There can be few producers whose name is billed above the titles of their work almost as a guarantee of the contents, their reputation larger than that of their creations: Joss Whedon, Gene Roddenberry, John Carpenter, but with a legacy stretching back decades further, while in the vintage television of America it was Irwin Allen, for those growing up through the sixties, seventies and eighties in Britain it was and always will be Gerry Anderson.
His final project on which he laboured in the years before his death in December 2012, it was not some reclusive billionaire engineer with a secret base who eventually financed Gemini Force One but the assembled might of the Anderson fanbase, harnessed through Kickstarter to fund a trilogy of novels which were subsequently picked up by Orion, the first of which, Black Horizon, is now available beyond the original supporters.
With an introduction by Gerry’s son Jamie, he emphasises that the books will feature both the “excitement and adventure of Thunderbirds” but also the “modern feel of New Captain Scarlet,” referring to the two seasons of the computer animated revival broadcast in 2005 of the original Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Like the opening scenes of many episodes of Thunderbirds where the crisis often developed at the launch of a new technology or a pioneering new monument to human achievement, pride comes before a big fall, quite literally for the spectators at the opening of the Sky-High Carrington Hotel when an aerial stunt goes wrong, leaving two pilots clinging to the pinnacle of the building.
Fortunately in the crowd are Countess Caroline Brandis-Carrington and Benedict Carrington, the widow and son of Casper Carrington who conceived and financed the tower but did not live to see its completion, both of them experienced mountaineers who step up before professional services can arrive. Also in the crowd is Jason Truby, a former astronaut turned entrepreneur who is impressed by the actions of the Carringtons, Caroline’s own interest in setting up a rescue agency coinciding with his own more ambitious plans.
Consciously aimed at a teen audience, the events of Black Horizon are seen through the eyes of sixteen year old Ben Carrington, but despite his capable yet beautiful mother and deceased father he is no know-it-all-can’t-fail Wesley Crusher. Intelligent and driven, Ben is neither socially awkward nor physically inept, and the company he finds himself in is sufficient distraction from his own problems and encouragement to excel.
The gap where his father should have been existed even before he died in a climbing accident, but as his mother gently reminds him on the one occasion he lapses into complaining the hand he has been dealt is unfair, “if things were fair, we’d be poor.” Determined to be the best and to prove himself to Truby, his actions incur consequences he had not foreseen but his instincts are good and he always acts with the best intentions, something his mysterious mentor recognises even if it comes into conflict with his preferred best practices.
Penned by The Joshua Files’ M G Harris based on the existing notes on the project, comparisons with Anderson’s earlier work are inevitable – a secret base located in the ocean, futuristic craft staging daring rescues – but rather than shying from them Harris delights in occasional nostalgic echoes, “silhouetted palm trees bending in the wind, Caroline telling her son to “stand by for action.”
And while action is the measure by which any Gerry Anderson stands or falls, with several major events of escalating magnitude throughout the book there can be no complaints there, but it is the company of Gemini Force One team in the interludes which is more important, and this is Harris’ strength, with each of the team distinct even if their characters will not be fully introduced until later in the series, though conversely it is the tacit Truby who features prominently and hints at his “higher purpose” yet remains the hardest nut to crack.
It is an origin story with all the necessary evil that entails, but not only it is a solid and entertaining foundation it lays the groundwork for the next two adventures, and while an adult reader may find the prose a tad superficial it is nevertheless fast and fun, so easily read that any concerns are swiftly left behind, and it can anticipated that there will be answers and surprises just beyond the horizon.
Gerry Anderson’s Gemini Force: Black Horizon is available now from Orion