Keep Driving: The Importance of Sci Fi Cars

In 2012, George F. Will wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post about the American dream and the automobile.

While his pithy piece hits on many points, his primary thesis is that cars have a way of identifying a person, as well as establishing a ‘self-image’. He cites Paul Ingrassia’s book, Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars, which speaks at length about establishing identity through vehicular choice.

It’s certainly an interesting theory. You see a person driving a Prius and you already have this notion of who they are in your head. They’re conscious of their impact on the environment, they value efficiency over style, they’re probably a Democrat, etc. etc.

But the theory works both ways. We can assume things about people based on their choice of car, but we as individuals can also craft our identity through our cars.

For example, my first vehicle was a 2001 Mazda B4000, a small pick-up truck. I was in college, I need a way to move my stuff, and I liked the rugged look of an older truck.

But now, I drive a 2005 Subaru Outback. I still appreciate rugged, older vehicles, but I’ve replaced aesthetic with efficiency.

What I’m getting at here is that we begin to craft stories around our vehicles and identify ourselves through our relationship with vehicles.

The same goes for sci fi cars in movies, TV shows, comic books, novels, etc. Writers often use vehicles as a way to express something about a character, and they often gain a life of their own.

Writing Character With Sci Fi Cars

One of the primary examples I want to touch on here is the 1967 Chevy Impala that Dean Winchester drives in the TV show Supernatural.

It’s an iconic car, and even if you’re not a fan of Supernatural, it’s hard to ignore the fact that one of the strongest visuals of the show is the dark Impala barreling down a foggy, forested road at night. It’s an aesthetic that fits Dean’s character, but it’s so much more than that.

The History of a Character

The Impala was first introduced in 1958 as a top-of-the-line luxury car for the middle-class, and continued to be a high-end vehicle for most of its history.

Today, the Impala is far from a luxury car. Its reputation has shifted from being a sports car to a utilitarian vehicle, a daily driver for the lower to middle class.

But, the 1967 Impala was something special, and it was certainly unique for Dean. We see the history of the Impala in the last episode of season 5, but the car has more history than the show tells us.

The year 1967 was a tumultuous year for Americans. We were fighting on every front, at home and abroad.  Racial segregation, the Vietnam War, and political unrest.

But it was also a year of unprecedented scientific growth. Dr. James Bedford became the first person to be cryonically preserved, NASA was making vast strides with the Lunar Orbiter and Apollo programs, and black holes earned their name.

And the car, the 1967 black Chevy Impala, was born amid this era of intense change. And it would live to see a new era of change, carrying Dean and Sam.

sci fi cars the impala

However, it’s not all about violence and science. In 1967, McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac and The Doors released their first album. These events are reflected in Dean’s character, as someone who loves cheeseburgers and rock-n-roll.

In many ways, the idea of the Impala is reflected in Dean’s character, and vice versa. Dean’s penchant for classic American muscle and his practical sensibility convenes in the Impala. The muscle car became Dean’s work car, packed with the tools of his trade, like the modern Impala. But it was a vehicle of change (pun intended), and the prime reason Sam was able to resist Lucifer’s power.

Why Sci Fi Cars Are So Important

Dean Winchester’s Impala is only a single example among hundreds. Sci fi cars and trucks and spaceships and boats, etc. etc. are more than just modes of transport. They’re homes and characters in their own right.

Ingrassia and Will claim that Americans purchase cars to fit their self-image. I’ll go a step further to say that cars help define our self-image. It’s an expression of ourselves, kind of like clothing. We buy things to fit a certain aesthetic, but we also start to bend our aesthetic to the things we already own.

As a science fiction writer, the car must be one of the most powerful tools for building character.

sci fi cars the mystery machine

Think about it. The Mystery Machine, Scooby and the gang’s iconic 1978 Volkswagen LT 40, is an important part of each of the characters. It’s Fred’s baby, where Velma works on her science projects, where Daphne keeps her extra clothes and accessories, and it’s where Scooby and Shaggy run to hide, nap, or eat snacks. The van is an important part of each of the characters’ personalities, and is a foil for the writers to express those things.

Imagine the Scooby gang riding in anything other than the van. An F-150 perhaps, or a Volkswagen Bug. It’s not the same. Those cars say something different about the characters.

