Fireball XL5 Re-boot: Oxygen Pills

2019-11-02 XL5 Thruster Pack Suit

As much as I love Fireball XL5 I have to admit that it was one of Sir Gerry’s earlier “sophomore” efforts and definitely aimed at young children, so there were often some rather broad liberties taken with actual science as in spacecraft speeds and most especially extra-vehicular activity.

(Even Sylvia Anderson groaned during an interview years later over the subject of “oxygen pills”.)

Well, this drawing will hopefully address some of those problems as I’ve incorporated aspects of the thruster packs with a life-support suit styled after the original pointy-shouldered World Space Patrol uniforms. The image is based on a sketchbook drawing I shared here a couple of years ago but there are two very important additions: The first and most obvious is the clear Plexiglas helmet while the second is the unit Steve is wearing on the lower right side of his harness used with the round disk held in his right hand – an “oxygen pill”

I’d like to say that I was the first one to think of a breathing unit based on an solid-form air supply but Wally Wood used it first in an updated SCUBA rig in his excellent apocalyptic adventure series M.A.R.S. PATROL /TOTAL WAR published by Gold Key Comics in the 1960s…but to be totally but to be totally fair Wally did some “borrowing” as well.

For several decades the United States Navy has used a breathing device that uses heat combined with potassium superoxide and sodium chlorate produce oxygen for personnel in fire-fighting operations. While it’s I’ve taken my own liberties with science in terms of the size and duration of the chemical air supply I think it solves the “Oxygen Pill” issue with a minimum of fuss

1971: Your Move

It’s a story that’s been handied down through my mother’s family for generations – two Cornish coal-miners filing a lawsuit against the public works administration for building the sidewalks too close to their butts. It’s tempting to dismiss the tale as urban legend but when you consider how the family physique combines a long torso with stubby legs it’s easy to believe the legend as fact. It also explains why running – especially long distance running – was always such a challenge for me as I have to cover twice as much distance as my longer-limbed buddies.

It was a condition that would be the bane of my entire running life but even though I’ve never been much of a long-distance runner I never stopped trying to do better and by the time I was seventeen I could turn a decent time for a mile run. It was enough to get me through football season and as a teacher’s aide for physical education class when I was counting laps for my students more often than running them myself, but the situation jumped up and bit me in my own low-slung Cornish miner’s butt when a lapse of judgement saw me signing up for a 200 level physical fitness class during my first semester at the University of Alaska.

The class first met on one of those grey drizzly days common to Alaska but the classroom was comfortable enough and before long I was joking with my classmates and looking forward to fifteen weeks of casual activity. Then our instructor walked in and reality scratched the tone arm across the 33 1/3 LP record of my life. His name was Coach Svenningson and he was built like the Bizarro version of me:

  • His legs were as abnormally long as mine were short.
  • Where I was stocky he was rail-thin.
  • Where I was endomorphic his body fat percentage easily went into negative.

At least he didn’t have that frustrated drill instructor mindset found in some coaches and was soft-spoken and occasionally smiling as he passed out copies of the syllabus and highlighted some of the fitness activities we’d be doing. At first we’d be doing a lot of stretching and warm-up work and the last part of the term would involve a lot of handball but most of the semester would involve running.

It was definitely not what I wanted to hear.

Up until this time I had been somewhat of a dilettante when it came to athletics – or anything for that matter. Whether it was drawing, football, judo or shooting I was good for at best two months before I’d get distracted into something more interesting, which worked in quite nicely with the nine-week grading periods that broke up the school year but college was a whole new animal and I’d have to stick with this class for twice as long as usual.

Fortunately this particular set of concerns fell by the wayside as all my studies commenced in earnest and for the first few weeks the physical fitness class was just one academic blur among others as we sedately worked our way thorough Coach’s preparatory program of calisthenics and stretching.

…and then there came D-Day, or rather R-Day: the dreaded day we were to start running, which wasn’t all that dreadful because it entailed some easy laps around the gym (which I could handle) followed with laps around the Beluga1 annex which I assumed that I could learn to handle…but looking forward I could see that when we started running outside any measure of “handling” on my part was theoretical at best.

Given the university’s geographical location less than two degrees south of the Arctic Circle running outside meant dealing with conditions cooler, wetter and a bit less sunny that I was used to for autumn. I was granted a very minor respite when we were given a choice of several trails to run but the shortest was two and half miles long so I’d have to more than double my heretofore best effort. In the hyperlogical mindset of an eighteen-year old male all I could was cling to hope that the support and traction provided by my brand new blue Puma® running shoes would carry me through the course.

