When the original “V” miniseries debuted on NBC back in the early 1980s (has it really been that long?), I was hooked. The second miniseries was decent; the regular series was dreadful with a few bright spots. Then it ended, and the phenomenon was over. Now, however, the creator of the original series is back. Kenneth Johnson has been trying to get a new miniseries going that takes place after his ended (he disowned the second miniseries and the ensuing full series). I don’t know the status of the televised aspect, but Johnson’s book V: The Second Generation carries on the exploits of our beloved resistance fighters against the lizard-like aliens who are here to steal our water and mine us for food. Sadly, his television roots show through; while the story is good, the writing leaves a little to be desired.
It’s twenty years after the first miniseries took place, and the lizards have completely taken over. They’ve formed bands of humans called “Teammates” who help their massive army enforce their control. They are steadily stealing our water, so much so that huge tracts of ocean are gone and there are barely any lakes or rivers left. But former scientist Juliet Parrish and her band of rebels, as well as rebels across the world, still fight for freedom. Even after the purges in 1999, they continue to try and recruit new people to end this menace. Now they may be getting help from an unexpected source, learning that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But do they come in peace? Or are they even more of a threat to Earth than the Visitors?
Thankfully, Johnson doesn’t try to account for everybody from the original miniseries. Instead, he introduces characters as the book moves along; some of them are familiar to fans and some are brand new. Occasionally these introductions are a bit clunky, but usually they do a good job of illustrating just what type of characters they are. Nathan is a Teammate who has just learned his mentor is a member of the fifth column, a group of Visitors who are helping the humans because they don’t agree with the expansionist policies of their superiors. We’re first introduced to him as he’s trying to escape with her, and we get a good sense of who he is and what he believes. He becomes one of the main characters, and definitely an interesting one. This happens with most of the others as well.
The same goes for the returning characters. Being a fan of the series, I cheered when Juliet, the scientist Robert Maxwell and others first appeared. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them, though, so it’s good that Johnson highlights a little of their history and what led them to the point they’re at now. Thus the book is easily absorbed by those who have no knowledge of the original series as well. Johnson gives you all you need. Diana, the Visitor Commandant, is just as evil and ruthless as she always has been, making a wonderful villain.
“V” has always been a “rise of the Nazis” allegory, and it continues in that vein. There are plenty of humans who have succumbed to Visitor propaganda and think the rebels are evil, and Johnson clearly illustrates just how much society has changed in the twenty years since the Visitors came. I did have a small problem with some of the logic, though. There are running gun battles in the streets at times, visitor fighter craft blasting indiscriminately at fleeing rebels causing massive collateral damage, yet the people in the city believe the Visitors when they are told that the rebels, for example, blew up a bus today. Numerous people on the street saw the fighter craft blow it to bits, but there’s no hint of bad feelings about it. The rebels are reduced to smuggling their message out despite these types of incidents. I understand the people being cowed, but Johnson sometimes attributes too much gullibility to the populace.
The other major fault with V: The Second Generation is that Johnson’s television roots are showing. I’m used to books with quick scene changes when the action starts, sometimes two or three section separations on a two-page spread. Johnson does this all within a section, not only changing viewpoints with wild abandon but actually changing the point of the action. For example, we’ll see Nathan walking down the street following somebody. Suddenly, with no section break whatsoever, we’ll cut to somebody who sees Nathan walking down the street and then we’ll follow this new person to whatever she’s doing. It’s a jarring reminder of the quick camera work that television series employ.
Once I got used to that, though, and once Johnson ran out of other characters and situations to introduce, the book really started to get interesting. I occasionally muttered “get on with it” to myself as Johnson spent more time introducing something or someone, but once the plot kicks into gear, you won’t be able to put the book down. The mystery of the aliens who are here to fight the Visitors deepens, and the book reaches an explosive and incredibly satisfying conclusion. A few loose ends seem to indicate a sequel of some sort, but it does come to a conclusion that you can live with. If you’re one of those who won’t read a series until it concludes, rest assured that you won’t be left hanging.
V: The Second Generation is a decent science fiction novel marred by some writing irregularities. Perhaps I was too spoiled by my remembrances of A.C. Crispin’s stellar adaptation of the original series, but this one just isn’t as satisfying. Still, it is nice to see some old friends (good and bad) again, and Johnson tells the tale well. This is definitely worth a look, and I can’t wait until it finally makes it to television.