Deconstructing Moya

A Farscape Re-watch Project

Ship of Ghosts – A Farscape Novel

“My voice… ahhhhhhhh… they won’t obey my voice?” cried Rygel. “It’s… oooooooh… a voice that has commanded billions! If I can’t use my voice, I can’t use the furze!”

Pilot looked quizzical. “I do not understand that term, Rygel.”

“The furze, the furze… that’s the device that stimulates the rudimentary glandpod at the base of the herpian suplex in the sphirochetia lobe of my brain! Ooooooooooh… stop… oh… That’s why I can talk to them…” Rygel shook with painful laughter.

There was dead silence from Pilot, then with low and sincere tones, he commanded the former ruler, “Use the furze, Rygel!”

Noel

Sorry for the stretch of zero updates that was the last couple of months, loyal followers. We started work on our big finale – which includes Peacekeeper Wars – but were forced to scrap it and weren’t able to get things rolling again before we had to take a break for Kevin’s wedding (congrats the lucky man, folks). We’ll be getting back on track with the finale this month, so keep your feed peeled in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, I’ve decided to take a three-part look at the Farscape tie-in novels published by Tor during the show’s original airing.

Ship of Ghosts introduces us to the Nokmadi, a now fabled race of beings who, centuries ago, set out to map as much of the cosmos they could. Operating out of a massive ship built from organic plant fibres, they eventually developed a technique to leave their bodies behind and take on an immortal non-corporeal state. They preserved organic samples of their entire race so they can reassemble their bodies and once again feel the sensations of a physical existence upon returning to their homeworld, but upon completing their mission, one of their member rejected the idea of giving up immortality for what she saw as a backward step in existential progression. So she destroyed her own physical samples and built a cult of followers who want to wipe out all physical samples, condemning their entire race to an eternal quest throughout the heavens. This splits the Nokmadi between the Dayfolk and the Nightfolk, that both long for a physical being, the Promised One, to enter the physical sample chamber and settle things one way or the other.

Lo and behold, the Promised One is John Crichton.

All of that story I just related to you? Almost none of it comes into play until the last 100 pages or so of this 277 page novel. First Moya encounters the massive vessel, which is dead in the water following the collapse of its space drive engines. Then our heroes board and come across Mary Celeste imagery of tables abandoned with their meals still on them. Then John follows up his citation of the Mary Celeste by going on for a page about the story of the Mary Celeste and how he was a fan of the Mary Celeste and even built a model of the Mary Celeste and drew his own artist’s interpretation of the deck of the Mary Celeste and hey wouldn’t you know it this looks almost exactly like that Mary Celeste, right down to the Terran furniture and meatloaf and – (takes a deep breath). Then John gets eaten by a wall, and both he and D’Argo & Aeryn encounter ghostly beings, and there’s people we don’t know talking cryptically about things we have no context for, and after about 150 pages of this drawn out boredom, I was about ready to step outside, walk a block, and pitch this book into a lake.

So in their noncorporeal forms, the Nokmadi have the ability to create physical manifestations of anything they or our heroes can conjure. Food, dwellings, a version of Zhaan with pink skin and hair for John to have sex with… if you can imagine it, the Nokmadi can make it appear as if it’s really there. Whether they’re really making reality out of unreality or merely affecting the perceptions of the physical beings in their midst is never explained, but hey, John and a human Zhaan hook up, so that’s something! *facepalm*

To be fair, the Nokmadi setup is interesting. There’s a scale and a history to it that is captivating, and their central struggle, which has escalated to the point where people will not only except but demand everyone be either ghosts or physical, is good. The problem lies in the boring execution. Not only does it take forever to actually tell us what’s going on, but the moment they do, you know exactly which way the tide is going to turn and who’s going to come out a hero. One of the main points of Farscape, even in Season 1, is to subvert expectations and formulas, so a formulaic story like this holds no water. Of course John is going to wrestle control back over his possessed body. Of course Rygel’s army of DRDs (more on that later) is going to come to the rescue. Of course our heroes get the two sides to sit down and agree that those who want to be ghosts get to be ghosts as long as they respect that those who want to be physical get to be physical. Of course there will be a last minute twist at the end that guarantees our heroes don’t get their hands on the promised star charts that will lead them home, because this is a one-off tie-in and can IN NO WAY alter the course of continuity, especially given its setting in the first half of Season 1.

The big problem with the majority of tie-in fiction written while a show is still in production is the utter pointlessness of it. As I pointed out in the end of the above paragraph, there are absolutely no allowances to muck about with things. These have to be, by the very fact the novelists have no control over the development of the show and very often little interaction, stand-alone stories that wrap up as they begin and don’t upset the status quo. Thus, the most important thing is to make sure that stand-alone story and stand-alone characters are interesting enough to largely carry things on their own. Here, they aren’t. The Nokmadi make for a neat setup, but very little of it is fleshed out, with very few named characters, one bland hero, and one stereotypical villain who yells “Heretics!” a lot. And as I said, it’s formulaic. Even this internal story, separate from Farscape, has nothing to add or captivate with beyond some neat ideas. The central conflict is barely even witnessed, instead largely related to us through exposition.

