7 Samurai 7

Last week, I had the pleasure of announcing the release of my novel Lightning Wolves. One of the characters in the novel is a former samurai named Masuda Hoshi. I didn’t just introduce this character because I thought the idea of a samurai in the wild west seemed cool. He provides a bridge to the next novel in the series, The Brazen Shark, which is set in disputed territory between Russia and Japan.

Samurai_7_DVD_Cover

A couple months ago, I learned about an anime series that retold Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai in a steampunk setting called Samurai 7. Yeah, the titles can mess with you, especially if you try discussing both at the same time, hence the title of the post! All in all, it was a nicely done series. For those who may not be familiar with the source material, Seven Samurai tells the story of a small village plagued by bandits who steal their crops. The villages go to the city and hire samurai to protect them. The only catch is that villagers can only pay the samurai in meals. As a result the group they recruit is a mix of tired war veterans and young men, anxious to prove their worth. It’s a wonderful tale inspired by Kurosawa’s love of American Western films. I find it fitting that Seven Samurai was remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Eli Wallach.

Samurai 7 expanded the story of Kurosawa’s original movie considerably, providing more background about each of the characters and adding a new story arc about merchants using the bandits as puppets to rule the land. The steampunk elements were largely incidental, but added some nice visual styling to story. The animation was generally good, although there were three episodes where it looked like a less talented company did some fill-in work. I also had something of a suspension of disbelief issue in that the samurai were so easily able to defeat mecha and advanced guns with swords, but if you can let that slide, it’s fun to watch.

Seven_Samurai

As to which I liked better, the anime or the 1954 film, I’m going to go with a somewhat heretical choice and say that overall I enjoyed the anime more. The reason was simply that there was more time to develop the characters. There’s no question that Seven Samurai is a masterpiece of film making, but it is limited by its, admittedly lengthy, three-hour run time and the period that produced it. Although I liked the samurai Kambei and Kyuzo better in the movie, I liked the arc they went through in the series. What’s more, Seven Samurai has almost no meaningful women characters. The only ones are the farmer’s daughter Shino, who serves as a love interest for the young samurai Katsushiro, and a grandmother who wants vengeance on the bandits for killing her son. Samurai 7 introduced Kirara, a strong-willed water priestess who recruited the samurai. Also, a farmer’s wife captured by the bandits who has no lines in the Kurosawa classic is given a real part including exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome in Samurai 7.

One element I found interesting in comparing the two versions of Seven Samurai was that many of the things that made the anime compelling seemed based on ideas introduced in The Magnificent Seven. The water ceremony of Samurai 7 evokes the fiesta where the gunmen are welcomed in The Magnificent Seven. The western adaptation also introduced the idea that one of the heroes betrayed others in his past. In Seven Samurai the bandits are essentially anonymous, but in the other two adaptations, we get to see them as individuals with problems of their own.

It’s hard to say how all this will influence my new novel, if at all. At the very least, it inspires my creativity. If you want to meet my samurai character, Masuda Hoshi, pick up a copy of Lightning Wolves. It’s on sale for 50% off all this month as Smashwords. Just use the code SSW50 at checkout. If you prefer print copies, they’re available at Amazon.com.

Lightning Wolves Unleashed

Lightning Wolves

It’s 1877 and Russians forces occupy the Pacific Northwest. They are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable. The one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

It’s official! My eighth novel has just been released. Lightning Wolves is the sequel to my wild west steampunk novel Owl Dance. This particular novel was inspired by my love of Tombstone, Arizona and its surrounding areas. Although this novel is set around Tombstone, you won’t find Wyatt Earp or his brothers. This is a few years before the Earps arrived, when prospectors were exploring for silver and rustlers went south of the border to steal Mexican cattle. In my world, the Russians have invaded America and occupy the west coast, changing history as we know it. What if a mad inventor built a mining machine that could also be used as a powerful weapon? How would you defeat it? That’s the story I tell in Lightning Wolves.

If you visit the Lightning Wolves page at davidleesummers.com you will find a sample chapter and links where you can order the book. What’s more, because this is July and my publisher, Sky Warrior Books is awesome, you can get the book for half off at Smashwords by using the code SSW50 when you check out.

You say you haven’t read the first book in the series? Well Owl Dance is also 50% off at Smashwords this month. Just remember to use that SSW50 code when you check out!

Finally, a reminder that I now have a mail list. To sign up, please visit http://eepurl.com/XEWqn

Tales of the Talisman – Summer 2014 and Beyond

Tales10-1-cover-big

The stories and poems for Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 1 have all been edited and they’ve been sent to the artists for illustration. The current plan is to send the issue to the printer by August. In the meantime, I’m working on volume 10, issue 2 and the reading period is now under way for issues 3 and 4. At this point, we’re only five days into the reading period and submissions are rolling in. The good news is that I anticipate assembling two more outstanding issues of the magazine. The bad news is that I’ll likely have to say “no” to quite a few contributors, even if I generally like their stories.

