No TARDIS is required as we take a nostalgic journey reliving those shows from now and then…
A review of an essential guide to those women from Sci-fi and fantasy shows as found on telly from the 1950s to 2016.
Women of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, and Espionage: TV Pioneers, Karen A. Romanko
Sci-fi TV has never been my strong point and I usually have to get my husband to
explain mansplain the differences between all the different Star Trek series that followed the original series, and the who’s who and who does what in their crews. So when author Karen A Romanko asked me to read and review her book on women in sci-fi TV, I agreed immediately.
In her book, Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, An Encyclopedia of 400 Characters and 200 Shows, 1950 – 2016 (2019), Karen A Romanko has written a handy reference guide to 400 of those iconic characters and their 200 TV Shows from the 1950s to 2016. Romanko’s book is manna from heaven for the avid sci-fan or fantasy TV series fanatic, or for those like me who are married to one of them and don’t know the crucial differences between those sci-fi shows and their spin-off shows from then and now.
I ventured into the mostly unknown American TV world of Sci-fi and Fantasy with Romanko as my guide. Her book was like a flashback to those shows I’d watched as a kid in Scotland to those more recently here in Finland. It jolted my memory of some great TV, through Romanko’s vivid descriptions of some delightful protagonists and supporting characters, heroines and villains and girlfriends and mothers of the wee screen over the last six decades.
These characters and shows are lovingly researched and presented like mini-reviews within this book. The shows are from the days of the 1950s when Dale Arden was the science-fiction hero Flash Gordon‘s girlfriend. Then after every TV reincarnation of Lois Lane and many more characters and shows over the decades, we get to the much more recent and much more feisty Agent Carter. Carter in the series was named after her and she proved that she was so much more than a superhero’s girlfriend in 2016.
Romanko’s wonderful historical introduction set the scene and context for this book and this was swiftly followed by her alphabetic and encyclopedic trip through these characters and shows. Her well researched written introductory piece condensed six decades of women of all sorts in these genres. Relevant historical facts of these periods were outlined along with those TV characters from that time and place.
These TV Series showed how women characters have been seen to evolve progressively over the years. Roles have become more fulfilling for actresses from the time that Nichelle Nichols – from Star Trek – described her role as a “glorified telephone operator” to the previously mentioned Agent Carter. Landmark shows included Bewitched which had not only a leading female character – but also a role for her on-screen mother – and the titular TV leading roles of the 70s and beyond including Wonder Woman, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Xena Warrior Princess.
In her wonderfully enthusiastically written encyclopedia, Romanko refers to these women and the shows they appeared in, in an alphabetical manner over 233 pages. Each TV Series entry in this well-researched book included the dates of airing, cast lists and short and relevant series descriptions of the shows, often with a wee dose of humour. There is also a list of honourable mentions.
These individual entries have wonderful vivid descriptions of both the shows and the characters within them. These descriptions are so beautifully worded, that my forgotten memories of these shows and the characters came alive again.
I could recall and visualise scenes and episodes from my childhood telly to beyond. These descriptions are so vivid you’ll remember those times when Lynda Carter wore a skateboarding outfit in Wonder Woman or recalled the maternal Morticia Addams’ unique way of smoking in The Addams Family.
As a child of the 70s and 80s, Romanko’s descriptions of then superheroines and girlfriend roles in American TV at this time reminded me of those American shows I had watched as a kid. With Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman being replaced by a generic girlfriend who often did the legwork while her superhero boyfriend fought the bad guys and saved the universe.
Through reading her reviews I remembered the one-season TV wonder of Manimal and the wonderful fantasy world of Beauty the Beast. The book also added some fabulous descriptions of shows and episodes that I hadn’t seen. The Girl from UNCLE and other entries outlined some episodes of these series were made so alluring that they left you hankering for that boxset or to watch a rerun.
The book also is illustrated with inviting black and white photos throughout. These add to the memories of some great TV. Thanks to this book, I am now recognising more of the names of those sci-fi and fantasy shows that my favourite stars guest-starred in. Did you know Richard Kiel appeared in I Dream of Jennie or that Dorothy Stratten was featured in an episode of Buck Rogers? You do now.
I have now added a lot of shows added to my to find, watch or review list from back then to now. As Romanko’s descriptions included many known and unknown facts about the shows which I can now girl-splain to my Darlin Husband. My own trip will inevitably start with watching a 1970s show which is remembered on this book’s front cover and (probably) for non-surprising reasons.
On reading about this show, I noted it starred a Dallas star, Jared Martin (who joined the cast as the character, Dusty Farlow) alongside this cover girl actress Katie Saylor. This show was The Fantastic Journey, and this show title easily sums up the contents of Romanko’s book so beautifully as she took me on a trip through the years of sci-fi and fantasy TV greats as easy as ABC.
Finally a little about Karen A Romanko in her own words:
Bio: Karen A. Romanko writes books about women and television. Her latest is Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television (McFarland, 2019), a follow-up to Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters (McFarland, 2016). She loves retro TV and discusses it on her blog Small Screen Pop. Karen lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys walks on the beach and amateur photography.
A disclaimer and personal thank you to Karen A Romanko for asking me to write this post. Financial compensation was not received for this post. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you are involved in the entertainment industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.