Parenthesis: JM Dillard’s Novelization of War of the Worlds: The Resurrection

War of the Worlds: The Resurrection Novelization by JM Dillard

This version of the alien hand and logotype appears on a lot of early promotional materials but was redrawn for the series proper.

Second week in July, Leah and Dylan went on vacation (I don’t travel well, due to my trick neck, sleep apnea, and coworkers who are not shy about summoning me back to the office to help on some triviality during my vacation) to $LOCAL_RESORT_TOWN, and had a fantastic time. But one difficulty Dylan had with adapting to vacation was the concept of hotel-room TV. Having been born in the era of Netflix, as I think I have mentioned before, the temporal aspect of television is utterly alien to him, so the idea of being constrained to only watch the shows which happen to be airing at the exact moment you’re in front of the television was hard to wrap his young mind around.

In the nexus, the VCR was already pretty commonplace. All but the fanciest models retailed for somewhere in the neighborhood of $200. My family had at least two by this point, having locked ourselves into a requirement to keep seeking out Betamax machines because we’d bought out the stock at the local video rental place (Now a Cracker Barrel restaurant) some years earlier. All the same, TV maintained a certain air of disposabilty. Maybe for a few of the most celebrated TV series with the most dedicated of fans with the most disposable of incomes, it might be worth releasing old shows on VHS. But no one was going to pay for a complete box set of, say, M*A*S*H or The Rockford Files or Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. At $30 a tape, no one could afford it, and where would you put them all anyway? You might release a quarter-dozen of the most marketable episodes as a “Best of…” Compilation, but the vast majority of episodes were at best only going to be seen in syndication. Or more likely, never seen again.

So in 1988, if you were the sort of person who wanted to experience last year’s TV shows again, that was only liable to be possible if you’d had the foresight to record them off-air the previous year (And hung on to them permanently rather than watching once then erasing, in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the loose agreement hammered out between Congress, Mr. Rogers, and Sony over the movie industry really fucking hating the idea of people being able to record things). People who were into this sort of thing may remember the careful waltz of timing and tape-management that went into maintaining a full archive of your favorite shows, seeking to keep costs down by maximizing recording time, always fearful that the eighth episode wouldn’t quite fit on the tape. The horror at realizing you’d neglected to unpause when the commercial break ended. The unbearable nuisance of inaccuracies in the TV listings leading you to miss 2×18 (“Max”) three times in a row.

We did a lot of this sort of thing in my house. Star Trek the Next Generation is the first one I remember us consistently recording to keep (And contrariwise, the last show I recall recording in this fashion, VHS tapes and all, is Star Trek Enterprise), but my mom also made a point to record Stingray. I recorded Doctor Who, Kids Incorporated, Knight Rider (in reruns, a decade after the fact) and the first season of Sliders. I’ve even got me an ancient database in some Lotus-clone format that nothing can speak which documents exactly which episode is on which of the tapes that probably don’t even exist any more. We did not record War of the Worlds in 1988, but I did when it re-aired in the mid-90s on The Sci-Fi Channel.

If you weren’t one of the dedicated few who maintained an archive of off-air recordings filed away in faux-woodgrain sliding-drawer cabinets under your bed, your only real choice to re-experience old TV was in prose form.

The advent of the home movie industry and its explosive growth through the ’80s and ’90s did not do away with the novelization, but it certainly cut into the demand. Target, of course, is well known for the series of novelizations it produced for the Doctor Who canon, and James Blish had novelized the original Star Trek back in the ’60s. Star Trek the Next Generation, by contrast, only had a handful of episodes novelized. A certain percentage of blockbuster films still receive novelizations, as it’s a fairly inexpensive way to squeeze a few extra bucks out of the franchise, and you also see novelizations crop up in franchises that also support a line of original fiction — Alien Nation for example.

I’d like to think it’s a sign that Paramount had a lot of faith in the property that in the lead-up to War of the Worlds, they commissioned prolific (I say “prolific”, but in 1988, she’d only written three Star Trek novels. But that’s two and four-fifths more novels than I’ve written. She’d go on in the coming years to produce the novelizations of every classic-continuity Star Trek movie from V onward.) novelizer and novelist J. M. Dillard to adapt the screenplay of “The Resurrection” for supermarket magazine-section shelves.

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Click for a full-size image of both sides of the bookmark.

