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Space: 1889 – Looking Back

In the first of a two-part article, I shall be speaking to the creative minds behind Noise Monster Productions’ audio series of Space: 1889, the inspiration for the series that eventually became Space: 1889 & Beyond.

Noise Monster, a fledgling production company, was set up by John Ainsworth in 2004. Ainsworth was well versed in audio production, having worked as director and producer for Big Finish Productions official range of Doctor Who audio dramas. The first property he decided to go for was Frank Chadwick’s Space: 1889 in 2005. I spoke to him recently and asked him what it was that brought him to Space: 1889 in the first place…

  • JA: I think I was aware of Space: 1889 when it first came out. I was big Dungeons and Dragons player in my teens and, although I stopped playing regularly when I moved to London in my late teens, I did keep an eye on what was being published. Many years later I produced the Judge Dredd audio dramas for Big Finish and became aware that the authors were using the Judge Dredd role playing game books as their reference material for writing the scripts, rather than having to plough through thirty years worth of comic strips. This made realise that all RPG’s were ready-made ‘bibles’ for telling stories of any kind, and not just for gaming.

And so he approached Frank, and a licence was worked out. As I’ve discovered myself while developing the eBook series, turning a role playing game into an ongoing fictional narrative has proven an interesting task. So I asked how he approached developing a RPG into a series of audio dramas…

  • JA: It was easy really. I bought multiple copies of the main Space: 1889 gaming book and gave one to each of my authors. I told them to write a story set in this universe. I wanted a large cast of characters that would populate the world. The intention was that they wouldn’t all be in every story, or wouldn’t always have a major role, but they would keep on cropping up as we progressed from adventure to adventure.

This principle is evident in the Mars Trilogy, but unfortunately the forth release proved to be the last. Was that always the intention?

  • JA: The intention was for the series to be an ongoing one, exploring the whole of the Space: 1889 universe with stories set on Mars, Venus, Luna, Earth and in space. I had a vague notion of bringing Queen Victoria to Mars on a Royal visit and was thinking of asking Pauline Collins to play the role. I was later amused to discover that she was subsequently cast in exactly this role for an episode of Doctor Who. So, someone was thinking along the same lines as I was!

Talking of the end of the series, I asked John what he felt contributed to its demise.

  • JA: Poor sales, plain and simple. It was quite a learning curve. I discovered that each time I released a new CD, the previous ones would sell as well. If that trend had continued, it would have begun to break even after around twelve releases. Unfortunately though, I didn’t have the funds to keep the series going that long without seeing any return.

At this point I wondered, what with the growing popularity of steampunk and Space: 1889, would now be a good time to return to making audio dramas based on the property?

  • JA: Possibly. To be honest though, I think you’re only going to get really healthy sales from audio dramas that are based on popular, existing franchises that already have a large fan following like Doctor Who, Star Trek or Star Wars. However, if I was to produce further Space: 1889 audios (although I have no plans to do so), I would release them as download only titles. This would greatly reduced the production costs as pressing CDs, printing covers and postage and packing is a very costly part of the business.

Looking back then, five years on, I wondered what John would consider his proudest moments as producer of Space: 1889.

  • JA: To be honest, I was proud to have done it at all. I thought all four titles were really good and Alex Mallinson’s graphics and art were exactly what I wanted. I was particularly pleased with the casts who I thought were excellent and did some really good work.

Now we turn to the author of the very first Space: 1889 audio, Jonathan Clements. Like Ainsworth, Clements was no stranger to audio work, having written for Big Finish. I started out by asking him what interested him in Space: 1889 in the first place…

  • JC: I think it’s the sense that the Victorian period is *already* science fiction. There isn’t all that much difference between Mars and Africa or India for the Victorians, and there is this incredible sense of progress and adventure. It’s fashionable now to regard the Victorian era as one of exploitation, folly and imperialism, and even in my script, there were elements of doubt about the justification for expansion and colonialism, but Chadwick’s original has a sense of exuberance, a sense of fun about it.

And what difficulties did he face converting the RPG into a script?

  •  JC: Bottom line: sentences are longer. Victorian speech patterns are entirely different to our own. Only the servants talk remotely like we do. The upper classes have a literate, sedate, loquacious consideration to their speech, which made my script 10% too long on the first draft. But I came to love the luxury of being able to think aloud in speech. You can’t do that with modern manners — everyone always interrupts each other.

As authors we all have favourite characters, so when asked who were his, Clements was quick and to the point.

  •  JC: The Professor and his daughter Georgina.

 Fair enough, and I have to agree. So, just to task him a little more, what would be his three favourite moments from Red Devils…?

  •  JC: Georgina rustling around the Professor’s cabin and asking him if he’s awake. And then there’s a pause…. which turns into silence… and then he says “No”. Ian Brooker’s finest moment, not for what he says, but for how long he waits to say it.
  •  Georgina kicking off the resistance by slapping the pirate leader. It harkens back to an observation I made about Viking sagas, when if you actually look at the original text, you see that a lot of battles begin when women goad their menfolk into action.
  •  Williams’ final speech to his executioners, a message from our century to that of the Victorians: “Your enemies are within, parasites that feed on your goodwill as gentlemen. Your enemy is Empire itself, and the evils it engenders in men of all races! Rise up, before your masters’ intrigues send you to fight a raging storm of red dust! You are not servants of Britannia, you are her slaves, and Mars shall bury you!”

In ending this first part, then, I ask Clements what’s coming up for him, for I know he’s a very busy chap.

  •  I’ve written the first of the novel spin-offs from the TV series Spartacus: Blood & Sand. It’s called Spartacus: Swords & Ashes, and it will be published in January 2012. A very different kind of speech pattern from the Victorian age, but just as intricate and just as much fun to work with.

You can discover more about Jonathan Clements from his website, www.schoolgirlmilkycrisis.com

And so, one final thing for Mr Ainsworth. When I told him that the Mars Trilogy has been acknowledged as running con-currently with the first series of Space: 1889 & Beyond, he had this to say…

  •  Well, that’s great! I’m glad it’s considered part of the wider Space: 1889 universe.

Many thanks to John Ainsworth and Jonathan Clements for their time.