Forgotten Tales of the Weird West

Next weekend, I’ll be at Balticon 50 in Baltimore for the release of Gaslight and Grimm! I’m looking forward to that. As of this writing, I haven’t yet seen my full schedule, but for those in Baltimore, the release party will be Sunday, May 29 from 7pm to 9pm.

This week marks the release of another book featuring a steampunk story. The book is Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West and includes a story where members of the Clockwork Legion encounter a Lovecraftian horror from another world. Here’s the blurb for the book:

Lost Trails V2-cover

    If you’ve gained your knowledge of the Wild West from Hollywood and history textbooks, your mage of the Western frontier is simple and clear: White men winning the West and saving helpless white future wives from outlaws or hostile Indians or Mexican bandidos.

    You won’t find that here.

    Here you’ll find: U.S. Marshal Frederick Douglass fighting invaders from outer space. A Navajo girl who must thwart the god who threatens all she holds dear. A Hasidic high planes drifter who faces New World bandits and Old Testament demons. A Catholic priest who contends with a magic-wielding half-breed—or is she an indigenous spirit?—as the fate of the Canadian Métis province of Assiniboia hangs in the balance. Outcast women who enter the Southwestern desert to die…or win their lady loves and great mecha steeds. A lost gunman who may find himself in a Chinese gold miner’s maze of mist and magic. Roving spirits and Civil War survivors and runaway factory slaves losing or finding family or love in uncanny new guises. Hoboes robbing a train of myth and dream. An Eastern city slicker who may outsmart only himself in a contest with Old West magic. A black homesteader who fights fae in defense of land and family. A werewolf-hunting frontier shapeshifter shattering every expectation. Steampunk airships that may unite West and East—or leave them forever apart. The ascendant Aztec facing endless destruction if the god of war triumphs. The South rising again at the Alamo—if it can gain eerie otherworldly assistance.

    This anthology, like its predecessor, Lost Trails: Volume One, exists to recognize and celebrate the diverse realities of the historical West with excellent and entertaining Weird West stories.

    Welcome to the Weird West more realistic than many a mundane Western!

The anthology features stories by: Rie Sheridan Rose, Tobias S. Buckell, Ken Liu, Don Webb, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Rebecca McFarland Kyle, Gemma Files, Ernest Hogan, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Aliette de Bodard and many more.

In my story, Marshal Larissa Seaton, Professor Maravilla, and Billy McCarty travel to San Antonio to track down the inventor of the lightning gun who has teamed up with a Confederate Major who wants the South to rise again and will seek the help of frightening forces from other worlds to make it happen! I actually wrote the first version of this story several years ago. When I went to the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio in 2013, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Alamo. I was pleased to see I got the details of the location right for my story, but I did do a rewrite and of course editor Cynthia Ward did an amazing job helping me to polish the story to a true shine.

Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Trails of the Weird West is available at:

Note: Although this is volume 2, the stories stand on their own and volume 1 is not required reading, however it is recommended just because it also has good stories. Volume 1 is also available at Amazon and Smashwords.

The Transit of Mercury

Although this has been my week at home from the observatory, I haven’t been away from astronomy much at all. On Monday, Mercury passed in front of the sun. Because I was at home, I was limited to my small amateur telescopes and I don’t have any solar filters for my larger telescopes. Because of that, I wasn’t able to get any of my own photos of the transit. However, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and Big Bear Solar Observatory managed some spectacular footage of the transit.

The Big Bear data, which comprises the central part of the video is especially fun, since I grew up not far from the observatory and Claude Plymate, who I knew for years at Kitt Peak’s McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory is the chief observer at Big Bear.

I find planet transits fascinating because the Kepler Space Telescope has used the exact same method to find planets around other stars. It looks for the tiny dip in light that comes when a planet passes in front of its host star. This tiny dip in light has helped us to find literally thousands of planets outside our solar system. This seems a good time to remind you that in about a month, we’ll be looking for stories and poems inspired by the planets discovered by Kepler. Visit http://hadrosaur.com/antho-gl.html to see the complete guidelines.

What’s more, scientists hunting for planets around other stars also appear in my forthcoming novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. At the end of last week, my editor sent me her second round of edits from the novel to review. In Roman mythology, Mercury is the messenger to the gods—in essence the god of communication. It seems fitting in this week of Mercury’s transit, I should be charged with reviewing my editor’s attempts to assure that I communicate my story as clearly as possible.

