Working on a novel that I just started this past week, I’m a little drained of big, substantive blog ideas right now. I do have a lengthy list of topics I want to write about, but I’m saving them for an interlude when I have more emotional energy, more creative spirit, and just more time to play with.
So, for times like now, I’m kicking off a new series (which has already resulted in a lengthy list of potential sub-topics) to explore my first impressions of some fictional worlds that became hugely important to me later on.
And one of the first fictional worlds I fell in love with… other than maybe those of Winnie the Pooh and Samantha Stevens of Bewitched, was Lost in Space.
My brother had just gotten his own television. It was 1971, I was five years old, and this was a very big deal. I didn’t know any families with two televisions, and I knew, well, at least three other families. And this televsion had something called “UHF,” which meant it had an extra tuning knob and got channels higher than 13. My bro was on the bleeding edge of technology! (Actually, little brothers in 1971 white suburbia almost never called their elder brothers, “My bro.”)
I walked into his room one afternoon and saw on the 12-inch black-and-white screen a wondrous thing: a boy talking to a robot.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s a show I used to watch,” said my brother. “It’s called Lost in Space. Now shut up.”
Okay, I’m not sure he said, “Now shut up.” But he was 13 and I was five and intruding in his room, talking during a TV show, so the odds are good.
I sat down and shut up. (Those of you who know me will kindly suspend your disbelief for the remainder of the lesson.) I watched, wide-eyed, for there was not one robot in this program, there were two.
“No,” my brother explained with scholarly dignity, “that other one isn’t a robot, it’s a robotoid.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked.
“A robotoid doesn’t have to do what it’s told.”
Sounded pretty sensible to me. I liked this robotoid. Why should anyone do what they’re told, anyway? (Those of you who know me may now return to your regularly scheduled belief, ’cause ain’t nothing changed on that score in 44 years.)
So I was sad when the good Robot destroyed the Robotoid, blasting him with lightning bolts so he collapsed against a huge rock. Although I liked the cool “Errrrr” sound the Robotoid made, and the way he said, “You have destroyed me.” It was downright Shakesperean. (Well, okay. I didn’t know Shakespeare in 1971. I thought Hamlet was a breakfast food. I would become more culturally literate later when, courtesy of the same newfangled, UHF technology, I would see Gilligan’s Island.) I particularly liked the “Errrr.” It was the same sound Roxanne made on Dark Shadows when someone stuck a cross in her face and she fell back in her coffin. (And that is all I knew of Dark Shadows in 1971.)
At the end of the episode, when they came back from the commercial break, the Robotoid was no longer leaning on his rock. The rock was still there, just no Robotoid.
“Where’s the Robotoid?” I asked my brother.
“They moved him.”
“That quickly?” Even then I knew commercials were only two minutes, because the dentist had told me to hum my favorite commercials while brushing my teeth to time myself.
“Where did they put him?” I pressed. “Are they gonna fix him?”
“No,” said my brother, “he’s gone.”
“But what about object permanence?” I demanded. “I just learned it!”
Okay… some of my memories are perhaps less accurate than others.
My brother explained that, from episode to episode, Lost in Space did not actually pay much attention to what happened last week. The last scene in the show was just a teaser for next week’s episode. It was my first lesson in series continuity.
“But what about next week? Will he be there next week? They can’t have moved him far, he was really heavy.”
My brother explained that next week would be a completely different story. Will Robinson, his robot and his family would be back, but not the Robotoid. He was just a guest. And, by the way, next week’s episode would be on tomorrow, even though the end credits said, “To be continued next week, same time, same channel.” It was my first lesson in syndicated repeats.
Even without the Robotoid, I still loved the show. I would later learn the Robotoid was a famous robot named Robby, designed for a famous movie called Forbidden Planet by the same man who designed the Robot for Lost in Space, and that the episode “War of the Robots” was just one of his many guest appearances.
A few months later, I turned six. My brother asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Well, he had a Remco Lost in Space toy robot. I asked for a toy Robby to go with it. “That might be a little hard to find,” he said sadly. It was my first lesson in the capriciousness of mass market toy licensing.
But I got the last laugh. I now own five of them.