…then we were given a sketch map of the course and I knew I was screwed. The run would start at the Beluga but then almost immediately went straight up the slope that separated the upper and lower campuses before crossing Yukon Road and making a loop over a rolling forest track2.

Even though we were still inside I shivered. I was going to be engaged in my least favorite form of exercise while

  • Covering twice as far as my best distance
  • Negotiating one big slope followed by several smaller ones
  • Wet, sloppy weather that could turn into snow at anytime

I decided that no running shoe (no matter how cool the logo) would get me through that distance so immediately after class I went to the administration building to drop the class, but as I was picking up a drop card I ran into a friend from high school who was in the process of dropping out of all his classes and going home. It startled me – he’d been a stellar student athlete all through high school and was the last person I’d expect to quit, but as I looked at him filling out forms I had an epiphany: no matter how hard my classes were or how homesick I became there was no way I was going to spend four more years taking the easy path in life.

…which is why – despite all my doubts – I tore up the drop card and showed up at the next physical fitness class and lined up at the start point of the 2 ½ mile trail.

I started up the hill, thinking that if I could get through wind sprints in football practice I could make it up the hill, a thought my body stoutly rejected as I barfed at the top of the slope. As I crossed the road my legs wobbling and feeling more like Jell-O than flesh and bone and for a moment I considered hiding in the trees until I could fall with the pack on the return trip down the slope but all I could think of was my former classmate dropping of school so I kept going, albeit at a brisk walk rather than a run.

It was more of a barely-controlled forward fall than a brisk walk and I found myself wheeze-singing3 a song I’d heard just before I left for class that morning: “Your Move” by the British progressive rock bank Yes:

Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life.
Make the white queen run so fast she hasn’t got time to make you a wife.
‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and its news is captured
For the queen to use.

 Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.


My run during the next class wasn’t much better, though I did manage to avoid throwing up and during my third time around the trail I was able to manage a slow jog for part of the course. As I’d go through the lyrics my mind would fill in the bass drum that slowly marked time along with the flawlessly blended harmony.

Don’t surround yourself with yourself,
Move on back two squares,
Send an Instant Karma to me,
and Initial it with loving care

Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.

After the third or fourth circuit around the trail I began to think about the message of the song – the game of chess as an allusion to a romantic relationship, something that was extremely interesting to me now that the Petite Blonde at church was becoming my Best Friend

‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and its news is captured
For the queen to use.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.

Before long I was jogging for the entire course and then one day I found myself running for the entire two and half miles….and once I was able to painlessly4 run the trail I found myself appreciating the golden explosion that is autumn in Alaska:

  • the brilliant golden fall colors
  • the sounds of birds calling to each other
  • the slightly sour smell of unpicked cranberries after a frost

…and then it came time to switch to other fitness activities and while I thoroughly enjoyed learning to play handball I felt a vague sense of loss. Running remained my least favorite form of exercise but I’d finally been able to figure out why cross-country running was so popular among some of my friends in high school…and mulling the lyrics to Your Move helped me figure out the direction a budding romance was headed

Most importantly it was the first time I took on a very difficult/almost insurmountable task and stuck with it all the way through to a successful completion, and while my future still held instances of me “getting out while the getting was good” I’ve been able to look back at the two-and-a-half mile trail and draw strength in hard times. As a later mentor would say I’d taken the first step into adulthood by making myself do something difficult even though I didn’t want to.

 


 

Notes:

  1. The Beluga was a large white inflatable building nicknamed for the white whales that inhabited Alaskan waters and was situated just to the west of the Patty athletic complex. It housed the university’s hockey rink but during the off-season it provided shelter for tennis and jogging during inclement weather.
  2. An area now taken up by the Reichardt building, Troth Yedda Park and assorted student housing cabins.
  3. “Wheeze-singing” entails quietly singing through the gasps and wheezes of the belabored breathing brought on by heavy exercise. It was a sort of a Zen exercise I developed to focus my attention away from the pain and discomfort of running in high school long before portable stereos had been invented.
  4. …well, less painfully maybe.

 

 

This is an extended version – the one I listened/sang to lacked the more electric & energetic section that starts up after the fade-out.

 

Two And A Haldf Mile Trail (2)

The  closest I could get to finding a picture of the 2 1/2 mile trail at the time I was running on it. While this is definitely a photo taken in Alaska the trees look a little tall for Fairbanks. It was a share of a share of a share on Facebook so I don’t have a proper credit but please contact me if you know the photographer

 

 

2019: Creative Volleyball

While all three of my children have a good measure of creative talent none of them chose to enter a creative field, a decision brought about by a lifetime of watching the hoops I had to continually jump through to collect on invoices. I can’t blame them as I’ve had similar sentiments, often wishing I’d stayed in the army for thirty or even stayed on a roustabout at Swanson River.

