The most disappointing thing about Kenneth Johnson’s new written installment to the “V” franchise is this—only seven characters return from the miniseries, and the others aren’t mentioned at all. So if you’ve picked up this book hoping only to find out what happened to everyone, don’t bother.
Here’s the thing. I’m not positive at what point Kenneth Johnson decided to veer off from the miniseries and pretend none of it happened. I would say according to this tale, only the original “V” miniseries is canon and the rest of it clearly a bad dream, except that there are elements intact—Julie and Mike’s romance, the death of Ruby by a member of the Visitor Youth (now reinvented as Teammates). I’m not even sure Elizabeth the Starchild ever existed in this version, and I’m 70 percent certain the red toxin never happened. Some of the major players in this book had been killed off in various ways on TV.
That’s not to say the book isn’t worth reading. It’s actually a pretty good tale, taking the unresolved ending of the original miniseries and turning it into a plot involving a whole new alien species. It also updates the “V” universe in the meantime to fit more modern tastes—for example, the new women characters are sexy and kick butt. Clearly it's meant to be a springing-off point for a new movie or miniseries, which we hear is slated for 2009. This is good, since the book reads like the novelization for a reunion TV show. I'm sure even the expunging of certain characters was determined by what actors were available/desirable for the screen version, but still...
The world Johnson has created is one that exists uneasily with the Visitors; most normal people just try to get along. Some Players actively collaborate with the Visitors. The Resistance, who don’t seem to have had any major successes recently, suffered a huge setback in 1999 with Diana’s great purge, in which many human leaders of the movement were betrayed (by whom is still in question) and killed. Along with these people live the half-breeds, human-Visitor hybrids that are considered the lowest order of the existing caste system.
The second-generation heroes of the Resistance include a number of half-breeds: Ruby, Julie’s spunky adopted daughter; Jon, an unrecognized genius who has a nest on the Mothership, and Ted, the surly son of Willy and Harmy. This group also includes human pop singer Emma, an active Player, and Nathan, a disillusioned Teammate. Commandant Diana, up on the San Francisco flagship (don’t ask me why all the action has moved north) gets some new toadies and rivals. Most notably, another Commandant named Jeremy has captured the Leader’s sexual attention as well, and brings with him a 30-mile-long ship (can't wait to see that on TV) designed to drain the Earth of water very quickly.
The story focuses on the arrival of the Vendti, the aliens Juliet Parrish tried to contact at the end of the original miniseries. They’re evolved from insects, and they’ve got some amazing moves. Turns out the Visitors consider them their main enemy, and mining the Earth of all its resources is just part of a master plan to wage a devastating war against the Vendti. Subplots abound as well: Diana has a plan to infiltrate the Resistance using a valuable prisoner who’s been aboard ship since 1991 and kept in a nearly feral state through torture and experimentation. Meanwhile, The Leader is on the way.
I enjoyed the tale immensely—read it in one sitting, actually, which means I was very tired the following morning. I was hoping to learn more about what happened to some of my favorite characters, like Elias and Robin—even assuming “The Final Battle” and “The Series” never happened, I would have liked a little more closure in that respect (since I already know I won't get it from the new TV movie). And I felt the story could be deeper. I never felt I really got an interior look at any one character. There were too many, too many viewpoints and experiences to tackle. And some of the required explanations of the past, lifted straight out of the series, just muddied the waters for me. Like the explanation of Julie’s naming Ruby after her old friend who died. If the rest of “The Final Battle” didn’t happen, under what circumstances did the original Ruby die? Did the Resistance ever have any major successes, and if not, how has the Resistance survived to recruit people? And modern technology in this world, like cell phones and Lexuses, seem a little too eerily like our own—but perhaps that's inevitable.
And perhaps I’m too optimistic about human nature (!), but I actually found I had a hard time believing that the Visitors had so easily controlled everything for over 20 years. Even without the events of “The Final Battle,” which I’m still not clear if any of it happened at all, I would have thought even regular people would get a little tired of the terror-based totalitarian regime, see through the Visitors’ façade and lies and show a little more backbone.
Ultimately, I found the end to be less satisfying than I hoped. In “The Final Battle,” the climactic sequences featured a flotilla of balloons being released into the air (accompanied by music) to release the red toxin while a small group attacked the control center in the Mothership. For this novel, Johnson instead invents a rather sketchy device (even for “V”) to get a mass attack going, and the triumph of, um, television saves the day. Not exactly original, a little anticlimactic and not exactly the ending I was hoping for. Even so, I'm looking forward to seeing this story play out on TV.
V: The Second Generation is available now from Tor Books at your local bookseller, or at Amazon.com.