Lots of folks like to mix up literary styles, such as horror and comedy, or mystery and romance. You all know I’m partial to both sci-fi and westerns. For the longest time, the big-city critics called this combination the lowest of the low. Yet when a fellow named Joss Whedon dreamed up a show called Firefly about outlaw rebels in space, suddenly a whole lot of people were talking funny, dressing strange, and calling themselves Browncoats. This busted the dam, and a lot of the old rules went away. Still, you don’t see sci-fi westerns very often, so when I see that kind of stuff, I snatch it up.
A while back I picked up this book called Kepler’s Cowboys. It’s a bunch of stories about explorers and pioneers in the heap of new planets found by the Kepler Space Telescope. Howell and Summers are well-qualified to do this collection, being employed by NASA and Kitt Peak Observatory respectively. They’ve got some pretty good yarns in there. The best were the ones that followed the cowboy theme, such as the contributions of the two editors. Mr. Summers wrote “The Calamari Rodeo,” an enjoyable piece about some space privateers trying to win an underwater rodeo by cheating. Mr. Howell did one called “The Misery of Gold”, which appeared to be a tip of a hat to a well-loved “Spaghetti Western” from 1966. My all-time favorite was also the funniest: “Backstabbers and Sidewinders” by Patrick Thomas. It’s about a gunslinger called Boneman who looks like a walking skeleton due to a radiation accident that made his flesh turn invisible.
Of course, nothing is perfect and the same holds true for Kepler’s Cowboys. Some of the tales tend to move a little slow, especially those in the middle of the book. Being a stubborn sort, I got through them all and enjoyed them anyway, but it’s a reminder to writers: move things along! There was also a smattering of poetry, which can be fun, but not what I’m thinking of when I’m looking for adventure stories. On the bright side, having multiple authors gives the reader a chance to sample a passel of different styles. I recommend you check it out at
It’s a rootin-tootin good time!