However, there are times when I’d liked to have seen one of my kids carry on the tradition.…which it makes me all that happier when I see one of my grandchildren pick up a pencil or start smashing clay around. All seven of them “make stuff” to some extent but Conrad’s middle son Henry shows the strongest creative inclination, and while I’ve sent drawings via post cards to all the kids Henry gets special treatment.

Henry's Lord of The Moon

Most recently he sent us a drawing of “The Lord of the Moon” and I felt compelled to respond in kind. I don’t know much about “The King of the Moon” but I have read couple of graphic novels about Marvel’s Batman-clone Moon Knight, so I came with a MK drawing to match Henry’s “Moon Lord”. I will be sending a couple copies to him this coming week to include a finished version colored with Prismacolor designers’ markers as well as a couple of plain B&W copies that Henry can color himself.

2019-11-01 Henry's Moon Knight

I may be a day’s drive away from most of my grandkids but I still try to be part of their lives.

A Different Perspective on Fireball XL5…

2019-10-04 VenusZuniRevision

Granted today isn’t a Saturday and even though some of what follows has previously seen print, what I’m writing today isn’t really a Saturday morning re-run. It’s no secret that I am a big Gerry Anderson fan and of all his productions Fireball XL5 is my favorite …but as I check my stats each day it appears that the adventures of Steve Zodiac and company are highly favored by a sizeable number of my readers as well.

…and as it can be a little difficult at times to pick out all the XL5 blog posts I’m putting together a dedicated portfolio for the topic with a link on my blog’s task bar to make it easier to access. The portfolio will include most of the polished conceptual work I’ve come up with along with selected text – including this rework of a Fireball XL5 review I did for Amazon.com several years ago:

 Fireball XL5 is one of Sir Gerry Anderson’s earlier “sophomore” shows produced before he hit it big with Thunderbirds and the prime-time live action shows like Space: 1999. It is not nearly as well-polished; indeed most commentaries refer to it has possessing a “naïve charm” but out of all his work it is hands-down my very favorite.

 Why?

 Great music: If the opening credits aren’t the best ever in the history of broadcast TV then they should at least be in the top ten. Classical brass orchestra music underlies Steve and Venus boarding the ship, then as the engine fires up the music breaks into a dirty bad saxophone measure as it accompanies Fireball as it is hurtling down the launch track and leaping into the sky.

  All ages appeal: I can share these shows with my grandkids without them getting either terrified or bored. There are lots of explosions and action, but any suspense in an episode is usually brought on by some sort of count-down rather than having some psycho armed with an ax chasing people through an old house.

Great eye candy: For the conditions under which it was filmed, Fireball XL5 is visually stunning. Even though I liked the stories the budding artist inside of me was fascinated with the design aspect. Despite the slim budget the quality of their work made it very evident that the model makers and special effects crew would be going on to bigger and better things – most big-budget work like the Bond movies

Positive message: As I mentioned before, Fireball XL5 doesn’t leave kids scared at the end of the episode. These shows were pre-Star Trek and pre- Lost in Space and at that time most other science fiction on the tube consisted of the rare ‘50s sci-fi movie shown at odd hours – and to be honest I didn’t care for most of those shows. The plots usually revolved around the monster (there was always a monster) killing and/or eating the secondary characters one by one until the hero saved the remaining crew members by killing the monster.

None of that victim crap with Steve Zodiac. First off, Fireball XL5 (the ship itself) looked, flew and fought like a freaking F104 Starfighter rather than wallowing around helplessly like most other cinematic spacecraft at the time. Colonel Zodiac wasn’t above packing heat himself and dropped more than one alien foolish enough to try and see who would blink first – though I found it odd that his sidearm was extremely versatile, being able to fire any kind of ray or projectile the script required in a particular scene.

The only problem I had with the show as the stilted manner in which the marionettes moved. Personally my innate obsessive-compulsive behavior prevented me from a simple suspension of disbelief so I concocted a back-story about a galaxy-wide epidemic that left victims with arthritic joints – which caused the aforementioned stilted and stiff movements – but to each his own.