In Conclusion

This article is far from complete. There are so many more examples we could delve into. The DeLorean, K.I.T.T. and the Batmobile, to name a few.

But in just these few examples we’ve discussed, it’s clear that sci fi cars do far more than get the characters from point A to point B. They’re extensions of themselves just as much as the characters are extensions of their cars.

What sci fi cars do you think hold the same weight as the 1967 Impala? Let us know in the comments down below.

And if you liked this article, you might also enjoy our discussion of Kurt Vonnegut and science fiction.  

Honing in on Sci Fi Subgenres: Space Westerns

Space westerns are probably one of the most fun sci fi subgenres out there. They pair the aesthetics and ideals of traditional westerns with the flash and bang of science fiction.

While the genre isn’t a huge one, there are some notable TV shows and films as well as book and comic books in the genre. Maybe you know a few!

But, the misconception that without cowboy hats and gunslingers, a piece isn’t a space Western is largely flawed. Many conventions of the Western film or comic book have made their way into modern science fiction and influenced its storytelling. You may have seen a movie and not even realized it’s roots in Western cinematography.

The Origin of the Space Western

The space western is the love child of two different genres: sci fi and the western. Westerns are sometimes considered a speculative fiction, though traditional Westerns are down to earth, without aspects of science fiction, fantasy, or the paranormal.

Space westerns actually got their roots in early American comic books. C.L. Moore, one of the early female science fiction writers, created the character of Northwest Smith who popularized the planet-jumping, gunslinging, space cowboy.

In the early 1940s, superhero comic books became less popular, so to fill the void, publishers started pairing Western stories with science fiction ones, and the line between the genres was slowly erased.

However, the space western really came to the limelight with movies like Star Trek and Star Wars as well as with shows like Firefly and Cowboy Bebop.  

Types of Space Westerns

So as I’ve seen it there are a couple different ways we can break down kinds of space westerns as a sci fi subgenre.

First there are the science fiction films that employ classic Western-style story structure.

Star Trek is a good example, where the vast universe acts as the untamed West, the final frontier. It’s about adventure and chivalry, both of which are Western themes. Prospect is another good example of a space western film. It pairs the story elements of a Western with the setting and conflicts of a sci-fi world.

Second, there are Western films that integrate science fiction. Think of the film Westworld, and the later TV show as well. The characters aren’t in space, it’s not a space opera, but it pairs the aesthetics of the Western with modern science fiction.

And the final distinction I’ve made is a healthy mix of the two genres. Firefly and Serenity are my prime examples of this sci fi subgenre. The wardrobe, weaponry, slang, and storytelling tone of Firefly places it firmly in the Western genre. But, the space ships, interplanetary travel, and alien creatures root it in science fiction.

However, these two seemingly polar opposites come together as a seamless piece. When watching Firefly, I never felt like I was torn between one setting or another. There was nothing amiss, and that’s exactly how a good science fiction should operate.

space western firefly cast
The crew of Serenity, from Firefly,
image from The Verge

Characteristics of a Space Western

Thinking about this topic made me come up with a checklist of characteristics that make up a space western. There aren’t many, but they’re distinct.

  • A strong lead character, often physically adept and righteous. Much like a white-hat cowboy.
  • An animal sidekick. In many Westerns, this is the hero’s horse, but it can manifest as other things. R2-D2, for example, might be Luke’s horse equivalent. Or Ein, the Welsh corgi from the space Western anime, Cowboy Bebop.
  • Western literature has popularized the outlaw character, the rogue. Picture characters like Han Solo.
  • Wide, aesthetic shots. In space Western films and shows, wide landscape shots or panning scenes hark back to classic Western cinematography like in A Fistful of Dollars. A more modern example might be the director’s cut of Logan, which turns the film black and white.
space western sci fi subgenre
Scene from the noir cut of Logan,
image from Entertainment Weekly

Space Westerns That Are Still Riding Into The Sunset

The space western genre does for me something that traditional Westerns have failed to do, which is to bring the genre up to speed.

Watching old Western films is enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the outdated habits or cliches make them uncomfortable to watch. Let’s just say some of them haven’t aged well.

But, space Westerns, at least some of the modern ones, hand out that gunslinging hero candy like it’s Halloween, without having to worry about getting sick from too much chocolate. I love Firefly, and yes there are some things I’d change about it, but I find it more palatable than a classic Western from the days of the Silver Screen.

