Space “Cowboys”

This weekend I’m at Bubonicon 48. If you’re in Albuquerque, I hope you’ll drop by and visit us at the Hadrosaur Productions table and check out some of the cool panels going on. In the run-up to Bubonicon this past week, Steve Howell and I have been working on Hadrosaur’s anthology Kepler’s Cowboys, which looks at the variety of planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and imagines the brave men and women who will either explore those worlds or will come to our world exploring.

One of the things that I’ve noticed while reading for this anthology is how literally many of the authors have taken the cowboy idea. Several of the submissions feature very literal cowboys in space, who practically wear spurs and big hats. That’s fine and I think a few of those will definitely make it into the anthology, but I do want to point out that’s not the only thing I want to see. In fact, I thought I’d spend a little time today introducing you to a few of my favorite space “cowboys.”

Faye Faye Vallentine is one of the bounty hunters in the anime Cowboy Bebop. Although I enjoy watching Faye’s story, I probably wouldn’t want to know her. In fact, she’s rather arrogant and lazy and she might well be addicted to both gambling and alcohol. However, she does (albeit grudgingly sometimes) show concern for the crew of the spaceship Bebop and the mystery of her past makes her vulnerable. By all appearances she became an ace pilot in about three years. Although much of the mystery of her past is resolved in the series, there are still lots more stories that could be told about her, both from before she joined the crew of the Bebop, and after the end of the series. I love it when it feels like we’re seeing a snippet of someone’s life in a story and don’t feel like that character was born the moment the story was created.

Jewell_Staite Kaylee Frye is the mechanic who keeps the spaceship Serenity flying in the televison series Firefly. The photo is from Phoenix Comicon a couple of years ago when my daughter and I had the chance to meet Jewell Staite, the actress who played Kaylee. Firefly, like Cowboy Bebop, is almost the definitive space cowboy series. In both cases, I could pick almost any character from the series as an example of someone who fits the archetype. I picked Kaylee because I like the fact that she’s a technical genius. Of all the members of Serenity’s crew, she’s probably the worst with a gun, but she’s loyal and has no problem telling it as she sees it.

Nichols My final entry is arguably two for the price of one, because not only would I consider Nyota Uhura a space cowboy, but Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played her in the original Star Trek is arguably a real-life space cowboy! The photo shows Nichols with my daughters at New Mexico Tech in 2008. To many, Uhura did little but “answer the phone” for Captain Kirk, but those people miss the fact that she not only worked communications on the Starship Enterprise but she could take over the science station when Spock wasn’t there and she could navigate the ship. In the animated episode “The Lorelei Signal,” Uhura took command and even rescued Kirk, Spock and McCoy. What’s more, she was a strong African-American woman on television at a time when most African-American women were relegated to roles in comedy or playing slaves in historical dramas. As for Nichelle Nichols, she not only played an explorer, she’s worked as a real-life space advocate and recruiter for NASA. She’s a powerful speaker and visionary and I’m honored that I’ve had the chance to meet her.

As you’ll no doubt have noticed, none of my cowboys are boys, nor do they have anything to do with cows. (Except perhaps for that one episode of Firefly where they hauled cattle, but that’s beside the point!) Although I don’t want fan fiction with these specific characters, I would love to see more stories with strong women like the ones depicted here. I’d also love to see more stories by women. Here’s what you need to know for submissions:

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