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Library-Themed Children’s Science Fiction of the 1980s Dept.: “Tomes and Talismans”

August 9, 2010 \pm\31 12:00 pm

For years I have been bedeviled by my inability to remember the name of a television series my sixth grade math class was occasionally shown on afternoons in 1988 when our long-suffering teacher could not stand to hear the sound of our voices any longer. All I could remember was that I enjoyed the show a great deal for reasons I couldn’t recall, it had something to do with reading, the main characters were always getting teleported places, and that the bad guys in the show were called the Wipers. Whenever I Googled “Wipers,” however, I found only information about the great Portland punk band, who I incidentally heartily recommend.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that searching for “wipers science fiction” on Youtube turned up the entire run of the show in question, “Tomes and Talismans,” produced between 1984 and 1986 by Mississippi Public Television. The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog actually posted about the show in March 2010, calling it “the finest post-apocalyptic educational series about library science ever produced by Mississippi Public Television.”

They’re not lying. “Tomes and Talismans” is, simply put, an ultra-low-budget “Battlestar Galactica” knockoff apparently filmed in a ravine behind a junior high school. The show’s information-savvy alien heroes, the Users, generally busy themselves with the nitty-gritty of life on planet Earth in the year 2117 after an intergalactic catastrophe: puzzling over the Dewey Decimal system, learning how to construct a topic sentence, or teaching each other how to use italics. Their computers are outfitted with colored buttons instead of keyboards and display type in the sorts of fonts you’d find on an Atari 2600 cartridge, even though the show takes place over a hundred years in the future and home computers available in the mid-eighties, when the show was made, were already more advanced than that. They occasionally teleport into alternate realms using special mid-eighties public television video editing suite technology.

The show’s horse-fearing Luddite villains, accurately described by a Youtube commenter as “basically extraterrestrial rednecks,” are called the Wipers. The Wipers’ base looks suspiciously like a loading dock. The head Wiper has a mustache and a Southern accent and occasionally goes “ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” in that phony way that only science fiction villains and 1980s punk singers can.

Everyone wears what might succinctly be described as “space headbands.” The theme music features a lot of distorted saw-wave synths. Hell, the theme music is basically witch house.

The whole series is available on Youtube, but here’s a representative sample.

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One Comment
  1. August 14, 2010 \pm\31 5:32 pm 5:32 pm

    Rarely does a show achieve that perfect mesh of creepy and informational.

    By the way, I absolutely love how on a show like this, there has to be someone who’s dumber than a bag of bricks for the sake of the audience’s sake.

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