And I love seeing the conventions of the space Western make their way into other sci fi subgenres, like space opera. The Expanse operates a lot like Firefly, but without the brown trench coats and Colt-esque revolvers.

All in all, space Westerns bring the best parts of both Western and science fiction together into a unique mesh of styles. I’m excited to see what the next few years brings for the genre.

If you liked this post and want to see more content about sci fi subgenres, leave a suggestion in the comments down below!

Classic Sci Fi TV Shows You’ve Never Heard Of

Anyone involved in the sci fi community knows the big classic sci fi TV shows. Shows like Babylon 5, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica.

Many of these shows solidified space opera’s place on the TV schedule, and popularized the sci fi genre with new, flashy filming technology and celebrity faces.

But, in the background, there were smaller sci fi classics on air, too. Even hardcore science fiction fans might have a hard time remembering this list of sci fi TV series.  

Project U.F.O.

While many people think of The X-Files as the definitive extra-terrestrials-among-us program, the trend actually started many years before Chris Carter’s iconic show.

Project U.F.O aired on NBC for 2 seasons from 1978 to 1979. The show was created by Jack Webb and Harold Jack Bloom.

This classic show followed two US. Air Force investigators as they worked there way through a number of UFO sightings and phenomena. Many of the episodes are based on actual case files from Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s undercover study of extraterrestrials from 1952-1969.

While The X-Files deviated into more supernatural and folklore-ish waters, Project U.F.O. stayed in it’s lane, focusing strictly on UFO phenomena.

Dick Spanner, P.I.

Dick Spanner, P.I. isn’t a show you might toss in with other classic sci fi TV shows like Stargate and Xena, but it’s certainly a classic in its own right.

The stop-motion animation series has 22 episodes and aired in the UK in 1986. The show became popular for its witty voice and pithy format. Each episode is around 6 minutes.

Now, what’s the premise? Well, Dick Spanner is a robot private investigator in a futuristic city. Yup, definitely science fiction.

It’s a fun little hour of stop-motion animation, with an interesting tone!

Jupiter Moon

Most little-known sci-fi shows are lucky if they run for half a season. But, Jupiter Moon stands out as an oddball, having run for over 10 episodes!

The British sci fi soap opera broadcasted in 1990 on the Sci Fi Channel, and ran for 6 years.

Jupiter Moon logo,
from Wikipedia

This sci fi TV show is set on a space colony orbiting Callisto, in the year 2050. Instead of an intergalactic military space drama like the Expanse, Jupiter Moon is a show about simpler problems, and human relationships. Certainly a slower pace than a lot of current or upcoming sci fi tv shows.

While not particularly deep or provoking, Jupiter Moon is a fun show to watch once and remember vaguely.

5 Days To Midnight

5ive Days to Midnight aired in 2004 as a 5-part miniseries. The show followed J.T. Neumeyer, a physics professor, as he slowly discovers he’s traveled through time. But the clock is ticking, because in five days, he’s going to die.

It’s an intriguing show, and the miniseries format fits the story well. The first two episodes show the first 4 days of the story, while the last episode is dedicated to day 5.

Neat premise, and it’s more palatable than this next show:

Honorable (Horrible?) Mention: Woops!

Woops! was once called one of the worst TV shows of all time. And I can see why.

Woops! aired for only 10 of their 13 episodes in 1992. It follows six survivors of nuclear war that gather on a farm in hopes of rebuilding society. This sitcom attempts to humorize the plights of a typical last-people-on-Earth story, like reproduction and future generations. However, the 1990s humor and sitcom format didn’t match well with the post-apocalyptic vibes.

The episodes are kind of hard to find, but I did manage to watch a few on Youtube. They’re base-level humor, with a lot of cliches and stereotypes floating around like a doom-cloud. If your Youtube recommendations dry up and you have 20 minutes to waste, check it out.

Until Next Time…

If you know of a show that’s not on this list, drop it in the comments! We might be back in a while with another blog about old TV shows!

Upcoming Sci-Fi Shows We’re Excited For

During the last COVID-19 lockdown, I spent a lot of time binging Seinfeld. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and I agree by the end of it I was ready for some good, speculative television.

