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Creation Date: March 1st, 2010 07:15 PM
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Musings of a Knight of the Imperium.
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In Moot Member Blogs Stewart Cowley memories Entry Tools Rate This Entry
  #574 New July 1st, 2019 11:42 AM
I've made it a point not to write about the 70s. I didn't like the 70s. Nothing really good for me personally came out of that era, and other than a few familial events it was a pretty boring time to be alive. However, in the wake of Star Wars' success (or perhaps coincidentally, though I doubt it) there was a flurry of scifi stuff put onto what had been up to that point a predominantly Star Trek oriented fanbase, audience and market. One of those things was a series of books authored by the Pasta Master Stewart Cowley, who had taken a series of science fiction book art covers, wrote up stories for each piece, and published them into large coffee table books. One series, the first series in fact, were the Terran Trade Authority Books, which read like a Janes All the World's Combat Aircraft, but also had a few other snippets regarding mysterious objects. Ditto with the Revolutionary War and other events and places. And those too help fire the imagination; i.e. fighting a war that would free other men, or putting an end to taxation without representation (well, as per Madde Magazine's bicentennial issue, taxes with representation ain't so hot either ), Again, different from police and hospital shows, as well as vapid psychological sitcoms that polluted TV. And I really mean that. Those of you old enough to remember will remember just how uninteresting television was at the time. That's changed thanks to people who got fed up with it, and partially people who read the likes of Stewart Cowley.



Those books, Trek fandom, and Lucas's Star Wars helped liven up a pretty dead period in American culture. I was deemed too young to go see Logan's Run and one or two other popular films at the time, so Star Trek reruns and things like Stewart Cowley would have to suffice for stimuli. I think either that year or the year before there was a great Tolkien festival across the nation. Macy's, when they still sold lots of different items other than women's clothing. celebrated Tolkien by having people read The Hobbit out loud in various departments set up with chairs for an audience. It was that kind of a decade. And so it was that pre-net you grabbed any bit of scifi or fantasy you could. Seeing George Pal's "Time Machine" or Harryhausen's "Mysterious Island" on TV was a treat

So I poured over those books. Reading them again one clearly sees that they're smartly written, but still cater to a younger demographic, albeit a pretty intelligent one. And the Terran Trade Authority books, in terms of prose, still hold up. The second series that Cowley authored are not as good. In fact "Space Warriors", in addition to a lot of Han Solo art just blatantly pasted on top of legitimate oils by known scifi artists of the time, reads like a children's adventure story. The second series really lacks a kind of grounding that the TTA books had.

But to the point, There was, for the young mind like my own, a real wonderful world outside everyday existence waiting to be explored. It was a time of wonder. And you didn't have to be a child to engage in that sense of visual and imaginative dazzlement. The pictures in those books took you to places that you could only dream about if your gray matter was so oriented. Suddenly instead of the everyday neighborhood and local grocery store, you could go to cities that floated in the air (Before Empire), or visit artificial worlds, or worlds that had strange alien architecture and were embroiled in some interplanetary or interstellar conflict. Imagine working on some massive thing with a welding torch in your hand in the midst of a thick nebula that turned local space into a rainbow of colors. The great science fiction artists of the 60s and 70s helped alleviate the mundaness of that era.

Truly. Without them keeping the scifi genre alive we would not have had the computer and technological revolution that we are still in since the late 70s. I really mean that. Because of their art inspiring other art, inspiring technology and science to make our lives better with things like cell phones or better media, none of the inventions and technology we use today would have come about the way they have.

Traveller was part of that, in a sense. I don't know if anyone at GDW, Steve Jackson Games or Task Force Games read or looked through those books (I think there was a thread or two here on the topic in years' past), but the better art on the covers of many a scifi or fantasy game mimicked that that style, and created a kind of smorgasbord of media for visionaries to sink their teeth into.

During Star Wars' infancy, when it was just one movie, and the other big scifi property other than Star Trek were the Planet of the Apes movies, there was this kind of revitalization of looking visions of the future, or alternate worlds where technology and maybe old Victorian or classical era values reigned. John Carter of Mars saw a brief resurgence then, and a new series of scifi books were coming onto the shelves of stores like B. Dalton (I think there's still one at the Embarcadero in San Francisco).

I bring this up because during much of the 70s, media wise, there was a flurry of detective and police shows. The adventure shows that were produced in the 60s had gone the way of the dinosaur. And instead there were these very boring and mundane cop shows about some criminal trying to get away with some con. Cop shows have always been around. Even original Star Trek is a cop show after a fashion, but the lively programming that had been produced for TV in the 60s, along with equally exciting feature films, had really been lost or shoved aside to create cheaper fare that could make more money via advertising dollars. Again, I don't want to talk about the 70s, but the media sphere at the time was just downright poor. It was a media desert. All kinds of situation comedies that were big on visual promises in their promos and intros, were sorely lacking when an actual episode aired.

