Review: “Stargate SG-1” By Ashley McConnell (Novel)

Well, thanks to the hot weather at the time of preparing this review and being slightly busy, I’m still in the mood for some relaxing easy reading. So, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to check out Ashley McConnell’s 1998 novelisation of the pilot episode of “Stargate SG-1”.

This was a second-hand novel that I bought, along with a couple of other old “Stargate SG-1” novels, a month or two earlier – mostly since I was feeling nostalgic about binge-watching this show on DVD a few years earlier.

However, I only got round to reading one of these novels at the time and, since that novel didn’t impress me much, I ended up abandoning the other two. Still, since I needed some easy reading, I thought that I’d give another one a try.

So, let’s take a look at “Stargate SG-1”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Channel 4 Books (UK) paperback edition of “Stargate SG-1” that I read.

The story begins with a few American troops who are on guard duty in a military bunker. They’re guarding a room that contains nothing but a mysterious object covered in a tarpaulin. Due to the sheer boredom of the job, they’re passing the time by playing poker. However, in the middle of their game, the ground begins to rumble and the tarpaulin falls off of the object – revealing a giant, rippling portal.

Mysterious metallic serpent-headed figures emerge from the portal and begin to fire energy weapons at the troops. Although the troops prevent the intruders from advancing further into the base, one of them is kidnapped before the attackers retreat back into the portal.

A short time later, a US Air Force officer visits the house of a retired colonel called Jack O’Neill with orders to bring him to the base. Before his retirement, O’Neill had led a mission through the portal (or “Stargate”) in order to protect Earth from an alien invasion. So, it looks like his expertise will be needed once again…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really good memory jog if it’s been a while since you last watched the pilot episode of “Stargate SG-1”, since it is a fairly accurate adaptation of the episode. However, when seen on it’s own merits as a sci-fi novel (rather than a TV show adaptation), it’s a somewhat pulpy old-school sci-fi adventure/thriller novel.

However, if you’re expecting loads of extra stuff that wasn’t in the episode, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Still, given the time that it was written, this is fairly understandable. After all, the series was still fairly new when the novel was published. Although, if you’re a fan of the show, then all of the recaps (about the original “Stargate” film) and the story’s “mysterious” moments may seem mildly redundant. However, it’s still a fascinating glimpse into the days when this show was new.

One interesting aspect of this is that the novel’s initial description of O’Neill seems to possibly be based on Kurt Russell’s character (who has blond hair, if I remember rightly) in the original “Stargate” film, rather than Richard Dean Anderson’s interpretation of the character in “SG-1” (even so, the novel contains a reference to “MacGyver” – so, maybe not). Plus, the novel includes some earlier elements of the show that seemed to disappear in later episodes, such the temperature of anything or anyone travelling through a stargate being reduced due to molecular compression.

Even so, you probably won’t get too much more out of this novel than you would get from watching the episode it is based on. There are a few small extra background details and stuff like that but, for the most part, this is just a pretty standard/ordinary adaptation of the source material.

However, whilst the episode itself is fairly dramatic, the story can sometimes come across as cheesy or pulpy when converted to the written word (the novelisation’s brief reference to more sophisticated works of science fiction by Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov etc.. doesn’t exactly help the comparison either).

In terms of the writing, it’s reasonably ok. This novel’s third-person narration is written in a reasonably fast-paced, but descriptive, way that is fairly reminiscent of older thriller novels from the 1970s-80s. The narration is informal enough to be quickly-readable, whilst still being slightly more formal than the average modern action-thriller novel. Still, some elements of the writing do seem a little bit clunky, such as the fact that Teal’c is described almost every time that he appears or the fact that “Jaffa” is misspelled as “Jaafa” during an early part of the novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 Not only is it an efficient 202 pages in length but, thanks to the reasonably fast pacing, it probably won’t take you too much longer to read than it takes to watch the pilot episode of the show.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Thanks to the writing style, it can come across as being a little bit like an old pulp sci-fi novel (but, saying this, the nude scenes in the original version of the episode seem more understated in the novel – although this somehow makes the story seem even pulpier) or possibly a thriller novel from the 1970s-80s at times.

Plus, since the novel is fairly close to the source material, it mostly just comes across as being as old as the episode in question. Even so, it’s still reasonably gripping and is a good nostalgia piece for fans of the show.

