My Star Trek

Back in 2007, the current actor playing the Doctor in Doctor Who, David Tennant, appeared alongside one of the classic Doctors, Peter Davison in a short film for charity called “Time Crash.” In the short, Tennant has a moment that’s close to breaking the fourth wall. He glances at Davison with admiration, talks about all the things about him that inspired his interpretation of the character and then declares, “You were my Doctor.” Ever since then Doctor Who fans are fond of proclaiming which Doctor was the one that made them a fan of the series. That Doctor is my Doctor.

It’s possible to do almost the same thing with Star Trek. The show is almost as old and existed in numerous incarnations, much like Doctor Who. What’s more, as I talk to people of different ages, I do find that people do remember different Star Trek series with different amounts of fondness, often related to which one they discovered first and really hooked them. Thanks to having older brothers, I have watched and loved Star Trek as long as I remember, but to some degree, the original series is their Star Trek. For me, the series that hooked me was the one that debuted on Saturday morning TV around the time I started the second grade.

The animated Star Trek produced by Filmation Studios and helmed by D.C. Fontana essentially gave us two more seasons of the original series, completing the original five year mission. What’s more, I’d argue most of the episodes were better than the episodes that appeared in the third live action season. We got to see cool new aliens, such as Arex, a new navigator with three arms and three legs, and a Vendorian shapeshifter with tentacles who no doubt stuck in my mind enough to inspire my Alpha Centaurans when I wrote the first chapter of my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. We also got to see a return of the tribbles and a return to the planet from the episode “Shore Leave.”

I was pleased to see that someone finally devoted a book to the animated series, Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series by Aaron Harvey and Rich Schepis with an afterward by Dayton Ward, who co-edited the anthology Maximum Velocity with me. It has nice episode summaries plus behind the scenes information. For instance, I didn’t realize that Lou Scheimer of Filmation had been trying to get rights to do an animated Star Trek since before the original went off the air. What’s more, I learned the animated series the only one to win an Emmy in a non-technical category. It won for “Outstanding Children’s Program” in the second season.

The animated Star Trek often suffers from arguments about the series’ canon. In fact, all canon refers to is the collected body of original work produced by the licensed owners. What people really seem to mean when they argue about “canon” is “the consistent internal history of the show.” It doesn’t help that the series creator, Gene Roddenberry, didn’t want to consider the animated series part of that official history. Despite that, several authors in later series have included references to it. Now, to put this kind of debate into perspective, I have a hard enough time maintaining consistency in a multi-book series that I, alone, create. I can’t imagine being absolutely consistent throughout a series that has lasted over 50 years with multiple creators, where history itself has changed some of the backstory. (We all remember Khan Noonien Singh’s reign in the 1990s, right?) I think the best new creators can do is know what came before, do their best to get it right, and maybe even have a little fun when they find contradictions and anachronisms.

If you haven’t seen the animated series, or it’s been a while, I encourage you to take a look. Bringing Harvey and Schepis’s book along for the journey might just add to your appreciation.

Waking up in the 20s

At the start of the new year, I read many social media posts reminding me that we’ve returned to the 20s. As it turns out, 1920 was something of a banner year for science fiction in that it saw the birth of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Frank Herbert. It also saw the birth of Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play the Doctor in Doctor Who and DeForest Kelley who would play the doctor of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek.

I decided to celebrate the start of the 2020s by continuing the adventures of one of my favorite comic book heroines, Adèle Blanc-Sec. She is probably best known to Americans from the wonderful 2010 film by Luc Besson called The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. After watching that movie, I was curious about the character and found out she appeared in French comics written by Jacques Tardi whose work also inspired the movie April and the Extraordinary Journey. I found that Fantagraphics had produced nice translated editions of the first four of Adèle’s adventures, which inspired the movie. The problem is, the movie and the translated graphic novels both end on a cliffhanger. Adèle sets sail on the Titanic

As it turns out, Adèle’s story does continue. Volume 5 was translated and published by Dark Horse Comics as “The Secret of the Salamander” and tells what happens to Adèle as a result of the infamous voyage. Unfortunately, none of the comics after volume 5 have been translated. I was pleased to discover, though, that I could buy the French edition of Volume 6, which I translate as “The Drowning of the Two-Headed Man” in digital format from Comixology. This story begins a new chapter of Adèle Blanc-Sec’s adventures after World War I. It’s not precisely the 1920s, but the stage is being set for the roaring decade to come.

There was one challenge. I don’t speak or read French very well. I did have a semester back in middle school. I won’t say how many years ago that is. I also have studied some Spanish over the years and have a very rudimentary Spanish vocabulary, which helps to recognize French words. Still, armed with Google Translate and my limited French skills, I made my best go of reading the comic.

It turns out this actually was a pretty fun exercise. My French was good enough that I could tell when Google’s translation app gave me a wonky result, and I would need to dig deeper to figure out what someone said. I also have no doubt I missed some idioms that would have been clearer to a native speaker. Still, the process of going through very carefully allowed me to appreciate Jacques Tardi’s fine artwork as well as much of his wordplay, much of it making me laugh as I worked through the translation.

