. We've been treated to a bunch of nice warm days, which has meant that I've been spending a bit more time outside.

Some of that has been reading — I've been camped out in the backyard with a book and some music, and it's been lovely to listen to the wind and birds.

The other part of that has been a bit of hard labor: the local Masonic Lodge has been renovating their basement, and they were looking for someone to take the concrete. I now have a giant pile of rubble in my driveway, and wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, I've been dumping it over an embankment to fill in a small landslide that occurred 7-8 years ago.

It's coming along nicely and I'm hopeful that it'll help stabilize the bank a bit. Once the rubble is in place, my hope is to use the next couple of years of leaves and grass clippings to get some soil started, then transplant some fast-spreading lilacs to stabilize it further.

I've had a couple of other irons in the fire that have kept me busy this week — the thing that I've been most excited about is getting back to work on the cosplay book, which I'm calling Shapeshifters. (I don't know if that'll be the final title or not, but I think it fits nicely.)

I've been working on a preliminary round of self-imposed edits while going through and marking down where pictures should go, improving on a couple of sections or cutting out extra junk, and incorporating some additional things that I've learned since I've turned the manuscript in. Progress is a bit slow, but it's moving forward!

Onto this week's news.

This week in SF/F

Rebuilding a franchise

I remember exactly when I first came across Stargate SG-1. My family was visiting some relatives, and unlike us, they had cable. Toward the end of the evening, while thr grownups were talking, I'd wandered down to the TV while the grownups were talking, and somehow, ended up catching an episode about some soldiers getting zapped by some aliens who were protecting a Native American-like civilization on another planet. It turns out it was Stargate, and I was hooked.

At that point in my life, I was a big Star Wars fan, but I'd begun to expand into other things: Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Frank Herbert's Dune, and any number of books and short stories that I could get my hands on at the local school library or bookstore. Stargate, as it turned out, came at the perfect time. By the time I began attending college, the series was deep into its run, and I caught up, thanks to a professor who had all of the seasons on DVD.

Part of that appreciation comes from the fact that I attended a military college (as a civilian), and was generally surrounded by fellow students in uniform, many of whom also appreciated the show's sympathetic take on the armed forces. At the very least, it was a series that provided a week's dose of interstellar action. At its more complicated, it showed the men and women in uniform as I was seeing them: individuals, often going beyond the usual Oorah tropes that you often think about when you think "military science fiction."

I wasn't as big into Stargate: Atlantis, but I did really enjoyed Stargate Universe's run, short as it was. After that series, the franchise wound down as Syfy canceled each series.

10 years and a handful of spinoffs (354 total episodes!) is a long time for any story, but I've always felt that there was plenty of space for the world to continue.

And it did — sort of. MGM launched a standalone streaming service called Stargate Command with its own original content, a micro-series called Stargate: Origins, and there were some persistent rumors that MGM wanted to revive the franchise by putting together some sort of sequel to the 1994 film. But that didn't last: Stargate Command became The Companion – a standalone, subscription news app – and Origins didn't get beyond a season.

And the entertainment industry was changing: why go for a sequel when you could potentially stand up an entire franchise or connected universe?

There has been some work on a new series that will continue the franchise: series creators Brad Wright and Joseph Mallozzi have been talking about a treatment that Wright's been working on, and actors Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping have each said that they've informally approached to reprise their characters — if it ever gets up off the ground.

That efforts seem to have been grounded a bit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which stalled Hollywood quite a bit and might have put this a bit on the back-burner, but there was a bit of news earlier this week that makes me wonder if there could be a path for the franchise to continue: Amazon has apparently been in talks to acquire MGM, scooping up its catalog of IP, which includes James Bond, The Hobbit, RoboCop, and ... Stargate.

I've been rewatching Stargate over the last couple of weeks (It's currently on Netflix here in the US), and it's been an interesting experience seeing some of those older episodes. Some of those episodes don't hold up all that well, especially in today's climate, but there's a lot that the franchise could offer to Amazon should it want to do something with it. There's hundreds of episodes of backstory and characters that form a fairly solid foundation, and the show's conceit is wonderfully basic: a team of explorers travels via portal to other worlds.

Over the last couple of years, we've seen a bunch of streaming services develop or build out these sorts of franchises. Paramount+ has brought Star Trek back to television in a big way, while Disney is clearly envisioning the future of Star Wars as a television property for the foreseeable future as well. Amazon already has a couple of science fiction properties, like The Man in the High Castle and The Expanse (as well as properties to compete with the likes of Game of Thrones on the fantasy side like Wheel of Time and whatever its Middle-earth series will be called), Apple has For All Mankind, with Foundation in the works, Peacock has been building out its programming with a Battlestar Galactica revival, HBO Max has Raised by Wolves, a crapload of DC projects, and a Dune spinoff in the works, and you get the idea: a lot of these outlets have genre properties as part of their content offerings.