All in all, this is a competent adaptation of the first episode of “Stargate SG-1”. It’s a great reminder of the episode and it doesn’t take too much longer to read than it takes to watch the episode. Yes, when transferred to a novel format, the story seems a bit more pulpy than it does on TV – but this is still a competent adaptation. However, if you’re looking for extra depth (like in the best film/TV/game novelisations) or stuff that you wouldn’t find in the episode, then you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

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Review: “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods” By Sonny Whitelaw (Novel)

A week or two before I wrote this review, I found myself missing the days when I used to watch TV shows on DVD instead of reading novels. In particular, I found myself dwelling on my fond memories of watching almost every episode of “Stargate SG-1” back in 2014.

Then I thought “Aha! There must be Stargate SG-1 novels!” And there were. Several of them were surprisingly expensive second-hand, but a few were reasonably-priced. Hence this review of Sonny Whitelaw’s “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods” novel.

However, before I begin this review, I should point out that this novel will only make sense if you’ve watched several seasons of the “Stargate SG-1” TV show (and know the show’s characters, jargon, backstory etc..).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2005 Fandemonium (UK) paperback edition of “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods” that I read.

The novel begins with Major Carter going to a meeting with General Hammond. The rest of the SG-1 team are dead and Hammond wants to know what happened.

We then flash back to sometime earlier, when the SG-1 team are getting ready for the Christmas holidays. However, before they can leave the base, there is an unscheduled off-world activation of the stargate (a giant, ancient planet-to-planet teleporter). The SG-10 team and a volcanologist are in trouble on another planet, so Carter and O’Neill are dispatched for a rescue mission. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan….

Meanwhile, Daniel receives an e-mail from an archaeologist called Wodeski who claims to have found out something about a crystal skull in Mexico. Since the crystal skulls are part of another ancient alien teleportation network, General Hammond dispatches Daniel and Teal’c to Mexico to investigate….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that, for everything it does right, it also does something wrong. This is one of those books that I’m really not sure whether I loved or loathed, or both. Seriously, there are a lot of good and bad things to say about this book.

For starters, the premise of the story is really cool. A lot of the story takes place on a geologically-unstable world that is populated by a civilisation descended from the Aztecs. So, there are lots of cool-looking pyramids, ominous volcanos, grisly sacrifices, obsidian swords, jaguar warriors, characters pretending to be ancient gods and other wonderfully dramatic stuff 🙂

Yet, a lot of this cool stuff is bogged down with lots of long-winded mythological/historical lectures (in fact, the book even includes an appendix containing “Daniel’s Mission Report” – which basically just repeats all of this stuff again). All of these lectures turn what should be a thrillingly dramatic adventure into a slow-paced exercise in note-taking and study at times.

I also have very mixed feelings about the writing in this novel. On the one hand, it is technically good. The novel’s third-person narration is filled with characterisation, atmosphere, good dialogue and lots of detailed descriptions. If this novel had been published between 1960-2000, I wouldn’t criticise the writing.

However, given that this is a 21st century action/adventure thriller novel based on a fast-paced TV show, all of this rich and deep writing sometimes slows the thrilling story to an absolute crawl. In a lot of ways, a slightly less descriptive, more “matter of fact” and more fast-paced narrative style would have been a much better fit for this particular story.

Although this novel seems to tell a new and original “Stargate SG-1” story, it is also fairly accurate to the TV show too. This is also both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, the main characters are really well-written and there’s also lots of the show’s trademark witty dialogue too 🙂

On the downside, the novel is bogged down by numerous pieces of jargon from the show, countless references to episodes of the show etc… Although this may sound good on paper, it can be a little confusing if it has been a few years since you last watched the show. And, if you haven’t watched the show, don’t even bother trying to read this novel. You won’t understand half of it.

In terms of structure, pacing and length, this novel is also a mixed bag. The structure of the story is really good, with an intriguing prologue, several dramatic set pieces and many scenes where the characters are separated and reunited in all sorts of clever ways too.

However, as I mentioned earlier, this novel is often far too slow-paced for the thrilling story it is trying to tell. What this also means is that, although the novel is a refreshingly slender 220 pages in length (plus the “mission notes” appendix), it’ll take you as long to read as a 400 page novel will. Which is kind of annoying.

All in all, this novel is a mixed bag. The premise, characterisation, atmosphere, dialogue and structure of this novel are absolutely brilliant. However, this thrilling sci-fi adventure story is written in an unfittingly slow-paced way, which can really drain the joy out of reading it at times. Likewise, unless you’re an absolute expert on the TV show (or have literally just finished watching the whole thing), then expect to be confused by all of the jargon/references at least a few times. So, yes, this novel is both brilliant and terrible at the same time.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about maybe get a three.

