I apologize for my absence from the blogsphere the last couple of weeks. I sailed into a perfect storm of writing deadlines and astronomy job responsibilities that kept me off line for much of the last couple weeks. Now that I’m on the other side, I can report that my latest wild west steampunk adventure, Lightning Wolves, is now turned in to the publisher and I’m awaiting edits. Also, we were able to test out a new high resolution camera on the Kitt Peak 2.1-meter telescope. The results of those tests look like they’ll result in a new scientific publication. So, although I’ve been absent, I’ve hardly been idle!
Fortunately, the last few days have not been all work and no play. I was able to take some time to enjoy a couple of good books and a couple of a good videos. As I searched through my video collection, I came across my set of the television series The Wild Wild West. There’s no question that the show had a strong influence on my flavor of wild west steampunk storytelling. The problem with The Wild Wild West is that while it started strong, later incarnations never really lived up to the promise of the original series. In fact, the series itself was strongest in its first, black-and-white, season. As the show went on, network censors demanded that the violence be toned down and it was played more for laughs than for action. Still, the original series did pretty well throughout its four-year run. The real problem came with the sequels.
When I speak of sequels, the first thing most people will think of is the 1999 movie with Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Thing is, I’m one of a handful of people I know who actually kind of like the film. Of course, the operative words there are “kind of”. The humor in the movie falls flat more often than not, but I enjoyed the visuals and thought when they played it for action more than laughs, it showed real promise.
The movie wasn’t the only attempt at resurrecting the series. There are two sequels that many people don’t know about. These are the TV movies The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West that starred Robert Conrad, Ross Martin, and a host of guest stars, many of whom appeared in the original series. These films, which were broadcast in 1979 and 1980 respectively, should have been great, but like the 1999 film were played more for laughs than action and those laughs often didn’t work out as well as expected. The thing I love most about these films is that they were shot at Old Tucson Studios near the observatory where I work. The scenery is gorgeous.
Fortunately, the Wild Wild West saga isn’t limited to film. I recently discovered a limited comic book series that was published in 1990 by Millennium Comics. 1990 was the year I got married. I was in graduate school and starting a new job. I wasn’t exactly following comics closely during that time, so it’s perhaps not surprising I missed it! I recently came across it and picked up a copy of the series and I’m glad I did.
I found that the comic series did a great job of capturing the spirit of the first season of the series. Not only is Dr. Loveless here as the villain, but he’s accompanied by Antoinette and Voltaire, his assistants from the first season. One of the things I wish they had done even in the original series was to have folded in a little more real history. This comic series brings in several historical figures who conspire in an elaborate plot to assassinate President Grant. The artwork was a little disappointing at times, but the story more than compensated for it. This was nicely done and I wish Millennium had produced more of these.
What’s more, the weird western and steampunk worlds have brought us some worthy successors to The Wild Wild West. I’m currently reading Cherie Priest’s Ganymede which is set in Seattle and New Orleans. Although one might not think of New Orleans as the west, it was certainly featured in The Wild Wild West. Of course, I’ve also enjoyed the Miles O’Malley stories of David B. Riley, which are now collected in an omnibus edition entitled The Devil Draws Two.
I hope Lightning Wolves also proves to be a worthy successor. I’m still in that afterglow of finishing the novel where it all seems wonderful and I fear it’s all terrible. Fortunately, it’s now in the hands of a great batch of editors and beta readers, who will help me whip it into shape while I start thinking about the directions the next book will take.