For publishers who aren’t Target (with their hard 114-page requirement for novelizations of Doctor Who serials ranging from 50 to 300 minutes in length, which meant that about half of them were either edited with a weed whacker, or ought to have been) , adapting a screenplay into a novel requires fleshing things out quite a bit, doubling or tripling it in size. Dillard’s novelization in particular is 405 pages (plus a bonus tear-out alien-hand-gripping-the-globe bookmark). A lot of this comes from translating the visual elements: the characters’ appearances, descriptions of the setting, and describing physical actions in more detail than a script would. But matters of timing (as is the case here; Dillard’s adaptation was published in August, and remember that production was delayed on War of the Worlds because of the WGA strike) would mean that the author isn’t working from a finished product, perhaps from nothing more than a draft script. As a result, you’re going to see details about characters that may have been cut, changed, or delayed in the final product.

The past few episodes we’ve talked about, for instance, give the distinct impression that the writers have decided to retool Norton considerably, making him more acerbic and less of a fratboy. Norton remains a fairly minor character in Dillard’s novelization, but he does avoid the excesses on screen — first and foremost, he doesn’t force coffee onto Suzanne unwillingly: she eagerly accepts his offer, and we’re even treated to Suzanne’s interior monologue, revealing her as coffee-obsessed herself and desperate for a cup at the time. There’s also the incredibly bizarre and utterly incongruous tidbit that Norton is ex-military himself.

Harrison, too, has his rough edges ground down a bit. His “charm”, mostly an informed ability in the Stupid Sexy Harrison scenes from the pilot, actually gets some airtime here, as he easily strikes up casual conversations at the boring party he attends with his fiancee and makes a point of treating a busboy with the same grace and politeness as he does a powerful corporate executive. He behaves pretty much just as badly as in the show, but it’s framed differently. His penchant for naps, for example, isn’t simply a quirk, but the result of insomnia and night terrors: the book opens a few months after the invasion with Clayton Forrester comforting Harrison when he wakes up from a nightmare in which he relives his parents’ deaths. As per the standard boring cliche, we learn that his parents died because he fell down while fleeing from the advancing war machines and they had to run back to save him. One of the silver ships was drawing closer, its great red eye blinking at him.   The hair on the back of his neck rose until it stood on end.
  His parents broke free of the crowd and began to turn toward him.
  A blast of heat singed the top of Harrison’s head. The briefest flash of his mother’s and father’s bodies glowing brilliant, unearthly red imprinted itself on his eyes before he was dazzled into blindness[…]
  When he looked up again, he saw two charred, smoking lumps where his parents had stood. (pg. 10)
Yes. It is the exact same scene as the first scene of Goliath, similar enough that I’d accuse the Pearson movie of ripping it off except that, come on, everyone in the world knows this cliche already. Harrison is also much more up-front with Suzanne: he doesn’t wait until after their visit to Jericho to mention the 1953 invasion, but instead brings it up immediately after they meet Norton. His reasons for hiring a microbiologist are much more concrete, none of this “Daydream about conditions for alien life” stuff. Rather, he’s acquired a preserved alien corpse, and very straightforwardly wants her to study its blood.

Suzanne, on the other hand, becomes altogether less sympathetic. Because there’s no ambiguity about what she knows about the invasion, her unwillingness to believe Harrison is less justified, and is framed largely as cowardice, and Dillard includes mentions of Suzanne’s childhood fear that the aliens might come back. The biggest change to Suzanne, though, is her family. In the novel, Suzanne is Sylvia Van Buren’s cousin (Harrison says “second cousin”, but also that she and Sylvia have an uncle in common, which implies first cousins. Also, Pastor Matthew is referred to as “Matthew Van Buren”, while in the movie, his last name was “Collins”). In the book, this is in fact the biggest part of the reason Harrison has chosen his team: Norton is also a survivor, having lost his entire family in the war (The canonical Norton seems to contradict this, claiming to have a larger number of younger siblings than would be possible for a man his age whose parents died in 1953). I note, of course, that the idea that Harrison had hand-picked Suzanne contradicts him not knowing her when they’re introduced by Dr. Jacobi, a scene which occurs both in the TV version and in the book. The novel handwaves this away by simply declaring that Harrison had lied when they first met, because he thought, “My dad almost married your cousin,” would be coming on too strong.