Which is why the Stewart Cowley books were all that much more important. Or the old ziplock bag games from companies like Task Force Games or Metagaming because that much more important. In an era where the bean counters down in Hollywood were telling the studios how to make money by cranking out cop and hospital shows to save on production costs (no joke, that ACTUALLY happened, and it first started with Warner Brothers' accountant telling the execis to cut the animation department because they had generated enough material to recycle...what that accountant didn't understand (I forget his name) is that the material from the 30 to the 50s was created for adults, not really kids, but the philosophy caught on to other production companies and studios, and so media really took a nose dive during that time). Ergo if you look at the media being produced compared to years prior, it was very unimaginative, and just downright plain and dreary at times. How many times can you tune into a show where everybody where's the same effing checkered or twedd jacket blazer to go after some petty criminal or small time criminal ring? Compare that to the spy shows or adventure shows of the 60s. It's a world of difference.

And if you went to a bookstore you saw a lot of books in the fiction section dealing with personal struggles and psychological studies. Just pure garbage. And it seemed like the only adventure stuff written for mainstream audiences was stuff about going after Nazi war criminals. Honestly, unless it was a borderline fringe publication like Phoenix Force or Mack Bolan (no, I didn't read those pulp series), the military and adventure novels of the time all had a world war 2 theme to them. And that's why science fiction took hold of not just me, but a lot of people of all ages with Lucas's Star Wars and the material produced at the same time or in its wake.

I have to be honest here in that I'm suspicious that the media blitz of scifi headed by Lucas's film might have had some sociological planning to it. It wouldn't surprise me if that were the case, and I suspect it may be, and to that end I would be extremely angry, but, even so, to the Trek fan like myself and millions of others across the US, SW and the new revitalization of novels, comics, even music, really had an appeal that all the Barnaby Jones, Rockford Files, and Cannon's couldn't satiate.

As a kid it was a wondrous time to be alive. Maybe, if I Could get the guidance I needed, I could steer myself towards an engineering career to help bring about some of those massive space stations or futuristic cities or even starships. But, you know that story, so But, back to the story; it was another really exciting time to be alive as a science fiction fan. And then decades later to see all those pieces of art put into a CGI video that celebrates the TTA books and the artistry within, it was like a dream come true. We, the readers of the TTA books and other media, couldn't go to some other Earth where the Laguna and Proxima Wars were fought, but we could finally see them rendered in a kind of reality that before was forever caught in stasis via the oil painting medium. It was an emotional moment to see that video.

The down shot is that I can on longer author for Traveller like I wanted to, but I can still write for ATUs. I could write for Mongoose, and I'm thinking I may, but we'll see regardless, Cowley's books helped not just fuel and feed my imagination, but really helped it develop in a way that no other set of books had.

When I read about the American Civil War I had adopted extended family whose ancestors fought on both sides of the conflict. I went to the battlefields and saw the monuments, heard the anecdotes and read books on the topic. With that kind of thing you have a good idea of what a cotton uniform for both northern and southern forces was like,. How loud the muzzle loading rifles were. A sense of what it was like to ride a horse during a battle and so forth. It's visually very tactile by virtue of being relatively recent history that had been captured in photos as well as preserved locations and historic places.

The second book in the Cowley series was "Great Space Battles", which looked at the Laguna Wars against the Laguna Pirates, and also told a number of other stories that were pretty entertaining. And a lot of them dealt with encountering the unknown or dealing with circumstances that were beyond anyone's control. Good scifi does that. Challenging the reader, the characters, or if it's a game, the players to events and things that are beyond their normal everyday experience, and how they meet those challenges with physical and moral mettle. That's good reading. That's good gaming. That's good writing. And marrying that kind of thing to some really outstanding artistry from various science fiction novels published in the previous 20 years, is what the TTA books and the follow on series were all about.

I emailed the publisher if they had any back copies in stock. They never replied. I had lost mine over the years, and so had to scrounge them up by way of Amazon and ebay. My collection is now whole again. Regrettably I also had to do that because some scum bag stole the copy of Spaecbase (all four TTA books compressed into one volume) that used to be available at the San Mateo Library. I'm thinking that a$$hole sold it on ebay whoever took it. I really hate stuff like that.

Regardless, I have mine back. I only wish these books could be published again for a newer generation. However, the art is not dated, but I think the media form is as younger ages are into computer generated art via games. The TTA books, though interesting, probably wouldn't hold their attention, or so I'm guessing. Maybe I'm wrong on that. I don't really know. I do know that Cowley's books inspired the Homeworld game series. They stated so directly in several interviews. I wonder what anactual TTA computer game would look like?

Anyway, when I tinker with Traveller, and when I played a lot, I had images of the places presented in the TTA books in mind. Whether it was the Miami Spaceport, the K7 Goblin, the various shots of the Interstellar Queen by Angus McGee, or one of the other renderrings via oil on canvas, those vast starscapes and cityscapes helped render Traveller for my personal imagination. I did try to convey some of that to my players when I ran a game, but am not sure how effective I was.

Just some more reflections as I wait on some maps, and wait for some things to clear up so I can get back to work.

Prepare to jump. One. Two. Three. JUMP!
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