Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Lost In Space!

Previously, on The Fog of Ward:

Yeah, it’s been quiet around here lately. All I’ve got is that it’s been busy on the work front(s) and with other stuff going on leading into the holidays. Hopefully things can throttle back a bit during the next……you know what? I’m not even going to finish typing that sentence. Fate has already been tested enough, and it’s only Monday.

That said, I knew I should come in here and blow the dust off this blog-type thing, if for no other reason than to make room for new dust.

For those of you who’ve only recently discovered my little corner of internet banality and haven’t yet poked around too much, one of this places “irregularly recurring features” is something I like to call, “Tied Up With Tie-ins.” It’s here that I take a fond look back at a favorite series of novels based on movies or television series.

Given my penchant for nostalgia and collecting old books, I figure this is a nice intersection for those two interests, which often means I’m revisiting something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place during my childhood and early adulthood. That said, I’m certainly not above babbling about something published much more recently if it trips my trigger. A few of the subjects previously tackled represent books or book series which inspired a film or television series, so that’s obviously on the table. One example I’m pondering for a future entry is the series of “Walt Longmire mysteries” penned by author Craig Johnson and the basis for the Longmire TV series. I guess we’ll see, eh?

For this entry I’m actually straddling a bit of fence with respect to this property’s publishing history. Created during the same era that gave us the original Star Trek series, it’s a show that’s also experienced its own reboots and re-imaginings over the decades since its original television heyday. Despite enjoying a similar, near-continuous public awareness, it never cultivated the sort of tie-in publication history that Star Trek has commanded since the days of the original show being in active production. This, despite being one of those shows that to this day still has its ardent fans.

So, it’s not the U.S.S. Enterprise we’re talking about today, but rather the Jupiter 2 as we join the Robinson family, their Robot, and Dr. Zachary Smith as we all go and get Lost In Space.

Created by the legendary Irwin Allen, who also gave us Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants as well as a handful of memorable “disaster” films during the 1960s and 1970s, Lost In Space premiered on CBS on the evening of Wednesday, September 15th, 1965 – nearly one full year ahead of the original Star Trek. At its most basic, the new show was a science fiction-themed reworking of Johann David Wyss’s early 19th century novel The Swiss Family Robinson.

Indeed, Gold Key (later Whitman) Comics had even beaten the series to this idea, having already been publishing a comic, Space Family Robinson, for three years by the time the TV series was first broadcast. Everyone involved in the potential branding/similarity begats lawsuit fracas was apparently able to work things out to everyone’s satisfaction, as the show would use “Robinson” for the family’s last name while the comic continued to be published after the series premiered. With issue #15, the comic even started carrying a “Lost in Space” banner beneath its cover title. Even so, the comic’s characters and stories continued to chart a much different path than the TV series. While I don’t typically cover comics as part of these “Tied Up” retrospectives (there have been additional Lost In Space comics over the years, for example, including a run of stories set after the events of the original series), I’m including a sample of covers here because…well, because I love this hokey kitschy 1960s sci-fi stuff. 😀

Space Family Robinson, issues 1, 33, 46, and 55

As for the TV series, it centers around the Jupiter 2, humanity’s first interstellar exploration ship, carrying with it Professor John Robinson and his family along with pilot Major Don West as they prepare to set off for the distant star Alpha Centauri and an Earth-like planet which may prove suitable for colonization. However, there’s a stowaway aboard, Dr. Smith, who’s there to sabotage the mission and destroy the spacecraft. He ends up getting trapped aboard the ship in the moments before its launch, unable to escape as the Jupiter 2 blasts off.

Smith’s presence – and his weight – are sufficient to affect the ship’s trajectory, sending it off course and into the path of a dangerous meteor shower. Damage from the meteors and his own sabotage efforts – including programming the Robinson’s companion Robot to kill them – sets into motion a series of encounters, adventures, and dangers that eventually force the Jupiter 2 to crash land on an uncharted alien world.

This in turn sets into motion a series of encounters, adventures, dangers that basically show the Robinsons working to survive in their unknown environment while making repairs to the ship and being visited or threatened by an astonishing array of otherworldly beings. We’d see several variations on this formula over the course of three seasons, with the Robinsons and the Jupiter 2 escaping this or that planet, having adventures in space for a bit before crashing or being forced to land on some other desolate alien world…which happens to look a lot like the one they left behind however many episodes prior.