And speaking of coming on too strong, someone very clearly told J.M. Dillard that they wanted there to be a will-they-or-won’t-they thing between Harrison and Suzanne. During their first few meetings, we’re constantly pestered by references to Suzanne being attracted to Harrison, and Harrison likewise reflects on his own attraction to Suzanne, which comes off as markedly more legitimate than his feelings for Charlotte — it’s even more of a mystery why the two of them are together in this version than in the show, given that they seem to have nothing in common and don’t really like each other that much. The most positive thing Harrison ever says is that he appreciates her assertiveness. I was left with the impression that Harrison was looking for an out in the relationship (At one point, he considers the possibility that he’d deliberately pursued a relationship with someone he didn’t really care about due to his childhood abandonment issues), and he certainly doesn’t spare her a second thought after she officially dumps him. Suzanne comes off mostly as lonely. Her divorce from her husband, Derek (Proposed names for Debi’s father: 2/3), seems very fresh on her mind, and it’s implied to be the major reason she’d left Ohio. Debi (Who Suzanne universally calls “Deb” in this, except once scene where she uses the pet name “Chicken”) is still bitter over it. In the show, we eventually learn that Suzanne had actually left Ohio because her project had turned out to be related to bioweapons, and that’s interesting, because her feelings about that do come up in the book: she’d made a point of insisting she wouldn’t work on anything related to biological warfare when taking the job, and Harrison’s slowness to explain the nature of the project makes her fear she was being manipulated into doing it anyway (In neither the show nor the book does her distaste extend to making biological weapons against aliens). Harrison also makes a point of obsessing over Suzanne’s safety in the action scenes.

Ironhorse is a bit of a cipher. His character in the show is sort of slow in developing as well, but here, we get little more than an exposition dump when we first meet him. He’s characterized as being obsessed with discipline, having joined the army to learn “the white man’s discipline,” and blaming his own people for having lost theirs when they’d stopped fighting against their white oppressors. Which kinda sounds like the sort of thing you’d expect from a 2015 Republican Presidential Hopeful, and we know he loves Reagan, so maybe it’s fair, but I don’t have to like it. He’s also an Olympic bronze medal decathlete (Which reinforces my long-time notion that “Olympic athlete” is both a really prestigious thing, and also something you could suddenly be surprised to have the guy in the next cubicle at work turn out to be) and a “hard-nosed ass-kicker” who doesn’t fraternize with his men, though Reynolds apparently likes him well enough that he asks him to be his best man, which would make it work a bit better when Ironhorse had to plead with him to hang on to his humanity at the climax, but for an issue that I’ll mention later. There’s also a scene added where Ironhorse gives a quick primer in how to use a gun, a bit of extraneous detail about the “BRAS” method for better marksmanship. It reminds me a little of the weird little bits of military fetishism you often see in a certain very traditional sort of science fiction when the author wants to prove they’ve done their research, but it’s also very in-keeping with the scenes we’ve seen later in the series that have Ironhorse drop a random anecdote about Native American folklore or military procedure that seems like a setup for later in the episode but has no payoff. There’s a similarly odd technical exchange in which Suzanne explains to Harrison that microbiologists often develop the ability to focus their eyes independently from working with microscopes.

One of the biggest changes in the novel is the level of characterization given to the aliens. Alien scenes, rendered in italics, mostly center around Xashron, the sole surviving Supreme Commander, leader of the military caste. Xashron spends much of the narrative plotting a coup against the Advocacy, whose poor leadership he blames for their predicament. Oshar in particular, he holds to be an idiot, and the narrative seems to back him up. Xashron does respect Xana, positively identified as the only female advocate, and promises to protect her. There might be a parallel intended here with Suzanne and Harrison, as their feelings for one another have an unambiguous romantic dint. While early on, he asserts that,  “Any attraction he felt for Xana was firmly controlled, since it would remain unrequited: she was a member of the ruling class, he was military, and the penalty for interclass coupling was death,” they’re eventually implied to Get It On.

The aliens maintain the triad social structure, but it’s not shown to be especially close-knit. Xana is happy to sell out Horek and Oshar in favor of forming a new Advocacy with Xashron and one of his followers. Xashron, for his own part, waits until late in the story to inform the rest of his triad, Xeera and Konar, of his plans. Another big difference in the aliens is that the bodies they steal aren’t dead, and the aliens can even leave a host body intact if they choose (though the separation is more difficult in that case), with Xana leaving her host body alive once for slimy alien makeouts with Xashron, and then later (apocryphally, since we know she retains that host into the next episode) to give it to Konar, as they’re running short of bodies for the attack on hangar 15.

There’s a certain amount of shakiness that evolves naturally out of Dillard’s attempt to impose a framework of consistent character arcs around the kinda haphazard storytelling of the pilot. Harrison, for example, seems to realize his relationship with Charlotte is doomed early on and resigns himself to it, but still keeps trying to make amends. At least the phone call from Norton gets pushed up so that it happens before she relents rather than after the make-up sex. And the novel retains Ironhorse’s outrage at being given a fake recording of the alien transmissions, but Harrison says several things between giving it to him and the confrontation that unambiguously indicate that the tape was legitimate. And Suzanne still tells Harrison that her reasons for quitting are in her resignation letter, but as we had insight into Suzanne’s thoughts beforehand, we know that she’d been too angry to write anything other than “I quit.”

