Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

Back in March, I shared a post about an animated space western I remember fondly called BraveStarr about a Native American marshal on the frontier world of New Texas and the band of desperadoes he had to cope with. Responding to that post, Deby Fredericks recommended another animated space western from about the same time called Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. I finally had a chance to watch a few episodes and I found it to be an interesting, albeit different take on the space western.

Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers is set in 2086, a century after the show’s production. The galaxy is ruled by an authoritarian regime called the Crown. However, a handful of planets have united against the Crown and have asked Earth to help them fight for freedom, in exchange, the planets united against the Crown have given humans hyperdrive technology. The human armed forces are the Bureau of Extra-Terrestrial Affairs (or BETA). The Galaxy Rangers are an elite corps of BETA operatives. Each of the four Galaxy Rangers have bionic implants that give them superhuman abilities.

The team leader is Zachary Foxx, voiced by Law and Order’s Jerry Orbach. His implant gives him super strength and he can fire energy beams from his arm. Shane Goosman, or simply “Goose,” is modeled on Clint Eastwood. His implant allows him to adapt to dangerous conditions. Niko has some limited psychic abilities and her implants enhance that ability. She also has a limited ability to “communicate” with machines. Walter “Doc” Hartford rounds out the Galaxy Rangers. His implants give him direct control with numerous mobile AIs who can interact with computers and gather information.

Whereas BraveStarr was a literal western set in space, Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers reminds me more of Joss Whedon’s show Firefly, where there is a lot of high tech, but frontier worlds are primitive and look like the old west simply because of limited supplies. There are considerable numbers of alien races and factions including criminal gangs and space pirates. The show is best when it creates a serious situation for one or more of the rangers to deal with and lets them solve the problems posed by the situation.

It seems like it took a few episodes for the writers to hit their stride and find a good storytelling formula. Early episodes in particular seemed to break out of action and give us some “cartoon humor” such as when a space pirate captain does a spit take and his minion pops an umbrella out his headgear to keep from getting drenched. It’s cute but it does pull you out of the action and doesn’t really fit the tone of the series as it ultimately developed.

One interesting aspect of the series is that it’s an early collaboration between an American production company and a Japanese animation studio. This kind of collaboration would pave the way for some truly great series such as Avatar: The Last Airbender. The animation studio is the same one that would go on to create the groundbreaking Akira. As a result, the series has something of an anime feel. What’s more, the voice director was Peter Fernandez who voiced the American dub of Speed Racer. Corinne Orr who voiced Trixie in Speed Racer voices the Queen of the Crown in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers.

What is odd is to realize that BraveStarr and Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers both came out within a year of each other in the mid 1980s. It’s hard to say what drove the interest in animated space westerns. The only thing I can see is the release of both Silverado and Pale Rider in 1985, which revived an interest in westerns generally, but I can’t remember either film having a strong appeal with young people at the time. Galaxy Rangers also clearly takes a lot of influence from Star Wars. Some ships resemble X-wing fighters. A space pirate has a laser sword and a village of primitives resembles the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi.

Even though BraveStarr was the show that influenced me when I first wrote my novel The Pirates of Sufiro some 25 years ago, I strove to make the space western elements more realistic as they are in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. However, my science fiction influences were shows like Star Trek and Star Blazers along with the writing of authors like Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein. One thing that causes Galaxy Rangers to show its age is the very 1980s power ballad soundtrack. I was more influenced by the Texas blues of ZZ Top when I wrote Pirates.

Like BraveStarr, I’m hard pressed to recommend binge watching the entirety of Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers in one go, but if you like space westerns, watching at least a few is a fun way to spend an evening or two. If you want to help me revise The Pirates of Sufiro for its 25th anniversary, sign on at my Patreon site: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

Taboo Tech

This past week, I had the opportunity to read Joy V. Smith’s latest novel, Taboo Tech. It tells the story of a young woman named Lacie Leigh Collier. Her parents seek out and try to understand old, dangerous, and forbidden technologies. As the novel opens, Lacie is graduating from primary school and preparing to move on to secondary school. Meanwhile, her parents have just found a lead on such a cache of taboo tech and leave her in the care of her uncle. If anything her uncle has an even greater interest in taboo tech and is soon tempted to explore yet another cache. He takes Lacie along with him, but they soon find the Interstellar Guard on their tail. Lacie’s uncle devises an intricate escape for his niece, but she soon finds herself alone in the galaxy with only the companionship of a fledgling AI called Embers.

