A while back, I mentioned that I might be doing an irregularly-recurring feature here in the blogspace, in which I’ll revisit favorite movie and TV tie-in books. As I mentioned in that introductory post, I’ll probably avoid talking about Star Trek novels and such to a large degree, as they already get a lot of attention in these parts (occupational hazard, you know).
This means I’ve got more room for other books and series, from childhood favorites to newer offerings. The former category is likely to get more play early on because the tie-in books of my youth filled a void that nowadays is largely addressed by the easy access to favorite TV shows and movies which did not exist in those days. With that in mind, I knew from the jump that I’d likely start with one of two other fondly remembered “franchises,” and after a coin toss I decided to go with the novelized adventures of Steve Austin, astronaut; a man barely alive and how they rebuilt him and made him better stronger, faster, etc.
For those who don’t know, the television series The Six Million Dollar Man began life as a 1973 TV movie which was broadly adapted from author Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg, which was published the previous year. The movie hits most of the wickets laid out in the book, but Steve Austin – the test pilot who suffers ghastly injuries during a flight accident and is later “rebuilt” using cybernetic components – is presented as a rather more likable character than his prose counterpart. For this first TV outing, there are also a few changes to Austin’s abilities and the depictions of his bionics, many of which would be tweaked by the time the television series came along.
The telefilm was successful enough to warrant two follow-ups later in 1973, after which ABC greenlit the weekly television series that premiered in January 1974 (Damn. TV moved fast in those days, didn’t it?). Even after optioning the rights for the novel to be adapted for television, Caidin would continue writing adventures for Steve Austin, penning three sequels to his original book. The second entry, Operation Nuke, was published in early 1973 just prior to the original broadcast of The Six Million Dollar Man TV movie. By the time the third and fourth books, High Crystal and Cyborg IV, saw print, the television series was in full swing.
Yes, there is a hardcover edition to the first book with a cover design that fits with the sequels, but I like the original paperback version better. In fact, my favorite cover is this one, created by renowned fantasy artist Boris Vallejo for a 1978 re-issue of the novel in paperback:
It’s interesting to note that even with the series in production and gaining popularity, Caidin opted to stick with his original characterization of Steve Austin. In his books, Austin is a little more cold-blooded and definitely more lethal, as opposed to his television counterpart whose exploits rarely caused any fatalities.
As was normal for TV and film properties produced during the 1960s and 1970s, The Six Million Dollar Man spawned a number of tie-in novelizations. Authors Jay Barbree and Mike Jahn penned a handful of books, adapting the other two TV movies as well as assorted episodes of the television series. Jahn in particular has the distinction of writing more Steve Austin novels than even Martin Caidin himself, contributing four books under his own name and a fifth written under a pseudonym, Evan Ricards.
In 1975, Warner Books was first to publish novels tying into the TV series, starting with novelizations of the second and third telefilms, Wine, Women, and War and The Solid-Gold Kidnapping. Fans of the show know these TV movies present Austin as something of a James Bond-sort of secret agent, more so than would be the case with the weekly TV series. Then, they incorporated a paperback edition of Martin Caidin’s third Cyborg novel into their mix, to include a cover matching the template established by the first two books. After two more novelizations – this time of individual TV episodes, Cyborg IV would become the sixth and final paperback in the series.
(I think they did this just to see if we were paying attention.)
But wait! There’s more!
Berkley Books was next to acquire a license to publish novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man as well as its TV spin-off, The Bionic Woman. The first novel under the new banner was Mike Jahn’s adaptation of the classic 2-part episode “The Secret of Bigfoot.” For reasons which still confound us mere mortals, the book’s title was changed to The Secret of Bigfoot Pass (though the UK edition retains the episode’s title). Aside from Caidin’s original novel, this arguably is the most well-known of the various tie-ins to The Six Million Dollar Man.
(Because it’s awesome, that’s why.)
Mr. Jahn would follow this with International Incidents, which doesn’t adapt a single story but instead connects three disparate episodes from the series, something that was atypical but not unheard of for TV tie-ins of the era.
One of the more interesting facets of these books is both Barbree and Jahn’s decision to model their depictions of Steve Austin on Martin Caidin’s original depiction of the character as much if not more so than his TV interpretation. Also, whereas a lot of books of this sort from that time period were done fast and with little regard for the source material, Barbree and Jahn took the time to make the characters and events true to their onscreen counterparts, and their takes on the stories often evoke the same feeling of adventure and fun of the series itself.
Meanwhile, let’s not forget The Bionic Woman!
Making a splash during a 2-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man where she’s introduced as a former love interest of Steve Austin, Jaime Sommers suffers her own tragic accident while skydiving with Steve, who convinces his boss, Oscar Goldman, to give her bionic components as was done with him. The story depicts Jaime’s body rejecting her new bionics and dying, but the character proved so popular with viewers that she was brought back for the start of The Six Million Dollar Man‘s third season, and quickly earned her own TV show which premiered in January 1976. While she would team up with Steve for a couple of multi-part episodes spanning both shows, Jaime would do her own thing for the bulk of her own series’ run (though the characters reunited for a trio of television movies between 1987 and 1994).
Naturally, tie-in books followed and Berkley answered that call with a pair of novels written by Eileen Lottman. The first, Welcome Home, Jaime, adapts The Bionic Woman‘s first episode (which actually includes relevant plot points from each of her appearances on The Six Million Dollar Man), whereas the second connects a pair of episodes from the series in a manner similar to what Mike Jahn did with International Incidents.
As a young reader in the 1970s, long before the era of home video and even before shows like this started airing in reruns, books of this sort were a way to revisit favorite TV series and characters. I came across The Secret of Bigfoot Pass at a school book fair in 1976, and I probably read that thing – conservatively speaking – a hundred bazillion times.
Yes, looking back at it now the episode is cheesy as all hell, but for 8-year old me? Steve Austin vs. Bigfoot was a battle for the ages; right up there with David and Goliath, Sanger Rainsford and General Zaroff, and Captain Kirk fighting the Gorn. It took me years to track down copies of all of these books, but I’ve had a copy of Bigfoot on the shelf pretty much since that day at the book fair. Aside from Martin Caidin’s original novel, it’s my obvious favorite of the whole bunch.
That’s it for this first go-around of hopeless geeky nostalgia. What should I do next? Planet of the Apes? Space: 1999? Movie novelizations?