I have to admit that I’ve found the process a little difficult. This is no fault of my editor who went through the novel carefully and, for the most part, made great suggestions. I realized the reason was simply because in the novel, I did my best to imagine the most nightmarish night at an observatory possible. Not only did I have to live work during my days off, I had to live my worst fears about work this past week. Like the heroes in the novel, I overcame my fears and persevered and, for the most part, the novel is ready to send back to my editor.

I hope when the novel gets into your hands, you will find it a real thrill ride. Rest assured, most of my nights are not like the one I describe in the novel’s second part! Despite that, I think you’ll gain some interesting insights about my work in astronomy from the novel. I even touch a little on globular clusters, planetary nebulae, dark energy, and, of course, the hunt for exoplanets. All of these are things I’ve worked on in my astronomy career and I hope you gain some interesting insights into the world of astronomy between the scares! I hope to have more information about the novel’s release soon.

Kepler’s Cowboys

In March 2009, the Kepler space telescope was launched on a mission to monitor a section of our galaxy in order to see how many planets it could find. As the spacecraft has aged, it’s no longer able to point to one part of the sky. However, the science team was able to re-purpose the craft for a mission called K2, which is ongoing. A few weeks ago, it looked as though the craft’s life may have come to an end, but engineers were able to restore communication and the mission will continue. The graphic below is a year old, but it gives you a good idea of just how successful the mission has been so far.

Image credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel

Image credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel

The graphic shows eight small planets in the habitable zone of their stars, but that only tells part of the story. Moons of giant planets in the habitable zone could harbor life and there could be exotic life on water worlds or in the atmospheres of gas giant planets like Jupiter. Steve Howell, Project Scientist for the Kepler Mission notes there are literally hundreds of planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

In 2013, Steve and I collaborated to edit an anthology called A Kepler’s Dozen. Our goal was to have a group of science fiction writers and astronomers write stories set on planets discovered by Kepler to bring them to life for people. Three years later, the number of planets has literally exploded and we find ourselves looking at a proverbial wild west. So, we want to continue exploring what Kepler’s worlds might be like by telling stories of the rugged men and women who either might explore those worlds, or might come exploring Earth from those worlds. The anthology is tentatively titled Kepler’s Cowboys and you can click here for the detailed guidelines. Submissions will open on June 15, 2016 and we’ll remain open until we’ve filled the anthology.

We’re looking for stories about space cowboys—people like Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop, or Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Washburne from Firefly—those brave, independent people who make a living among the stars. In the first anthology, we worked with the authors before they wrote their stories, helping them pick the planets. However, the frontier is now so vast that we’re changing the approach. This time, we’re challenging the writers to tell a great story involving a distant world in our galaxy without worrying about which Kepler planet it might be. If we choose the story, we’ll note in the story introduction, which Kepler planets are like the one or ones in the story. Also, note, this anthology will also be open to poetry. We’re excited to see where this will lead us. Steve has prepared an information page to inspire you and help you build realistic worlds based on those known to exist.

A Kepler's Dozen

If you would like to get a good idea of the editors’ tastes, the first anthology is available at Hadrosaur Productions and Amazon. A Kepler’s Dozen is an anthology of action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Kepler Project Scientist Steve B. Howell and I edited the anthology and contributed stories. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, thirteen exoplanet stories written by authors such as Mike Brotherton, Laura Givens, and J Alan Erwine will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

Vermilion Cliffs

This past week, my friend Charles Corson and I made a road trip to Vermilion Cliffs in Northern Arizona to see a retired co-worker from Kitt Peak named George Will. George operated telescopes until he retired about five years ago. Here I am with George on a hike we took along a ridge that paralleled the Paria River, which feeds into the Colorado River.

Dave-and-George

The Vermilion Cliffs are just north of the Grand Canyon. I love the area, as I’m sure many who have read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves can guess. Soon after he retired, George found a place to rent adjoining the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. This is the view outside his window.

Vermillion-Cliffs

Besides going to see George, this was a great opportunity to get out and exercise. I’ve been hearing a lot recently about research that indicates exercise is necessary for healthy brain function. I certainly have found that a daily walk does a lot to make me feel better and more mentally alert. What’s more, I’ve also heard about research that indicates the necessity of getting out in nature. Our brains seem to be wired such that spending time in wild areas helps us out considerably. Here’s a photo Charles took of me walking along a small tributary canyon that feeds into the Grand Canyon.