But, as I scrolled through Netflix and Hulu, I really didn’t find anything that piqued my interest.

However, there are a lot of upcoming sci-fi shows (and fantasy ones, too) that have me pretty excited. Let’s check them out:

The Wheel of Time (2021)

The Wheel of Time is an upcoming fantasy TV show from Sony Pictures and Amazon Prime Video, based on the book series by Robert Jordan.

The Wheel of Time is probably going to be the next Game of Thrones, but with more magic. The series follows Rand al’Thor, a young farmboy who discovers he’s the mystical hero from ancient lore, the Dragon. There’s intrigue, danger, magical-objects-that-people-shouldn’t-be-touching, and sassy bards with colorful cloaks.

If you love Lord of the Rings, this show is for you.

The show has already been approved for a second season, and we can expect the premiere on Amazon Prime Video sometime before the end of the year.

The Sandman (TBA)

Neil Gaiman is no stranger to television and movie deals. His work is all over the silver screen, including American Gods, Good Omens, Stardust, and now, Anasi Boys, having found a home at Amazon.

But, talks about producing his Sandman comic book series have largely gone unnoticed until now. Warner Bros. and Netflix signed a deal to start producing The Sandman as a television series, to stream on Netflix.

The show follows along with the comic book series (published from 1989-1996), exploring the world of sleep and dreams. Tom Sturridge has been cast as Dream, the main character, and many other notable names make up the supporting cast, including Stephen Fry, David Thewlis, Patton Oswald, and Gwendoline Christie.

As of now, The Sandman does not have a set air date.

The Book of Boba Fett (December 2021)

The Mandalorian really swept Star Wars fans, new and old, off their feet. It was funny, thrilling, immersive, and everything Star Wars was meant to be.

Plus, it re-introduced Boba Fett, the famous bounty hunter. He’s now getting his own spin-off show, which will premiere on Disney+ in December 2021.

The Book of Boba Fett is a part of a collection of Star Wars shows, including The Mandalorian, Ashoka, and Rangers of the New Republic, which will all be interconnected.

Not much has been released about the show, but it’s clear that Temuera Morrison and Ming-Na Wen will both be reprising their roles as Boba Fett and Fennec Shand.

Image from

Foundation (September, 2021)

The Foundation series (published from 1943-1993) by Isaac Asimov were wildly popular and influential to the science fiction genre, and now the series is finally coming to the big screen.

Apple TV acquired the rights to the series in 2018, and production began from there. The showrunner, David Goyer, said that his vision is to show the world o f Foundation in 80 episodes—80 hours of film. Whether his dream will become a reality, it’s too soon to say.

But, if a star cast and an Expanse-esque trailer mean anything, Foundation is likely to be very interesting, in the slightest.

The show is set to premiere in September 2021 on Apple TV.

Cowboy Bepop (2021)

You may be familiar with the popular space-bounty-hunter anime from 1997, Cowboy Bepop. The show has become a cult classic for anime and science fiction fans alike. In the show, a ragtag team of bounty hunters travel the galaxy tracking down criminals.

In 2017, it was announced that Netflix would be producing a live-action version of Cowboy Bepop, and it’s recently been slated for a fall 2021 release.

So far, there hasn’t been a trailer for the show, but the producers have released a behind the scenes teaser featuring one of the main characters, the corgi, Ein.

As new details about these upcoming sci-fi shows become available, we’ll be sure to keep you updated! In the mean time, check out some of our other blog content!

The Last Airbender is our Dream, Legend of Korra is our Reality

The time-honored question: Avatar: The Last Airbender vs. Legend of Korra.

Those who instantly shout, “The Last Airbender!” are our stalwart defenders, but the Korra fans are our realists, our breath of fresh air.

The Last Airbender is our childhood, and that’s fine because the show is good. It is witty, fun, it has character. But in some ways, it is unrealistic, and fits into nostalgia almost too well.

Legend of Korra is radically different. We can argue for days about worldbuilding or comedy or animation, but I feel there are three fundamental reasons why LoK was the show we needed.

It uses the Avatar structure to explore:

  • Relationships
  • Friend group dynamics
  • Motivated, realistic villains

(Spoilers for all seasons of The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra).

