Friday, October 15, 2010

Farscape S1 Ep4: Throne For A Loss

"One of our intentions is to never let the series stay in the same place for any length of time, to change the dynamics." -David Kemper [Starburst #257]-

GULP! Who needs naked green women when you have naked blue women. Star Trek: The Original Series just lost the corner on the market.

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Things are beginning to heat up on Farscape. While it may not be firing on all cylinders yet, Farscape Season One is by far more aggressively entertaining than Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One ever was by a long shot. John Crichton is easily our human representative. He's our eyes and ears as we venture into this weird and wonderful universe. The series has captivated me beyond my wildest expectations. If the initial trio of episodes was the perfect firestarter and introduction to the science fiction supernova that was Farscape, the science fiction deconstructions continue to get interesting with this fourth installment. Farscape, Season One, Episode 4, Throne For A Loss begins to break slightly from convention and shakes things up with some weird and new twists on the genre. In a universe like a place called Farscape, your science fiction mind should expect it to be slightly out there. The Henson team has really created something special. I feel like Farscape was made for me. It may be made for the unconventional 'you' too. In fact, it's the series' ability to wrap the unconventional and conventional into an eclectic mix that keeps one off kilter without alienating [how appropriate] the viewer.
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What fascinates me as I sink deeper into the series is my affection and love for the characters. Most notably, Ben Browder [John Crichton] and Claudia Black [Aeryn Sun] are a sheer joy to watch and develop in a way that I did not experience with them when I watched Stargate SG-1 Season Nine and Ten. I've mentioned this before, but I have to credit the writers and the actors [Browder and Black] for creating two characters on SG-1 that are dramatically different from those portrayed in Farscape. I remember watching SG-1 and hearing critics scoff at the arrival of Browder and Black to the franchise and essentially playing the same roles they graced in Farscape within SG-1 and amusingly referring to the series as Fargate. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the components are there for both series they are uniquely portrayed. I look forward to seeing their work in SG-1 down the road again when I've completed the Farscape journey to note the differences between their respective parts. These actors deserve credit for bringing their distinct roles to life in both series.
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Throne For A Loss also initiates one of the most exciting aspects of the series with the Jim Henson Creature Shop creations. The aliens in the fourth installment are the first truly interesting looking aliens to be spotlighted. Creature designer Dave Elsey had some vivid, choice words about the series and what the group was achieving each week in Farscape: The Illustrated Companion. "I really like the fact that Farscape is a very alien show, so that everything is weird and bizarre, apart from Crichton." Certainly he has his moments too. "You'd think that sci-fi, being an imaginative thing, would take chances, but most sci-fi shows are very conservative and safe, and there are lots of rules that go along with them. Farscape throws those away. The characters are seriously flawed- they've got some seriously messed up aliens who weren't picked up enough as children!" Off we go with the wonderfully weird and bizarre of Farscape.
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A shuttle arrives on Moya with a handful of Tavlek warriors. The crew of Moya greets them at an entrance, but not before bickering amongst one another like... like family. The crew is greeted by three hideously deformed Tavlek warriors and they are informed, "move and you die." The diplomatic Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan attempts an intervention, but is fired upon. A rousing skirmish ensues as the alien lifeforms appear impervious thanks to armband-styled weapons that adorn their armor. The devices are capable of firing intense plasma-like laser bursts and can even create force fields. It's an interesting sequence, because the camera is sped up by two-time Farscape Director Pino Amenta [I, E.T.] to give the impression of a race souped up on a steroid-like drug. We're about to find out why. In the ensuing melee Dominar Rygel XVI is kidnapped and clearly by design. Crichton knocks one of the lifeforms down and the creature's arm device is knocked loose as a series of needles recede back inside the device. The arm weapon appears equipped with a liquid tube of bubbling chemicals or some kind of alien drug or steroid. Ka D'Argo attempts to place it on his arm, but nothing happens as he hollers "JUNK!" Crichton yells to Pilot to seal the bay doors, but two creatures escape with Rygel. Farscape is ON!
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Crichton pleads with Pilot to get a "tractor beam" [no doubt raised and reared on Star Wars] on the escaping vessel, but Pilot has no idea what the hell Crichton is talking about. A tractor beam!? This is the wonderful gift of Farscape and its natural infusion of the fish-out-of-water elements without being annoyingly obvious. Terrific, classic fun. The beam that pulled Crichton aboard in Premiere is actually a "docking wave." Here's that exchange since it's too damn funny to pass up.