Review: “Stargate (Director’s Cut)” (Film)

2014 Artwork Stargate movie review sketch

Although I have vague memories of watching this film on TV when I was a kid, I didn’t really discover anything “Stargate”-related until earlier this year when I started watching “Stargate SG-1” and, more recently “Stargate: Atlantis” too.

From what I remembered, I knew that the original “Stargate” movie from 1994 was quite spectacular and was set in somewhere resembling ancient Egypt, but that was about it.

So, a while back, when I saw that 2nd hand DVDs of the original movie were surprisingly cheap, I had to get a copy of it and it turned out that the only version I could find on DVD was the “Director’s Cut”. Yes, I still watch films on DVD – and that’s only because my VHS player doesn’t work any more. I may be in my twenties, but I’m probably a lot older at heart LOL!

Since it’s been over a decade since I saw the original movie, I can’t compare the two versions – so I will be looking at this film on it’s own merits. Plus, although I’ll be comparing it to the TV shows it inspired a bit later in this review, I’ll also try to look at the film on it’s own in this context too. I’ll also try to avoid SPOILERS, but there might be a few in this review.

“Stargate” is a sci-fi/adventure movie from 1994, which begins with a mysterious spaceship landing on earth in 8,000 BC. Many years later, in the 1920s, an archaeological expedition in Egypt (led by a man called Dr. Langford and his young daughter Catherine) turns up a mysterious giant ring-shaped device near a pyramid.

We flash forward to 1990s America, where an Egyptologist called Dr. Daniel Jackson (played by James Spader) is delivering a lecture about his theories regarding the age of various pyramids. His theories prove unpopular and most of the academics present walk out of the hall in disgust.

As Dr. Jackson leaves the lecture theatre, he is confronted by several military officers and a much older Catherine Langford, who ask for his help in translating some hieroglyphics.

It quickly turns out that the hieroglyphics are related to the mysterious device that Catherine’s father discovered in the 1920s and, once Dr. Jackson has been able to decode the symbols on it, the device whirls into action and generates a portal to another planet. After some deliberation, the military finally decides to send Dr. Jackson and a reconnaissance team, led by Colonel Jack O’ Neil (played by Kurt Russell) through the portal, where they discover a planet which looks exactly like ancient Egypt……

One of the first things I will say about this film is that it was a lot more “serious” than I expected. If you’re used to the slightly more irreverent and humourous tone of the TV shows that it inspired, then you might be surprised by this. But, basically, it’s just an ordinary mega-budget action/adventure drama film which takes itself reasonably seriously.

Another cool thing about “Stargate” is that when the main characters arrive on the planet and meet the people who live there, no-one understands each other for about half of the film. As you would expect on a planet that is similar to Ancient Egpyt, the people there don’t speak English.

This sounds like a really small detail, but it adds an extra layer of realism to the film and it really gives you the sense that the main characters are on a world that they know nothing about. Plus, it’s a refreshing contrast from “Stargate SG-1”, where everyone across the entire galaxy somehow speaks perfect English.

The special effects in “Stargate” are fairly good for 1994 too. Yes, the pre-CGI model effects look slightly dated twenty years later, but they still work very well. And, to be honest, the really impressive thing about the film is the story and the settings rather than the effects.

All of the set designs in this film are extremely good too and there are vast city scenes, sweeping deserts, ancient pyramids and pharonic spacecraft aplenty here. Although the special effects might not have aged so well, all of the sets still look absolutely brilliant.

The acting in this film is fairly good too and you get a good sense of who the characters are fairly quickly. Daniel Jackson is the cute nerdy scientist that we all know and love and, if you’ve seen Michael Shanks’ version of Daniel Jackson in “Stargate SG-1”, then you pretty much know what to expect.

However, Jack O’Neil is very different in the film to how Richard Dean Anderson portrays him in the TV show. Kurt Russell plays the character completely “straight” and he’s a serious, no-nonsense military “action hero” with a depressing past and more than a little bit of a death wish.

The only minor criticism I have of the film is the pacing. Maybe it’s because this is the director’s cut of the film or maybe it’s because I’m much more used to TV shows than to movies, but this film moved at a slightly slower pace than I expected it to. Still, in a way, it’s kind of a refreshing change from the perfunctory, ultra-fast pace of most modern mega-budget “blockbuster” movies.