Love in Avatar Korra’s World

Relationships can be tough, awkward, unbearably cute, or [insert adjective here]. In TLA, Aang and Katara beat back and forth for the entirety of the show, ultimately ending up as each other’s soul mates. That’s a good love story, right? As viewers, it’s nice to have the hero succeed romantically, but is it really satisfying?

Mako and Korra have a rocky relationship from day one, but gradually they grow to love one another, they fight, they break up, it gets sticky, etc. Doesn’t that reflect near perfectly what many of us go through? And isn’t it more emotionally satisfying to watch Korra’s romantic journey, for her to ultimately end up with someone better for her after her hardship?

LoK does what TLA does not, and it broaches friendship after a failed relationship, or even a failed relationship in general (Sokka and Yue are one example, but they didn’t fail because of fundamental character differences, they failed because Yue had to fulfill her duty.)

In this way, LoK is a more vivid representation of the real-world experience, and a valuable teaching tool for young viewers about the expectations for relationships.

Maintaining Friendships Through Hardship

Arguably one of the best things about TLA is the road tripping, the Team Avatar bonding time (my favorite is when they go to the play on Ember Island).

While fun to watch, is the Aang Gang really how most friendships work? Many have argued that one of LoK’s faults is that Team Avatar isn’t as connected as it was in Aang’s time, but I think that this is one of the best things about Korra.

It demonstrates that friendships are work, and that people can drift apart. One of the most sentimental moments occurs in season two when Bolin admits to Asami that he feels like Team Avatar is falling apart, that everyone is doing their own thing.

Even though the characters lead their own lives apart from the team—Bolin the movie star, Asami and her company, and Mako the cop—they ultimately make time for one another in the broad scheme of things and defeat the villains together. It is almost like reassembling a D&D group for another jaunt, and it feels more realistic than the extended sleepover that is the Aang Gang.

Motivated, Relatable Villains

Okay, this is the part where everyone yells about how great a villain Azula was, and I will admit, she is a pretty iconic baddie. Her blind ambition and wickedness make her formidable, but what is she fighting for?

She’s obviously attempting to reconcile her childhood and please her father like she wasn’t able to please her mother, but for the most part she follows the Firelord’s desires for world domination.

Ultimately, that is what the series is about, fighting back against a rising imperialist regime. The most interesting villains are interspersed throughout the series, like Hama, the bloodbender seeking revenge, or the sly bureaucrats of Ba Sing Se. But their screen time is limited and when they disappear, the impending doom of annihilation returns.

LoK is a bit more realistic, and the villains are infinitely more relatable. Amon is radical, but he simply wants equal rights for non-benders, the minority in Avatar Land. Taking peoples’ bending away was cruel, but we understood why he did it.

Season two was pretty weak as a whole, and Unalaq lapsed back into the annihilation trope. And Zaheer was a little more radical than Amon, but we could clearly understand his goal, and in all honesty, he just wanted equality too, but approached it from a socio-political angle.

Kuvira is by far the most intriguing villain LoK has to offer, because we saw her start off fighting the Red Lotus and defying anarchy, and we witnessed her grow to want peace and prosperity for her people, even if she had to forcibly unite the Earth Kingdom.

Kuvira’s harsh rhetoric at the beginning of Season 4

She has motives, but she fell prey to power, like many leaders or politicians do. While what Kuvira did in pursuit of her Empire was wrong—the reeducation centers, destroying local cultures, and attacking Republic City—I was saddened to see her get arrested.

Her course for a United Empire echoed the imperialism of Ozai’s Fire Nation, but at least we understood why she was doing it. She was more antihero than villain, and she reminded me of Zuko from the original series, a Zuko who took a more radical stance. Perhaps if Kuvira had an Uncle Iroh she might have been able to join Team Avatar too.

In Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, I love the The Last Airbender. It was a large part of my childhood; I remember there were days when I was a kid where I’d sit around with my brother watching the show on DVD, playing the Avatar trading card game.

But, as an adult, I find that Legend of Korra makes you think, it’s more complex, and the characters are more developed.

No matter on which side of The Last Airbender vs. Legend of Korra argument you might fall, it’s clear there’s something for everyone to enjoy in both shows, be it the simple nostalgia of Aang’s crew, or the sometimes-awkward dynamic of Korra and her friends.

If you liked this review, check out some of our other reviews on the Signals From the Edge Blog!