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.

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!

Galactic Steampunk Federation

It’s hard to believe, but Wild Wild West Con 8 is just around the corner. I will be returning to the convention as a panelist and a vendor. The convention is primarily held at Old Tucson Studios outside of Tucson, Arizona. These are the studios where such famous westerns as John Wayne’s Rio Bravo and the original 3:10 to Yuma with Glenn Ford were filmed. Special guests this year include numerous steampunk builders and costumers who will be showing off their craft. Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter will be holding court over such events as tea dueling and teapot racing. The featured musical guest is Professor Elemental. I am also pleased to note that Hadrosaur Productions authors and artists such as David B. Riley, Laura Givens, and David Drake will also be on hand. You can get more information about the convention at http://wildwestcon.com

I’m also very excited about this year’s theme: The Galactic Steampunk Federation. It encompasses much of my work from my astronomy to my space opera with a space western flavor in addition to my steampunk and you’ll see that reflected in this year’s schedule.

My schedule at the event is as follows. Of course this is subject to change, and I’ll attempt to update this as a result of last-minute shuffling, but, as always, if you’re at the event be sure to check your program books for the official schedule.

Friday, March 8

  • 11am-Noon. Chapel. Drake and McTrowell’s Hot Potato School of Writing. The authors of “The Adventures of Drake & McTrowell” will lead two guest authors and the audience in a madcap improvisational writing game show. Rumor has it, I will be there as a “celebrity” guest contestant.
  • Noon-1pm. Arizona Theater. Victorian Astronomy – How the Universe Changed Through Time. The Victorian age was a time when people were getting to know the planets in our solar system as places and beginning to explore them with telescopes. Astronomers were getting a better idea of what stars were made of and got the first clues that galaxies were made of stars. A look at how our conception of the universe changed.
  • 4pm. Panel Tent. Weird Westerns: The Greatest Genre Nobody Ever Heard Of. David B. Riley will lead this panel discussion introducing weird western fiction and present some recommendations for good stuff to read. I’ll be joining him to contribute my two cents.

Saturday, March 9

  • Noon-1pm. Chapel. Victorian Science and Science Fiction. Paleontology, astronomy, engineering, and biology all made great strides in the Victorian age. How did these sciences influence the rise of writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells? What other lesser known authors are worth seeking out? On the panel with me are David B. Riley, CI Erasmus P. Drake and Dr. Sparky McTrowell.

Sunday, March 10

  • 1pm-2pm. Chapel. Space Cowboys! Many steampunks embrace the idea of the space cowboy. Where did the idea come from? How are space opera and steampunk different? How far can we stretch the idea of the space cowboy before it’s no longer “retro” future and just plain future? On the panel with me are CI Erasmus P. Drake and Robert E. Vardeman.
  • 3pm-4pm. Meet and Greet at the Aristocrat’s Lounge. An opportunity to come meet me and join in informal discussion. At this point, the plan is that Drake and McTrowell plan to join in the fun as well. Sock puppets may be involved.

When I’m not at these events, I’ll be at the Hadrosaur Productions Booth in the Stage 2 Vendor’s Barn where we’ll have copies of my books, including my newest, Firebrandt’s Legacy, David B. Riley’s Fallen Angel, and also Legends of the Dragon Cowboys by David B. Riley and Laura Givens. We’re sharing the booth with CI Erasmus P. Drake and Dr. Sparky McTrowell whose own “Adventures of Drake and McTrowell are outstanding and worth reading as well. So, saddle up and head out to Old Tucson next weekend as your first stop to explore the Galactic Steampunk Federation!

A New Cover for The Pirates of Sufiro

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, is now 25 years old. I gave Laura Givens the challenge of creating the cover for the anniversary edition. As we spoke about it, we decided to return to the idea I first had for the book’s cover, we decided that it should feature Suki, Firebrandt, and Roberts, the three people for whom the planet Sufiro is named.

We also discussed the background and how the book has a space western kind of vibe. Laura took that idea and created something that looks both futuristic and rough-hewn. I imagine this is Sufiro around chapter four of the previous edition. (In my rewrite, I’ve added a chapter, so it would be chapter five of the new version). This is when settlers from Earth have joined our three marooned pirates and have started to build a town called Succor. Without further ado, here’s a look at the new cover:

Here’s the description from the back of the previous edition: The Pirates of Sufiro is the story of a planet and its people—of Ellison Firebrandt the pirate captain living in exile; of Espedie Raton, the con-man looking to make a fresh start for himself and his wife on a new world; of Peter Stone, the ruthless bank executive who discovers a fortune and will do anything to keep it; and of the lawman, Edmund Ray Swan who travels to Sufiro seeking the quiet life but finds a dark secret. It is the story of privateers, farmers, miners, entrepreneurs, and soldiers—all caught up in dramatic events and violent conflicts that will shape the destiny of the galaxy.

