I Need My Space!

Who remembers watching that wonderful, campy-out-the-wazoo, cheesy-special-effects 1960s series “Lost In Space”? You know, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

I  think I am the only person I know who actually read the comic book titled “Space Family Robinson,” which appeared before the series. They were independently conceived even though there was some attempt to meld the two, but I never got to see how that came out. In an event of soul-shattering horror, my parents had sequestered my comic collection a while before the series premiered, destroying probably my most certain source of future wealth, but no one seemed to object (much) to my following the show. Star Trek, premiering only a few years later, merely cemented the impression in most people’s minds that just about every habitable planet in the galaxy looked a lot like Southern California.

But the best part of all was Dr. Zachary Smith. OK, you get points if you saw the movie, but Gary Oldman cannot touch Jonathan Harris’ flaming, fluttering villain-queen, like Sydney Greenstreet crossed with Lucille Ball. Of course, at that age I had no idea what Harris was burlesquing.

A terrible truth: the man I married, an actor of broadly comic and self-parodying style, looked a hell of a lot like him and sounded like him onstage, and when I first met my late and ex I actually assumed he was gay. (He was minding a bookstore near the gay bars of Dupont Circle; it was a natural error.)

Then there was Billy Mumy, the little freckled Beaver Cleaver of the Robinson family, who grew up to be a Space Boy of another kind.

I used to tell my parents I had a crush on him and that was why I watched the show, because it was easier than listening to harangues about how stupid those space stories were.

You could take away my comics, but I just bought science fiction paperbacks instead. Hell, I teethed on space stories so antique that the pictures of the ships on the covers looked like cigar cases with fins. When I was still young enough to avoid arguments about why I didn’t want to wear stockings, you could get a potboiler like this for a nickel in a secondhand shop.

Despite the cover, the prominent women in the story are neither frightened nor naked; they’re bad-assed characters who, along with families and colleagues, have survived an extraterrestrial contagion that can turn your body to stone but, properly treated, gives you the resilience and strength of ductile steel instead. Even though half the people in the story still smoke in some post-space-travel future, these ladies toss cars around, and like that. How could I not love it?

Social relevance, brilliant special effects and scientific accuracy have done a lot for extraterrestrial stories, but sometimes I miss unrepentant schlock.

Anyone else have favorite space opera moments?


16 thoughts on “I Need My Space!

  1. I started with the TV series, “Lost in Space”, “Star Trek” and only developed a strong interest in Sci-fi books in my twenties. I think the world is richer for Sc–fi and fantasy.

  2. Sled,

    I used to LOVE Lost in Space!! And you’re right, Dr. Smith was the best, truly. Such a nerd and wimp. And who was the little boy, Jimmy? or whatever his name was, was the bravest of them all. I liked that robot, too.

    I was never a Star Trek fan, but I think it’s because it didn’t have the silliness or whatever it was that grabbed me at that age, and I was never a sci-fi person, per se.

    But I did watch Lost in Space like a fiend :-).

  3. I loved Lost in Space, Star Trek (had a huge crush on Sulu) and also The Jetsons. I don’t actually remember any Jetsons episodes, I think I just liked the “style”.

    Am appalled that your comic collection was destroyed … wtf???

    • I blush to say I haven’t seen Firefly because I haven’t owned a TV in 20 years. But it’s one of the things on my list to rent and watch with my geeky engineer friend, who will gladly re-watch any such stuff any number of times, with enlightening commentary.

    • Love love love Firefly. Recently got the series on DVD (after nursemyra gave me the film Serendipity when she was here a couple of years ago). I too wish it had gone on for more than just one season. What a shame.

  4. Loved LIS and Star Trek (Chekhov was HOT.) I had a cat named Dr. Zachary Smith, of the Boston Smiths, though we just called him Zack.

  5. Most of that space opera stuff happened before we got a TV, but I remember that Star Trek first aired right after we acquired one. Our whole family became devotees of the show, but my pleasure in it was diluted by the fact that it aired the same night as orchestra rehearsal for the Boulder Philharmonic, of which I was a member. I generally got home from rehearsals in time to see the last 12 to 15 minutes of the show, which usually didn’t make a lot of sense without the beginning. I was happy when it went into reruns – I still remember The Trouble with Tribbles..

    I lived on science fiction and Sherlock Holmes with a huge dose of C. S. Forester thrown in there. My favorite was Robert A. Heinlein, and still remember reading “Have Spaceship, Will Travel” when I was in 5th grade. My father had a collection of Analog, Science Fact and Fiction magazines that dated back the the pulp days of the publication; the earliest issue he had was dated 1940. We used to spend hours reading those old issues, along with the old issues of Playboy that shared cabinet space with them.

  6. Lost In Space reruns were my late afternoon snack just after Batman and before dinner. When it was in prime time, I was young enough to get nightmares from it. This didn’t stop me and my cousin playing Lost In Space games, with me of course being Don and her Penny, while her hated sister alternated between playing Dr. Smith and some horrific alien.

    I’ve occasionally collected old pulp mags and was happy one year to give my mother’s Scientologist second husband a musty old copy containing one of L. Ron Hubbard’s early assays into the speculations he called Dianetics, which was even worse than his fiction but ultimately paid a lot better.

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