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No, that can't be good at all. That is hilarious! Ben Browder completely channels my every human reaction to the many bizarre scenarios he is thrust into on Farscape. Like any powerful drug, D'Argo's already hot-headed temper is becoming all the more inflamed as he challenges his new found friends for the role of ship leader. Bad tempers lead to on board laser fire to boot. Remember, cooler heads always prevail.
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Meanwhile, the detained alien warrior is conscious once again after being deserted and left behind on Moya. Sun and Crichton attempt to find out more regarding this weapon-like "stimulant." Crichton calls it a bit more than "cappuccino." Sun and Crichton deduce the weapon can only be removed if the occupier of the weapon is knocked unconscious. This clever turn is meant to protect warriors in battle from losing their arms to the enemy along with the arm weapons. D'Argo is running around the ship kicking DRDs and barking orders like a real Luxan ass. He even threatens to rip off all of Pilot's arms [sadly, no idle threat and a component of which rings of some truth down the road in Farscape].
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The aliens communicate to Moya from the planet below making their demands for their obnoxious, Hynerian hostage. Getting their boy warrior back isn't quite enough. They want some precious resources, but Sun assures them they won't be able to help. The crew of Moya is given one solar day to comply. Why not just one day? Why not hour instead of arn? Would the Translator Microbes not take care of all of this frellin' nonsense? Just thinking. Zhaan gives Crichton a "water balloon" to take out D'Argo. Unfortunately, the mist balloon starts to work, but then simply can't finish the job or bring down the Luxan. D'Argo's stimulant weapon adapts and makes adjustments injecting him with a punch of adrenaline. He pursues Sun and Crichton through Moya's halls like a Stormtrooper chasing Han Solo through the Death Star.
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Crichton requests some help from Pilot looking for thrust from Moya, but it's simply not available. This is one of the wonderful elements to the series' concept of the living vessel. Moya is a wonderful ship design, but being alive, nothing is automatic and the group runs into problems with ship systems regularly like the Moonbase Alphans ran into problems finding solutions through Computer on Space:1999. These refreshing angles offer a whole host of unexpected twists and turns. It forces the crew and our hero Crichton to get creative allowing the creative team behind Farscape new avenues for their clever science fiction ideas and designs. Wonderful stuff.
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Meanwhile, following some impressive special effects that might be considered vintage at this point, Zhaan escorts their prisoner to a containment room. The Tavlek creature tells Zhaan she's "soft and weak." Zhaan quickly handles the chum and informs him, "soft - yes, weak - no." Go Zhaan! Zhaan has some wonderful character bits sprinkled throughout each episode and remains one of the most interesting supporting characters of this fascinating crew. Pilot informs Zhaan Crichton has an "idea." Zhaan is concerned and mutters some Delvian curses under her breath. I didn't understand them because apparently I never received my Translator Microbes at birth.

The second official moment of physical contact between these two handsome leads.
Elsewhere on Moya, Crichton and Sun play a game of cat and mouse to subdue D'Argo and obtain his newly acquired energy weapon. Crichton calls for Pilot's thruster propulsion at just the right critical moment to shift D'Argo off balance. D'Argo is knocked down and unconscious as planned. Sun winds up falling on top of Crichton for a second time since their last physical connection in Farscape, Season One, Episode 2, I, E.T. when they landed in each other's arms. There is something incredibly hot about their relationship, but something tells me my affection for brunettes, in particular Sun, has got me hook line and sinker. She is Sebacean HOT! I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds good.
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On the planet below, a terrific alien score with grinding guitars signals foreign ground and the encampment of the well-armored alien soldiers. You'll note some impressive production details as the local fauna is bright blue and green. It's positively freaky and it's this level of detail that really sets Farscape apart from a number of alien-based science fiction programs. For example, Stargate SG-1 often appeared to be filming in British Columbia because they were and early on in that series there was little accomplished to hide that fact in external shots with exceptions. Farscape changes up the details and places more interest in the minutia of those set designs. I wholeheartedly approve. Rygel is imprisoned by the "barbarians" as he calls them and he is waste deep in mud! Yes, mud! I am beginning to understand why Rygel hates mud so much as he spoke so eloquently of it in Farscape, Season One, Episode Two, I, E.T.. Rygel hates mud! I suspect the Hynerian race hates mud. It's a clever idea and this bit of information offers a little more insight into why exactly with a tangible example. So, while in prison, Rygel XVI gets into a little cross-alien smack talk with an alien that hails from the Consortium of Trau. Rygel informs the creature- a green-tentacled, gorgeous creation from the Jim Henson Creature Shop- that he oversees 600 billion subjects. The Trau creature betters the arrogant Rygel by emphasizing he oversees 10,000 planets averaging 4 billion Trau per planet. Rygel expresses disbelief, but the creature may potentially be more arrogant than Rygel [if that's possible] himself. Rygel's verbal shock is given the succint Trau arrogance of, "the imperfection is yours." Rygel looks down sadly stuck in the mud. Poor Rygel. I actually felt some sympathy for him. The Rygel character is fascinating that way. You will quickly alternate between disdain and affection for Rygel at any given moment through a Farscape installment.
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Meanwhile, back on Moya, Crichton and Sun learn Rygel borrowed a vital component of Moya's control circuitry. Rygel wanted to borrow it, but Pilot forbade him. Rygel took it anyway. So much for leaving Rygel behind as suggested by D'Argo. Following Pilot's description of the object, Crichton realizes Rygel took the decorative red ball to adorn his ornate scepter. The crystal is needed to maintain Moya's safe distance from the planet, which is quickly deteriorating. Sun informs John she has a plan. Do shows get any more brilliant in writing and entertainment value than this scene?