I don’t really expect to make any changes to this description. I am making changes in the new edition, but all of this will still happen. My goal is that if this is the edition of The Pirates of Sufiro that you read, you can still pick up a previous edition of the sequels and not be lost or confused about what happened before. I’m filling in details and I’m hoping the new edition will have a more satisfying structure and be told from more effective points of view.

One of my big realizations while working on the new edition is to see that The Pirates of Sufiro is really a compilation of three novellas. This has helped a lot when thinking about the structure. The first novella tells the story of Firebrandt, Roberts and Suki exploring the planet and making a life there along with the first settlers who join them. The second novella is set a couple of decades later when a new wave of settlers discovers a rare mineral on the other planet’s other major continent and upsets the balance of life there. The third novella happens twenty years later when Edmund Swan arrives, a little like the classic western hero, to set things right.

At this point, I expect the new print and ebook editions will be out around the beginning of 2020. However, you don’t have to wait that long. I’m posting chapters as I revise them to my Patreon site. If you sign on as a patron, you can read the chapters as they’re completed and I’ll give you a link to download the finished ebook when it’s done. What’s more, I’ve been sharing some old artwork and photos from the days when I first wrote the book with my patrons. Check it out at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Stamp Collecting

One thing astronomers do is attempt to classify the objects they see by common properties. For example, stars that display similar chemical fingerprints in their spectra will be assigned a certain spectral type. Galaxies can be grouped by shape such as spiral, barred spiral, elliptical, and my favorite, irregular. Here’s a chart from NASA showing the numbers of exoplanets discovered as grouped by size of planet.

Back in my college days, we called this “stamp collecting.” It’s a somewhat derogatory term because it’s not necessarily the most exciting work in astronomy and its significance can be somewhat misleading. A great example is the whole “is Pluto a planet” debate which was sparked by classifying Pluto a dwarf planet. To my mind a “dwarf planet” is just a type of planet. After all, we orbit a dwarf star! (A G2V yellow dwarf main sequence star if you want more of the taxonomy.)

That said, this process of stamp collecting does serve an important purpose. By seeing how many of what types of objects are out in the universe, it helps us understand how the universe evolved. It helps us see patterns that show us how particular objects might have changed. For example, when I mentioned that the sun is a G2V main sequence star, that not only tells me what it is, but gives me some idea where the star is in its life cycle.

We do stamp collecting in the writing world as well. We classify books broadly by subject: science fiction, horror, romance, adventure, etc. We often take these individual classifications down even finer. A science fiction book can be described as hard science fiction, space opera, military science fiction and more. Like stamp collecting in astronomy, this can be an important process. It helps readers find what they want to read. However, it can also get overblown.

It’s become a reality in the publishing industry that an author’s name is a sort of brand, and authors often get classified right along with their books. Mary Smith writes military science fiction while John Jones writes space opera. Some writers even go so far as to pick different pseudonyms each time they explore not just a new genre, but a new subgenre.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in terms of my own writing career. For most of the last decade, I’ve been very focused on my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels. Now, I’m turning my focus more to my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. To my mind, the two series actually have a lot in common. There’s a real space cowboy vibe in the Space Pirates series that echoes the retrofuturism of the steampunk. Of course, this does cause some people to ask if I’ve finished the Clockwork Legion series or won’t do more steampunk. The answer to both is absolutely not. I think I have many more steampunk stories to tell and many of those will feature Ramon, Fatemeh, Larissa, and the rest of the gang. However, I also like telling stories about Captain Firebrandt, Roberts, and Manuel Raton.

For what it’s worth, I classify myself as a writer of fantastic tales with a retrofuturistic vibe. That captures my steampunk, my space cowboys, and even my vampires, especially when I write stories set in a historical context.

If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll join me tomorrow, Sunday, February 10 at 3:30pm at Antigone Books for the Tucson Steampunk Society’s book club meeting where I’ve been invited to discuss my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, Owl Riders, which recently was a top-ten finisher in the Predators and Editors Reader’s Poll for best steampunk novel of 2018. Copies of the novel are available at Antigone and if you let us know you haven’t read it yet, we’ll try not to give away too many spoilers. Antigone Books is located at 411 N. 4th Avenue in Tucson. If you can’t make it, the book club posts videos of the meeting that will be shared on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TucsonSteampunkSociety/

2019 Hadrosaur Books

New Year’s Eve is a time for resolutions and making plans for the coming year. I thought this might be a great time to take a look ahead and see what books we have planned for release in 2019.