Probably the most pervasive, though minor, change is the wide-scale removal of the sense of ambiguity around knowledge of aliens in this world. People in this world may be reluctant to think about them, but pretty much everyone knows about them. Debi knows about them — she overhears some work-related discussion at the Cottage (Though it’s called “The Ranch” in this version) and freaks out at the realization that the aliens are back. Mrs. Pennyworth (reimagined not as the caretaker of the Cottage but as a retired physics professor and Suzanne’s personal housekeeper. And possibly Kensington’s girlfriend.) knows about them: she’s able to guess what’s up fairly early because she’d worked with Clayton and Harrison in the past. Even Ironhorse is familiar with them, enough that he comes close to working out the alien involvement all on his own without Harrison when witnesses describe “bears with three arms,” a similar phrase to how his own grandfather had described the invaders. There is an aside about how Ironhorse’s people viewed the aliens as agents of divine judgment, sent to show the white man what it felt like to have your land stolen by technologically superior invaders from an unfathomably distant land.   As a child, he’d been told tales about the strangers who came from the stars to visit judgment upon the white man, to steal the land from the whites the way they had stolen it from Ironhorse’s people. The man had described the creatures in remarkably the same way as Paul’s grandfather, except that his grandfather had called them “bears-with-three-arms” or “star-bears.” The bears-with-three-arms had spared the reservations, attacking only the whites’ cities, and then they had all died, killed not by the white people but by their own greed.(pg 194) He’s slow to accept it largely because the evidence keeps coming, as in the show, from drunken rednecks. But his doubts are framed more reasonably than in the show — he doesn’t deny the existence of aliens outright, but rather thinks it more likely that entirely human attackers had stolen the alien remains for propaganda value. And in this world, where people do remember the invasion and are explicitly prone to panic about it, that’s a pretty plausible theory. In fact, had this been a stand-alone novel rather than a tie-in for a weekly series, it might have been really good to actually leave out the alien scenes and thereby make it ambiguous until the climax which of Harrison and Ironhorse had it right, leaving open the possibility that Harrison was actually playing right into their hands by ginning up panic.

There’s no indication of the “alien amnesia” effect in the novelization. But there is an implication that people are reluctant to talk or even think about it. While Ironhorse had heard of the invasion at West Point, he notes that it had only been a minor topic. And though Debi’s heard of it, it’s omitted from school textbooks, and she suspects the teacher who taught her about it “got in trouble” over it.

That might also have been nice because the alien-centric scenes tend to drag. Dillard fleshed out the story with numerous additions, mostly in the already-slow first half of the story. There’s the aforementioned bits with Xashron plotting against his leaders and flirting with Xana, but also a few pages about an old country doctor whom the aliens abduct to do the maintenance on their decaying host bodies. We also just don’t learn a lot about the aliens, despite their greater focus. We learn nothing about the alien social structure except that it’s caste-based. We learn nothing of the alien homeworld except its name, Mor-Tax. I’ve deliberately avoided using it so far for two reasons. First, because they aren’t going to mention it on-screen for another five episodes or so, and second, because it’s kind of dumb. Since you’ve only got me talking about it to go on, you probably haven’t noticed. But there’s a strange disconnect between the alien names we’re given and the sound of the alien language itself. Mor-Tax. Xana. Horek. Oshar. Xashron. Xorr. Konnar. Xeera. These are all names fairly in-keeping with your standard cliches about naming aliens in science fiction, with the possible exception of not having any apostrophes. An abundance of Xs? Check. Male names end with a consonant, female with a vowel? Check. Hard, vaguely Germanic cadence? Check. Here’s the problem: the alien spoken language we hear on-screen sounds nothing like that. For one thing, there aren’t any words that end with consonants. The cadence strikes me as closer to an east Asian language. In particular, it kinda sounds a little like ikujigo, Japanese baby-talk. “To Life Immortal,” for example, in the alien language comes out something like “too doo na koo tay,” and it’s hard to imagine a name like “Mor-Tax”. Nearly every spoken syllable seems to be a velar consonant followed by a close vowel, but all the specific alien words we’re given… Aren’t. The whole plot with Xashron comes to nothing anyway, as an ambitious subordinate warns the Advocacy of the plot. Xashron isn’t outed as the ringleader due to the byzantine alien code of honor, but he’s forced to delay his plans as Oshar and Horek push up the schedule for retaking the war machines. The one thing I’ll say for this plot twist is that it does a good job at portraying the complex politics of navigating competing loyalties in an honor-culture: though it’s repeatedly stressed that even suggesting overthrowing the Advocacy is an act of treason, Xashron has not yet directly threatened their lives. Therefore, as his subordinate officer, Xorr is honor-bound to protect Xashron, and can’t expose him. But he’s also loyal to the advocacy, so to fulfill both of his obligations, he reveals the plot to the Advocacy (one does wonder why they don’t order him to reveal the ringleader), and urges them to advance their plans on the assumption that he can prevent the coup by simply keeping Xashron busy until they’ve won a quick, decisive victory, disproving Xashron’s claims about the current leadership’s competence (And, of course, if Xashron dies in the attempt, as ends up happening, that also solves the problem).