Often times, when I discuss story selection with people, the discussion focuses on rejection. What I find interesting about this is that over the years, I’ve found that I rarely look for reasons to reject a story. I actually look for reasons to love a story. Did it have characters I cared about? Was the situation interesting and unique? Was the story told well? Did it provide interesting insight? Was it fun? The reason I reject most stories is that they simply didn’t give me enough reasons to love it.

That said, there are some things that will cause me to reject a story outright. For example, sometimes it’s clear the author didn’t proofread their story. There are a lot of wrong words or clunky grammar. If you don’t love your story enough to proofread it before sending it, how can you expect me to love it? Sometimes I read a story and can’t figure out how it can be considered science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Some people just don’t pay attention to the guidelines and send stories that are far too long.

This reading period, I don’t anticipate writing long rejection letters. Most people will simply get a letter that says, in effect, “Sorry, we’ve decided not to purchase this story.”

Hadrosaur Tales 3

Finally, I have decided that after this reading period, I’ll be putting Tales of the Talisman on an indefinite hiatus. Between Hadrosaur Tales and Tales of the Talisman, I have now been editing a magazine of speculative fiction for 20 years, essentially without break. Sure, I’ve taken off a reading period here or there, but the magazine itself has not ceased publication. Partly, I need some time to concentrate on writing projects I’ve committed to. Partly, I want to consider the best way for Hadrosaur Productions to present short fiction. Ideally, I’d like to offer better pay to writers and artists, but of course, that needs to be done in a sustainable way.

An important factor in my decision relates to my return to Kitt Peak National Observatory six and a half years ago. To be honest, I didn’t think the job would last more than five years. Much as I love astronomy, I was uncertain about the funding situation. Admittedly, the funding situation is still not entirely clear, but there is hope for the future. As such, I’m not in a hurry to leave a job where I feel I’m making an important contribution. With a full time astronomy job, a busy writing career, a family life, and possibly a couple of other projects I’m looking into, I find it challenging to devote the kind of time to the magazine it deserves.

I’ll just wrap up by noting that this is a hiatus, not a permanent closing. We will continue to produce the magazine through volume 10, issue 4. At that point, I’ll take a break. It’s indefinite only because I’m not prepared at this time to say just how long the break will be. I’m prepared to refund unused portions of subscriptions that go beyond volume 10, issue 4, but will offer supporters the option of continuing when we resume operations.

Thanks to everyone who has supported Hadrosaur Tales and Tales of the Talisman for the last two decades!

Setting the Standard

Arlo Landolt

One of my duties at Kitt Peak National Observatory is to help astronomers start their observing runs at the 2.1-meter telescope. One of the astronomers I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years is Arlo Landolt. As it turns out, Arlo was none other than Kitt Peak’s very first observer and his first observing run was 55 years ago this week. On Monday, I helped Arlo start what will likely be his last run on the 2.1-meter telescope. Yesterday, we held a celebration in appreciation of Arlo’s work at the observatory.

The reason this will likely be Arlo’s last run at the 2.1-meter is that the National Science Foundation has determined it can no longer provide financial support for the telescope. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory is currently soliciting proposals from institutions interested in running the facility.

The 2.1-meter telescope had not even been built when Arlo started observing at Kitt Peak. There were only a pair of 16-inch telescopes on the mountain. A photo from Arlo’s first observing run was scanned and became the frosting layer for yesterday’s celebration cake.

Arlo's Cake

Arlo’s primary contribution to the field of astronomy has been determining the standard stars against which other stars are measured. These are stars that don’t vary in brightness. He makes very careful measurements of the stars’ brightness as measured through calibrated filters. When an astronomer observes a new object, they can also observe a series of Landolt Standards and determine the brightness and color of the new object. Because the Earth rotates and revolves around the sun, Arlo has had to find these stars all around the sky. This is very important and very meticulous work.

Not only has Arlo provided long-standing service to the astronomical community, he is a gentleman and I’ve enjoyed his company. Not only do we talk about astronomy on the mountain, but he always asks about my books and stories. Last spring, I had the pleasure of visiting him at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and meeting his wife. They made a point of taking me out to the back yard to hear the owl in their trees. They had, as it turns out, read Owl Dance and told me how much they enjoyed it. What fun!

Arlo clearly sets a standard both as a scientist and a person. I hope things work out so that he can get more observing time at Kitt Peak in the years to come.

Before I close out today’s post, I want to mention that I’m restarting my newsletter. Subscribing is a great way to make sure you keep up with all my books and stories. You can sign up by visiting: http://eepurl.com/XEWqn

Imagining a Martian Colony

This week, I’ve been working on a new short story set at a Martian colony. I’ve been fascinated by Mars ever since I saw the first images of the red planet sent back by the Viking lander. Since then, the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers have added to our picture of Mars. What strikes me in all these images is how much Mars looks like the Southern California desert where I grew up. By extension, it’s never been hard for me to imagine someone making a life there. Here we see a Martian landscape from the Curiosity rover.

Mars Landscape

In fact, Mars would be a difficult place to make a life. Not only is it a desert, it has a very thin atmosphere and it’s at the outer edge of our solar system’s habitable zone. The average global temperature is around -60 degrees C. That’s about as cold as it gets on the highest mountain peaks in Antarctica.