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I love Crichton's reference to the aliens as "Tabloids" rather than Tavleks. What a well-handled, natural scene! What a punch! There is certainly a breezy, fast and loose chemistry between Sun and Crichton that reminsces of fiery relationships like Princess Leia and Han Solo.
Zhaan visits the young alien Tavlek in the holding room who attempts to rattle Zhaan with a sexual game. I love the open and unabashed love for sex and other sexual suggestions in the series. Nothing is overdone or gratuitous, but it's fearless in letting it all hang out. The Tavlek creature derobes and attempts to embarass Zhaan. She merely smiles and simply returns the gesture by exposing her front side to him and exposing her rear to the viewer. As a result, the alien is uncomfortable as Zhaan belittles him by asking him if a naked body is taboo in his culture. Zhaan, played by Virgina Hey, has a wonderful backside. She's gorgeous, blue paint and all.
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Down on the colorful planet, painstakingly decorated by production staff, Sun has attired herself with the Tavlek gear. She indicates a number of lethal possibilities that may lay ahead on the planet's surface including Moyan Death Spiders. Sounds interesting, maybe we'll run into one along the way. Could they be native to the Leviathan race? As Crichton and Sun make their way to the encampment, Rygel makes every effort to free himself from the mud. His characteristic, insatiable appetite has his stomach grumbling. Rygel is presented with a bowl of grub inside an empty skull. It's notable that behind alll of Rygel's tough talk is clearly a sometimes insecure, frightened little Hynerian. We all have a little Rygel in us.
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Sun and Crichton happen upon a Tavlek hunting party. Sun dons the Tavlek garb [taken with them and from the Tavlek prisoner aboard Moya] and places the weapon on her arm. The effect is instantly potent as Sun clearly feels the buzz of the armband's stimulant rush within her bloodstream. Clearly the Sebacean's do respond adversely to its effects. With helmet on, Sun makes her play to find out where Rygel is located. She engages in a bit of a physical struggle to extract the information from one of the three Tavleks. Crichton worries for her and picks up her weapon. Not knowing how to use it, the weapon overloads and explodes. Seriously, how often do you find a science fiction series whereby the hero picks up a weapon, but isn't certain how to use it? Sure things never went quite as planned on Star Trek: The Original Series or Space:1999 when it came to technology, but Farscape packs a certain comic zip. It's a rare thing, but makes complete sense. It's one of the brilliant things about Farscape. Nothing goes quite as planned. The Tavleks scatter frightened by the explosion.
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On Moya, Pilot picks up the explosion and D'Argo grabs a shuttle heading to the planet to find Sun and Crichton. On the planet, Sun can't believe Crichton overloaded the pulse chamber, which caused the explosion. In the encampment's prison, the Tavlek inform the Trau prisoner ransom is enroute and he will be free to go upon its arrival. The Trau expected nothing less. Rygel, though talking tough again, isn't so certain his ransom will come through. There is an aspect of fragility to Rygel's character on display in the scene. There are moments in the series that really touch you and give you pause with these characters. They are all written with true reactions, even a muppet like Rygel. Rygel is authentic and meticulously handled injecting the series with real humor, emotion and vulnerabilities like any live action actor might provide.
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They even look as smart as Stormtroopers.
On Moya the alien visitor is getting stir crazy. Again, he attempts to attack Zhaan who bleeds blue-white blood. Her empathic tendencies relieve the alien's withdrawl pains. Her abilities remind me of the character Raven from The New Teen Titans comic book circa 1980.
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On the planet, a Tavlek warrior dumps a bowl of soup in front of Rygel who attempts to use it to free himself by loosening the soil. Meanwhile, Sun and Crichton feud over the armband. Crichton wants it off her arm. Sun, like D'Argo, is expressing a desire to retain it essentially demonstrating its influence over its subject like a habit or drug. D'Argo enters the fray and goads Sun to take him on in physical combat. Sun clearly forgets about that extending Luxan tongue. Now in close proximity, she is knocked unconscious and the gauntlet is released from her arm.
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In the prison, Rygel breaks free with help from the Trau. Unfortunately in his escape, Rygel is killed. Yes, he's killed, accept the Trau apparently has life-giving powers [whew! lucky for Rygel it wasn't an imprisoned Luxan then] and essentially breathes life back into the Hynerian via tentacle. If ransom is not paid by Rygel's people, the Trau indicates his race will pay for him. The Trau alludes to Rygel's intergalactic acclaim as being something important. Like siblings of a sort, D'Argo, Crichton and Sun bicker as Sun recovers. You can see the competetive streak in these characters.