We don’t get to see Suzanne perform an alien autopsy — that occurs during a chapter break immediately after Harrison pranks her with an ET doll (She’s initially upset, but later decides that she appreciated getting her panic attack over with before dealing with the actual alien body) — but we do get the results, including a hint at a plot point that will be coming up later in the season. Suzanne determines that the alien gametes work approximately the same way as their human equivalents, but alien females lack uterii, but also don’t seem to be oviparous. She speculates that gestating the young falls to a third gender. Between her observations and the aliens’ own reporting, it seems that while the aliens observe full gender equality between the gamete-producing sexes, the “carrier” sex are rarer and more frail: none had survived the first invasion (Could this be a nod to the frail, vaguely humanoid food animals the Martians of the original novel had tried and failed to bring with them? If it’s intentional, it’s the only indication of Dillard having drawn anything beyond the opening epigram directly from the novel).

Her investigation doesn’t turn up the alien ability to body-snatch, though, and Dillard makes more of a deal of their surprise at that during Delta Squad’s battle at the abandoned mining town. As I mentioned, Ironhorse had initially theorized that the terrorists had stolen alien remains. By the time of the battle, he’s considering the possibility that the aliens and terrorists were for some reason allied, but the reveal that the aliens were actually wearing the humans like meat-suits is truly shocking. And the destruction of the human hosts, ironically, is more graphic: for all its purported gore, the show is generally discrete about that particular bit, just since it’s an expensive effect. Typically, they intercut a reaction shot from the hero so they can cut back to the fully decomposed alien later. It never becomes clear in the show, but that decomposition in the book is just of the host bodies, not the aliens themselves. You remember that theory Harrison flirted with but Suzanne dismissed, about the aliens body fluids being acidic? Suzanne offers it here: aliens secrete a powerful acid to jettison themselves from their hosts (But will, in turn, dissolve them if their injuries prevent them from escaping).

Another point: in the series, so far as we know, the alien hosts are always dead: they are reanimating corpses. In the novel, we know that the aliens can possess a host without killing them. But this isn’t always the case. And to drive that home, Reynolds is explicitly killed with the rest of Delta Squad: Ironhorse charges in specifically to save him, but is too late to do it, finding Reynolds missing half his face and quite obviously dead. That, I think, makes it a little bit harder to take the scene later when Ironhorse confronts him at the hangar and tries to make him recall his humanity. Even knowing the extent to which Reynolds idolized his commander (And, I note, Ironhorse doesn’t; we only know because we get a bit of his interior monologue), dude’s missing half his face.

There are some added scenes surrounding the team’s arrival at the cottage, just a bit of character-building really. The first is kind of weird: Ironhorse escorts Harrison back to his apartment to pack, and takes out his garbage because Harrison’s bachelor lifestyle is gross. The second I kind of like, because it’s a somewhat intimate scene between Ironhorse and Norton. Not, of course, anything bwowm-chicka-bwow-bwow, but a scene of the two of them alone together, interacting. And it’s shockingly compatible with my strict policy of IronDrake shipping whenever possible. Heck, it’s practically the terrible “Initial comic misunderstanding leads the predestined couple to dislike each other,” scene from every shitty romcom. After a brief aside about the quality of the Cottage’s disability accommodations, Norton and Ironhorse become old-married-couple levels of passive aggressive at each other as Norton interprets Ironhorse’s helpfulness as patronizing on account of his disability (worth pointing out here: Dillard notes that Ironhorse becomes visibly uncomfortable a scene earlier when Harrison and Norton joke about Norton’s paraplegia). Contrariwise, Ironhorse takes offense at Norton’s habit of (unthinkingly) referring to him as “Chief”.

Ironhorse is a lot faster to come around in the novel than in the series. Admittedly, going just by the pilot and not by the later episodes, it’s not clear in the aired version either that the tension between Ironhorse and the others was going to be an ongoing thing. But the novel goes as far as to have Ironhorse explicitly set aside his dislike of Harrison once he learns his tragic backstory, and similarly comes to like and respect Norton. On account of his being an orphan. Turns out that the key to Ironhorse liking you is to have a tragic backstory involving your parents being killed by aliens. Also, while you’re remember how fast Ironhorse was to declare the alien menace all sorted out in two separate episodes so far, in this, it’s Suzanne and Norton who are ready to pack up and go home at the end of the story, while Ironhorse agrees with Blackwood that they can’t declare victory prematurely.