Out of the entire series Invasion: Earth is my favorite episode – for a very special reason. I belong to a very select group of people called The Fireball XL5 Club. It doesn’t sound like it would be that exclusive, but this particular Fireball XL5 Club is made up of people who were watching the show when the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 hit. It was this specific episode that was playing – but for years I didn’t know how it ended; as the tremors hit our TV tipped over, pulling the plug out and cutting the episode off with about ten minutes to go. I spent the next twenty years wondering how Steve and the gang handled the vaguely Oriental-sounding invaders but then I found a fourth-generation bootleg VHS that carried me over until A&E released the DVD set.

I love the show and I while I wouldn’t have changed a thing “back in the day” it’s been fun to tweak details and exercise creative muscles. From the first time I saw Jim Ringo’s armored bat-suit worn by Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie I’ve been a fan of tweaking details. For example in today’s post I’ve re-imagined Zoonie not as a goofy sidekick but rather the vital crew member Zuni, ready to lend the muscle where needed, but retaining the original character’s good nature, just as my “Chris Rock” post yesterday put Lieutenant Ninety in a much different light.

Fireball XL5 Re-boot: LT Ninety

He gave us orcs, ents and halflings but I’ve always thought the phrase ‘the story grew in the telling” to be one of the most magnificent creations John Ronald Reuel Tolkien gave to the world. For me it neatly describes the convoluted trails the process of creation can follow…and my reimagined Lieutenant Ninety is an excellent example of that concept.

As I’ve written elsewhere FIREBALL XL5 is the Gerry Anderson program that I will always love the best. I’ve designed new vehicles and uniforms that echo the classic design and I’ve even compiled a list of suggested actors for a rebooted live-action series, but as I was reviewing that list it occurred to me that I’d come up with a group of people similar in composition to Ivory Soap (99 and 44/100 Caucasian). That prompted me to make some changes, not as a measure of political correctness but to stay close to Sir Gerry’s vision which was much more diverse than usual for the times.

…so out went Rob Schneider and in came Chris Rock.

I also wanted a dress uniform for the World Space Patrol and was favoring the long-tailed mess blues that the United States Army used up until recently, but it was a photo of Levar Burton as LT Geordie LaForge wearing that contrived piece of craptacular tailoring that passed for a Starfleet formal dress uniform that snapped the last creative Lego in place for me – add an outsized fedora and a couple of chains and –voila – you have a zoot suit.

It’s a concept that might not be all that far off as what goes around usually comes around. I swore in 1973 that I’d be wearing bell-bottom pants for the rest of my life, and I’ve seen halter-tops cycle in and out of women’s fashion a couple of times. Who’s to say that a “reet pleat” won’t be the height of military fashion in 2119?

2019-10-03a LT Ninety 2019-10-3b LT90 Color

Midnight Son Update 24 OCT 2019

There’s a lot going on with:

  • preparing the manuscript for e-book formats
  • lining up publishers
  • evaluating freight options

…. so this will be a rather abbreviated update…

As it looks now the e-book will go out on Monday the 4th November 2019 with printed books following in the mail by mid-December. This of course assumes that there is no extinction-event level asteroid-impact on the Yucatan Peninsula nor any opening of a massive interdimensional rift sending us all back to the Middle Ages.

In the meantime we’re still hammering out logistics and composing surveys that will come out next week. As we compile this information please bear in mind that I am new to KickStarter –which means there is a chance for a wrong key stroke or click on the wrong space.

…so if there are any doubts about correct contact information please get ahold of us right away!

The Eye of the Kickstarter Storm

(…AKA the latest update to the Midnight Son KickStarter Campaign)

If you’ve ever experienced a hurricane you know that halfway through the storm there’s an oddly quiet period when the winds die down and everything seems eerily calm. Unfortunately you are experiencing passage of the eye of the hurricane, a pivot point around which the storm spins and a period of near-normal conditions that will disappear as the hurricane continues to move.

We’re at a point like that now – the tumult of the pledge portion of the campaign is over and it seems like nothing is happening while all the accounting and number-crunching is going on but soon the pace will pick up again after accounts are settled and fulfillment begins. Fortunately I am a little more mobile (love those cortisone shots) and I have a great resource in my friend and Traveller guru March Miller who is providing invaluable advice/service in coordinating with printers and planning the logistics required for fulfillment.

It’s all on track and on schedule – and even though “on track” and “on schedule” are words rarely associated with hurricanes they fit perfectly in this situation.

Thanks again

 

David

My Personal Board of Directors: Charles R. Marriott

One of the best moves I made on the 17th of October 1972 – the day I decided to start keeping a journal, and though I’d had several false starts during high school I’ve been able to keep writing ever since that day forty-seven years ago. I started out using a blank book, then switched to typewritten pages during my bicycle penance and eventually made the jump to digital media in 1986. At one time I would write at least weekly but since I started blogging I add to my journal maybe once a quarter. I’ve never begrudged the time and effort in all that writing, my only regret being that I didn’t start and continue when I first got the idea in the fall of 1969; had I done so I would have had more information with which to write about Charles Rodney Marriott.