At this point, Lacie’s adventures really begin. She completes school, then meets and befriends a group of professors who worked with her parents and they take her to a cache of taboo tech where she’s given command of a spaceship left to her by her parents. The professors and Lacie then hatch a plot to build a school on the site of the cache to allow the professors to investigate the cache while not arousing suspicion. To further allay suspicion, Lacie moves on to the resort world of Rainbow’s End where she befriends two members of the security staff and a diplomat’s daughter. All together, they help to thwart a plot against a princess. Lacie then must rescue her friends, the professors, from a plot to take over the school she helped to create. All the while, Lacie hopes to find clues to her parents’ and uncle’s whereabouts.

Taboo Tech is a rollicking fast story that propels Lacie from one adventure to another as she meets new friends, new adversaries, AIs and aliens. We’re never really told why old tech is taboo in this world other than it’s “dangerous.” However, I did wonder if the author gave us some sly clues. Her characters are often as carefully analytical as computers and the deepest emotions are sometimes expressed by the AIs in this world. It makes me wonder if the powers that be in this universe don’t want the humans to know something about their connection to the AIs. If Joy V. Smith ever writes a sequel, maybe this is something that can be explored. Taboo Tech is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Taboo-Tech-Joy-V-Smith/dp/0359516572/

I have had the pleasure of publishing another of Joy V. Smith’s books. Her short story collection Sugar Time is available as an audio book, a print collection, and an ebook from Hadrosaur Productions. The book tells the story of Sugar Sweet who inherits her Uncle Max’s old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds his collaborators—or what’s left of them—along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar must act quickly to unlock the secret of time travel so she can set things right and protect her uncle’s research. You can learn more about Sugar Time and order a copy at http://hadrosaur.com/SugarTime.php

Zion’s Fiction

About a year ago, a book arrived in the mail. It was right after I had finished some reading I had to do for some projects and right before I was scheduled to leave for my daughter’s graduation in New Orleans. The book went to the back of my desk and I’m afraid it disappeared behind other work that arrived after I returned from that trip. I recently uncovered the book, started reading and couldn’t put it down.

The book is an anthology of Israeli science fiction stories called Zion’s Fiction, edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem and features a foreword by Robert Silverberg. Each story is accompanied by a compelling illustration by Avi Katz.

Here in the United States, with the possible exceptions of England and Canada, it can be difficult to find science fiction first published in other countries, especially if that science fiction wasn’t published in English. I find it fascinating to see how people in other parts of the world see the future and I like to learn about the “what if” questions they’re asking.

Silverberg’s foreword and the introduction by the editors help the reader understand the development of Israel’s community of speculative fiction writers against the backdrop of Israel’s history. After that, the anthology presents sixteen stories, many of which were first published within the last decade.

I enjoyed all of the stories in the collection, but among the standouts were “Burn Alexandria” by Karen Landsman, which tells the tale of a time-traveling, future Library of Alexandria that appears every couple of centuries, Brigadoon-like. In this story, it finds itself in a post-apocalyptic future and the librarians must ask whether there is a point in continuing to go forward.

In “The Perfect Girl” by Guy Hasson, a woman enters a school for psychics and is assigned a job watching the morgue, where bodies are donated for study. She learns to read the mind of a girl who killed herself and learns not only about the girl but about herself.

Some stories look at the choices we make and ask what if we could change the course of our lives such as “In the Mirror” by Rotem Baruchem. Other stories take a hard look at faith and religion and ask what they mean. In “The Believers” by Nir Yaniv, God comes to Earth as a violent, vengeful spirit.

“The Stern-Gerlach Mice” by Mordechai Sasson tells the story of scientists who experiment on animals resulting in size-shifting mice who infiltrate homes in a town to overthrow the humans. In this world, the artists are mechanical beggars who people take advantage of, but these automata may be humanity’s only hope.