And franchises seem to be important to that mix: it's easier to get an established name up off the ground than something that's wholly original. Stargate has the distinct advantage of 354 existing episodes here. They have a wealth of lore and character relations, but which provide a good foundation, rather than a proscriptive future. If the original characters are coming back, it feels most likely that it would be a good way to use them to hand off the franchise to a new, younger (and presumably cheaper) cast of actors who could pick up the mantle and run with it.

And television styles have changed since Stargate first went on the air back in 1997: the planet of the day formula worked well because that's what Star Trek did, and it was largely before the serialization era of TV (with apologies to Babylon 5, which was way ahead of its time). I'm not sure audiences would really go for that these days — I think we've largely been tuned towards the 10-episode, season arcs that play out a deeper story. Stargate did that overarching story over the course of its run, but never really committed or focused.

Watching over those old episodes, I'm struck at how much is packed into them. Take any of those first season episodes, and what you've typically gotten is SG-1 visiting a new planet, they make contact with the locals, deal with some sort of strange technological, scientific, or social problem, run into the Goa'uld, and end up heading home.

That's a lot to cover in a mere 40 minutes, and I've often felt that you could pick any one episode and have enough material to fill an entire modern season of 10 episodes. I'd love to see a 10-episode season where they spent a more realistic amount of time trying to unwind an ancient language and figure out the implications of a long-lost technology.

With that time, you'd be able to really address some of the deeper philosophical issues around space exploration, colonization, resource exploitation, cultural differences, and imperialism. It would be fantastic to have them run into aliens who aren't just estranged human societies, or to visit planets that are weirder and stranger than we've seen before. Most importantly, you'd be able to take the franchise into some different and new directions, while retaining the core ideals that it launched with back in 1997.

There's a lot of potential locked up there, and hopefully, the folks behind the series will get their chance to continue to explore it. Maybe that'll be with Amazon at some point down the road, and hopefully, we'll get to cross through the gate once again.

Image: Andrew Liptak
Image: Andrew Liptak

Currently Reading

Two books down this week. The first is one that I'm going to be raving about for a little while: Carrie Vaughn's new science fiction novel, Questland. I've enjoyed her short stories over the years, but haven't dipped into her novels before. It was the plot that enticed me here: A tech billionaire recruits a literature professor named Addie Cox to help him with a problem: the staff of an immersive fantasy park that he set up mutinied. The park is on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, and he's lost contact with it for a while. Addie is brought in because one of his staff is an ex-boyfriend, and she's to accompany a team of security contractors to help regain control.

The park is a mishmash of various fantasy tropes: there's unicorns, taverns, mazes, mythical monsters, and more, where visitors can go and immerse themselves in the fantastic — think Westworld. Addie is in her element: she's a fan through and through, and throughout the book, Vaughn explores some neat issues about storytelling and property, and it makes for a really entertaining read. It's loaded with easter eggs for just about everything, leading me to best describe it as Ready Player One, but where all the references aren't a laundry list of nerd-signaling. It's out in June, and I'll have a longer review or something around the time it releases.

Also off the TBR pile is Becky Chambers' The Galaxy and the Ground Within, which was a sublime, wonderful read. I have loved all of the Wayfarers books, but this one was something special, especially reading it at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic (it's about a group of strangers huddling down together amidst a slow-moving planetary disaster), and it reinforces the idea that community is vital. Highly recommend that one as well. Also, if you missed our talk earlier this week, you can watch the recording here.

With those two books off, I'm moving onto the rest of the list. First one is Jeff VanderMeer's Hummingbird Salamander, Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis' 2034, and Charles Soule's Light of the Jedi. I'm also reading Lev Grossman's The Silver Arrow to Bram, which is a delight.

I also recently picked up Get Together: How to Build a Community With Your People by Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, and Kai Elmer Sotto, which is... about community-building. This is a topic that I've long been interested in, for a variety of reasons. I've helped set up a bunch of online communities over the years, from Geek Mountain State (a blog and writing series focusing on geek things here in Vermont), to the 501st Legion's Green Mountain Squad, and some other things. I'm also hoping to see if there's any insights I can use as I'm working on Cosplay: A History, given how much of that book is about community as much as it is costumes. It's also one of the books from Stripe Press — the online payment processing company, from which I've heard employees joke that they set up online payments so that they could stealth-run a small publisher.