Thought I only knew him for nine months, Marriott definitely holds a seat in my personal Board of Directors, and by that I mean that group of adult men who advised and coached me through the rough spots and junctures in life and in general made up for the lack of guidance from my own family. I shy away from the word “mentor” as the only Mentor I knew of was a member of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents – a Tower Comics character of minor interest, being one of the second string of heroes ignored in favor of everyone’s favorite Dynamo. I learned the meaning of the word when I reached college but the definition was confusing – the idea of someone actually taking time with me was utterly foreign. It was also a word used overmuch and without a lot of real thought by people that I should have been able to trust, so I’ve adopted the “board of directors” to use instead.

Charles Rodney Marriott was a former Marine hired as an English instructor at Kenai Central High School in the fall of 1969, having served for thirty years and retiring as a warrant officer after having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As a service brat I was happy to have him as an instructor but looking back it was an unusual choice on the part of the school district given the unrest over the war in Vietnam and changes in society in general.

It was a time for interesting changes in our own little academic world as well: that fall the English classes were radically re-organized for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that, students were free to put together their own program. Marriott was my instructor for two classes: Newspapers & Magazines during the second nine week grading period and Motion Pictures for the fourth.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Newspapers & Magazines class other than we each would be getting copies of Time magazine and the New York Times national edition each week. I assumed that we’d just be reading articles and making reports on what we read so I was surprised when he showed up for the first class pushing a film projector into the classroom. We then spent the next week watching movies about the production and dissemination of propaganda. The films were ‘50s era productions made by the Department of Defense to counter Communist propaganda but despite the hyperbole they were effective in teaching us about propaganda techniques such as “Glittering Generalities”, “Jumping on The Bandwagon” and “Poisoning the Well” that are found in propaganda from both sides of the political spectrum – but I was truly baffled when the films stopped as I had no idea what we’d be doing for the other eight weeks of the grading period.

That’s when we went back to those issues of Time and the New York Times; we took the propaganda techniques we learned about in the films and tried to find examples in the news stories…and were collectively horrified to find those tricks and techniques in all the stories. We expanded our search to other publications and found that the pattern continued, and Mr. Marriott would have us discuss what we found while managing to stay fairly objective about what we found.

It was at this point in my life that I stopped taking news reports at face value and started to analyze each message as best I could as a sixteen year old from Sterling, Alaska. Even now I mentally filter every new story I watch or read through those analytical tools, tools that eventually got me starting to seriously think about intelligence and security careers in the military.

(OK, OK so it really all started with Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriyakin from The Man from UNCLE but Marriott’s class was a BIG plus!.)

As he was one of a team teaching the Motions Pictures class took from him later in the spring he didn’t have quite the same impact but he still would take time to talk to me personally about my life and my future plans involving military service – I think my status as a Navy service brat made it a little easier for him to be candid with me. Unfortunately a low grade classroom scandal about R-rated cartoons a student drew on a chalkboard prevented him from gaining tenure and he left KCHS rather precipitously after just one year, not even leaving a photo in the yearbook at his departure.

I saw him just one more time when he stopped by the locker room during two-a-day football practice the following August and for the next almost-50 years I had no idea what happened to him until I started research for this post. It turned out that he married Ruth Kilcher (pop star Jewel’s grandmother) and ended up living less than twenty miles from me when we lived in Knoxville until he passed away in 2005. Finding that out was a little tough to deal with, knowing that as I was teaching my teen-age sons about analyzing news stories for propaganda techniques the guy that taught me literally lived just over the river and through the woods. I would have loved introducing my sons to him.

…and I hope that as he read those local newspapers, magazines and watched local TV coverage he may have seen the stories that were written about our “family of artists”. I hope he was able to connect the dots and figure out who I was, and able to feel a measure of pride and credit for the contribution he made in my life.

     (Special Thanks to Glenn Tauriainen for assistance in research for this story)

Thank You Again Kent Gardner

No, your eyes aren’t magically getting better. Good friend and graphics guru Kent Gardner has once again come to the rescue and cleaned up an image for me. The original painting entitled “Middle-Aged” sold to a collector less than six weeks after I finished it and unfortunately the only reference image I had was a one of a run of  mini-prints we’d made before the sale…which was why the previous image was lacking in quality.

Thanks again “Gahd-nah!”