There are two other characters who get expanded roles. One of them is Lena Urick. Urick is the terrorist played by Ilse von Glatz in the series, and becomes the host to Advocate Xana. For no especially good reason, when watching the show, I’d always interpreted her as the leader of the group. She seems to convey authority in those first scenes, dressing down Chambers for threatening to laugh while delivering their demands and being first to shoot. The fact that Xana is the only advocate to retain a voice actor through the series reinforces this sense too, I guess. She often seems to be the one approximately “in charge”, and the novel certainly agrees with me on this, depicting the other two as largely useless.

So it’s a little disappointing that the novel casts Urick as a college sophomore who’d fallen under the spell of a charismatic radical leftist professor (Also, there is something disgustingly and yet wonderfully Reagan-era about interpreting these vaguely-foreign-ish-sounding terrorists as a Radical Left-Wing College Professor Because You Know You Can’t Trust Intellectuals), but is now coming to realize that her idol is just an armchair revolutionary who doesn’t really have the stones to affect real change (Because it’s the Reagan era and consarn it, them liberal pinko college types are a threat to America… But they’re also a bunch of pussies who can’t hold a candle to Real Americans). But there is a bit of schizophrenia in her depiction: a fundamental tension she herself calls attention to in her inner monologue, between Lena the College Girl and Urick the Stone-Cold Killer. But this feels very forced. Like with so many things, I get the impression that Dillard had her own conception for the character, one that I think was probably better and a lot more nuanced than what we saw on-screen, but one that is so at odds with the character in the screenplay that the narrative is at odds with itself. Urick is a minor character, of course. She only gets one scene as herself in the pilot, and the writing in the novel plays down the fact that Xana is wearing her body; the aliens only really mention their hosts enough to complain about how gross they are. In the novelization, Urick gets two additional scenes. We get a brief POV scene from her when Xana abandons her body to fool around with Xashoron about halfway through. And then her POV appears one last time at the climax, when she saves the world.

  Perhaps her hopes of revolution had been naive, narrow-minded, unrealistic; perhaps she had failed in what she set out to do in Jericho Valley, but she would not fail now.
  There’s more than one way to save the world[…]
  Konar was dead, and Urick was dying now that his alien strength was leaving her. With enormous effort she rose and fell forward onto Xashron, forcing him to stagger backward, away from the panel. She was too weak to stop him, but she could try to slow him down, until —
  The timer reached zero.

  Liberation, my friend
  The world exploded into a painfully beautiful fireball. (pg. 393-395)

A few other things that the novel changes for the climax:

  • It takes place at the real Nellis Air Force Base rather than the fictional Kellogue
  • The base commander speculates that Ironhorse’s upcoming mission will be in South America rather than the middle east (though he’s just as enthusiastic about the US “finally” going to war there)
  • Suzanne’s bacteria definitively works. Unlike in the show, where it’s ambiguous whether the bacteria was actually lethal, in the novel, alien-Reynolds dies and dissolves without being shot.
  • Harrison (grudgingly) accepts a gun when Ironhorse offers one.
  • It was knowledge pulled from the minds of their Delta Squad hosts which led the aliens to the Land of the Lost Cave. This makes so much sense that I’ll overlook the fact that it should really take Ironhorse no more than a few minutes to figure out where the aliens are hiding based on “They need radiation and a place to hide, and all they know about local geography was sucked from the brains of your men”

Yeah. That. Urick is the reason the aliens get defeated. As I mentioned before, Xana gives Urick’s body to Konar for the final attack in the novel. He’d been injured in the fight with Delta Squad and lost his original host. At the climax of the story, when the alien warships are chasing down Ironhorse, Suzanne and Harrison, Konar notices the explosives inside the ship. Before he can warn the others, Urick is able to briefly regain control of her body, preventing Konar from firing on the retreating heroes, and then throws herself at Xashron, preventing him from disarming the bomb.

The possession victim fighting back is a common trope in stories that involve body-snatching aliens. Stargate SG-1 used it several times. Doctor Who whipped it out for “Time of the Doctor”. Heck, even Stephanie Meyer had to work really hard to make it suck as a plot point in The Host. It never turns up in War of the Worlds. The closest we ever come is the poisoned alien in “Goliath is My Name” getting his host’s memories muddled up with reality. So it’s an obvious thing to do. Obvious enough that it’s surprising Dillard would do it but the show proper wouldn’t. But at the same time, because it is so common, I think it ended up being one of the distinctive things about the show. The alien hosts in the show are dead. There isn’t any chance of recovering them. In that sense, there’s an alternative zombie-movie trope that you might instead expect, that of the human who makes things worse by refusing to accept that their loved one has irreversibly changed into a revenant. So, there’s more of this novelization’s somewhat haphazard tension: we accept without question that Reynolds can’t be talked down, encouraged to recover his humanity, but then we see that Urick can do that. Perhaps that’s why Reynolds’s death is so explicit in the book, so that we can have a clean point of contrast between Reynolds, a reanimated corpse, and Urick, who was possessed while still alive. But, once again, Dillard’s attempt to reconcile the screenplay version of events with her own inventions makes things sloppy, because we’ve got aliens who can use what’s effectively two completely different forms of possession.