In “Death in Jerusalem” by Elana Gomel, a woman literally courts death. In this case, it’s death by gunshot personified. He introduces her to his extended family and she begins playing a dangerous game reminiscent of the chess match between a knight and Death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

“Two Minutes Too Early” by Gur Shomron shows us a puzzle-solving contest of the future my wife and daughters would envy while hinting at a darker mystery.

I was delighted to read this sampling of speculative fiction from Israel. The editors hint at the possibility of more collections in the future, which would be great. Of course, I would love to see collections from other countries as well. Zion’s Fiction is available at online retailers Amazon.com and BN.com and I’m sure you can ask for it from your favorite, local independent bookstore.

An Apocalypse Ends

In 2016, I discovered the comic book Scooby Apocalypse. It was part of the Hanna-Barbera Beyond initiative, in which various Hanna-Barbera animated characters were imagined on the pages of DC Comics in darker, edgier situations than the original cartoons. In Scooby Apocalypse, the gang from Scooby-Doo Where Are You? found themselves trapped in a hellish world where a nanite plague has swept the world, turning most people into horrific monsters. Most books in the Hanna-Barbera Beyond series lasted no more than six issues. A few lasted for twelve issues. Scooby Apocalypse was definitely the longest lasting with a three-year 36-issue run.

The original Scooby-Doo Where Are You? debuted in 1969 during my preschool years. It was one of my favorite shows for many years. As a kid, I found the ghosts and monsters genuinely spooky. For that matter, the spooky space kook, a glowing skeleton in space armor with a cackling laugh still sends chills up my spine. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Velma were all genuinely likable to me. I worried about them and was always relieved when they discovered the villain was just a criminal in a costume. The premise, no doubt, helped to give me some genuine skepticism, even if one of the characters was a talking dog!

As far as I’m concerned, Scooby had two really good seasons and the third season, The Scooby-Doo Movies, which went to an hour format and featured celebrity “guest stars” wasn’t too bad. As with many Scooby fans of my generation, I lost interest when Scooby’s plucky nephew Scrappy-Doo was introduced.

I did regain interest in the series when Warner Brothers started making direct-to-video Scooby-Doo stories. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island came out in 1998 and I still think it’s one of the finest Scooby stories made. It imagined the team as adults. Fred and Daphne worked for a TV station on a show investigating paranormal claims. Velma owned a bookstore. Scooby and Shaggy were bouncing from job to job. To me, this felt like what the gang would be doing. They get together to look into claims of zombies in the Louisiana Swamp and they discover there is some truth to the claims. Now that I’ve been to Louisiana a few times, I feel like the story really captures some of the haunted mystery of the bayou country.

Now, this wasn’t the first time Scooby and the gang encountered “real” monsters, but earlier incarnations often made the “real” ghosts silly and cheesy and dropped them into the stories with no explanation. Zombie Island felt like a real continuation of the series. Other movies like The Witch’s Ghost were also fun.

Scooby Apocalypse is set in an alternate world where the gang meet up as adults. Like in Zombie Island, Fred and Daphne work for a TV station. Velma works at a research lab. Shaggy is a lab assistant and Scooby is part of an experiment giving dogs the power of speech. Over the course of the three-year run, we learn about Velma’s role in the creation of the nanites. We also meet two of her brothers. The gang gains allies in the form of Cliffy, an orphan boy with one arm and one of Velma’s sisters-in-law. We even meet Scrappy-Doo, who like Scooby is part of the program designed to give dogs intelligence and enhanced abilities. Scrappy starts out as a villain but ultimately becomes one of the good guys. One of my favorite elements was a romance between Shaggy and Velma. Watching the original series as an adult, I always felt the chemistry was there, but some reason, most later iterations ignored it.

The series also took some dark twists and turns. This really shouldn’t be surprising given that it’s apocalyptic fiction, but some moments were stunning given the source material. After three years, the series came to a generally satisfying conclusion. As it stands, it drags a bit in the middle and the ending felt a bit rushed. I think this is just the nature of comics publishing. You don’t get to plan the lengths of your story arcs very far in advance. On the whole, I’m glad I stuck around for the ride. Looking back on different incarnations of Scooby and the gang, I wouldn’t rate this as my favorite, but it’s still up in the top tier.