Dave Exploring

I didn’t really go on this trip with any particular research goals for upcoming works, but I always like to keep an open mind about the history of a region. It’s hard to say what you might see that might be an idea down the road. At the point where the Paria River feeds into the Colorado Rives is Lee’s Ferry. It’s named after John D. Lee, a Mormon who ran the only ferry crossing across the Colorado River. Due to the geography of the region, it’s one of the few places where you can access the river from both banks for hundreds of miles. John D. Lee ran the ferry from 1870 until his execution in 1876, for his involvement in the Mormon Meadows Massacre. The ferry service continued until 1929 when the first bridge was built across the Colorado. Here’s the view of the Lee’s Ferry Crossing.

Lees-Ferry

Not only do I find inspiration from history, but from the land itself. Sometimes on our hikes we would wander through an area and I would think about what kinds of stories I might set there. Is this a place on Earth or on a distant world? At this point, I don’t know, but several places such as the one below are filed away in my subconscious waiting to see what it does with them.

Tributary

My only problem with a trip like this is that it has to come to an end. However, I did receive some good news on the trip. My editor is nearing the end of her second pass of The Astronomer’s Crypt and the anthology Lost Trails Volume 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West is in its final round of production. I hope to have more news about both of these projects soon.

Weird Westerns as Fairy Tales

Today finds me at the 2nd Annual Steampunk Invasion of Bookmans on Speedway Blvd in Tucson, Arizona from 10am until 4pm. I’ll be signing my novels plus I have a couple of anthologies including my stories. The link takes you to more information. If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll drop by. There will be other authors, tea dueling, craft panels, movies, raffles and more.

Last night, I watched a 2010 New Zealand-South Korean film called The Warrior’s Way. It tells the story of the greatest swordsman in the world who defeats his enemies, but doesn’t have the heart to kill the enemy clan’s last princess. The_Warrior's_Way_Poster He flees with her to the heart of the wild west. There he finds a desolate, broken town. At one end of town is a traveling circus that stopped and put down roots. In fact, many of the town’s residents are the circus performers. Our hero, Yang, discovers that he prefers making beauty to constant destruction. Despite that, western outlaws and assassins from his country have other thoughts. The movie has elements of acid westerns, which I’ve discussed, and weird westerns which I write. Filmed on green screen with Geoffrey Rush’s narration, the story has a distinctly fairy tale quality and perhaps that’s the best way to describe The Warrior’s Way.

My Clockwork Legion novels straddle the boundary between steampunk and weird westerns. A “weird” western is basically a western story with some element of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. I’ve heard it said that westerns are America’s mythology. There are numerous stories of daring and villainy and they often are metaphorical for the American experience in much the way classical mythology provided metaphor for the lives of those in classical civilization. With that in mind, I’d argue that weird westerns are a uniquely American brand of fairy tale.

Wikipedia defines a fairy tale as “a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, mermaids, trolls, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.” The American Heritage Dictionary says a fairy tale is “a fanciful tale of legendary deeds and romance.” I think it’s clear that many westerns include tales of legendary deeds and romance. If you throw in any of the characters such as Wikipedia mentions, you’d easily have a weird western. Furthermore, I’d argue that America has often mythologized its innovation and technology to the point that they really fit alongside the magical and supernatural elements found in classical fairy tales, especially when those ideas are carried to extremes not realized in history.

Clockwork-Legion

If you want to experience my brand of American fairy tale, you can check out the Clockwork Legion Series:

Also, coming soon will be my short stories “Reckoning at the Alamo” which will appear in Lost Trails, Volume 2 from Wolfsinger Publications and “The Jackalope Bandit” which will appear in the anthology Den of Antiquity published collectively by the members of the Scribbler’s Den writing group on The Steampunk Empire. Do you have a favorite American Fairy Tale? If so, let me know about it in the comments!

A Steampunk Trifecta

This week brings three news items which I hope will be of interest to steampunk fans or those just curious what this steampunk thing is all about!

G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150

First off, I’m delighted to announce that the anthology Gaslight and Grimm is now available for preorder at Amazon. If you order, it will be delivered to your Kindle or shipped to you on May 29 and here’s what you can look forward to:

Once Upon a Time, ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic … classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee.

Oh yes, tales have been told … but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.

With tales by James Chambers, Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young, Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin, Elaine Corvidae, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, and Jody Lynn Nye.

My story in the collection is called “The Steampowered Dragon” and is inspired by a little-known tale from the Grimm library called “The Dragon and his Grandmother.” In my version, three reluctant soldiers in India are given everything they ever wanted by a magical, steampowered dragon. Can they solve the dragon’s riddles and keep their freedom? Pre-order the anthology and find out!

Also, stay tuned because the book will be launching at Balticon 50 in Baltimore, Maryland this Memorial Day Weekend. I’m planning to be on hand along with many of the other contributors. I’ll announce the plans here soon.

