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!