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In the prison cell, life isn't going so well for Rygel. Following his revival, he is now buried neck deep in mud. It's so pathetic to see, it's actually funny, but given Rygel resembles a toad and toads have a tendency to hop away, it makes sense to isolate the Hynerian for good measure in mud. At the same time, the Trau informs Rygel he is now a subject of the Trau Consortium, as are Rygel's subjects, since it was he who revived Rygel. It's becoming clear that the Trau are kind of hive-like creature a la the Borg, endlessly absorbing races and forcing compliance. How those races are subjugated remains a mystery. Rygel sort of has the last laugh by giving the Trau the bad news. Rygel tells the creature he was deposed cycles ago and all the Trau actually gets is him. The growling creature is pissed when he learns no one will ransom him, not even his crew who Rygel suspects "hate" him. This illustrates Rygel's very sensitive side. This is brilliantly equal parts pathetic and sympathetic all in one.

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Crichton spots the encampment and is goes in. D'Argo's sword doubles as a firing weapon. It is a gun-sword hybrid dubbed the Qualta Blade. Back on Moya, the Tavlek prisoner inquires as to what Zhaan is exactly. This question results in a rather interesting answer later. She obviously contains some remarkable healing powers. He wonders how she took his pain away. Zhaan is a Delvian Pa'u, a priest in the 9th level. Zhaan has a special scene with the creature that begs the question of who we are without the influence of others, external factors and environment. It begs the question of nurture versus nature. In this case, the creature is without his gauntlet and Zhaan wonders if he is not more than that, which he believes to be what makes him.
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Crichton and D'Argo move into the encampment while the Tavlek sleep. They enter the prison for one of the knee-slapping, funniest moments in the episode.

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"Check out the critter!" Is that not the funniest!? Farscape is cool and fun in one. I love it! The critter informs Crichton and D'Argo that Rygel is being relocated to a more secure location thanks to the Trau's efforts. As the two exit, they are encountered by the tricky camera work of Director Pino Amenta, a couple of Tavlek, their savior Sun and an ensuing battle complete with laser fire. It's electric! D'Argo takes a direct hit by a gauntlet's fire. He is bleeding profusely. Sun immediately begins pounding on D'Argo's back applying an intense battering to the wound. Crichton is shocked and halts her actions. She insists, a Luxan's wound must run clear and the only way to stop the infection and the bleeding is to get the wound to drain clear by applying tremendous force. She resumes out of concern.
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On Moya, Zhaan finishes another meeting with the Tavlek prisoner whom she has relinquished a level of trust. She is called by Pilot to scan the planet for a Tavlek shuttle [the one preparing to leave with Rygel]. She reports the coordinates of the planned shuttle departure to Crichton and company. Upon Zhaan's exit, the young Tavlek is roaming the ship freely and attacks one of the DRDs. Pilot is none too happy given the DRDs act as Moya's red and white corpuscles as part of Moya's natural or synthetic defenses.
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So Crichton clamps the gauntlet to his arm to expedite his ability to get to the site of the shuttle before its departure. He equates the gauntlet to Green Lantern's ring for the third pop culture reference in the episode.
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On Moya, Zhaan puts the Tavlek prisoner in his place and stops shy of kicking his ass while teaching him a lesson about drug addiction.
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Crichton reaches Rygel who is in a bag and escorted by four Tavleks. Crichton takes out three of them with his super gauntlet. When he takes on the final Tavlek, Bakesh, he realizes he's out of stimulant and attempts diplomacy and reason by calling the fight a draw hoping he won't call his bluff. He insists the Tavleks don't want Rygel because he's not a king, but rather an "escape mental patient with delusions of royalty. " Rygel pipes in from his bag, "You're the escape mental patient!" The humor is just off the charts funny. See for yourself!