In short, the story opens with police finding a drowned two-headed drowned man in a canal. They are soon attacked by a giant octopus. Meanwhile, Adèle Blanc-Sec has awoken to discover a world war was fought. She has nothing but an overcoat. Still, she returns to her apartment and finds its been kept up in her absence. She soon gets embroiled in a mystery involving the French army, circus performers, and the aforementioned giant octopus. As I understand, her adventures continue into the 1920s.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec and April and the Extraordinary World are two of the better steampunk films I know. If Adèle’s adventures continued on screen, we could be treated to some fine dieselpunk. Hopefully, we will get some translated copies of her later adventures. If any comic book companies are reading this, I do have all my notes from reading the book! For the rest of you, you can learn about the steampunk adventures I’ve created by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Also, for those seeking out steampunk goodness, I learned this weekend that I will once again be presenting panels at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona this March. This is one of the most fun, immersive events I go to. You can learn more at: http://wildwestcon.com.

BraveStarr

Earlier this month, at the Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention, I was on a panel called “Space Cowboys” where we explored the title subject. In the panel, I suggested that the TV series BraveStarr was perhaps the purest expression of the idea of the space cowboy.

BraveStarr was Filmation Studios’ last fully developed series to reach the airwaves. I grew up watching Filmation series. Among my favorites were Star Trek: The Animated Series and Flash Gordon. Both respected the source material and presented it accurately within the limits imposed by television executives at the time the series were produced. BraveStarr was an original project that came out during my graduate school years. I remember catching some episodes after a long day of classes while eating a hasty dinner and getting ready for a night of homework.

BraveStarr tells the story of two factions on a planet dubbed New Texas who battle for control of a rare mineral called kerium, which can be refined as a fuel. One faction was composed of legitimate settlers attempting to stake their claims and mine the mineral legally. The other was controlled by an alien creature who seems like a hybrid between a bull and a dragon named Stampede. Stampede wants to run the settlers off and take all the kerium for himself. In the middle of the two factions are the planet’s natives, the Ewok-like Prairie People.

The townspeople petition the Galactic Marshal’s Service to send them a team of officers to bring law and order to New Texas. They send Marshal BraveStarr and Judge JB McBride. In a nifty subversion of western tropes, Marshal BraveStarr is a handsome Native American and Judge McBride is a Scottish woman with a temper. Over the course of the series there’s much tension between the two, both romantic and professional. It’s never a foregone conclusion that the two are “meant” for each other, which is a nice touch in a cartoon from the 1980s.

Another way 80s tropes are subverted is with the Prairie People. They are drawn as cute, cuddly creatures and they have annoying, squeaky voices. In many cartoons of the period, characters in the show would love them and the audience would wonder why. In BraveStarr, most of the townspeople hate the annoying creatures, even though they’re among the most technically competent people on the planet, which in itself is a subversion of tropes. These are no cute primitives. The Prairie People become a great way for the series to explore issues of bias and prejudice.

Perhaps my favorite character on the show is Thirty-Thirty. He’s an alien/cyborg who resembles a terrestrial horse. He fills the good, tough-guy role in this series and often the character with the most “horse sense.” Sometimes he runs along as a horse and sometimes he’s bepedal and packs a big gun he calls Sarah Jane. I’ve often wondered if that’s a tribute to Doctor Who. Marshal BraveStarr also has a mentor, a Native American called Shaman who has magical powers and has imbued BraveStarr with some of those gifts.

As I understand, Filmation wanted to capitalize on the success of their earlier hits, He-Man and She-Ra. As in those shows, our heroes face off against a veritable rogues gallery. Stampede’s lieutenant is a zombie-like cowboy named Tex Hex. It seems to me that Hex likes to shop as the same store as another favorite animated hero of mine, Captain Harlock. Around them are an assortment of bad robots and aliens all looking to make a quick buck.

I recently purchased the DVD set shown above called “The Best of BraveStarr.” It includes the movie that was meant as the introduction to the series plus the five best episodes as selected by fans. I highly recommend the film. While silly at times, it also includes many loving tributes to classic western films along with classic science fiction. I especially love the ship that BraveStarr and JB travel to New Texas aboard. It feels like the ship Captain Nemo would use if he traveled space. There are some good tense moments in the movie and it avoids getting too preachy. I also enjoyed the romantic tension between BraveStarr and JB in the movie.

The entire 65-episode series is also available on DVD, but unless you’re a die-hard fan, the five episodes on the “Best of” disk might suffice, especially since one 80’s trope the series did not avoid was the “moral of the episode” speech at the end. What’s more, the complete series set does not include the film, which would be a shame to miss.

I can tell elements of this series seeped into my graduate student haze. It’s one of the places where I got the idea that I’d like to expand on the idea of the “space western” which I did in my own novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. You can see my take on space cowboys by subscribing to my Patreon page at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. Among other things, my Patreon also supports this blog and one of my goals is to give visitors to this blog an ad-free experience. If you have an extra dollar per month, I hope you’ll help me out and you can get some great stories as well!