Owl Riders in the Sky

While driving up to Kitt Peak National Observatory late on Saturday night, Johnny Cash’s rendition of the great Stan Jones song, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” cycled on my mp3 player. To my mind, the song is a great example of a weird western expressed in music. It tells the story of an old cowhand who rides out on a dark and dusty day and encounters the devil’s own herd being chased by a phantom cowboys.

As I listened, I found myself substituting some images from my own Clockwork Legion novels. In fact, the title of the fourth novel in the series, Owl Riders, is kind of an homage to the spooky feelings evoked by the “Ghost Riders.” Different cultures in the southwest often see the appearance of owls as bad omens. As portrayed in Rudolfo Anaya’s novel Bless Me Ultima, owls are sometimes seen as the familiars of witches. In my novel, the owls themselves are ornithopters, which are craft that fly by flapping their wings. The owl riders of the title are the pilots of these craft. It struck me that with a few tweaks, the song goes from being more of a horror-flavored weird western to more of a science fictional weird western or even a steampunk song.

I don’t feel I can share the full song as I envisioned it since that would include some verbatim lyrics from the original. While it’s part of a discussion of the song and could arguably be “fair use,” quoting complete lines would be a substantial part of the song itself, like quoting an entire chapter from a novel. It’s not my intention to cut into sales of the song. In fact, if you don’t already own a copy of the song, I strongly recommend buying a legal download or a CD of one of the many fine versions. What’s more the lyrics are easily available on the web. Still, I thought it would be fun to describe the song in my revised version and share a few of the altered lyrics.

In the original song, a cowpoke rides out on a stormy day. In my version one of the owl riders is named Billy McCarty and I imagine that he’s a version of Billy the Kid who was diverted off the path to become the infamous outlaw and becomes a hero instead. I could imagine that the cowpoke in my version is one of Billy’s associates who takes shelter to get some rest. He looks up in the sky, “When all at once a parliament of steel-eyed owls he saw.”

As they travel through the clouds, he gets a good look: “Exhaust pipes breathing fire and their talons made of steel. Their beaks were black and shiny and their hot wake he could feel.” Our cowhand shudders as he hears his old friend Billy shout out, “owl riders in the sky!”

Billy’s old friend then sees the determined looks on the riders’ faces. Unlike the original song, these are not desperate men who never hope to reach the end of their quest. These are men and women on the quest for justice. It’s possible it will never end, but the next bad guy they catch makes the world just a little better. It’s at this point that Billy turns to his old companion and warns him to change his ways, otherwise the owl riders will come or him next.

Songs rarely tell a whole story. Like poems, they just present a moment in time or an image. This will go in my mental file as an image that might be part of a story. It may not be used directly, but might inspire something down the road. I hope you’ve enjoyed this peak into how I get my ideas. If you want to learn more about the owl riders and how they came to be, read the novel Owl Riders. You can read the first chapter and find places to buy the novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html.

Armageddon’s Son

I’m proud to announce the release of the latest novel from Hadrosaur Productions: Armageddon’s Son by Greg Ballan. In the novel, the forces of Light and Dark wage war on and above Earth as each side seeks human allies to advance either the destruction or salvation of an ignorant mankind. In one bold, desperate act, an agent of Chaos has stolen the most powerful and coveted holy relic from the very heart of Vatican City, The Ruby Crucifix of Christ. This powerful relic was carved from the very cross where the savior was nailed, and is stained with His blood. This holy relic is said to be the instrument to end Armageddon and herald a new age of Man.

Ex-CIA Agent Erik Knight is recruited to assist his mentor, Martin Denton, in discovering the identity of the mysterious thief and locate the stolen relic. The agents soon realize the clergy of Vatican City have secrets and political schemes surpassing even Washington DC’s politicians. In order to solve the mystery, the agents must break through the papal code of silence and accept that the world as they know it is mere illusion, hiding a brutal physical and spiritual war of ‘Good’ versus ‘Evil’. As Erik Knight digs deeper into the mysteries of faith, he realizes his own alien ancestry is linked to biblical prophecy. Is he the fabled ‘Armageddon’s Son’?