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Bakesh calls Moya to ask the young Tavlek if there are "riches" on board. The young Tavlek mutters he won't lie for them, but Zhaan tells him they never asked him to. The young Tavlek tells Bakesh the place is "pathetic" and that they have treated him well. Crichton insists he's telling him the truth. Bakesh delivers one of the most heartfelt lines through his disgustingly ugly prosthetics and I couldn't help think of myself and how I see people in my own life at times. "Been so long since anyone's told me the truth, I don't recognize it anymore." Do you ever feel that way sometimes? I suppose it's a bit of the psychological damage we all suffer as we age. As we grow older, we are more jaded and certainly less open. It's actually hard to remain open, but it's rewarding with the effort. Bakesh releases Rygel with a swift kick sliding him over to Crichton. Crichton asks for the crystal. Rygel, with his tough guy act back in full effect, says he knew they didn't come back just for him. He tells Crichton he swallowed the gem and that he must return to the ship or be disembowelled on the spot. "Don't you tempt me Fluffy," a frustrated Crichton replies. Meanwhile, Sun has got D'Argo's wound running clear. Crichton passes out crashing to the ground from the drug's withdrawl landing straight on top of Rygel, who is clearly the recipient of intense physical punishment this entry.
Back at Moya, Rygel passes the crystal - as in, out his Hynerian pooper! Rygel is so wicked and so gross. You just gotta love him.

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In the end, Zhaan communicates with the Tavlek. Zhaan clearly established a connection with him and he with her. Despite some breakthroughs, the creature informs her he has returned to his gauntlet-driven lifestyle. No longer clean, he is once again a hostage to external substance. The entry ends fittingly with "No sermons."
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Throne For A Loss: B
Writer: Richard Manning
Director: Pino Amenta
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Pop Culture Reference: Crichton: "We do know that they will pay us to hall cargo, which they're not gonna do if you go in there doing your John Wayne impression." Sun: "John Wayne - who's that? A relative?" Crichton: "John Wayne? Oh, the big guy. True Grit. The Searchers. The Cowboys. Ghengis Khan. No, look, forget about Ghengis Khan, everybody makes a bad movie."
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There are several pop culture references within Throne For A Loss [great Farscape title as always]. The beauty in the pop culture references is that John Crichton says these things for us. The crew of Moya is clueless to any given reference. Beyond us, Crichton makes these remarks for himself. They ground him. They keep him connected to home. They maintain those things we hold dear- the things that keep us all sane.

6 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic:

This looks like a beautiful and informative post, but I am trying hard to ignore it, because I just watched the Farscape premiere last night, and need to catch-up with all your reviews as I go!

I'm so glad, however, that you are looking at this great series, and I can't wait to read your reviews of the episodes after I watch 'em!

best,
John K. Muir

Will said...

@JKM

You've never. . .seen. . .*gulp*. . .Farscape???????

@Sci-Fi Fanatic

Nothing like going to a SFW website at said work and seeing a large naked blue lady for the entire office to see *slaps head with hand* Haha. . .it's fine. Just glad a boss wasn't around.

Always a fan of Farscape's episode titles. My personal favorite: Liars, Guns, and Money (I'm a huge Warren Zevon fan).

How are you watching the episodes? I remember I used to drive 35 minutes away to buy the 2 episode $20 discs (I was stupid then). I collected a billion of them before I realized (this is stupid. . .I just spent one billion dollars on season 1).

Anyways. . .I ask because the audio commentaries on the Farscape stuff is excellent and I remember 'Throne for a Loss' having a very fun commentary.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

JKM:

As always, thanks for the plug. Keeps me going. I really appreciate it. Yes, I love Farscape enough to look at each installment properly.

Will:

Yes, those titles are just brilliant. I'm watching the episodes via DVD without commentary. But I would like to go back and watch them a third time around with commentary.

Zhaan looks very good for an old girl, or rather old alien girl.

Thanks.
SFF

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hey Will,

Now, now...I've seen all of Farscape before (I wrote short stories for the official magazine, for goodness sake...)...but it was like eight years ago or something. I'm trying to come at it fresh, all right? Jeez. :)

best
John Muir

Will said...

Man, I'm sorry John. I've been getting all over you lately! No website is safe for you.

I will cease firing!

Will

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Oh gosh, yes, John has seen the series.

He wrote for the Farscape Official Magazine.

And John, I look forward to reading your input when I finally get around to it. I have all twelve issues of that now defunct magazine on standby and I will be incorporating the material from those magazines into the posts.