We will kick things off with my own book, Firebrandt’s Legacy. This short story collection follows an arc of tales about space pirate, Captain Ellison Firebrandt. These can be read as individual short stories or as an episodic novel.  Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back! This book has been created with generous support from my Patreon supporters and we’re now working on a revision of my first novel featuring Captain Firebrandt, The Pirates of Sufiro. You can join the crew and get great perks and early news at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

I’m also very excited to be publishing two novels by Greg Ballan titled Armageddon’s Son and Battle Lines. These novels are set in the world of Greg’s thrilling Hybrid series and tell the story of how Erik Knight, a former CIA operative who gained tremendous powers from a long gone alien race, gets embroiled in a cosmic war between good and evil. Armageddon’s Son starts off when the forces of evil capture an ancient artifact which is said to be the relic that will trigger the very rapture itself. Erik must recover this relic while fighting demons who not only threaten himself, but his family. In the process, Erik learns disturbing truths about his only son. In Battle Lines, Erik takes the war to the demons and fights for the future of his son and the Earth itself.

Our fourth book is a novella from David B. Riley called Fallen Angel. This novel is set in the same world as David’s novella, The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung, and tells the story of Mabel, an angel from hell who accompanies General Grant’s army during the last days of the Civil War only to discover that Martians are watching the Earth with envious eyes and slowly drawing their plans against us. Not only that, but Mabel has to contend with her evil sister, Kevin, who wants to have humans for dinner. Although Mabel and Grant get the upper hand before the war ends, the battle of good against evil isn’t won so quickly. Several years later, in San Francisco, Mabel just wants to have fun with her friend Miles O’Malley, when she discovers Kevin and the Martians have joined forces with a fraternity at U.C. Berkeley. You can get your hands on David’s other book with Hadrosaur by visiting http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#Dragon-Cowboys.

Our fifth book of the year depends on those of you out there reading this post. That’s our anthology, Exchange Students. We’ll start reading for that book in February. Remember, you can find the guidelines at: http://hadrosaur.com/ExchangeStudents-gl.html.

Here’s wishing you and yours a joyous and prosperous 2019.

Rodeo Day

I’ve been working days this past week at the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak. The telescope is undergoing a roughly year-long refit to equip it with a 5000-fiber spectrograph which will be used to obtain optical spectra for tens of millions of galaxies and quasars, constructing a three-dimensional map spanning the nearby universe to 10 billion light years. This week, much of our work has been disassembling the telescope to prep it for new parts coming this year. In the photo below, you see the top end of the telescope with all the optics removed. That entire top end will be removed and replaced with the fiber optics which will then direct light to spectrographs some four floors below.

This past week was also a short work week. For most people in the United States that was because Monday, February 19 was President’s Day. Even though Kitt Peak is a federal contractor, we actually don’t take President’s Day as a holiday. Instead, we get Rodeo Day the Friday after President’s Day.

Before I continue, allow me to make a brief aside. I’ve mentioned before that at Kitt Peak, we work through most holidays. I should clarify that we are on sky, observing almost every night of the year. Telescope support staff such as telescope operators, electronic maintenance technicians, and even kitchen staff only take off Christmas Eve and Christmas. However, Kitt Peak also maintains a large support staff of mechanics, electricians, carpenters, and heavy equipment operators, most of which get weekends and regular holidays off. The refit work at the Mayall mostly requires this larger team of employees, so it follows a more familiar weekday schedule.

So, where did Rodeo Day come from and why is it so important in Tucson? Apparently, it started in 1925 when the president of the Arizona Polo Association, a fellow named Leighton Kramer, paraded a group of trick riders, folk dancers, and marching bands through downtown Tucson to the University of Arizona’s polo field where they held a community sponsored Wild West show and rodeo. That first rodeo featured steer wrestling, steer tying, calf roping, and saddle bronc riding. The rodeo’s official name is La Fiesta de los Vaqueros.

Over the years the event grew and it became tradition for Tucson schools to give kids the Thursday and Friday of rodeo weekend off. I think it goes to show the importance of rodeo in the Southwestern United States that it can supplant even President’s Day in some communities.

The Spanish name for the Tucson Rodeo, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, reminds us that rodeo’s popularity isn’t limited to the Southwestern United States. It’s actually quite popular throughout central and South America. When I visited Chile in 1998, the driver for Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory made a point of taking me by the rodeo grounds in La Serena. He noted that it was perhaps the second most popular sport in La Serena, right behind Soccer. I’ll also note that CTIO is actually a United States Observatory in Chile and the Blanco 4-meter outside of La Serena is, for all intents and purposes a twin of the Mayall 4-meter on Kitt Peak.

As it turns out, this whole business of rodeo being important to the people I work with in the astronomy business is one of the influences on my story “Calamari Rodeo” which appears in the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. You can learn more about the anthology at http://www.davidleesummers.com/Keplers-Cowboys.html.