Say….that one rock looks kinda familiar……..

Perhaps somewhere in the vast multiverse there exists a reality in which the “Space Family Robinson” generated a slew of tie-in publications, but this – unfortunately – ain’t it. Like Irwin Allen’s other TV shows, the original Lost In Space enjoyed but a single tie-in novel based on the series. Written by science fiction authors Dave Van Arnam and Ted White (the latter employing the pen name “Ron Archer”), the novel – simply titled Lost In Space – was published in 1967 by Pyramid Books. Like many tie-in novels of the day, descriptions and characterizations of the Robinson family differ to varying degrees when compared to their television counterparts. In an odd yet fascinating bit of nostalgic geekery, the novel was reprinted in 2015 in a slim trade paperback edition featuring new artwork, which like the original version is now also out of print. Luckily I was able to snag a copy for my shelf so that I could keep my old musty paperback edition.

Lost In Space, the novel! The original 1967 mass-market paperback, and its 2015 trade-sized reprint.

Like the original Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and other genre shows of their era, Lost In Space enjoyed renewed interest in the early-mid 1970s while airing in syndicated repeats around the country and eventually the world. Also like Star Trek, the show received an animated sequel in the form of a 60-minute TV “movie” which aired in ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon block on September 8th, 1973 (which coincidentally was the same day the first episode of the animated Star Trek premiered on NBC). Unlike Star Trek, Lost In Space‘s animated offspring only had the single installment (which is pretty hokey even for Saturday morning TV).

It would take almost thirty years after the original show’s cancellation before the series was revisited, in the form of a wholesale re-imagining of the basic concept. Lost In Space, the movie, was released in 1998, and follows the same premise as the show with the Robinsons along with Don West launching in a one-of-a-kind spaceship and bound for “Alpha Prime,” a planet selected for colonization as conditions the people of Earth are threatened by the effects of pollution, climate change, and the deterioration of the planet’s ozone layer. The plan is to complete the construction of a “hypergate” which will allow for near-instantaneous travel to the distant world.

While all of the Robinsons, Don West, and Dr. Smith were recast, the surviving members of the original cast sans Bill Mumy all make cameos in different roles. Dick Tufeld also returns to voice the Robot as he did for the 60s series. Despite what should have been a solid recasting effort (William Hurt as John Robinson, Mimi Rogers as Maureen, Gary Oldman(!) as Dr. Smith, Heather Graham as Judy, and even Matt LeBlanc as Don West — the dude’s underrated…he’s more than just Joey from Friends, yo) and some decent sequences and visual effects, the film was a critical and commercial failure.

Even so, two sets of tie-in novels still managed to hit shelves, providing more publications than any other Lost In Space iteration. First up? A novelization of the film’s screenplay by veteran author Joan D. Vinge. The book actually does a decent job of fleshing out interesting bits and bobs seen or even merely hinted at in the film. I read it after seeing the movie and while I can’t say it totally rehabilitates the story, it at least gives a bit more insight into things like Smith’s character and motivation, West’s backstory, and how the Robinsons came to be the family chosen to “save humanity.” Some of the film’s more harrowing action sequences are even more entertaining as presented on the page.

The novelization was followed by two original tales, Promised Land by Pat Cadigan and The Vault by Gene DeWeese. I confess I didn’t even know about these when they were published in 1999, and I’ve never actually seen copies. Therefore, I can’t comment on the storylines except to say that based on their back cover descriptions, they seem like tales that walk a line between something the original series might have presented while at the same time allowing for the updated sensibilities and characterizations offered by the film. That means more action for Maureen, Judy, and Penny, for example, instead of “the boys” getting to have all the fun. If anyone’s read these, I’d welcome my theory being confirmed or refuted!

At the same time, Scholastic released a line of novels aimed at an elementary/early middle school reading audience, published under the umbrella title Lost In Space: The New Journeys.