Now, I realize pre-ordering things can be a little less than satisfying, though, to tell the truth I do kind of like the anticipation. Be that as it may, the second part of my steampunk trifecta involves instant gratification and its free! I recently read part of my novel Owl Dance for the Creative Play and Podcast Network. Click on the podcast link to listen to my reading or you can download it for offline listening.

For some reason, I gave Professor Maravilla something of a British accent when I read him, even though he’s supposed to be from Mexico. Afterwards, though, I realized that although we know he’s Latino and he lived and taught in Mexico, we really don’t know many details beyond that. Perhaps his British accent is a clue to some other aspect of his character. I’ll have to give more thought to what my subconscious was telling me.

Finally, for my third bit of steampunk news, one week from today on Saturday, April 23 will be the Steampunk Occupation of Bookmans, which will be held at the Bookmans on Speedway in Tucson, Arizona from 10am until 5pm. You can expect the usual shenanigans from the Tucson Steampunk Society—costuming, tea-dueling, exhibits, crafting. and various vendors—as well movies, literature, and a steampunk swap-meet. Spacial guests include Gentleman Robot and Madame Askew. If you’re in Tucson, I hope to see you there!

Nostalgia

Back in January, when I wrote about Cowboy Bebop, I mentioned that I’ve been a fan of anime since watching Gigantor in the early 1970s. Johnny Sokko Out of curiosity, I looked up some information about the series and its creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama. It turns out that Yokoyama basically invented stories about giant mecha, which have practically become their own genre within anime. Yokoyama also created another series which I remember fondly from my childhood, which was known in the United States as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

This latter series was actually live action and told the story of a boy named Johnny Sokko who commanded a nine-story tall robot, decked out like an Egyptian Pharaoh, but commanding an arsenal of amazing weapons. Johnny’s remote control was a special wrist watch, tailor-made for playground imitation, and he helped secret agents battle an evil organization known as the Gargoyle Gang. I remember this series as one of the coolest things I ever saw as a kid. I always felt a little sorry for Johnny Sokko because he had to wear a tie, but I’d wear a tie, too, if I had a giant robot to command. In my research, I discovered that episodes of Johnny Sokko are available through some streaming services and I downloaded one. I expected it to be cheezy fun and I wasn’t disappointed, but I had to work to see the cool I did as a kid.

In the 1990s, Japan’s anime creators went through a phase of remaking the classic series that inspired them. Yasuhiro Imagawa planned to remake Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot as an anime, but only got the rights to use the giant robot and Daisaku Kusama—the kid known to us in the United States as Johnny Sokko. That’s a little like getting the rights to remake Star Trek but only getting to use the Starship Enterprise and Captain Kirk. There’s no Spock, no Uhura, no Klingons, no Federation. Yeah, you could make something that looked like Star Trek, but it wouldn’t have all the magic fans remember. Imagawa, though, had a flash of inspiration. He found he could get the rights to use characters from all of Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s other manga series.

The upshot was Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Giant_Robo_-_The_Animation Set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk-inspired world, it tells how the evil organization called Big Fire tries to gain control of the world’s energy resources. Standing in their way are the Experts of Justice, a group of superheroes from Yokoyama’s manga teamed up with Daisaku Kusama and Giant Robo. It features amazing music performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and choir and it took six years to produce the seven episodes of the series. I hunted down a copy both to see what the result was like and I was also intrigued by the fact that the director shared a surname with the antagonist of my novel The Brazen Shark. As it turns out, my almost 50-year-old self sees it as being almost as cool and my 8-year-old self found the original. This is a remake done right!

In this age of easy self-publishing, it’s actually fairly easy for an author to revise and release new editions of their work if they hold all the publishing rights. Given how well Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was re-imagined into Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, I completely understand how an author can look back at their work, see improvements, make them and release new editions. However, I do advise some caution in this. For a great example of why, look no further than George Lucas and his re-issues of Star Wars. Although Lucas has made his special effects look nicer than he could in the 1970s, he’s also angered a lot of fans by tinkering with a movie they loved and adding elements they didn’t find necessary. Over twenty years passed before a remake of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was attempted and even then, it was under the helm of a new, albeit reverent, creator.

I look back at my earliest novels such as The Pirates of Sufiro and Children of the Old Stars and see plenty of things I’d change if I wrote those novels today. Despite that, I know there are readers who find plenty to love in those novels and I’d want to be careful to enhance and make better, while not taking away those elements readers find charming.

So, are there any examples of remakes or re-imagined movies, television series, or books that you thought were especially well done? What made the remake work for you?