You’ve probably guessed that my biggest problem with the novelization is this tension where what Dillard wants to write is at odds with what she’s contractually obligated to import from the plot. This wasn’t a problem in her novelizations of the Star Trek movies, even though those also add some material. But of course, in those cases, she’s working with characters and premises that were already twenty years old: you can add some new depth and some new past anecdotes about Mr. Spock, sure, but you’re not going to find yourself in the position of having to write him not being entirely sure whether or not he’s just a giant asshole. Or in the case of Star Trek: The Lost Years, she does generate a tension with the television canon by putting Kirk and Spock at odds with each other, but it’s a very deliberate tension that serves to create a sense of Star Trek being sort-of “broken”, as it’s set in the intermezzo between the original series and the Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and therefore the distance Spock has put between himself and Kirk is symbolic of the wound done to Star Trek by its cancellation. The story opens with the Enterprise returning to Star Dock for a refit, with everyone essentially going on summer vacation expecting to return in the fall for another season, with Spock feeling betrayed months later when he learns that Kirk has accepted a promotion and won’t be returning to command, in much the same way that Star Trek‘s original audience likely felt in the summer of 1969.

Without the benefit of having seen the finished product, Dillard is working at a massive disadvantage here. And I get the impression that she had a pretty solid idea for what she wanted these characters to be like, it’s just that it’s not the way they came out in the televised product. Part of it, to be sure, is the borderline incompetence with which the pilot was made: a lot of Dillard’s ideas are just plain better, like excising the weird Sex-God-Harrison stuff, and making it much more explicit that his unpleasant qualities are a defensive measure. Or the extent to which she tones Norton down. Or making Debi an actual character.

But on the other hand, there’s a few things she adds that I think weaken the setup from the show. It’s clear that Dillard wasn’t trying to replicate the show’s somewhat perverse sense of humor. I don’t fault that, since, especially in the early episodes, it’s haphazard and doesn’t quite fit. She dutifully repeats the running gag about microbiologists being middle-aged and balding, and adds a second one based around people referring to the Pacific Institute for Technology and Science as “the PITS”, but her heart isn’t really in it, and the “drunken redneck” scenes completely ignore the humorous tone on screen. Ironhorse fares very badly from her attempt to make him more sympathetic. I mean, she does succeed in making him sympathetic, but by stripping him of the fundamental ridiculousness of his continued skepticism in the face of overwhelming evidence, he becomes kind of a bland, generic character. A dedicated, disciplined military officer who is fair, even-minded and level-headed might be a departure from the cliche of the closed-minded blowhard, but its not an especially interesting departure.

And the hardcore shipping of Harrison and Suzanne is just awkward. Rewriting Suzanne’s family history feels like a transparent attempt to shoehorn them as the second coming of Clayton and Sylvia. Even Clayton himself tries to get in on the matchmaking.

About that. Turns out that Clayton is a character in the novel. He’s in three or four scenes. Not a huge part, but significant; he gets more lines than General Wilson. Harrison even conscripts him to join the project, though this doesn’t pan out. Elderly, sickly due to a heart condition and a long battle with depression, Clayton is reinvigorated by the prospect of having his life’s work vindicated.   In the midst of the fear and the struggle, he was vaguely conscious of the irony of it all — that this should happen today of all days, when, after all these long years, he finally felt like living… and yet, as he looked out at the familiar surroundings as they began to gray and dim, it somehow seemed good to have it happen here, in the place he loved best.
  With his other attacks, the pain had gradually eased, then faded, but this was nothing like the other attacks. The agony mounted until it reached truly unbearable intensity. Forrester raised a hand to his chest. “Harrison,” he whispered.
  And then the darkness took over, and there was no pain at all. (pg. 344)
So he spends chapter 24 returning to Pacific Tech to pick up his research notes from his old office (Now Suzanne’s), and the effort of picking up a box gives him a fatal heart attack. He dies off-screen during the battle at Nellis.

