The original Battlestar Galactica brought groundbreaking effects to the small screen, while Ronald D. Moore’s reboot remains the gold standard for serious science fiction on television. Yet, while BSG has easily earned its place in the science fiction hall of fame, few books have documented the story behind the camera. In So Say We All, Mark Altman and Edward Gross attempt to do what they did with the Star Trek franchise and provide a complete oral history of the Battlestar Galactica franchise.
As an oral history, this book relies almost exclusively on interviews with the cast, writers, and crew members to tell the story. Altman and Gross step back entirely, to the point where they do not even reprint the questions that they asked the interviewees. They occasionally include a brief paragraph providing a biographical information about an interviewee or summarizing a particular episode, but for the most part this book is just a transcription of firsthand accounts and interviews.
This approach works surprisingly well. Altman and Gross conducted more than enough interviews to paint a complete picture of both shows using just the words of the people who experienced them firsthand. The book is organized roughly chronologically, so interviews covering with earlier parts of BSG’s history are placed earlier in the book, even if that particular interview was conducted later. There aren’t any major gaps or issues left undiscussed. The book includes interviews with nearly every major actor and writer involved in the franchise (with the puzzling exception of Mark Sheppard, who played Romo Lampkin). While far from being the definitive history of BSG, it is an extremely detailed and comprehensive one.
I was also impressed with just how honest most of the interviewees were. With a few exceptions (more on that below), I never felt like the interviews were glorified propaganda puff pieces for the franchise. In fact, one of the benefits of the oral history approach is that it lets the people who worked on BSG speak without passing judgment. Altman and Gross interviewed the lead writers for the BSG reboot, as well as the Sci-Fi Channel executives who oversaw the show. Sci-Fi is often vilified in the fandom, but I appreciated hearing the point of view of the executives, even if ultimately disagreed.
That said, one drawback to the oral history approach is that the interviews come without context. Altman and Gross do not indicate when and where the interviews were conducted. My impression is that Gross and Altman conducted most of the interviews themselves, but it is never explicitly made clear which interviews were conducted by them and which rely on archival sources. For example, the book includes interviews with Lorne Greene, the actor who played Adama in the original show, but he passed away in 1987. Some context – preferably in footnotes – would have helped. Context is especially important because cast and crew are likely going to talk about a show very differently while they’re working on it as opposed to years after the fact, when they can perhaps reflect on their experiences more honestly.
Along these lines, at times I couldn’t help but feel it was perhaps a bit too early to tell the definitive history of the BSG reboot. The interviews with the cast and writers are informative, but there still seems to be a bit of reluctance to talk candidly about some of the more controversial story decisions. David Eick comes close to talking about his alternate vision for the ending, but then defers to Ron Moore’s version. It’s mentioned that Moore and Eick butted heads during the latter two years, but So Say We All doesn’t really explore that part of their relationship.
Also,while I’m grateful the book doesn’t ignore Galactica 1980, Caprica, and Blood & Chrome, the coverage of those shows was cursory at best. I for one would love to learn more about the behind-the-scenes drama on Caprica, which I actually enjoyed for the most part.
Because of these issues, So Say We All isn’t the definitive, final history of the Battlestar Galactica franchise. It does however contain a cornucopia of information that should keep BSG fans busy for quite some time. Highly recommended to anyone interested in either version of Battlestar Galactica or the history of television.
So Say We All goes on sale on August 21, 2018.
[Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review]