On the horizon: P. Djèlí Clark's A Master of Djinn, Becky Chambers' A Psalm for the Wild-Built, and Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became the Sun.

Further Reading

  • AT&T dumps WarnerMedia. For Transfer Orbit subscribers, I wrote about last weekend's news that AT&T is planning to spin off and merge WarnerMedia into its own company with Discovery. It's an intriguing move, given that AT&T spent billions on the company just a couple of years ago.
  • Expanse finale. Ty Franck let folks know that he and Daniel Abraham have turned in the manuscript of the final installment of The Expanse, Leviathan Falls. Eager to get my hands on this one.
  • Feminist Chinese SF. Tordotcom announced a new anthology of Chinese science fiction: The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, due out in March 2022. "Written, edited, and translated by a female and nonbinary team, these stories have never before been published in English and represent both the richly complicated past and the vivid future of Chinese science fiction and fantasy."
  • Following through on Chekhov's Gun. Lincoln Michel over on Counter Craft has an interesting rumination on Chekhov's Gun and how it's interpreted and used. Essentially, follow through with implications in your story.
  • Hellish-boy. Den of Geek scored an interview with director Neil Marshall who's made a name for himself directing shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, and Lost in Space before returning to movies with Hellboy. He talks about the failure of that film, and talks about how the script was "never any good, and there's only so much a director can do." It's a good illustration of how artistic integrity is really an important thing when it comes to a film's success. (I'm a big Hellboy fan and I still haven't seen it.) Sigh. They should have just let Guillermo del Toro do his third film.
  • No corners. Stephen Graham Jones has an important piece out on about how we place Native authors (I think this extends as well to other racial groups) within the genre, making the point that defining someone as an "Indian author" doesn't mean that they need to be confined with that definition: "If not for the Native writers who came before, a lot of us might never have found our way to the shelf. We probably do have a favorite Native writer—the hard part’s saying just one name, and not fawning over all of them. But? What if the question were . . . “Who’s your favorite writer?” This allows the audience to suspect that…Hey, these cats read all kinds of stuff, don’t they? Isn’t that wild, that Indians don’t have to only read Indians?"
  • Putting the "Weird" in Alfred Yankovic. I missed this last year, but The New York Times' The Daily podcast hosted a rerun of its audio version: Sam Anderson's excellent profile of Weird Al for New York Magazine, which is a deep dive into his life and the enduring appeal of his music. I've loved Weird Al's music for a long time: my parents introduced me to it when I was in Middle or High School, around the time they went to one of his concerts and DIDN'T TAKE ME. I got my revenge though: the musician has a close relationship with the 501st Legion, and regularly invites us on stage for one of his songs — I've been on stage with him as a backup dancer 4 times now.
    The profile is a good one, although it has all the hallmarks of the "The New York Times discovers X, where X has been around forever", but it gives some good insight into his life and what's driven him for all these years. He's a genuine rock star, brilliant performer,, one of the nicest celebs I've ever met, and his shows are absolutely fantastic. (This is one of the best concert openings I've ever seen: I got chills watching it in a crowded theater, and I choke up at the 2:01 mark whenever I watch it. LISTEN TO THE CROWD).
  • Star Wars royalties. Another advance on the #DisneyMustPay front: another author, Walter Jon Williams, who published with Del Rey (which we didn't think was affected by this) has come forward saying that he hasn't been paid for his book, Destiny's Way.
  • Summer Reading. Over on Polygon, I rounded up a bunch of books that I'm most excited for this summer (May to September), including ones from P. Djèlí Clark, Helene Wecker, Brian Staveley, Becky Chambers, Jordan Morris, Shelley Parker-Chan, and a bunch of others.
  • Tolkien interview. A bunch of weeks ago, I mentioned that Marquette University was collecting oral histories with Tolkien fans. I did one, and mine is now online. They're still looking for folks to chat with them, so if you like Tolkien, you should set up an appointment.
  • Wool heads to Apple. Apple announced that it's picked up Hugh Howey's novel Wool for a series. Third time's the charm?

That's all for this week, thanks for reading! As always, let me know what you've been reading.

Things to keep an eye out for next week: I've got an interview with Becky Chambers that I meant to run this week, but didn't finish transcribing — it was a good chat, one that shares some questions with the event, but which also diverges in a bunch of places. We're also coming up on the end of the month, so there's a new book list for June that I'm working on, with some excellent new titles arriving soon.

Have a good weekend. I'm off to dump some rocks in a hole.