All in all, this is an extremely good film that is worth checking out if you like sci-fi and/or ancient Egypt. Yes, the effects look a little bit dated, but it’s still an atmospheric and compelling film that stands the test of time.

Although I prefer the TV show that this film inspired, that show would never have been possible if it wasn’t for this film. Although, as I mentioned earlier, if you’re a fan of “Stargate SG-1” and you’ve never seen this film before, then expect quite a few changes.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would get four and a half.

Review: “Stargate SG-1” Season Nine (TV Show)

2014 Artwork Stargate sg-1 season nine review sketch

Although I’ve watched quite a bit of “Stargate SG-1” over the past few months, it just suddenly occurred to me that I haven’t reviewed any of it yet. So, I thought that I’d start with season nine because it’s the season that I’ve watched most recently.

At the time of writing this review, I haven’t seen season eight yet – so I have no clue how some of the characters ended up in the situations they are in at the beginning of this season. But, annoyingly, I now know pretty much how season eight ends. So, don’t watch this season before you’ve watched season eight.

Talking of spoilers, I should also point out that this review will contain some SPOILERS for season nine. You have been warned.

Generally speaking, this season marks the beginning of an entirely new plot arc for “Stargate SG-1”.

Whilst previous seasons have focused on ancient Egyptian mythology, this season focuses a lot more on traditional English folklore – and, as well as searching for Merlin’s ancient treasures and inventions, SG-1 also find themselves up against a brilliantly chilling new foe called The Ori.

The Ori are an absolutely brilliant parody of the Medieval church (and evangelical religions in general ) and they send eerily disfigured fanatical monks called “priors” to various worlds to either convert the inhabitants to their faith or kill them with plagues and curses if they refuse.

Not only that, the priors of the Ori often quote vaguely biblical passages from their “book of origin” before they do something evil. I don’t know why, but this is both deeply chilling and absolutely hilarious at the same time.

So, yes, they’re a lot creepier than the Go’auld ever were, but just as hilariously theatrical. And it’s up to SG-1 to stop them….

One of the other main changes in season nine of “Stargate SG-1” is that Colonel O’Neill has been replaced by another character called Colonel Mitchell. The cool thing about this is that Colonel Mitchell is played by none other than Ben Browder – who played the main character in another excellent sci-fi show called “Farscape“.

But, the really cool thing is that one of the new recurring characters (called Vala, who I believe also appears in season eight too) is played by Claudia Black – who starred opposite Ben Browder in “Farscape”. Seriously, it’s like a “Farscape” reunion.

Not only that, Vala is one of the best characters I’ve ever seen – she’s witty, she’s eccentric and she’s completely amoral in an absolutely hilarious way. It’s difficult to describe her here, but she really is the best character in the entire show.

Going back to what I was saying about a “Farscape reunion”, the very first episode of season nine features something which is slightly similar to the “I-yensch” bracelets from Farscape.

Seriously, if you’re a Farscape fan, then you are probably going to be literally trembling with geeky delight when you see the first couple of episodes of season nine.

Talking of things that are similar to other things, this season seems to take a surprising amount of inspiration from other sci-fi shows and movies.

For example, episode eighteen involves Mitchell and Carter being stuck “out of phase” from our reality in a very similar way how to Geordie La Forge and Ro Laren do in an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

Yes, something similar to this also happens in season six or seven of “Stargate SG-1” too – but it reminded me a lot more of “Star Trek” when it happened this time for some reason.

Likewise, the plot structure of episode four bears an eerie similarity to the plot structure of part of the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” season five episode “In The Cards“.

But, since both episodes are absolutely hilarious and very well-plotted, then this isn’t exactly a bad thing. In fact, episode four is probably the best episode of season nine of “Stargate SG-1”.

Episode seventeen is another great episode, where SG-1 find themselves up against a horde of flesh-eating beetles whilst escorting an international diplomatic mission around a US research base on another planet.

Since these beetles tend to burrow underground and can be distracted and/or scared away by loud noises, the episode quickly becomes vaguely reminiscent of an absolutely excellent monster movie from the 90s called “Tremors“.

If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ll probably love seeing “Stargate SG-1″‘s unique take on most of these familiar storylines. But, as cool as it is, it can make a few episodes slightly predictable at times. Even so, I cannot fault their choice of inspiration for this season.

All in all, this season is different from the ones that came before it. Yes, it’s a little bit derivative at times – but in the best possible way. And, if you love sci-fi, then you will probably love this season of “Stargate SG-1”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d give season nine of “Stargate SG-1” four.