You’d expect this would be another point of tension between the narrative and the show, as it seems fairly clear (though, I went back and checked, and it’s not quite explicit) that Clayton is long-dead in the show. But for this particular case, Dillard is aware of the tension and actually uses it to her advantage. Suzanne is surprised when Clayton shows up at Pacific Tech on his little matchmaking mission, as she too had assumed him dead. When she brings this up to Harrison, he reflects on the fact that he does speak about to others as though he were dead. We only see a bit of it, but Clayton had sunk into a deep depression after his career imploded, what with his highly unpopular, “Maybe we shouldn’t try real hard to forget this ever happened,” stance, and Harrison, what with his abandonment issues, has come to think of the broken, elderly Clayton as a different man from his adoptive father.

The Clayton scenes don’t add a lot. Seems like it would have been perfect for Clayton to remind Harrison of the significance of threes so that he can pass it along to Norton to decode the alien map, in order to build up the idea of Clayton really having something to contribute to the team in the here-and-now. Instead, they’re really just there for the sake of torch-passing. They serve well enough in that capacity, and it’s just plain nice to see Harrison interact with Clayton, especially with Dillard’s version so completely reinterpreting Harrison’s relationship with Sylvia. It’s certainly the change that works the best.

Other than the Clayton scenes, there’s not really all that much to be gained from actually hunting this book down and reading it. I mean, it’s a very easy read, and most of it is competent. But that recurring tension between the characters Dillard wants to write and the things the script requires them to do makes it sloppy. And when you come right down to it, the actual story of “The Resurrection” is a very mundane, very traditional, very safe sequel to the George Pal film. And not one that even really seems all that engaged with its predecessor: the extent to which the 1953 war affected humanity is deliberately minimized, the war machines appear only briefly, the lead characters return only as barely-recognizable broken shells of their former selves, the aliens bear only a superficial resemblance, and, I admit this is petty, they get Pastor Collins’s name wrong. Inflatable Starship EnterpriseEverything that made War of the Worlds a compelling TV series to me is wrapped up in its sense of humor, its essential 80s-ness and its fundamental weirdness. And very little of that made it to the page — very little of it even could have. It’s not really the sort of thing that works in prose: you can’t just casually work into the narrative that Ironhorse keeps a photo of Reagan on his wall (Though Dillard gives Harrison an inflatable starship Enterprise. I wonder if that could possibly be an allusion to the Star Trek props “discreetly” lying around George Pal’s office in the pitch reel for his War of the Worlds TV series proposal).

If you like Dillard’s writing, more power to you, but I’d suggest you stick to her Star Trek stuff. Heck, her adaptation of Insurrection almost makes the story sufferable. This, on the other hand, is just okay. If it were 1988 and you saw this in the magazine aisle in the supermarket with its cover price of “I can’t tell because the acid paper it was printed on has become brittle with age and that bit of the cover crumbled.” (That is, $3.95), I’d say go for it. But I don’t think it’s worth the effort to track down a copy now, more than a quarter century later, when it’s going to set you back… Well, okay, $3.99 used from Amazon, and $3.99 is a lot less money now than it was in 1988. So y’know what, go ahead and buy it if you want. There’s worse things you can do with four bucks. But you’re really only talking about a tiny little bit of completionism: since we live in a world where you can just pop in the DVD and watch the real thing, a novelization really needs to bring enough new to the party to justify its existence, and this one just doesn’t.


 

  • War of the Worlds: The Resurrection by J.M. Dillard is available via third-party sellers from amazon.com.

5 thoughts on “Parenthesis: JM Dillard’s Novelization of War of the Worlds: The Resurrection

  1. Stephen Phillips

    The alien language/naming thing is a common issue: I’ve often wondered how Chewbacca ever tells anyone his name, when Wookies are clearly incapable of pronouncing it, just as they are of pronouncing the name of THEIR homeworld. It’s annoying, but it sees to happen a lot.

  2. Pingback: Deconstruction Roundup for October 2, 2015 | The Slacktiverse

  3. J. M. Dillard

    Wow. After all these years, someone managed to find a copy of WOW: RESURRECTION. I don’t even have a copy myself. As for your comment that someone gave me marching orders to have a “will-they/won’t-they” romantic attraction between Suzanne and Harrison: No one ever spoke to me about the series, the actors, the sets… etc. I was sent a packet that had the script, head shots of the actors and of course, the physical appearance of the aliens themselves… And as you surmised, I wrote while the script was being filmed. I never saw any rushes or had any communication with those making the series beyond that initial packet. Anything that didn’t appear in the finished series, I made up. Funny to find that anyone still remembers…

  4. Ross Post author

    I think you did a tremendous job in any case, but especially given what you had to work with. I would say I’m surprised there was so little communication, except that I’ve been looking into the making of this show for over a year now and it seems like a recurring theme.

    Thanks so much for writing!

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