From Wolves to Sharks

I had a wonderful time at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona last weekend. I was on four good panels where we discussed topics as diverse as the benefits of a day job to your writing, whether the future is knowable or not, and the similarities and differences between monsters and megalomaniacs. Here I am in front of the Hadrosaur Productions table with Pimpzilla. I especially love his cane topped with train.

Pimpzilla

Although the dealer’s room at TusCon never seemed especially crowded, we had good sales. Of particular note, Lightning Wolves was quite popular and we sold out. This is especially welcome since my plan for November had been to focus on the novel’s sequel, The Brazen Shark.

If you would like to know a little more about The Brazen Shark and my writing process, I talk about both in a fun mini-interview with Wendy Rathbone.

Unfortunately, my work schedule at the observatory doesn’t really allow me to participate in the National Novel Writing Month. The nights in November get long, and I can’t guarantee I can write on nights I’m at the observatory. That said, two of my co-workers each offered to work a night for me this month. It’s only two nights, but it’s very welcome and gives me hope that I might get a word count similar to what I would if I were participating in NaNoWriMo.

Weeping-Angel

As it turns out, I’m less concerned about word count than I am having quality time to do research. Much of The Brazen Shark is set in Russia and Japan of the nineteenth century. I have a lot of research to do for this novel. Of course, returning to my weekend at TusCon briefly, perhaps I could turn to my daughter for help. She won the costume contest in the science fiction category for her weeping angel costume from Doctor Who. The Weeping Angels send people back in time. Perhaps she can send me to Sakhalin Island of 1877!

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who!

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the British television series Doctor Who. I’ve been a fan for about thirty-two of those years. I actually discovered the series through Starlog Magazine. There was an article about how the actor who was playing the Doctor was changing from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. I was intrigued because the two actors didn’t look anything alike and I wondered how they could possibly do that. Unfortunately, growing up in Southern California, no PBS station at the time actually carried the series, so I had to wait a few months until I went to my uncle’s house in Florida before I would finally get to make my first journey with the Doctor. The episode was “Robot’s of Death” starring Tom Baker.

David at the Tardis Console.  The Doctor looks on with concern.

David working on the Tardis console. The Doctor looks on with concern!

Eventually, after I returned home, the Los Angeles PBS station finally kicked off a run of Doctor Who starting with the 20th anniversary episode, “The Five Doctors.” From that point on, I’ve been able to watch, more or less regularly, when the show has been produced, until the present day.

Doctor Who has inspired me over the years. It’s the story of an alien—a Time Lord—who wanders time and space in a machine called the TARDIS helping where he can, often with the assistance of a human companion. He has lived for hundreds of years and when he grows too old or, as more often happens, becomes injured beyond healing, he regenerates into a new body. Ramon and Fatemeh from Owl Dance have certainly taken some inspiration from the Doctor in terms of their desire to help people where they go. The Scarlet Order vampires have had to deal with questions of longevity and losing those they care about to time, just as the Doctor has.

My daughter Myranda meets John Levene who played Sergeant Benton on Doctor Who.

1996: My daughter Myranda meets John Levene—Sergeant Benton on Doctor Who.

Not only has Doctor Who inspired elements of my writing, the show has crept into my personal life at times, too. When my wife and I were trying to decide what to name our second daughter, we were watching one of the early episodes. As the credits scrolled, we saw the name of the show’s first producer, Verity Lambert. We both looked at each other and decided to name our daughter Verity.

Over Labor Day weekend, I was honored to be asked to be on the “Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years” panel with such folks as Alastair Reynolds, who recently wrote a Doctor Who novel featuring the third doctor, and Lynne M. Thomas, one of hosts of the Verity Podcast. One of the things I was able to contribute to the panel was an appreciation of the fact that there is much more to Doctor Who than just the television series. There have been two movies starring Peter Cushing and an ongoing comic series in Doctor Who Magazine. There are novels and there’s an ongoing audio series from Big Finish Productions featuring many of the past Doctors. They even started an animated web series when it looked like the show was not coming back to television. The first and only episode is available for free at the BBC’s Doctor Who Website.

With all this going on, newcomers may wonder how anyone keeps all these Doctor Who stories straight. In fact, Doctor Who is rife with contradictions. Not only are there story contradictions that have been dismissed with a wave of the hand and a dismissive declaration of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” but thematic contradictions. Doctor Who is at once serious and silly, excellent drama and pure cheese, wonderful storytelling and episodes that make you groan. One of the joys of Doctor Who is that it is not merely rife with contradictions, it revels in them, has fun with them and plays with them. Watching how writers have juggled that over the years has been one of the true delights of the show.

I was once asked, if given the opportunity, would I write for Doctor Who? In fact, I once wrote a story based on the eighth Doctor visiting the 1963 World’s Fair in Seattle. So yes, if the Doctor ever came calling and asked if I would go traveling, you bet, I’d be there!