Authors J.J. Gardner and Nancy Krulik alternated writing duties on what ultimately became six books. Each is a standalone tale, and while I’ve only ever beheld the fourth and sixth titles, those came off as much like an episode of the TV series as they did anything which might show up in a potential film sequel. I think writing for a younger readership worked in their favor here. And maybe it’s just me, but the covers even seemed to evoke a bit of that 60s Gold Key Space Family Robinson comics vibe (see above).

The next attempt at reviving the franchise came in 2004 with The Robinsons: Lost In Space. A TV-movie intended as a pilot for a proposed new series on The WB network, this updated take on the premise keeps most of the broad strokes from the original series while retooling the characters. John Robinson, for example, is re-imagined as a military veteran of a war against an alien invasion, and the Robinsons are just one of many families traveling from Earth to a distant world in search of a new life. An additional child, David, older than his siblings, is also introduced, and Dick Tufeld also returns to voice the Robot. The pilot wasn’t picked up and so far as I know it was never aired on TV, but a copy fell into my lap some years ago and….yeah, I can see why they didn’t go with it. Needless to say, there were no tie-ins for this version.

2018 brought with it yet another reboot of the concept in the form of Netflix’s Lost In Space. This version takes bits and pieces from the previous iterations while mixing in its own flavors to give us this new incarnation of the Robinson family, who along with several other groups are bound for the Alpha Centauri system. Far from being the first to make this voyage, the Robinsons are among the 24th group of colonists traveling aboard the vessel Resolute, taking part in a massive relocation after an extinction level event threatens the survival of humanity on Earth. When the Resolute is attacked by aliens, the Robinsons escape the ship in their family’s colonization landing vessel, the Jupiter 2, which subsequently falls through a wormhole and crashlands on an unknown planet.

The new show makes several departures from the original series, notably in recasting Maureen Robinson as an accomplished engineer and mission commander for her family aboard the Jupiter 2. John Robinson is a military veteran as he was in the 2004 reboot attempt, only this time he’s a Navy SEAL. Judy Robinson is Maureen’s daughter from a former marriage and older sister to siblings Penny and Will. All three children are exceptional in their own way rather than young Will getting to have all the fun. Unlike previous incarnations, here the Robinsons don’t meet Don West or Dr. Smith until much later in the show’s first season, as they escaped the Resolute in a different landing craft. Oh, and did I mention Dr. Smith is now a woman (played most ably by Parker Posey)?

Like the original series, the Netflix version of Lost In Space lasted for three seasons, with the final batch of episodes released early in December 2021. As with the previous iterations, it also spawned precious little in the way of tie-in material. In addition to a comics mini-series, two “young reader” novels written by Kevin Emerson were published by Little, Brown Books. Return to Yesterday was published in November 2019 and is set during the show’s first reason, and Infinity’s Edge, set during Season 2, came out in May 2020. Given the target reader demographic it should come as no surprise that both books focus more on the Robinson children – Will in particular – rather than their parents or other adult characters. There supposedly was a third novel in the pipeline, but it never materialized for whatever reason.

The most recent addition to the list of Lost In Space tie-ins is also one of its most unexpected. Released in April 2022, Lost In Space: The Initial Adventures written by Ron Gross features a brief history of the original show and its characters along with some behind-the-scenes material. However, the meat of the book is a full-on novelization of the original series’ first five episodes including “lost” scenes as well as story elements from “Refuge of the Damned,” a never produced script that would’ve served as the season’s sixth episode and capped off the arc running through the first five stories. I didn’t even know this book existed until I started pulling together notes for this piece, but……yeah, I’ve now got a copy ordered.

Given our penchant for nostalgia and revisiting, restarting, re-imagining, or rebooting older film and TV properties, it’s all but certain that Lost In Space will return in some form at some point in the not-so distant future. Will that mean new tie-ins, either based on any of the previous incarnations or whatever new version might be in the offing? My Magic 8-Ball might say “Reply Hazy. Ask Again Later,” but I’m convinced the real answer can only be “Yes.”

Any other answer, as the Robot might say, “Does not compute.”

Previous entries in this series:
Introductory Post
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman
Planet of the Apes
Space: 1999
The “No-Frills” Books
Alan Dean Foster!

Die Hard
Alien Nation
Into Infinity
Mission: Impossible
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Dark Skies
seaQuest DSV

Lay it on me.

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