How does it handle the leads? Poorly. Now, I’ve seen a lot of reviews say the portrayals here are very out of character. They aren’t. This takes place early in Season 1 – probably just after “PK Tech Girl” since Durka is mentioned – and things do line up with how these characters were at that point. Rygel’s a pompous ass, D’Argo’s an agry ass, Aeryn’s a bitter ass, John’s a confused ass, and Zhaan is very motherly. While their dialogue doesn’t exactly roll to the mental sound of their voices, it’s hardly a misportrayal of the bunch. With the exception of Pilot, who’s very snide and constantly barking at Rygel, something the still cautious Pilot never would have done that early in the show. That all said, there’s absolutely nothing tying these characters to this plot. The Nokmadi are something that could have shown up in a Star Trek or Stargate SG-1 novel with the only altered words of their arcs being the names of the specific people interacting with them. And there’s also very little for ours heroes to do that gives them individual depth. John gets dragged around and possessed, then regains control. Zhaan mind melds with Moya, then this ship, then John. D’Argo and Aeryn go on a random warrior’s quest that comes out of the blue in the second half, flying a dragon and fighting shadow demon things in a sequence that’s every bit as much unnecessary padding as half the book.

The only one with something fun to do is Rygel, and that’s entirely because of a conceit. That conceit is that he’s found a little bluetooth device that gives him ultimate control over the DRDs, who he proceeds to lord over as if they were the subjects of his overthrown realm. These bits are fun, especially when Moya/Pilot get on his case for distracting the DRDs from essential operations, but even it falls apart when he cures a broken DRD through the laying on of hands, thus starting a religion that inexplicably carries over to the Nokmadi, and he and Pilot start using Terran terms like Conga-lines or a play on “Use the force!” without any prodding whatsoever from John. Which. Should. Not. Happen.

And just because this book needed something else going on, there’s a Peacekeeper plot! The book opens with Moya being attacked by a crazed onslaught from Crais and, just as she Starbursts away, a Peacekeeper cutter craft manages to be in the right place at the right time so as to be dragged along in the warp wake. The cutter is Captained by Sha Sutt, a former friend of Aeryn Sun who’s since turned bitter rival following a mission under Aeryn’s command where Sha lost a leg. So there’s a robo-legged Peacekeeper on our heroes’ tails and… she does nothing for most the book. Seriously, other than popping up on her command deck every 50 pages or so just to remind us she’s there, Sha Sutt spends the majority of the story doing nothing, and NEVER ONCE intersects with and affects the Nokmadi plot. And once that main plot is resolved, then she shows up for a skirmish and final showdown with Aeryn that lasts all of 15 pages. There is, however, a cool bit where she looses her bionic leg – which is actually a bomb (DRAMATIC STING) which is very quickly defused (DEFLATING SOUND) – only for a backup leg, a spindly spider thing, to fold out in its place as she runs away. She’s still out there, likely so Bischoff could bring her back in a potential future volume, but I don’t care.

Ah, yes, Bischoff, the man of the hour who I haven’t mentioned yet. He was a big figure in tie-in work, having penned a bunch of novelizations and spin-off books through the 80s and 90s. While I have read a few of his novelizations (The Blob, WarGames, and Some Kind of Wonderful, all of which are very nice), this is the first of his spinoff novels I’ve read, and I’m not impressed. My girlfriend Ceci also recently read the first of his Space Precinct tie-in novels and voiced many similar complaints, so I can’t say as I’ll be tracking down more Bischoff tie-ins in the near future.

Another word of note, some may be wondering why I’m reviewing this book first when it was actually the third to be published. Well, not only is it chronologically the earliest, but I have a strong suspicion it was written much earlier than when it came out. While the publication date is from near the start of Season 4, tie-in books can often face strange delays in both their writing and editing, and much of the way the characters read has the hallmark of it being done with only a limited amount of resources from which to draw. We saw this with Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the first few tie-in books – written when nothing had yet been filmed and only a series bible and a few scripts were available to draw inspiration from – had portrayals of the characters that differ significantly from how they’d quickly become even early on in Season 1. Throughout Farscape, John has always looked to his father Jack as a beloved rock that’s kept him focused in his journey home, but here John is portrayed as having a sense of bitterness toward his father, who he saw as neglectful and choosing the stars over his own son. In the show, space was what connected the two. Here, it’s what came between them. Thus, I suspect Bischoff didn’t have those portrayals to draw on when wrote what he did here. Anybody out there know otherwise? David? Editor Greg Cox? Feel free to chime in.

So, yeah, this is a completely disposable book. It takes too long to get to the story it wants to tell, doesn’t do much with the story once it gets there, doesn’t do a whole lot of anything of consequence or distinction with the main cast, and overall feels padded and drawn out. It’s an empty piece of tie-in entertainment and I can’t recommend it.

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. I’ve been wondering where the stuff for PKW was. But no worries, I can wait for that as long as I can. I find it interesting that you decided to review the tie-in books. The only one I have is “House of Cards”, which I hear is the best of the 3 in fan circles. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

    Out of curiousity, are you guys making any plans to review the comics from BOOM! that take place post-PKW? I think it would be awesome if you did, since Rockne S. O’Bannon worked on them and even said that they’re canonical. Anyway, can’t wait to read more from you guys! Oh, and congrats to Kevin on his marriage. Hope he and his significant other will be very happy together. 🙂

    Reply
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