This is the first book of Greg’s HYBRID: Ethereal War duology. The first book is a taut suspense thriller with supernatural chills lurking in the background and manipulating events. In the second book, Battle Lines, Greg ramps up the supernatural action as Erik Knight takes the war to those who threaten his family. When Greg submitted Armageddon’s Son to me, I finished and immediately asked to see the next book and I blew right through it. We’ll be publishing the second part of the duology this fall.

The character of Erik Knight should be familiar to readers of Greg Ballan. He appeared in two other novels, Hybrid and Hybrid: Forced Vengeance. The two novels are published by Lachesis Publishing, which has been one of my long-time publishers. I read both of the earlier Hybrid novels and loved them. They tell the story of how Erik Knight learns that that he’s an alien-human hybrid with superhuman powers. Unfortunately, Lachesis recently decided not to accept new novels, but I thought it would be a shame not to see the second two Hybrid novels published. You don’t need to read the first two novels to leap into Armageddon’s Son, but I do highly recommend them. Hybrid and Hybrid: Forced Vengeance are both only 99 cents in ebook format at Amazon.

You can get Hybrid at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0041KKLLI/

Hybrid: Forced Vengeance is available at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005CBX1R6/

You can get Armageddon’s Son in print at Amazon.

You can get the ebook of Armageddon’s Son at:

Sisters of the Wild Sage

My parents loved to watch western movies on weekend afternoons when I was a kid. As I’ve mentioned before, I never really saw the appeal until I happened upon the TV series, The Wild Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Ostensibly, the show was a mashup of the western with spy shows that were popular in the day, but it also introduced science fictional and magic elements to the western. The Wild Wild West was my first real exposure to the weird western genre.

Another show that changed my mind about the western was the mini-series adaptation of James Michener’s Centennial. The series and book told the story of a Colorado town, showing the continuum of history from the Native Americans who lived in the area through the fur trappers to the early settlers, the farmers, the cattlemen, and ultimately finishing up in the present day, which was 1976 when the book came out. The classic western story exists in a brief moment in history, typically somewhere between about 1870 and 1890 and tends to ignore what led up to that time and what came after.

When Nicole Givens Kurtz asked me a few days ago if I’d like a preview copy of her new weird western story collection, Sisters of the Wild Sage, I jumped at the chance. I already knew Nicole’s talent. I’d published two of the collection’s stories in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, her story “Justice” appeared in the anthology Six-Guns Straight from Hell alongside one of my stories and her story “The Wicked Wild” is in Straight Outta Tombstone.

Many of this collection’s stories are set in the mythic old west in a fictional town called Wild Sage, New Mexico. It’s not exactly that 1870-1890 time period. Instead the setting is the very early twentieth century, around the time my own family came to New Mexico, and still a time when New Mexico was very much the Wild West. These stories often tell about African American women just trying to find a peaceful existence in the world but having to deal with men who want to pull them back into the slavery they or their parents had just left behind. Fortunately, these women are often empowered by magical gifts that help them fight injustice.

My favorite of these “traditional” weird western tales was “Belly Speaker” which provides some truly scary twists to the spooky ventriloquist dummy story. “The Wicked Wild” is also a strong story about a cleaning woman who can summon wind having to battle a demon-possessed cowboy. In the collection’s title story, men come to run a pair of sisters from their land. Fortunately, one of the sisters can control plants and the other has a magically accurate aim with her six-gun.

Like Centennial, this collection spans time, giving a more complete view of the west. Stories like “Kq'” feature Native Americans, possibly even before people of European or African descent arrived in the west. Stories like “Los Lunas” and “The Trader” feature magic in the contemporary west. Nicole even takes us to the future in stories like “The Pluviophile” and “Rise.”

I highly recommend Sisters of the Wild Sage. The anthology will take you on a tour of the weird west not only as it existed in the past, but as it might exist in today’s dark shadows and also as it might exist in the future, especially if we don’t take steps to change the world we live in now. You can pre-order Sisters of the Wild Sage at: https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Wild-Sage-Western-Collection-ebook/dp/B07PBP3S7X/