Despite the challenges, Mars is an easy planet to explore compared to planets like Venus or Jupiter. It would be great to allow geologists, hydrologists, and chemists a chance to rove the planet and learn what they could. A base would make long term study practical. Of course, if Mars proved to have useful resources that could be inexpensively extracted, a colony might prove inevitable. There are indications that Mars could have deposits of gold, silver, and platinum, all of which have important industrial applications.

In the long run, I believe that humanity’s best bet toward long-term survival is colonizing space. There are several possible approaches including a space station or a lunar base. Inhospitable as Mars is, though, it’s still more hospitable than either Earth orbit or the surface of the Moon. The primary downside is the distance. However, there are inexpensive technologies being developed, such as solar sails, that may make transporting supplies to Mars more practical.

As it turns out, several groups are working toward the goal of manned Mars exploration and even colonization. Most recognize that this is a process that will take many small steps. One team at Arizona State University is raising money to build a construction rover for Mars. I’ve helped to support this project by donating copies of A Kepler’s Dozen and The Solar Sea as giveaways for their Indigogo campaign. They have a lot of other great giveaways as well. If you share the dream of constructing a base on Mars for further exploration, you should visit the website: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/building-on-mars-with-mars-trac-the-open-source-construction-rover

As for my short story imagining a Martian Colony, I’ll be sure to pass along news if and when it’s accepted for publication.

Father’s Day Reflections

This weekend is Father’s Day in the United States. Several things have converged this year to make me feel especially reflective about fatherhood. My oldest daughter is leaving for college soon. In fact, she’s away for orientation and preregistration during Father’s Day itself. What’s more, I find that several of my peers are of an age that they’re starting to lose their fathers. Unfortunately, I lost my own father many years ago, when I was only thirteen.

Dad-and-David

The photo to the left shows me with my dad. My dad worked for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. He was proud of the locomotives he worked on and that instilled in me a love of machines and a solid work ethic. When vacation time came along, he loved to travel around the United States. That instilled in me pride in my country and a love of the land’s rich history. My dad loved to hike, which instilled in me a love of the outdoors. Although I never really thought of him as a fan, I remember watching my first horror movies with my dad. I knew my dad for less than a decade and a half, but I still see his influence in my work and the things I choose to write about.

I have tried to pay these lessons forward to my daughters. As my oldest heads off to college, she’ll be tested with new freedoms and responsibilities. At some level, so will I, anxiously watching to see how well she’s applied the life lessons she’s received so far, and being an adviser where needed from a distance.

There’s no doubt that losing my dad so early has influenced my writings on themes of immortality and vampires. In that sense, it’s perhaps fitting that the second edition of the flash fiction collection Blood Sampler has just been released. That said, the book, that I think of when I think of my dad is Heirs of the New Earth, where space pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt comes out of retirement to save the Earth that he loves.

One thing that stands out about my dad was that he always wore a tie to work at the railroad. As a kid, I hated ties, but as I’ve grown older and developed a love for Steampunk, I’ve come to enjoy a good tie. As it turns out, I’ve asked my kids for a tie this Father’s Day. If I get one, not only will I have a nice fashion accessory, it will remind me of my dad, whose lessons I treasure and who I miss to this day.

A New Telescope

Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended the RTMC Astronomy Expo in Big Bear, California. Dr. Steve Howell, the project scientist for the Kepler space telescope gave the keynote address. Steve was also my co-editor on the science fiction anthology A Kepler’s Dozen. Steve and I were joined by contributor Anna Paradox for a panel about the ways science fiction and science push each other forward. We had a great time, but I think the real highlight of the weekend was when my daughter won a brand new telescope.

Verity-telescope

This week, my work schedule and clear skies finally coincided and I was able to help her set up the telescope. We took a look first at the moon and at Mars. It was terrific to see the wonder on her face when she first saw the craters on the moon. Mars is a challenging target even in bigger telescopes. We saw little more than a red disk. Still, I was impressed with how well she picked up the operation of the telescope and her eagerness to explore new things. I’ll be out with her again soon to give her a few more tips and tricks. After that, the universe will be hers to explore.

During his keynote speech, Steve shared some exciting news about the Kepler telescope. I’m sure many of you reading this know that Kepler lost two of its reaction wheels, ending its ability to point precisely. However, the Kepler team has figured out a way to use solar pressure to allow Kepler to point steadily in the plane of the ecliptic at a series of different targets as the telescope orbits the sun. Not only is this a cool use of the physics that might allow solar sails to one day work, it also means that Kepler’s mission will be extended into a new mission called K2. One of the neat things about the Kepler telescope is that the data is available to public. In fact, one place you can actually help look at Kepler data is the website planethunters.org, and yes, they will be looking at K2 data. The K2 mission will not only look for planets near the Earth, but at supernovae, variable stars, and active galaxies. I felt like my daughter wasn’t the only one who got a new telescope. We all did.

If you’d like to imagine other planets with me, I would recommend either the anthology A Kepler’s Dozen, or my novel of solar system exploration, The Solar Sea.